by Al Maxey

Issue #291 ------- March 5, 2007
It is my pleasure that my children are
free and happy, and unrestrained by
parental tyranny. Love is the chain
whereby to bind a child to its parents.

Abraham Lincoln {1809-1865}

Abba! Father!
From the Anguish of the Anointed
to the Assurance of the Adopted

In the year 1854, a disciple of Christ Jesus by the name of L. H. Jameson wrote the inspiring words to a hymn that has been sung countless times by the people of God in the years since, perhaps most frequently prior to the observance of the Lord's Supper. The hymn is Night, With Ebon Pinion. The music was added later by J. P. Powell. The words depict the deep anguish of our Lord within the garden during the hours prior to His arrest, "When Christ the man of sorrows, in tears and sweat as blood, prostrate in the garden, raised His voice to God." Jameson spoke quite powerfully of Jesus weeping alone -- "No friend with words to comfort, nor hand to help was there, when the meek and lowly humbly bowed in prayer." The third stanza is filled with the passionate words of Jesus as He poured out His heart to God. "Abba, Father, Father, if indeed it may, let this cup of anguish pass from Me, I pray. Yet, if it must be suffered, by Me, Thine only Son, Abba, Father, Father, let Thy will be done."

Although we are all quite familiar with this scene in Gethsemane, and though each of the synoptic gospel writers presents this experience to our wondering gaze, each with his own special perspective and insight, yet only John Mark, in his account, mentions that Jesus, the suffering Son, addressed the eternal God as Abba [Mark 14:36]. And, of course, it was Mark's version of this difficult night that inspired the haunting lyrics of the Jameson hymn that disciples sing to this very day.

The word Abba appears only two other times in the Bible, both within the pages of the New Covenant writings and both from the pen of the apostle Paul. Also, by way of interest, the word never appears alone, but always in conjunction with the word "Father" -- i.e., "Abba! Father!" These other two occurrences are Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6. In the latter it is the Spirit who speaks these words to our hearts; in the former it is the indwelt children of God who speak these words from their hearts. Each of these three poignant passages from God's inspired Word bears a special meaning to the devoted disciple of our Lord Jesus. They touch our inner being, moving us emotionally! Therefore, each merits our careful and prayerful reflection, which we shall seek to provide in this current study.

There has been some debate over the centuries as to the significance of the term "Abba." Some see it as nothing more than a word referring to one's physical father (the male who begot you). Others feel there is definitely more involved in the word than just a reference to the paternal side of a biological equation from which one is the product. It is felt to convey a sense of affection and intimacy that is perceived to be very much lacking in the far more formal term "father." Abba is actually an Aramaic word, which most scholars feel is the language that our Lord Jesus Christ spoke during His human existence upon this earth. "'Abba' is the word framed by the lips of infants, and betokens unreasoning trust; 'father' expresses an intelligent apprehension of the relationship. The two together express the love and intelligent confidence of the child" [W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of NT Words, p. 9]. As previously noted, this word appears only three times in the NT writings. "The word does not occur in either the Hebrew OT or the Septuagint" [Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 6]. This rather special term "is the Aramaic diminutive for 'Father,' perhaps suggesting the overtones of the English word 'Daddy'" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 473]. "It is the Aramaic intimate form for father or daddy" [ibid, vol. 8, p. 764]. "Abba was the address of a small child to his father" [J. Jeremias, The Lord's Prayer, p. 19]. Few biblical and linguistic scholars will disagree with the premise that this word clearly suggests significant familial intimacy, which will be an important point to keep in mind in our interpretation of the three NT passages in which it appears.

It is rather interesting to note, and this fact will additionally prove to be extremely significant in our interpretation of the NT passages in which Abba appears, that "in the Gamara (a Rabbinical commentary on the Mishna, the traditional teaching of the Jews) it is stated that slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by this title" [W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of NT Words, p. 9]. Keep this point in mind, especially when we examine the statements of Paul in his epistles to the Romans and Galatians. "A quote from the Talmud shows that bond-servants were not allowed by the Jews to call their master 'Abba,' this being an appellation which only children might use" [William G. T. Shedd, A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, p. 247]. It is also quite noteworthy at this point to stress that the Jews themselves refused to address Jehovah God with such personal intimacy, regarding such to be virtually blasphemous. This explains "the almost complete silence of the OT in regard to the use of such words in personal relationship with God." ... The use of Abba in approaching God "greatly transcended OT concepts" [Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 7]. "It may be observed that Abba as a form of address to God is extremely uncommon within the Jewish literature of the Greco-Roman period, doubtless because it would have appeared irreverent to address God with this familiar term" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 3]. Yes, the God of the OT was viewed as a "Father," but more in light of His authority. "While the OT does use the image of a 'Father' for Yahweh, it is a comparatively marginal conception, occurring only fourteen times and usually in the sense of an absolute and irrevocable authority. The Judaism of the Greco-Roman era continues the reluctance to apply this image to Yahweh" [ibid]. This fact will also prove to be central to our proper interpretation of the upcoming NT passages in which Abba appears, especially those penned by Paul.

Mark 14:36

Although the gospel account of John Mark appears earlier in the NT canon than the epistles of Paul to the saints in Rome and Galatia, nevertheless Mark's gospel was written after the death of the apostle Paul (which took place in Rome early in the year 67 A.D.). Thus, it was penned many years following the writing of both Romans and Galatians. This may well be significant in our interpretation of the passage before us. Most scholars believe that the gospel of Mark is essentially a written account of the teachings of Peter. Since Mark was known to be a very close companion of this apostle, it is believed by most that he simply recorded for posterity the remembrances of his apostolic mentor. Irenaeus [c. 125-202 A.D.], the Bishop of Lyons (although originally from Smyrna), and one of the truly great early church "Fathers," observed in one of his writings, "After the death of Peter and Paul, Mark ... handed down to us in writing the things which were preached by Peter." Although we don't know precisely when Mark wrote his gospel account (based on the preaching and teaching of Peter), most scholars feel it very likely falls somewhere between the death of Peter (who, according to tradition, was martyred in Rome under the persecution of Emperor Nero around 65 A.D.) and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (no hint of which is found anywhere within his gospel record). Thus, many feel this account was penned around 68 or 69 A.D., probably from the city of Rome. The epistle of Paul to the Galatians, on the other hand, was the very first of the 27 NT books to be written, and can be dated around 49 A.D. (if one accepts the Southern Galatia Theory, which I do; see: Reflections #202). His epistle to the church in Rome was written in late February or early March, 58 A.D., near the end of his third missionary journey, from the city of Corinth. Therefore, the gospel of John Mark was written about a decade after Romans, and two decades after Galatians. This should be kept in mind as we examine the use of the phrase "Abba! Father!"

As seems to be somewhat indicated above, Peter was most likely close enough to hear some of our Lord's pleadings to the Father (at least during that period of time in which he may still have been awake). Undoubtedly, Peter would later share this information with John Mark, as well as countless others through his preaching and teaching. Words utterly fail us in our attempts to fully convey the intensity of our Lord's distress as He wept and prayed in the garden. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, probably with this scene at least partly in mind, wrote, "In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death" [Heb. 5:7]. Luke, who was trained as a physician, describes His suffering even more dramatically: "And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground" [Luke 22:44]. This was a highly emotional time for God's Son, and He cried out to His Father ... to His Abba ... from the very depths of His soul. Although the Jews would never have used such an intimate, familial term as they addressed Jehovah in prayer, and although such a term was forbidden to a slave as he or she addressed their master, Jesus was no slave. He was "the unique Son of God and on the most intimate terms with Him, thus it was natural for Him to use" the word Abba [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 764].

Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, a renowned Greek scholar, notes, "Our Lord naturally prayed in His mother tongue, Aramaic. Mark reports His prayer as given him by Peter, and possibly retains the Aramaic word for 'father' because of the strong emotional tone of our Lord's opening words to His heavenly Father" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, p. 265]. Most scholars feel that in our Lord's prayer within the garden He used the word "Abba" exclusively, and that the Greek word Pater was added by Mark. There are several theories as to why Mark may have added the word "Father." Some feel it may simply have been an effort to translate the Aramaic term "Abba" for those Gentile readers who may not have been familiar with it (and there are many places in the NT where such words are indeed given a translation in the text). "We may take as a supposition that our Lord, praying in Gethsemane, used the Aramaic language, and therefore said 'Abba' only, and that ho pater is the Evangelist's explanation, for Greek readers, of the Aramaic word" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 1, p. 2]. Mark has provided such translations elsewhere in his work [Mark 5:41 and 15:34, for example], as did other NT writers, so this was not unusual. "Jesus Himself certainly spoke Aramaic in Gethsemane and thus did not add the Greek 'Father' to the Aramaic 'Abba'" [R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, p. 524].

It would indeed be rather strange, would it not, given the emotional state of our Lord in the garden, as He poured forth His petition to His Abba lying face down on the ground, bloody sweat pouring forth from His body onto the ground, that He would take the time to repeat the word in its Greek form for later clarification. Most scholars feel such a bilingual appeal, given the circumstances under which Jesus was making such an appeal, is highly unlikely. I tend to agree. Most biblical scholars feel that as Peter and Paul proclaimed the account of the Lord being prostrate in the garden, pouring out His heart to God, they simply clarified the term "Abba" for their Gentile audiences, and that this subsequent phrasing "Abba, Father" came, in the course of time, to be a common expression in the early church. As such, it was most likely incorporated by John Mark, years after the fact, in his retelling of the garden scene. "Mark imparts into the prayer of our Lord this apostolic usage. Jesus doubtless would use only one of the names, most probably the Aramaic" [Dr. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 439].

The phrase "Abba, Father," therefore, had come to be quite common in the apostolic church, and by almost all extra-biblical accounts was "a formula familiar to the bilingual Palestinian church" [Wuest, p. 265]. In short, this beautiful phrase had "become a fixed liturgical expression within early Christianity" [ISBE, vol. 1, p. 3]. "Thus, 'Abba, Father,' entered the language of the church and became a fixed liturgical expression by combining the word that was dear to the Jewish ear and tongue with its Greek equivalent" [Lenski, p. 524]. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible strongly concurs, stating that the "use of the term seems to reflect a common NT practice or even an early liturgical formula" [vol. 1, p. 6]. Thus, in stark contrast to the prayer practice of OT Jews, NT Christians had adopted a far more intimate form of address in their petitions to God -- "Abba! Father!" Indeed, it would be this intimacy, first seen in the prayer life of Jesus, that would, in part, be the focus of Paul's teaching in the next two passages in which this term is employed.

Galatians 4:6

The early church faced a serious crisis of faith ... literally. Either salvation was by grace through faith, or it was by meritorious works of law, with grace and faith thrown in as "leveling agents" for our imperfections with respect to knowledge and performance. Before a single word had been penned of the 27 books of the NT canon, the courageous apostle Paul stepped boldly into this theological arena and proclaimed the supremacy of faith and the futility of law to effect justification, fellowship and salvation. When legalists sought to enslave their fellow disciples once more to the dictates of a rigid legal system, Paul confronted them head-on with the fact of freedom in Christ Jesus. This first inspired writing of the New Covenant era was a bold, war-like tome intended to defeat the enemies of Christian liberty before they gained a foothold. Indeed, those who dared to seek a union of Law and Grace were soundly condemned by Paul as proclaimers of "another gospel," which he points out was not really "good news" at all, but a distortion of the gospel [Gal. 1:6-7]. I would refer the readers to Reflections #215 -- Embracing Another Gospel. Those who embraced any legal system as a means of justification were thereby reduced to abject slavery, and, as a consequence, they were severed from Christ Jesus. Galatians, therefore, in the words of the great reformer Martin Luther [1483-1546], is a type of "battle cry for Christian liberty."

Paul's letter to the Galatian brethren has often been heralded as the "Magna Charta of Christian Liberty." The Magna Charta ("Great Charter") was a document issued by King John of England on June 15, 1215. Abuses by King John caused a revolt by nobles who compelled him to execute this recognition of rights for both noblemen and ordinary Englishmen. People long to be free, and few will tolerate for very long the oppression of those who seek to lord it over them. Revolution and reform may at times be slow in coming, but come they will. The first message the young church of our Lord Jesus needed to hear -- a message just as needed by the church today -- is that we are free. We have been liberated from the tyranny of law, and we abide in a state of grace. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). There were some in Paul's day, and many in ours, who sought to enslave the disciples of Christ to a legalistic system. Law is not the basis of our fellowship, unity or salvation; nevertheless, some were (and still are) teaching this fallacious doctrine. Therefore, before any other book of the NT canon was ever penned, the apostle Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sent forth this Great Charter of Christian Liberty.

About midway through this marvelous epistle heralding our freedom in Christ is a powerful statement about our redemption and transformation from a slave to a son, and if a son then also an heir [Gal. 4:1-7]. God sent forth His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, into the world "in order that He might redeem those who were under law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" [vs. 5]. "Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through the gracious act of our God" [vs. 7]. Paul stresses with great effect the fact that we have been bought out of slavery at great cost (the blood of Jesus), and that as a result of our purchased freedom we have been adopted into the family of the One who secured our liberty. We were made free in order to be made sons. A slave was not entitled to an inheritance from the master, but a son was. Also, a slave was not entitled to address the master with any display of familiarity or intimacy, but a son was. Indeed, as blood bought sons we now are informed by His Holy Spirit, within our inner man, that all things are made new ... and better. "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" [vs. 6]. The Spirit of the One who cried out "Abba" to His Father, now cries out to our inner being, announcing an intimacy with our God previously unknown under the bondage of a legal system. As freemen and sons we hear the cry of the Spirit of His Son -- "Abba." Oh, to be able to utter those words ourselves!! --- which, by the way, is going to be the assurance conveyed to us in Romans 8:15, the third and final passage where this Aramaic term is found within the pages of the NT writings.

Romans 8:15

"For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" [Rom. 8:15]. Therefore, the Spirit of God's Son cries out to our inner being, "Abba! Father!" His Spirit bears witness to/with our spirit, and that which is confirmed is our sonship. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" [Rom. 8:16-17]. At a specific point in time, God sent forth (Aorist tense) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts [Gal. 4:6]. I believe that point is specified in Acts 2:38 by the apostle Peter -- "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." That gift received is the Spirit Himself. He comes to indwell us at this point, and then He "cries out" [Gal. 4:6] and "bears witness" [Rom. 8:16] in our inner being to our new reality in Christ. The crying out and witnessing of the Holy Spirit, by the way, both appear in the Present tense, and thus are continuing actions of assurance and confirmation within the child of God.

"In both Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6, Paul related the use of the phrase 'Abba, Father' to the expression of the consciousness of the intimate relationship of the Christian to God as his Father, a relationship based upon its actuality through and in Christ" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 7]. The transformation from slave to son has brought with it a wonderful gift (the Holy Spirit) and a blessed assurance (the Spirit-given conviction of an intimacy with Jehovah God achieved only through union with Christ Jesus). As sons we may now approach and address the Sovereign of the Universe as Abba!! This glorious salvation of ours "is both objective and subjective. For God the Father sent forth the Son in order that believers might have the position of sons, and He sent His Spirit so that they might have the experience of the same reality. We should notice that this gift of God's Holy Spirit is not something the child of God is to strive after as if, having been given his salvation, he must now work to realize it or achieve it on a higher level. The Holy Spirit is the gift of God to every believer simply because he is a son" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 473]. Not only is the imparting of our eternal salvation itself a gift (by grace through faith -- Eph. 2:8), but so also is the imparting of His eternal Spirit.

There is a certain attitude, or "spirit," associated with those who are enslaved: it is fear. "Am I good enough? Have I worked hard enough? Have I done enough? Have I understood well enough? Have I adhered to LAW closely enough?" The answer in every case, of course, is a resounding NO. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" [Rom. 3:23]. "There is none righteous, not even one" [Rom. 3:10]. Paul presents a truth that the legalists have totally failed to perceive: "If those who are of law are heirs, faith is made void" [Rom. 4:14]. Those who are slaves to law can never be sons! ... and only sons are heirs. Yes, within a state of slavery there is fearfulness. They go hand in hand. In our adoption into the family of God, however, there is a different spirit/attitude. "There is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear" [1 John 4:18]. Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, in The Expositor's Greek Testament, correctly notes, "The aorist refers to the time of their baptism, when they received the Spirit. It was not a spirit proper to slaves, leading them again to shrink from God in fear as they had done when under the law of sin and death, but a spirit of adoption: a spirit proper to those who had been translated from the servile to the filial relation to God" [vol. 2, p. 648]. Therefore, "we have not only the status, but the heart of sons" [ibid].

This sonship offered under One Father through the One Son of God is for all people. Many scholars feel this may well be the true significance of the two terms used together -- Abba, Father. It is a joined cry, of both Jew and Gentile, of sonship. The cry is of "one voice," and "what a fitting type of the union of Jew and Gentile in Christ" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 212]. Is it any wonder this phrase should find its way into the early liturgy of the church?! Dr. William G. T. Shedd comments, "The two terms express the fatherhood of God, for both Jews and Gentiles" [A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, p. 247]. It should also be pointed out that this was the view of a great many of the church's noted theologians -- Augustine, Anselm, and Calvin, just to name three. This cry of "Abba, Father" serves to "emphasize the vast gulf between slavery and family relationship" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 92]. We are now within the parameters of the latter, not the former. We are free! We are sons! The fear is gone! Our God is approachable! He is Abba. And He is Abba to ALL who come to Him by grace through faith.

By means of the direct indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every child of God, we have a most blessed assurance that we are sons and heirs. We also have an intimacy never before known. Those today who profess to be sons of God, but who DENY the personal indwelling of His Spirit, are, in effect, simply witnessing to their own exclusion from God's family. To be in Him, you must of necessity have Him in you. "You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. However, if anyone does NOT have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you" [Rom. 8:9-11]. Brethren, I fear for those who say the Spirit of God operates ONLY through the written word, and that God's Spirit does NOT indwell us. Such a declaration is an admission of exclusion from the family of God. May God open their eyes to what they are missing, for what they are missing, in effect, is LIFE ITSELF. Adam Clarke rightly observed, "God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, by which we cry, Abba, Father: and thus our adoption into the heavenly family is testified and ascertained to us in the only way in which it can possibly be done, by the direct influence of the Spirit of God. Remove this from Christianity, and it is a dead letter" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 97].


Abba! Father! "No faint whisper this of an inner consciousness, shy, reticent, because afraid to assure itself of so glorious, so blissful a relation; no hesitating half-hope; it is a strong, unwavering conviction, bold, though humbly bold, to thus address the All-Holy Supreme Himself" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 186]. Brethren, in Christ Jesus we are sons of God Almighty. We are heirs; joint-heirs with Christ. We are indwelt by His Spirit, who emboldens and enables us to cry out Abba, Father! "This is indeed a marvelous truth; a marvelous privilege, and where this relation is realized, the cry, 'Abba, Father' ascends from the affectionate and filial heart" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, p. 220]. What a blessing it is to be a child of God. Let us ever praise Him for this precious gift.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, A standing Bravo for your latest Reflections article "Shameful Sectarian Scrutiny." It should be required reading for every congregation in the world today. We all (myself included) need to be jerked up with a short rope by the truths you have declared. All of our nit-picking only cripples our quest for the true love for each other that Jesus Christ wanted of His disciples. Harmony within the One Body is corrupted by such stupid actions on the part of its members. Al, keep on soldiering! I love you, brother.

From a Minister in Alabama:

Bro. Maxey, Thanks for subscribing me to your Reflections the other day. After reviewing what you have written, I have not found any of your articles to be either enlightening or uplifting. You may therefore remove me from your mailing list.

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Al, I just came across your Reflections tonight on the Internet. I'm intrigued! I don't expect to agree with you on all points, but I'm all about having my thinking challenged, and you seem to do that well. I'd appreciate it if you would add me to the mailing list. Thanks!

From a Reader in Canada:

Bro. Al, I have not written in a long time, but thought this was a good time to pass along some encouragement to you. I know it must be frustrating for you when people pick you apart. I love you, brother, and want you to know that I am proud to be your brother in Christ. You represent our faith-heritage better than almost anyone I know. I'm never embarrassed by anything you write, and I am always delighted to pass along your material to others, because I know how thoroughly researched, thought out, and well-prepared your articles are. You are a true joy to the people of God and a solid influence for me personally on my journey to my heavenly home. May God bless you and your family.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Bro. Al, I was really touched by your article on "Shameful Sectarian Scrutiny." I know that it must be hard to bear the personal attacks that come your way, but I appreciate very much the part you are doing to bring these various issues to our attention. Most of us don't get near the scrutiny that you do, and for obvious reasons, but I have determined to quit worrying about such scrutiny from others. You simply can't get some people to think, so I have chosen to concentrate on more important things than their nit-picking.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Bro. Al, Thank you for another wonderful Reflections tonight. What a great service you are providing for so many of us who have been accustomed to legalism. Recently I attended a breakfast at Lipscomb University at which Kenneth Starr was the speaker. It seems that Lipscomb is soon going to open a department in which they will be teaching "Conflict Resolution." I wish they had done it 100 years ago! Also, I think they need your expertise in this upcoming program!! Please keep up the great work, Al.

From a Minister in Texas:

Bro. Maxey, There is a saying, "You are what you eat." I would like to offer another one: "You are what you read." I can tell you from personal experience that you are 100% correct when you state that reading the ultra-conservative, legalistic, "nit-picking" rag sheets will influence one's thinking. While a student at Sunset School of Preaching I remember Bro. Abe Lincoln always said that it would be best for us students not to read any of the brotherhood periodicals. I think he was right!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, Thank you once again for articulating what many of us "out here" feel. I agree with all of your points in "Shameful Sectarian Scrutiny." In talking with my conservative family members, however, I have noticed that what I would call "nit-picking," they would call "being faithful to the Scriptures" (such as forbidding instrumental music). I point out that the Bible doesn't say this and that the church has wasted enough time arguing about it. They say, though, that the Bible does address it (by saying nothing about it). What I've finally gotten them to understand is that if they think it is wrong to use instruments, then don't use them. But, they shouldn't be so arrogant as to believe that their opinion alone is the only correct view of the issue. As you well know, the latter is a huge thing for them to grasp. It's a big deal for someone to learn that their "rock-solid" theology may not be correct. So, congratulations to all who are brave enough to accept that their God is bigger than any checklist one can put together. I join you on your journey, Al, and testify that freedom in Christ is a wonderful thing!

From a Reader in California:

Bro. Al, I have sent the link to your web site to the man who converted and baptized me 35 years ago. The story of his preaching and my conversion is a fascinating one. Briefly: this preacher is a white brother (this is important to the story) that came into our black neighborhood preaching the gospel. This took place in a small southern town in northwest Louisiana where racial lines were clearly drawn. I was very much on the road to becoming a Catholic at the time, but heard about this white guy who was preaching in our area. He was just around the corner from where I lived, so I would go and listen to him preach each night. I became so upset with him that I challenged him to a "private debate." When we met for this private discussion between us, he told me that he would show me in the Bible everything that he taught, and he only asked that I do the same. When I could not show him a biblical basis for the beliefs I then held, I finally relented and was baptized in the "white" Church of Christ building. He urged me to go to this white congregation the next Sunday morning, which I did. To make a long story short, when this group was faced with a young black man who wanted to be a member, they closed up the building and moved to another location (that church building is still closed). They would not even tell the preacher who baptized me where they were meeting, as they were afraid he would tell me. So, I started going to a congregation that had a black, One Cup preacher, and I have been a member of the One Cup fellowship ever since. By the way, the preacher who baptized me back then is now preaching for a Christian Church in Texas.

From a One Cup Minister in California:

Dear Brother and Fellow-Laborer, I have read this week's Reflections ("Shameful Sectarian Scrutiny") three times, and appreciate it more with each reading. You have hit right to the heart of many, many problems in the church. I am enclosing two email addresses, and hope that you will send a copy of this article to each one of these men. The first is an elder of one of the local One Cup congregations, and the second is a leader in another local One Cup group. Thank you, and our best to you and your family.

From an Elder's Wife in New Mexico:

Bro. Al, I just read, and also enjoyed, your latest Reflections article on nit-picking. I teach a Bible class for children who are three years of age. Recently, one of the little children in my class was telling another child that putting her fingers in her mouth was "yucky," and to stop it. All the while, he had a finger up his nose!! I was amused and immediately thought of the Lord's example of the speck and the plank. Some things never change!! I was even thinking about what a great article could be written on that ... but yours was so much better than the one in my head!! I appreciate you!

From an Evangelist in the Philippines:

Dear Bro. Al, While you and I disagree on some doctrinal issues, much or most of what you wrote on "nit-pickers" struck a chord with me! However, I fear with many of these people it goes way beyond just "nit-picking." We certainly have our fair share of "Pharisees" today, and just like those who lived during Jesus' time they will not hesitate to try and destroy you, thinking they are doing service to God [John 16:2]. These guys declare themselves Non-Institutional, but in reality they are simply seeking to dominate and control the brotherhood. Despite their denials, congregational autonomy means nothing to them if such should interfere with their drive for dominance. Some of these men from the States are doing serious damage to the work of the Lord here in the Philippine Islands. One man, in particular, has caused me to lose over $1200 per month in support over the last nine years. What was my offense? My refusal to submit to his view regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage and to condemn all those over here who disagree with him. You can probably name this individual, as you have mentioned him in your writings from time to time. Since the days when he hung Homer Hailey "out to dry," his efforts have been largely centered in trying to become the recognized champion of "saving the church on MDR."

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, I approached you 4 or 5 years ago about the possibility of a public debate, but the distance between us is quite far. I live in North Alabama. I plan to take my family out to see the Grand Canyon this summer, however, and wonder if you would be interested in a one or two night public debate on Divorce and Remarriage while I am out your way?

From a Reader in Australia:

Bro. Maxey, I have just read your article on Paul's thorn in the flesh [Reflections #254]. I must say, this is one of the most well-written and thought out articles that I have read in quite some time. Personally, I theorize that this "thorn" was arthritis. Paul wasn't a young man when he wrote to the Galatians, and he had traveled an awful lot. As you know, in those days he would have either traveled by foot or by sitting on a donkey. Josephus even described Paul as having "bandy legs." After all those miles I can well imagine that he would have. Well, that's my theory, and I guess as far as theories go it is as good as any of them! Thank you for your web site, and may God bless you and yours.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Bro. Al, About six weeks ago I emailed a copy of your Reflections #204, which was on the Holy Spirit, to a former elder and his wife (he had to resign from the eldership because of a heart problem) who have always been taught that the Holy Spirit works through the written Word only. They told me earlier today that they had recently gotten around to reading this article of yours, and that they agreed with a lot of it. They said they intended to read it again, and that they might agree with more of it after reading it a second time. This should encourage you! I noticed one of your readers suggested that tracts be printed of some of your Reflections. I nominate #204 on the Holy Spirit as a tract. You are doing a tremendous work, Al.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I would offer a suggestion for the suggested idea of having some of your Reflections articles turned into tracts. The success of the specific tract comes from placing the message where it is needed. While it is not my place to speak for you, I firmly believe you write your articles with the hope that they will be read. With this in mind, many of us freely pass along your work (in printed form) to those who need to hear the message. They are very easy to print out and distribute. Thus, putting them in tract form, in my opinion, is a waste of time and money. So, continue writing your Reflections, and those of us who read them will continue making your message heard. Bless you in your service!

From a Pastor in California:

Bro. Al, Thank you for your straightforward and courageous reply to that a cappella Florida minister whose congregation is working toward uniting with a nearby instrumental Christian Church [in which group I serve]. Such a move will create some thorny questions they will have to work through together, but to shrink from this opportunity for fear of what might happen is to fail our Lord ... again. It is certainly worth the risk. I have felt for some time that here in ---------, California much could be gained merging our congregation with the Church of Christ congregation. However, the a cappella group is hindered by the presence of several strong legalistic personalities, which make such a move out of the question at this point in time. Thus, if it is to be, God will bring it about in His perfect time. Would it be possible to periodically update your readers on the progress of these two congregations in Florida? If this merger comes to pass, it will be yet another piece of tangible evidence that our Stone-Campbell heritage is truly turning a corner in the effort to undo the shameful damage we've done for over 100 years!! We truly live in some exciting times! By the way, if you have knowledge of specific locations where mergers or significant cooperation is happening between these two groups, I would like to learn of them and perhaps communicate with the preachers. Thanks!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, Just a note to let you know I continue to appreciate your writings. I have used several of your articles for our Thursday night small group Bible studies. The one on the woman with the issue of blood [Reflections #287] generated quite a discussion! Frankly, although I had read the passage numerous times, it had never dawned on me that the woman was flying in the face of Mosaic Law. Live and learn!! Keep up the good work.

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