by Al Maxey

Issue #298 ------- April 23, 2007
We are much like Pilate. We are always
asking, "What is truth?" and then crucifying
the truth that stands before our very eyes.

Thomas Merton {1915-1968}
"No Man Is An Island"

Brother Buster Breaks Silence
Critiquing a Firm Foundation Editorial
by Editor H. A. "Buster" Dobbs

I have for many years been subscribed to the publication known as Firm Foundation, and I have seen its evolution at the hands of a number of leaders. It has been in existence for around 122 years, I believe, and for many of those years, especially in recent decades, has been the respected voice of Church of Christ conservatism. My father and I even appeared on the cover of Firm Foundation back in the mid-1960s, along with a large group of Navajo children who were part of a VBS being held on the Navajo reservation (among whom my mom was a teacher and my dad a principal of a school; my dad being very active in preaching the gospel among these wonderful people). I still have a copy of that particular issue [vol. 85, no. 30] in my files. Anyway, this past week I received in the mail the February issue (they seem to be running about two months behind in their efforts to produce this publication). As I initially thumbed through it, the editorial caught my eye. It was titled "Silence," and was written by H. A. "Buster" Dobbs, who has been editor for a good many years now. He and I have corresponded on occasion over the years, and he has also been, although he might not care to admit to it, a subscriber to my weekly Reflections almost from the very beginning -- and I'm sure he would hasten to clarify: "I subscribed primarily to keep an eye on him, not because of any great theological agreement!"

I have nothing but the utmost respect for Bro. Dobbs, and for his many years of devoted service to our Lord Jesus. Further, I have absolutely no doubt in my own mind that he is genuine in his love for Christ, and that his life's desire is to serve the Master to the best of his ability and understanding, and as faithfully as he possibly can. We can all certainly learn from the commitment of this disciple. Buster Dobbs is clearly far more conservative in his theology than I am, yet he is far less conservative than some extremists within our faith-heritage would have him to be. In other words, Buster has dared to detour on occasion from the so-called "old paths," and he has been viciously attacked for this by some of the more rabid brotherhood watchdogs. I have witnessed their attempts to intimidate this man over the years, and am impressed with Bro. Dobbs' strong stand for his studied beliefs. May God richly bless him for his courage of conviction!

But, back to Buster's editorial in volume 122, number 2 of Firm Foundation [February, 2007], which appears on pages 2-5. Needless to say, Buster and I differ somewhat on our view of what has come to be characterized as "the law of silence," especially regarding the validity of said "silence" as an interpretive tool in biblical exegesis. Too many among us, in the total absence of divine command on some matter, are employing "silence" to provide that which they believe to be lacking in Scripture. Although they most certainly don't characterize their actions as such, they are nevertheless, in point of fact, filling divine silence with human decrees. This not only constitutes a grave misunderstanding of these areas of silence in the inspired Scriptures, but also an abuse of that silence. Divine silence, properly perceived, is neither proscriptive nor prescriptive; it is neither permissive (in an absolute sense) nor prohibitive. Genuine silence simply signifies that the Lord God has chosen, for whatever reason, to say absolutely nothing about some matter, either one way or the other. He is silent. Therefore, no human has the right to formulate and impose law upon the rest of humanity when God Himself has chosen not to. Bro. Dobbs, however, has chosen to take the exact opposite view. In the complete absence of command, Buster perceives command. He begins his editorial with this statement: "The silence of the inspired scriptures prohibits and permits. ... Bible silence is sometimes prohibitive and other times permissive. It allows and it disallows" [p. 2].

Frankly, I believe Bro. Dobbs demonstrates in this editorial his complete failure to perceive the true nature of biblical silence. And he is not alone in this perceptive deficit; indeed, it is perhaps one of the most common failings of those in the ultra-conservative, legalistic-patternism camp. They don't have a clue, and this has led, unfortunately, to much of the rigid theology and factionalism that is evident among us today. They have, for all practical purposes, cast off the old maxim: "We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent," for in their actual practice, as we all know only too well, when the Bible is silent, they speak all the louder! In so doing, they show their complete lack of understanding of biblical silence. Silence does not speak -- it does not prescribe; it does not prohibit. Silence says nothing. It is men who barge in and fill the silence with their humanly assumed and deduced commands and prohibitions, which only leads to the very type of schism and division so pitifully apparent in the Body today.

The problem here is that these would-be sacred hermeneutists have confused the concepts of specificity and silence. They don't perceive the delineation between the two, and the result is a theology of exclusion that borders on the absurd. For those who would like to examine this disparity in greater depth, may I suggest the following issues of my Reflections: Two Silence Principles [Issue #15] ... Specificity or Silence? [Issue #15a] ... The Silence Syndrome [Issue #228] ... Speaking Out On Silence [Issue #230] ... Shouting Above The Silence [Issue #269] ... Response To Phil Sanders [Issue #269a]. This woeful failure to distinguish between these two concepts is evident throughout Buster's editorial. For example, he begins by providing the following two premises, which, in his view, "state the proposition" that biblical silence both prohibits and permits:

  1. "A specific statement or command limits to what is precisely stated or ordered. A precise word in a command is restrictive and prohibits" [p. 2].

  2. "A Bible command given in general terms may be permissive" [p. 2].

The reader may well wonder, when reading the above two premises, "Okay, so where is the silence?" Bro. Dobbs is speaking of "a specific statement" ... "a Bible command" ... "a precise word in a command." This is not silence, this is specificity. This is not a dark void, but a divine voice! God has spoken, and He has done so specifically and precisely. No silence there! So just where does Buster perceive "silence" in any of this? Notice the conclusion he draws from the above two premises: "If the Bible commands something in a definite way and is silent about all options, our obedience is limited to what is expressly commanded" [p. 2]. Bro. Dobbs is exactly right. If God commands something in a definite way, then we are obligated to obey. If God says, "Go out into the orchard, pick the largest red apple on the second tree in the third row, eat it, and then come back into the house," we would be disobedient if we ate the smallest apple on the sixth tree in the second row. What is it that forbids us from following our own will in such a case? Is it the fact that God said nothing about eating an apple from some other tree? Is it His silence about other apples on other trees that forbids? Of course not. It is His specificity that forbids. For some strange, unknown reason, the patternists insist on focusing on what God didn't say as the basis of the prohibition, declaring "silence prohibits." In point of fact, true silence is not even operative here. The prohibition is to be found in the precise specificity of the command. God spoke; God specified ... this is not about silence. Therefore, in Buster's above stated conclusion regarding his two premises, the phrase "and is silent about all options" is entirely pointless. Indeed, its inclusion is an absurdity, for the specificity of the precise command renders any attempted argument from "silence" meaningless; in the presence of specificity, there is NO true silence. That which is prescribed or proscribed is done via the preciseness and specificity of the command given. Again, for some strange reason, legalistic patternists seem incapable of grasping this rather simple concept.

Bro. Dobbs, in explanation of the second premise, writes: "On the other hand, if the Bible commands us to do something but does not specify some aspects of the command, then we have the liberty to use any option that does not itself violate a Bible principle" [p. 2]. In this case, Buster is beginning to make a little more sense. In the absence of divine specificity, there is indeed room for personal choice. The less precise and specific our God is in some command, the more His followers are at liberty to exercise responsible judgment in their following of this more general (or non-specific) command. Although this still does not constitute genuine biblical "silence" (which is the absence of any instruction from God, specific or general), nevertheless God has given us some degree of "wiggle-room" in our compliance. For example, if God commanded that we go outside and into the orchard and eat an apple, this instruction is general enough that we could choose an apple from any tree in the orchard, big or little, red or green. This lack of specificity, therefore, is permissive up to a point. In other words, we must still go outside, we must still go to the orchard specified, and we must still eat the apple. We must comply with those parts of the command that are specified, but they are phrased in such a manner that some personal liberty is allowed in the execution. That is the significance of a general command. In such cases, there is also room for some diversity of response by those who seek to comply. I may choose a red apple, you may choose a green one; mine may be large, yours small; mine may be picked from the left side of the orchard, yours from the right side. You may slice your apple into sections for ease of eating, I may choose not to. I may choose to eat my apple wrapped in caramel, whereas you may choose to eat your apple unaccompanied. Yet each of us complies completely with the Lord's command. Furthermore, personal preference in such matters must never be used to exclude another (which principle is taught in Romans 14). If those who pick and eat red apples sever fellowship with those who pick and eat green apples, or if those who prefer their apples unaccompanied sever fellowship with those who enjoy them wrapped in caramel, then such persons are elevating personal preference to the level of divine precept. And, sadly, as we all know, this is exactly what we are seeing among differing brethren in the One Body of Christ today. It is deplorable!

Bro. Dobbs writes, "To restate and emphasize: A specific command excludes everything not specified. If a command is explicit, it is limiting. If a command is general, or if there is total silence, it can be permissive, but no allowable option may be in violation of a Bible principle" [p. 2]. May I just say an emphatic Amen to this! This is exactly right ... so one has to wonder why he titled his editorial "Silence." These premises are not about silence, they are about specificity. Notice again his own wording: "a specific command excludes" ... "if a command is explicit, it is limiting." Explicit, precise specificity is a far cry from silence. It is the former that limits and excludes, not the latter. Now notice his next utterance: "If a command is general, or if there is total silence, it can be permissive." Buster seems to understand, at least in this portion of his editorial, the difference between specificity and true biblical silence (which is total in nature). He also understands that in the presence of non-specific commands, as well as in the presence of true biblical silence, our God allows us a degree of liberty to choose, as long as our choices do not violate clear biblical principles. This last point is extremely important, and I appreciate the fact that Bro. Dobbs has included it. I have made the exact same point time and time again in my teaching [I would refer you to Reflections #126 -- Suggesting Another Hermeneutic: Inquiry into an Interpretive Methodology -- for a good example of my emphasis of this principle].

Back to Bro. Buster Dobbs' original assertion: "The silence of the inspired scriptures prohibits, and permits. ... Bible silence is sometimes prohibitive and other times permissive. It allows and it disallows" [p. 2]. Buster then proceeds quite skillfully to refute his own premise!! In point of fact, it is not silence that prohibits, but rather precise, explicit, specific commands of God. Nowhere in the Scriptures does genuine biblical silence, in and of itself, either prohibit or prescribe. Silence, by its very nature, does not command. Even in those areas where one finds genuine biblical silence (where God has said absolutely nothing one way or the other), we must still employ good judgment in light of biblical principles in the exercise of our liberty to choose. Yes, there is an implicit permissiveness in total silence, however it is a responsible liberty, not a license to do as we please regardless of how it may impact others. The permissiveness of silence is not absolute. Thus, I must differ with Buster's belief that silence permits and prohibits, allows and disallows. In actuality, it does neither, for silence, in and of itself, has no power to govern or command, or to permit or allow in an unrestrained, absolute sense. About the closest one can come to agreement with Dobbs' premise is to say that in the presence of total silence, or of general commands, there is implicit permission, but even then it comes with the caveat of responsible appeal to biblical principles and the awareness of how one's freedom will impact others.

The bulk of the remainder of the editorial is then devoted to several examples which Bro. Dobbs believes sustain his position on silence being sometimes permissive, sometimes prohibitive. It is here that his confusion between the concepts of specificity and silence becomes increasingly apparent to the perceptive reader, as he falls quickly back into the hermeneutical trap prevalent among most legalistic patternists, most especially with respect to the prohibitive nature of silence (Buster Dobbs' perception of the permissive nature of true silence is far more on track). He begins with the example of baptism. "The baptism of the great commission illustrates the principle of when silence is binding and when silence permits choice" [p. 2]. Buster then correctly observes, "The command is specific as to the action required, and allows no alternatives. ... To reiterate -- a precise command limits" [p. 3]. Once again, this is exactly right. So what does this have to do with silence? Baptism is a command. It is specific and precise. Specificity, not silence, is in view here, and yet in his conclusion to this example Dobbs suggests it is the silence as to alternate methodologies (such as sprinkling) that is really the basis of their prohibition. That is just plain false! It is the specificity of the command to immerse/submerge that excludes or prohibits some other methodology like sprinkling, NOT the fact that these other methodologies are not mentioned or commanded. The legalists and patternists are so determined to find a way to prove "the prohibitive nature of silence" that they sometimes lay aside common sense!

I must also take exception to something else Bro. Buster Dobbs declares in his recent editorial. In this section dealing with the illustration of baptism, he writes, "The burial and the resurrection are essential elements of baptism, which is not immersion only, but it is 'going down into the water' (Acts 8:38), and 'coming up out of the water' (Matt. 3:16). The word 'immerse' does not include resurrection and therefore it does not translate the Greek word baptizo" [p. 2-3]. I understand Buster's point with regard to our actual practice of this ordinance; as practiced, we clearly at some point bring a person up out of the water (they would drown if we did not). I also understand that as one examines the entirety of this practice, there is a burial in the water and there is also a resurrection from up out of the water. There is also the reception of the Spirit. Many things are happening as we respond in faith to the command to be baptized. However, Bro. Dobbs is simply incorrect when he says the word "immerse" does not accurately translate the Greek word baptizo. That word means "immerse, plunge, dip under, submerge." There is no inherent meaning of a "resurrection" either attached to or implied by this word. The word, for example, was at times used of a ship that had sunk in the ocean, and which was never recovered. Obviously, no raising up of that ship occurred, and yet its burial in the water was still accurately portrayed by this Greek term.

The word, as used theologically, identifies with the death and burial of our Lord. The resurrection is a separate event, and is not implied within the meaning of the word baptizo. "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death" [Rom. 6:3-4]. Paul then goes on to point to the fact that Jesus arose from the grave, and His victory secures our own. "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection" [vs. 5]. Baptism is a symbol of the death and burial of Jesus, and that is exactly what the word signifies -- we are overwhelmed by death, submerged into the watery grave. Thank God our Lord was not left there. He arose. Yes, when we are lifted out of the water, that act symbolizes the resurrection, but it is truly separate and apart from the burial (which is depicted in the word immerse, submerge). Admittedly, we have come to regard the "rising to walk in newness of life" as so integral to our identification with His death that we lump it all under the term "baptism." Technically, however, the concept of "immersion" is solely identified with His death and burial. The rising from the watery grave, even though from a practical point of view is a part of the process that occurs in the baptistery, is separate and apart (although it has been put under the theological umbrella of "baptism" for so long that we just assume that this raising up is also inherent within the word ... it is not). Bro. Buster Dobbs is apparently unaware of this distinction, which has led him to make an erroneous observation in his editorial.

Bro. Buster Dobbs continues, "There is no explicit command about where the baptism is to occur. ... The Bible is silent as to whether the baptism is to be in a river, or a cistern; a stock-tank, a baptistery, or a swimming pool. There is no specific command in the Bible as to where we baptize, and its silence allows choice" [p. 3]. "To reiterate -- a precise command limits; a general command or total silence permits" [p. 3]. Therefore, there are clearly aspects of this command to baptize that are non-specific in nature. We are not told where to baptize, although there are examples of rivers; we are not told when to baptize, although the examples clearly seem to suggest sooner rather than later. We are not told what they are to wear or how long to hold them under or any number of other matters about which some will invariably attach undo significance. So, yes, God has indeed allowed for some degree of responsible choice in areas where He chose to be non-specific. In this sense, therefore, His lack of specificity is indeed permissive in nature, though not absolutely so, for inherent within the implied permission is the implied restriction that our choice must not conflict with clearly stated biblical principles. So, once again, a case can be made for general commands, as well as genuine biblical silence, being somewhat permissive in nature, however no case whatsoever can be made for silence being prohibitive, because prohibition necessitates command, which is utterly lacking within the parameters of silence.

Bro. Buster Dobbs, in his recent editorial, moves on to another example, one taken from the ancient Jewish Passover. "Moses told the people to select and sacrifice an unblemished, male, lamb of the first year (Exodus 12:5). The command is clear and concise -- it is particular and definite. The command to take a lamb excludes all other categories of animals. If Moses had told the Israelites to use an 'animal' in the Passover memorial, then any kind of animal would be acceptable. However, Moses specified a certain kind of animal -- a lamb -- and obedience was limited to a lamb. ... The command was explicit and obedience had to be precise" [p. 3]. "The specific command to take a lamb prohibited any other kind of animal" [p. 4]. Buster is, of course, absolutely correct in the above analysis. That which prohibits, as he clearly elucidates, is specificity of command. This has nothing whatsoever to do with God's silence regarding the matter. Indeed, God was not silent ... He had spoken, and He had done so with unequivocal specificity. However, Bro. Dobbs then immediately falls back into the tired old "law of silence" fallacy -- "The Bible was silent about other kinds of animals, but the silence did not give consent because the command was specific as to the kind of animal. Silence following an explicit command prohibits" [p. 4]. This is not true. It is not the silence following a specific, explicit command that prohibits, it is the specific, explicit command itself that prohibits. Silence has nothing to do with it; indeed, there is no silence when God has specifically, explicitly commanded. So why do otherwise intelligent brethren fall so easily into this hermeneutical trap? The answer is because they must establish the prohibitive nature of silence in order to exclude those practices with which they personally disapprove (such as the use of instruments as accompaniment to singing). They must find a way to declare such a practice "sinful," even though God never said such a thing. The methodology they have chosen to employ is the "law" that declares "silence prohibits."

The problem is that genuine biblical silence does no such thing, which even the staunchest advocates of the prohibitive nature of silence are forced to admit when cornered. In the final analysis they can only claim "silence prohibits" when there is the presence of specific, explicit commands from God. And what they apparently can't grasp is that in such cases it is not silence that is prohibitive, but specificity. The reality is, and they will admit this, genuine biblical silence is provisionally permissive in nature, subject to the guiding principles of God's Word. For example, Bro. Dobbs pointed out that although God specified the animal was to be a lamb, He "was silent about where to keep the separated lamb" [p. 4]. Therefore, Buster rightly concludes, "Silence gave consent" for the lamb's owner to keep it wherever he chose, "because there was no instruction about where to keep the animal" [p. 4]. So which is it, Bro. Dobbs?! Does silence prohibit, or does silence permit? Well, his conclusion is -- it does both! Hmmmmm. Sounds confusing, until you realize that Buster has fallen into the trap of confusing silence with specificity. Genuine biblical silence (where God has said nothing about the matter one way or the other) is indeed provisionally permissive in nature. Dobbs acknowledges this. However, when seeking to establish a "law of prohibition and exclusion," the basis of such is NOT "silence," but rather specificity. Thus, there is absolutely no exclusionary or prohibitive force to silence, for to exclude or prohibit requires command, not the absence of command. A total absence of law does not thereby constitute law. Something the legalistic patternists simply cannot seem to grasp is:

Where there is command, there is no silence;
where there is silence, there is no command.

Buster also parades before us the example of Cain and Abel. "Remember the sacrifices of Cain and Abel ... one offered by faith (he did what God told him to do without deviation), and the other offered a substitute for what Jehovah had commanded. God had respect to the one who precisely obeyed and had no respect for the one who followed his own will, preference, and convenience" [p. 3-4]. I would simply request of Bro. Dobbs the following: please provide the passage in which this precise command given to Cain and Abel is recorded. And don't hold your breath ... he's going to be looking for quite some time. For a further analysis of the offerings of both Cain and Abel, and why God had regard for one and not the other, I refer the reader to Reflections #275 -- Offering a Better Sacrifice.

Bro. Dobbs then moves on to the "crown jewel" of all legalistic patternistic arguments --- the case of Nadab and Abihu. Time and time again this very well-known story has been dragged out as "proof positive" that silence prohibits. Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. For those interested in an extensive analysis of this tragic event, please read Reflections #63 -- Nadab and Abihu: The Nature of Their Fatal Error. In conjunction with this, I would further refer the reader to my analysis of the other two sons of Aaron, and of their actions that same day (which is often overlooked): Reflections #270 -- Eleazar and Ithamar: An In-Depth Reflective Analysis. Buster draws this conclusion from the account of Nadab and Abihu: "We must do precisely what the Lord tells us to do in exactly the way He tells us to do it" [p. 4]. So, Bro. Dobbs, what does this have to do with silence?! This is about specificity.

The whole point of Bro. Dobbs' editorial, of course, was to bring in his distaste for the use of instrumental music in worshipful expression unto God. The final section in this treatment, therefore, is not surprisingly titled: "Application of the Lesson of Silence to Music in Worship." Buster states very emphatically in this section, "The new covenant is specific in telling us to sing and it never -- never -- never mentions musical instruments or playing. It says, 'sing,' and is silent as to any other kind of music. The silence is prohibitive because the word sing is a definite kind of music" [p. 4-5]. Apparently Bro. Dobbs has forgotten about the mention of instruments and their use as accompaniment to songs of praise in the book of Revelation [Reflections #297]; either that or he doesn't consider Revelation to be part of the new covenant writings directed to the church. Nevertheless, he rightly points out that there is clear instruction for saints to sing. I don't know of anyone who would take exception to that observation. What is not true, however, is that "silence is prohibitive because the word sing is a definite kind of music." That statement is patently absurd, as any freshman logic student could immediately perceive. If "sing" is specific and definite, then there is no silence! If our God in His Word indicates that He wants us to sing, and He clearly specifies such, then it is that specificity that excludes, NOT the fact that our God was silent about everything else under the sun that might replace singing. In the presence of specificity, there is no silence! Genuine silence, by its very nature, cannot be prohibitive, because prohibition necessitates command.

Brother Buster Dobbs is correct, however, in asserting the principle that when God specifies, that specificity excludes. For example, if God instructs His people to sing, He would not be pleased with their decision to replace singing with dancing. Dancing is excluded as a substitution for singing NOT because God was silent about dancing, but because He specified singing. When God says He wants something from us, we have no right to replace it with something else. The Lord God is pleased with our singing heartfelt psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Nobody will argue against this truth (or if they do, they have no legitimate basis for such). What many fail to realize, however, is that "sing" is really a very general instruction, and there are countless aspects of singing that our Lord never addressed. May we use song books to aid our singing? May we use a song leader to aid our singing? What about a pitch pipe or tuning fork to set the pitch? Is projecting the hymns upon a screen acceptable to God? May we employ four-part harmony in our singing? What about songs where men sing one section and women another? How about those praise teams? Are the deaf/mute sinning because they use their hands to sing? I actually had a man write and tell me that the deaf/mute were sinning, because God said sing, He didn't say sign!! Good grief!! May we tap our feet while singing? I have been told this too is a sin (that it constitutes a form of dancing). We can get ridiculous, can't we?!

Where the logic of these legalistic patternists seems to go on some kind of a permanent hiatus, however, is when it comes to instrumental accompaniment to singing. For some strange, unknown reason, these people can't seem to fathom that heartfelt singing is still taking place, and that it is neither negated nor replaced simply because instruments are being employed to either aid or accompany that heartfelt singing. These brethren are still singing!! No substitution has occurred. Holding a song book doesn't change the fact that I am singing, it merely aids that singing. Following a song leader or praise team also doesn't change the fact that I am singing, it again merely aids that singing. Singing bass in a song, rather than the melody (which my wife may be singing right next to me), doesn't change the fact that I'm still singing; our voices complement one another. Instrumental accompaniment doesn't change the fact that I am singing, and singing from the depths of my heart, it merely aids that singing. The patternists will concede every point I just made ... except the last. "No, no!! That's different." We can acceptably employ a zillion and one different peripherals to singing and the legalists don't bat an eye, but the moment instruments are mentioned, their eyes glaze over, logic and reason evaporate, and they go on the attack. Bro. Dobbs declares boldly, "To inject mechanical instruments into the worship of the church ... is to be without God" [p. 5] ... "and is a sign of apostasy" [p. 27]. Once again, Bro. Dobbs, may I simply request of you the passage within the inspired new covenant writings that specifically declares this! In fact, may I have even one verse that even hints at such a doctrine? Surely it must be there, and I have just missed it, for I can't imagine you would be so bold as to declare such a thing when God has not. Therefore, just as soon as you provide this passage I shall print it in bold type in my next issue of Reflections with a full apology to you! The readers and I shall be awaiting this substantiation from Scripture of your assertion.

In closing, let me just reiterate my utmost love and respect for Buster Dobbs as a fellow believer in our Lord Jesus. I do not fault in the least his devotion, merely his theology in some areas. I regard him as nothing less than a beloved child of the Father, and my precious brother in Christ. In this review of his article I have no desire to attack him (and I pray nothing I said was taken that way), but merely to attack what I perceive to be the fallacy of his position. Jesus confronted the legalists of His day repeatedly for "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" [Matt. 15:9], for in so doing they were invalidating the Word of God for the sake of their tradition [vs. 6]. This deplorable condition continues in the church today, and it must be exposed. I have sought to do this boldly in this review, and yet I pray I have done so lovingly. May we never become so timid that we shrink from our obligation to confront what we believe to be contrary to God's will, and when we do engage in such confrontation, may we do so by an appeal to a "thus sayeth the Lord," rather than to arguments and doctrines assumed and deduced from what He never said. May God bless you, Bro. Dobbs, and may our Father grant us both greater understanding of His divine will.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Bro. Al, I'm a great fan of your writings. I don't always take the time to tell you how much I appreciate the way you make me think. God is using the thoughts and understandings contained in your writings to bless and challenge many people to move beyond their comfort zones and into a deeper relationship with the Almighty. Keep writing, brother, and thanks for making me think!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I feel confident that someone has given you a complete list of all the "approved and binding" examples which can be treated as law. Would you be kind enough to share that list with me and perhaps all of your Reflections readers?

From a Minister in California:

Bro. Al, I'm sure you will get your share of negative comments on your last article ["Holding Harps of God"], so let me be among the first to say -- Amen!! I am the preacher for a Church of Christ in southern California that just fifteen years ago would never have considered the use of instrumental music in worship. Today, however, we use a praise band one Sunday night a month that includes one of our elders and the son of another elder. This "Celebration!" service is well-attended even by those who do not happen to prefer instrumental music, but who come to support the ministry and encourage those who do prefer a praise band. I am also involved in this praise band as a musician (guitar, keyboard, banjo, and occasionally percussion), vocalist and arranger. Bro. Al, if our congregation had not already come to the conclusions you presented in your last article, I would preach your article almost word for word next Sunday (citing you as the author). Thank you!

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, One of my fellow elders at ------ ------- Church of Christ forwarded to me this morning a copy of your article "Holding Harps of God." I want to thank you for deciding to write this particular piece, and for sending it out via your newsletter to my fellow elder, and to the many others who regularly read it. We are a congregation of about 1000 members, and we're in the process of deciding how to make an instrumental music worship service available to the Body here. This will be an additional service, not a replacement for our existing a cappella worship, so that we, like the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Texas, can be a both/and congregation. Last night another elder and I went to one of our small groups to explain some of the reasons behind the elders' decision to make an instrumental music service available. We used the Revelation 15 passage, just as you did in your article, along with various other comments about the arguments and abuses of "silence" in our heritage. Then, after reading your comments this morning, your insightful Reflections article was forwarded on to the small group leader for distribution to the other members of the group, because your thoughts were very well-written, and they will provide good seed that the Holy Spirit can water and bring to growth in days to come. Thank you so much for deciding to write about this, and also for tackling the related areas of the old traditional "biblical silence" argument. I'm aware that your Reflections are very widely read, and that you have great influence in places of which you are probably not even aware!! Blessings and peace, brother!

From an Elder in Colorado:

Well-said, my brother!! I have used the same passages you used in "Holding Harps of God," and in the same way, in the never ending argument over instruments both where I currently serve as an elder and also with family in Texas. God commanded it in the beginning, it will be found at the end, and He has never commanded that it be stopped in-between, and He is "the same yesterday, today and forever!" So, why should we change His words?! Where I serve we choose to worship without instruments, however once in a while we will play a CD that has instrumental music on it. You wouldn't believe the grief we get from one of the members (a strong, old-time member of the Church of Christ) whenever we do this. I guess, with such people as my judge, I am hell-bound. But, as for me and my house, it's a non-issue. We will continue to worship the Lord, and we will continue to love these people. I just pray they will love us.

From a Christian Church Minister in California:

Brother Al, "Holding Harps of God" was another superb essay! That instrumental or non-instrumental worship to God is a non-issue is patently transparent. It is simply a matter of choice. It is a question of style and personal preference. Your preferences are just as valid as mine. However, I recognize that there are many in your fellowship who consider it a matter of salvation. Therefore, I admire your straightforwardness and clarity. What a liberating thing to realize that God's grace allows us to hold different viewpoints and still be brothers in Christ! I love what you said -- we don't have to be twins to be brothers. Keep it up, Al. You are a cup of cool, clear water for a whole lot of very thirsty people!! Your influence continues to widen, and God is getting the glory!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Maxey, For several months now I've been enjoying and profiting greatly from your articles, and especially from your attitude. Now, however, you've gotten into one of the areas where I have long been prejudiced (instrumental music), and ... you're still right!! The more I study, the more I am now finding that I am coming to agree with you that it just doesn't matter in the final analysis. As long as one lives according to his own faith on the issue, I am finding that I now cannot condemn that person who simply understands God's Word on this issue differently than I do. It is in this that I am so very, very encouraged by you and your attitude!! Keep up the good work!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Great article, Bro. Al, as always! I have personally struggled with the instrument/silence issue all my Christian life (for over 30 years), and have only recently come to find assurance in what the Scriptures teach, rather than in what men teach, on the subject. I love both a cappella music and instrumental music in praise to God. Notice that I referred to a cappella singing as "music," and such it is! It is beautiful music that rises to the throne of heaven every time it leaves the lips of children of God. Since learning to play the guitar -- my "middle age" present to myself -- I have written a handful of religious tunes and learned dozens more. I tell you, they lift my soul, and I know from Scripture that God is listening with approval. Peace to you, brother!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Brother Al, As long as the legalists view the concept of worship unto God as a ritual to be performed several times a week, they will never be able to accept the freedom God has given unto us regarding personal preferences. Therefore, they will continue to debate the "acceptable" vs. the "unacceptable" acts of worship. Worship is something we do in everyday living -- it is not restricted to rituals. Please keep up the good work. I am blessed every time I open your lessons.

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Brother Al, You continue to write excellently! And, furthermore, what you write is almost always very much needed and thought-provoking information. I have something that you might want to address one of these days in your Reflections. For several months now, I have preached sermons and taught classes in which I have challenged the congregation to perceive the importance of joy and a sense of celebration in our assemblies. In order to do something more than just talk about it, we are using Sunday nights to learn new songs and to give some of our younger men opportunities to speak. We've talked about the need to be free enough in our assemblies for our hearts to express themselves, not just our heads. Last Sunday, one of the things I spoke about is our need to purposely insert some emotion into our worship. I can tell you, Al, that the last few weeks have been amazing! Our young people are participating like never before! Many of the older members have told me what a great, positive difference this has made in our assemblies. Our folks need to be free to demonstrate their love for God and their praise to Him with all their hearts. I think this is missing in a lot of places. Bro. Al, I believe you, through your influence, could encourage a lot of people to think about this very important aspect of worship.

From a Reader in Kansas:

Bro. Al, I very much appreciated your recent article on the harps of God. In the sixth paragraph you stated, "It is certainly no secret to anyone that there are some within Christendom who firmly believe the use of musical instruments 'in the corporate worship' of the church today is sinful in the sight of God." I am having difficulty understanding this concept of "in the corporate worship." From a biblical perspective, Jesus clearly concludes in John 4 that worship is not site specific. Could it be that we have unconsciously (possibly through our accepted traditions) married the concepts of "worship" and "assembly" with the paganistic practice of keeping rites and rituals? It is my contention that the main division within the Churches of Christ is really over how one defines this so-called "worship service," and what is or isn't "authorized" to occur within it. And yet, I do not see God giving detailed instructions on how to conduct such a "worship service." I would really appreciate a full-blown article on this at some point in the future in which you share your thoughts with us. Thanks for all you do!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Bro. Al, For about two years now I've been a reader of your Reflections, as well as your debates and other Bible studies which you have on your web page. I just want to thank you. You are one of an unfortunately slim and exclusive list of people who have actually encouraged me to think for myself, and for that I owe you quite a lot!!

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Brother Al, This is not in response to any issue of your weekly Reflections, nor is it a request. I am just getting ready to go to the church building to prepare for the Sunday morning service, and you came to mind. I just wanted to let you know that you are loved and that I have prayed for you this morning! You are on my mind and in my heart and in my prayers. Have a very blessed day!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, In Eph. 5:19, when Paul wrote, "speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs," he did not exclude, delete or omit any of the inspired Psalms. If you want a good laugh, think about how it would go over if a song leader in a non-instrumental Church of Christ was to announce Psalm 150:3-5 as his next song some Sunday morning!! "Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals." If a song leader actually ever dared to lead this inspired psalm of God, it would probably be the last song he ever led for that particular church!!

From a Minister in Kansas:

Brother Al, One Cup man here. Well, it certainly looks like the Old Paths Advocate gang is back at it again (as per the reference in your last readers' section on Billy Dickinson's attack on John Modgling). They always attack others and demand answers to their questions, but then they refuse to respond to any questions that are presented to them by honest brethren. The OPA approach is always the same: "Line up with us, or get out!" Over the last thirty years I have seen so many wonderful brothers and sisters run over, run down, and run off that I'm amazed that any One Cup congregations would even want to be associated with the OPA gang. The truth is, the OPA crowd will tolerate many differences of opinion as long as it is within their own power circle, but all others will be hammered if they try to think for themselves. Never mind congregational autonomy -- it doesn't exist as far as the OPA Inquisitors are concerned. Bro. Al, I am writing once again to let your readers know that not all One Cup brethren are cut from the same cloth as these OPA lords. I strongly encourage all One Cup congregations, who have not already done so, to remove themselves from the control of the OPA power circle. May God bless all who truly seek unity.

From a Minister/Author in California:

Dear Bro. Maxey, I read with great pleasure this week's Reflections article on the harps of God. If the One Cup group could have seen this question in the light of God's divine Word many years ago, I am sure that unity could have prevailed, and there could have been peace rather than division. I would also like to say just a few words about the statement that Billy Dickinson made about our dear brother John Modgling. I will never understand why many of these people insist upon castigating a brother over matters of personal opinion. I wonder just who among the OPA group died and left Billy Dickinson "Master of the Tribe." I traveled many, many miles with some of the "king pins" of the OPA, assisting them in the song leading for their meetings, doing personal work, and also other duties during gospel meetings, with not a "thank you" or even a buck or two to help me get to the next meeting. I am going to make a suggestion to Billy Dickinson: purchase my book, read it carefully, and then he will find several more good, godly men that he can chew on (including me). This deplorable attitude, as currently seen in the OPA tyrants, will eventually destroy the One Cup group. This "holier than thou" attitude that is showing its ugly face will grow more devastating with each passing day. God have mercy!! Bro. Maxey, I left the fellowship of the One Cup group some 30 years ago, and I have written about my experiences. You might mention the name of my book to your readers.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, The news about John Modgling being attacked by the OPA editor is so very sad. Please keep your readers informed about him. I would personally like to do something to encourage and uplift John. The very fact that he is having to deal with this sort of thing in the 21st century from individuals who claim to teach "the Truth" is disturbing to me. How will we ever be able to evangelize the world when we are so divided over things that are so trivial?!

From a Reader in West Virginia:

My Dear Brother, Your article "The Spirit Lusteth To Envy" [Reflections #295] brought back memories. I had only been a Christian for 3-4 years when I went to Freed-Hardeman College. Bro. Guy N. Woods was someone who articulated the old arguments so well. I fell in love with him and his writings. I remember driving all the way to Gadsden, Alabama for a debate between Bro. Woods and some fellow from the Church of Christ who believed in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I remember sitting down beside a lady who turned out to be the wife of the man who was debating Woods. Bro. Woods showed the man no mercy for his belief in an indwelling. I remember Woods asking him to heal a fellow in the crowd who only had one arm. Woods said, "Heal this man and you will make believers of us all." Little did I know at the time that 25 years later I would believe in the position of the man debating Woods. When it was discovered in my home congregation much later that I no longer accepted the "Word only" view, I was not even allowed to finish teaching the Bible class I was teaching. To say I was confused and angry was an understatement. Keep up the good work, Al. I am holding your hands up, brother. I truly love and appreciate you, even though I have never seen you in the flesh.

From a Reader in Virginia:

Bro. Maxey, I am also a Conditionalist. I hate the traditional position on hell, and have made it my mission in life to win over disciples of Christ (as well as others) to the Conditionalist doctrine. I thought you did exceptionally well in your debate with Bro. Thomas Thrasher on the nature of man and the final disposition of the wicked --- The Maxey-Thrasher Debate. Man doesn't have an inherently immortal soul that flies off somewhere after physical death, man IS a living soul with a promise of immortality. I'm really amazed at just how much Platonic philosophy has influenced our Christian doctrine on this. Thanks so much for a very enriching and interesting debate. I learned a lot.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I just finished reading your dialogue with the Baptist pastor from Tennessee -- The Maxey-Martin Dialogue. I appreciate and love your work dearly. I hope some day to pass through your town when you are around so I can meet you face to face. May God continue to bless you with years of service in your stand for Christ on the Internet.

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, In your last issue of Reflections -- "Holding Harps of God" -- I must say I agreed with everything you said, but take issue with your use of the quote "harpists playing their harps" from Rev. 14:2. What John actually said was, "The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps." I think almost anyone would take this to mean he heard a sound that sounded like harps. In Rev. 14:2, I take John as saying he isn't sure what it was, but it sounded like "harpists playing their harps." Having said all that, however, it would indeed be silly and illogical for God to give people harps to hold and yet not expect, or even allow, these people to play them. That just doesn't make any sense at all. I don't know how you find the time to think about and research all the topics that you cover!! God, through His Holy Spirit, has surely given you a special gift. I pray you will continue to use it to the fullest. May God bless you in all you do in His kingdom.

From a Minister in Nigeria, Africa:

Dear Bro. Maxey, Greetings from Nigeria. I wish to thank you for continuing to send Reflections to me. May I say that I have benefited from your writings. Years ago I benefited from Carl Ketcherside's writings, and also from Leroy Garrett's writings. I read about the death of the late Marshall Keeble's wife. I knew Marshall Keeble in person years ago. He had worked with us here in Nigeria, and he also worked with the late David Anako, who was once the principal of Ukpom Bible College, now known as Nigerian Christian Bible College. Thank you for reporting on the death of the lady [Reflections #294]. Thank you also for your tract on the Holy Spirit. Bro. Peters in Alabama sent me a whole box of them, and I will be giving them out to the preachers in our area of Nigeria. After reading your tract, they may send their reactions to you. May I say that you have done a wonderful job in writing this tract. This new generation of preachers here will benefit from such work as yours, as we did from Bro. Ketcherside's. I pray for the day when many preachers will become more open to studying their Bibles independently of the old traditions. It is in such an atmosphere that they will come to tolerate one another and receive one another as the Lord receives them. Please keep fit, Bro. Maxey, and please continue to write more and more. Thank you!!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Al, I was reading Amos 6. It seems God was not too happy; not even with the instruments of David. It seems He just tolerated them, but that He really didn't care for them. Would you please elaborate on this Amos 6 passage? Thanks!

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