Issue #308 -------
July 23, 2007
No one is more a slave than he who
thinks he is free without being so.
Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-1882] once wrote, "Wherever the truth is injured, defend it." He could very easily have had in mind the apostle Paul as he took a courageous stand against one of the greatest challenges and threats facing the early church -- legalistic partisanship. The family of God was quickly becoming fragmented into various factions, and such partyism was proving to be a deadly cancer upon the universal One Body. Just as there were many squabbling sects within Judaism, so also was this sickness spreading into the Christian faith. There was the Paul party, the Cephas party, the Apollos party, even the Christ party [1 Cor. 1:12]. Paul exposed this shameful dismembering of the Body of Christ in his epistle to the saints at Corinth, saying, "Has Christ been divided?! Paul was not crucified for you, was he?! Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?!" [1 Cor. 1:13]. Several of these legalistic partisans could apparently be quite intimidating, even succeeding in exerting their deadly influence over such spiritual giants as Barnabas and Peter, the latter of whom the apostle Paul said actually "feared the party of the circumcision" [Gal. 2:12]. There are few things more disgusting than partisanship among those who should be united. Indeed, it led Thomas Jefferson [1743-1826] to remark emphatically, "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." On the other hand, most hardened partyists are totally convinced that they, and they alone, will be the only people in heaven! Therefore, if you are not a loyal member of their party, then you simply are not going to make it.
"And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'" [Acts 15:1]. Legalism. Partyism. It is disgusting and despicable. The church was afflicted with it in its early days, and it is afflicted with it still. It is without doubt one of the Devil's most effective tools in fragmenting the One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those mentioned in the above text are the same persons characterized by Paul in the epistle to the Galatians as "the party of the circumcision" [Gal. 2:12, NASB]. They professed to be Christians, but they were overly enamored with law. In other words, they were legalists. In the eyes of such people, God's grace and man's faith are insufficient to bring about one's salvation. Some form of law-keeping is required in addition to the former. In the case of these early partyists, that addition was circumcision. Today, the issues are different -- music, cups, classes, treasury, kitchens, fellowship halls, versions, women, etc. -- but the mentality is the same. Salvation is by grace through faith ... plus law-keeping (or, more accurately, tradition-observing). And, of course, the particular law/tradition that must be kept to effect one's eternal salvation varies with each faction. There is the One Cup party. The Non-Institutional party. The a cappella party. The Non-Sunday School party. And the list goes on and on and on ad nauseam. Brethren, let's be blunt -- partyism is partyism, regardless of the issue!
The "party of the circumcision" was woefully oblivious to the reality that by their devotion to law, they were devoid of a relationship with the Lord. "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you" [Gal. 5:2]. "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" [Gal. 5:4]. The legalists, of course, are utterly incapable of grasping this fact. They invariably perceive their own petty issues as Truth, rather than tradition. Thus, by imposing their preferences upon the rest of humanity as conditions of fellowship and salvation, they perceive themselves as simply being "faithful servants" of God. In reality, they are little more than faithless sectarians and factious schismatics. Such persons are troublers of the church; proclaimers of a radically different gospel. Paul characterized them as "false brethren" who were determined to spy out and undermine the liberty of the children of God, bringing them into bondage to law [Gal. 2:4]. He determined never to yield in subjection to them, not even for an hour [Gal. 2:4]. Indeed, such people were so loathsome in Paul's sight that he wished this "party of the circumcision" would use their knives to even greater effect and castrate themselves [Gal. 5:12]. Harsh words. Yet, these legalists would be the death of the church if left unchallenged. Paul was determined to stop them. Thank God for courageous servants like Paul. We need more like him today!
Yes, the apostle Paul was a proclaimer of salvation by grace through faith. Therefore, the last thing he could allow was a counter proclamation of salvation by meritorious works of law. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" [Eph. 2:8-9]. Paul warned that if anyone preached anything different than this glorious gospel message, even if that being should be an angel, "let him be accursed" [Gal. 1:8-9]. Yes, this issue was that serious. Why? Because if you seek salvation by compliance with a legal code, then you must live perfectly by that code. Even one infraction results in death. "And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole law" [Gal. 5:3]. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" [James 2:10], and we know that those who "set aside the law ... die without mercy" [Heb. 10:28]. Why would anyone place themselves under the curse of law, when Christ Jesus has freed us to live under 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].
A serious problem was rapidly developing within the early church, one that would have to be dealt with boldly and fearlessly. When freedom in Christ is threatened there is no place for timidity. God's "grace warriors" must dig in and hold fast against the onslaught of the forces of legalism. Not only our liberty, but ultimately our very salvation, is at stake. If legalism wins, we lose! So, when several hardened partyists came to Antioch from Jerusalem declaring, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" [Acts 15:1], Paul donned his armor, unsheathed his sword, and he went on the offensive. The battle was engaged. "Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them" [Acts 15:2]. Such false teaching was not going to go unchallenged. Nor should it today, brethren! One of the greatest enemies of the church today (and it always has been) is legalistic partisanship. It will destroy lives, fragment the One Body, and fill the lake of fire with countless victims. It must not go unopposed. I have had people plead with me, "Please, just ignore the legalists; let them be; don't waste your time on them." Brethren, when a cancer slips quietly into the body, the last thing on earth one should do is simply ignore it. It must be met aggressively, otherwise it will kill you. "Paul, Barnabas, just ignore those guys from Jerusalem; let them be; spend your time out on a missionary journey preaching the gospel. Why waste your time fighting their legalism?" Had Paul and Barnabas followed that advice I shudder to think of what might have become of the early church. Thank God these two men knew better than to listen to such corrupt counsel. They attacked the forces that threatened the church, having "great dissension and debate with them."
Unfortunately, the matter was not settled. These "zealots for the law" [Acts 21:20] were just as determined as Paul. Their mission was to bring the Gentile converts into compliance with their customs. They saw Paul's mission to those outside their own Jewish heritage to be a dangerous one; a "slippery slope" that could lead to non-Jewish "innovations" that would be completely unappealing to the "chosen people" of God. "The rapid progress of Gentile evangelization in Antioch itself and in Cyprus and Asia Minor presented the more conservative Jewish Christians with a serious problem" [F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 301]. "If Paul and Barnabas neglected to bring the requirements of the law to the attention of the Gentile members of the church in Antioch, and her daughter churches, there were those within the Jerusalem church who were more than ready to repair this omission" [ibid, p. 302]. "It is very probable that the successful mission of Paul and Barnabas was really the immediate cause of this protest on the part of the narrow Judaic party" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 316]. The rite that would become the "test case" for this partisan conflict was circumcision. If this could be successfully imposed upon the Gentile converts, then further concessions to law and custom would inevitably follow. Therefore, this became the issue in the early church between Jewish and Gentile believers. The legalists wanted to impose their personal preferences; those free in Christ merely wanted to remain that way! Tragically, that battle is still being fought today.
After "great dissension and debate" had occurred in Antioch over this matter, "the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue" [Acts 15:2]. The result would be the now famous Jerusalem Conference, which was held around the year 50 A.D., and which is recorded for us in the remainder of Acts 15. "It was obvious that the question must be settled," as the party of the circumcision was determined to impose their convictions upon all others [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 1, p. 212]. Their teaching was deadly to the emerging Christian faith, "for if righteousness comes through law, then Christ died needlessly" [Gal. 2:21]. By insisting upon a return to law and their tradition, they were in actuality denying Christ Jesus and His work of redemption. "If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you" [Gal. 5:2]. Indeed, just two verses later, Paul tells those wavering under the influence of these partyists, that if they give in to this legalism they will be severed from Christ and fallen from grace. In short, they will be utterly lost. Yes, legalism is that deadly! No wonder Jesus pronounced a woe upon the Pharisees, telling them they were making their converts "twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" [Matt. 23:15].
So, Paul leads a delegation from Antioch to the city of Jerusalem. "And when they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them" [Acts 15:4]. Essentially, they provided these Jewish brethren an overview of the first missionary journey, as well as the successful work of the Spirit in Antioch. It was this success among Gentiles that was basically the catalyst for the concern currently being expressed. "They're different; they're not like us. These new disciples need to be converted to our way of thinking and doing things." Partyism, by its very nature, is destructive -- it isolates and excludes, thereby fragmenting the One Body. It's a very easy trap to fall into, and some of the most spiritual of men have been its victims. On one occasion, for example, the apostle John said to Jesus, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to hinder him because he does not follow along with us" [Luke 9:49; Mark 9:38]. Jesus rebuked this party spirit. Yet, such a spirit is not very easily discouraged. When the Antioch delegation reached Jerusalem, and after making their report, "certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses'" [Acts 15:5]. Once again, this generated heated discussion. "The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter" [vs. 6], during which there was "much disputing" [vs. 7, KJV]. These legalists were an adamant bunch ... but, so also were these proclaimers of God's grace!
It is not our purpose in this current reflection to evaluate in any great depth the specifics of the now famous Jerusalem Conference. We shall leave that to a future issue of Reflections (and how that model may be applicable for confronting potentially divisive issues facing the church today). Suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit guided the proceedings, with the ultimate outcome being a reflection of God's will for His people. And what was that will? You don't have to be my twin to be my brother. In other words, the Gentiles did not have to submit to the customs and scruples of their Jewish brethren. Relationship with the Father was not to be exclusive (based on race, tradition, ritual, etc.), but was to be inclusive (freely offered to all by grace through faith). If Jews wanted to practice circumcision, then they were free to do so, and more power to them. There was nothing wrong with the act itself; it was only wrong if practiced as a condition of either fellowship or salvation, or if those who practiced it sought to impose it upon others. In this new dispensation it was truly irrelevant. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love" [Gal. 5:6].
Although the Gentiles were not required to embrace the traditions of their Jewish brethren, they did have to show loving consideration for the convictions of these Jewish brethren (something the Jews, likewise, had to do with respect to the differing convictions and practices of their Gentile brethren). In other words, they were going to have to learn the practical principles of Unity in Diversity. Therefore, the only true "essentials" that were imposed upon the Gentile brethren were acts of consideration for those with differing scruples. Those same "essentials" were, by default, imposed upon the Jews, in that they were no longer to seek to impose their own traditions (circumcision, by way of example) upon people for whom such an act was not viewed as being significant. Christians were to be considerate of one another, leaving the required conditions of fellowship and salvation to God, not to men. Dr. F. F. Bruce phrased it this way: "While there was no more question of requiring the Gentiles to submit to the ceremonial law, they would do well to behave considerately to their 'weaker brethren' of Jewish birth, not all of whom could be expected immediately to acquire such an emancipated outlook on food-laws and the like as had Peter and Paul. Therefore, without compromising the Gentiles' Christian liberty, James gave it as his own considered opinion that they should be asked to respect their Jewish brethren's scruples" [Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 311].
The apostle Paul showed, in a highly practical and visible fashion, how to maintain a balance in manifesting loving, respectful consideration for the genuine scruples of others, and yet at the same time resisting those who would impose their scruples upon others as being salvific -- i.e., he circumcised Timothy, yet he refused to circumcise Titus. It has confused some disciples today that he would circumcise one, but not the other. "Is this not inconsistent?", they ask. Not at all. Indeed, as he was delivering the decrees of the recent council in Jerusalem [Acts 16:4], he took Timothy "and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek" [vs. 3]. Paul was determined to show consideration for the feelings of the Jews in order that he might win them to Christ. Thus, so as not to offend them, he circumcised Timothy. This had nothing to do with Timothy's salvation. He was just as saved in God's sight whether circumcised or uncircumcised. This was simply done out of love for those who did not yet understand this truth, but who would be searching for greater light and understanding. "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some" [1 Cor. 9:19-22].
What Paul would not do, however, is surrender his own freedom in Christ by submitting to the whims of the legalists. Thus, in the face of the demands of those who were of the party of the circumcision, Paul refused to circumcise Titus [Gal. 2:3]. Why did he refuse? "It was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage" [vs. 4]. So, what did Paul do? "But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you" [vs. 5]. We are to yield to those with unsettled faith, but to those who are not only fully settled in their own minds as to their convictions, but also insistent upon altering ours, we have no obligation to submit. Indeed, just the opposite. One is required to resist such persons.
In this present dispensation of grace over law, true circumcision is of the heart; it is a spiritual, rather than a physical, reality. Paul instructs the saints in Colossae never to submit to the philosophies and traditions of mere men, or to their decrees, but rather to understand that "in Him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands" [Col. 2:11]. He warned those in Philippi, "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision" [Philp. 3:2-3]. Those who insist on circumcision only reveal they are bound to law for their justification and salvation. "For indeed circumcision is of value, IF you practice law" [Rom. 2:25]. However, who in their right mind wants to place the hope of salvation upon law keeping?! The Lord God has set us free from such bondage. "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter" [Rom. 2:28-29]. Those who seek to live by the letter of the law are dead. It is by the Spirit that we are made alive to God's promises. The legalists had a hard time perceiving this during the early days of the church ... and they have a hard time with it today as well. It is a concept they seemingly are incapable of grasping. We should certainly help them try, but if they refuse, then we need to make sure they are silenced. The decision that was reached in the city of Jerusalem was most certainly "reached only after much agonizing. Likewise, there probably remained in the Jerusalem church a recalcitrant group that continued to predict ominous consequences. But the decision was made and the malcontents silenced -- at least for a time" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 450]. I'm sure there was a lot of murmuring about the "slippery slope" and "innovations" and "lack of respect for Truth." However, Paul refused to allow such dogmatists to thwart the Spirit's mission to the Gentiles. He preached freedom in Christ, whether those enslaved to law liked it or not. So must we!
"The effects of the decision were very far-reaching. It freed the gospel from any necessary entanglement with Judaism and Israelite institutions, although it did so without renouncing the legitimacy of continued Christian activity within them. Thus, both Paul's mission to the Gentiles and the various Jewish Christian missions were enabled to progress side by side without conflict" [ibid]. What this simply signified was this: Jewish believers could continue to observe their unique Jewish traditions and still be "in Christ," and Gentiles could continue to observe their unique Gentile traditions and still be "in Christ." One group did not have to become the clone of the other. There is room for all at the cross. No group may impose its scruples upon another, and no group may deny fellowship to another group simply because they don't share common convictions regarding non-essential matters. This is what Romans 14 is all about. Saints may be as different as night and day in worship styles, personal preferences and perceptions, and even in certain deeply held convictions, yet they are ONE in Christ ... and they are obligated to accept one another. This is Unity in Diversity. Yes, we must all be sensitive to the convictions of others, but no man has the right to impose his convictions upon the rest of humanity.
Brethren, you and I face very similar challenges today. Partyism has never vanished. If anything, it has become even more insidious and infernal. It still destroys lives, it still destroys unity, and it still enslaves. Our reaction to it today ought to be just as visible as that of Paul and the other freedom fighters almost 2000 years ago. We ought to dig in on the front line, put on our armor, take up our sword, and wage war against this godless evil. Apathy will not push back the darkness; a light under a "basket" will not serve as a beacon on a hill. Intimidation and timidity are not desirable qualities for the Christian soldier. Yes, some of our comrades may urge us to stay "safely" back in the rear, serving more passively, rather than actively fighting the good fight on the front lines. "Let's not make a fuss. Let's not call attention to ourselves. Let's just ignore them; maybe they'll go away." Brethren, God has called us to serve in trenches, not in ruts. It is time to get out of the latter and into the former. Get out of those cozy bunks in the rear ranks and face the foe on the front lines. These partyists will not go away, and our reluctance to confront them only emboldens them. It is time to eradicate them ... once and for all. Until we do, we shall never truly know peace and unity and growth, both numerically and spiritually. I think it no accident that as the decision of the Jerusalem Conference was being delivered from location to location, "the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily" [Acts 16:4-5]. Do you want to see this happen today? Then let's develop some back bone, brethren!
From a Minister in South Carolina:
Dear Brother Al, Thank you for your scholarship, insight, and attitude in your weekly Reflections. You've been a blessing to me. Several months ago I read your book Down, But Not Out. It is an excellent treatment of divorce and remarriage, and I have recommended it to others. Last week I finished Rubel Shelly's new book on divorce and remarriage. Both of your books validated some conclusions I've been moving toward for years! I have been preaching since my graduation from a Christian university over 20 years ago. Much of my teaching and counsel on divorce and remarriage was rooted in tradition and legalism, rather than in the Scriptures. I cringe when I think about some of the advice and judgments I gave out years ago. While your book and Rubel's gave me hope and clarity, I also experienced sadness about the opportunities I have missed. I know that legalistic preaching, just like divorce, can be forgiven by God, and I have asked for His grace and forgiveness. From now on, the grace of Christ will be the core of my teaching. In some instances, I have even been able to follow up with dear people whom I wish I had counseled differently in the past. Bro. Al, what wisdom can you share with preachers and elders making this transition from legalism to grace?
From a Christian Church Pastor in California:
Brother Al, I just completed reading "Brother Buster Busted." I must confess that it hurts my soul to read articles like that. While I truly hope the "Busters" of this world will one day discover the light of God's grace, I sincerely doubt that many ever will. But those who do will be changed by the Spirit of God working through you, and others like you. I'm so glad God has gifted you as He has. He has given you a tenacious spirit to confront the legalists. Many would still be imprisoned in legalistic prisons if not for God's Spirit working through you!! What totally thrilled me about your last Reflections, though, were those amazingly wonderful letters from formerly legalistic readers, newly liberated from their legalistic prisons. Wow! You are getting the word out -- grace is where it's at! I'm seeing revolutionary things in your fellowship (Churches of Christ) that I never dreamed I'd ever see in my lifetime. It is truly astounding what the Spirit of God does when He is freed to work within open hearts. Keep on, brother! God is at work mightily in your Reflections ministry. Please don't ever allow the "Busters" of your world (what an appropriate nickname for guys like him) to deter or discourage you for even a single nanosecond. You are making an incredible difference!
From a Minister/D.Min. in Oklahoma:
Brother Al, Thanks for your work and labor of love for the Lord and His people. Your latest Reflections article dealing with the dishonesty of Bro. Dobbs reminds me of good advice I received as a young minister of the gospel -- "You can't out-puke a buzzard!" It seems that several of our brotherhood papers have done more harm than good because they espouse hate and party rhetoric rather than good news and hope. Thank you, Al, for your scholarly efforts. May your tribe increase, as we Choctaws say.
From a Reader in Texas:
I really appreciate you, Brother Al. It is so disgusting to see people like Buster Dobbs, who are so hardened in the legalistic path they have chosen to follow that they are incapable of any intelligent reasoning. Brother, your message is getting out, and the Body of Christ is making steady progress in their understanding of the difference between silence and specificity. From those of us who have been "brain-washed" in the past, we know just how hard it is to change our understanding. I am thankful that our preacher is doing such a fine job in this area. I give him just about everything you write, and must say that we are all coming around. I love you, brother, and, yes, spiritual gifts are still around, as evidenced by the gift you use for God daily in your writings!
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, Thanks for the wonderful spirit with which you write. I believe your writing is led by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. Keep up the good work.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Bro. Al, I admire you for your admonitions to Brother Buster. I have believed he was in need of this kind of rebuke and call to repentance for a long time. The problem is, however, some people have hardened their hearts on a subject and will not listen to counsel. May God continue to bless your labors, Al.
From a Reader in Ontario, Canada:
Brother Al, You know that I hold you in very, very high esteem. I regard you as a scholar without equal. I have learned more from your weekly Reflections than any other source I have ever read. I am so thankful that you have helped free me from the shackles of the legalistic church, where I spent the first 25 years of my Christian life. I love you, Al, and it hurts to see you so abused by the likes of Dobbs and others, when you are so kind and gracious to them.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Brother Al, Thanks for the rebuttal to Buster Dobbs. The same thing happened to me about 30 years ago. I was "written up" by a close friend. When I asked for permission to reply in that publication, he refused to grant it. In fact, he told me that the church would be better off if I would return to my former church. He never did allow me a chance to respond. The more I see what is going on in the church, the more my doubts grow as to the message I have preached for the first 40 years of my ministry. As far as I am concerned, they were wasted years. I wasn't preaching CHRIST, I was preaching denominationalism (CHURCH of Christ), the very thing that I thought I was standing tall against. I was what Buster Dobbs, and a good many others just like him, are today -- a sectarian who was simply making more sectarians. May God help us to see that the plea of Campbell and Stone has been lost, ignored and vilified by a large number in today's Churches of Christ. We have stopped pleading for unity because we are too busy worshiping at the feet of an idol called division. Thank you for your articles, Al. Please keep up the good work.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Bro. Al, You have just done everybody a really great favor with your exposing of "Editor Buster's" comments! Yes, I guess we all are guilty to some degree of not realizing what fools we make of ourselves along the way in life. I can look back on lots of my own mistakes and wonder how I could have done this or that without even thinking about what I was doing. I think Buster Dobbs falls into that category. He doesn't even realize what he is doing when he makes his dumb statements, and yet for an editor to do this is a very serious error! I remember my mother saying many times, "It must be so ... It was in the Firm Foundation." This paper, as you observe, has been around for generations, headed by many men of impeccable reputation. Why does Buster Dobbs want to tear that reputation asunder?! Deep down, I think he knows better, but will not allow it to surface. I simply don't understand a man of his ilk allowing such to happen. "Buster, if you're reading this, wake up!! You are hurting the family that our Lord established. The One Body can do without your erroneous editing and spreading of lies. I say this hoping that the Lord, in some way, will make you see that you are wrong here. As Bro. Al says, I can still love you, but certainly not your wayward editing. That has to go. Step down, Bro. Dobbs; your day has come and gone! And I pray the Lord will forgive you! Our Master wants no one to perish. Shape up!" Brother Al, I enjoy your Reflections so much. It is a great work, and I hope it will be around for a long time to come. It is my prayer that the Lord will bless us all through your work. I love you, brother. Soldier On.
From a Noted Church Author/Lecturer:
Bro. Al, You might find this interesting. Back in 1986, in one section of a book I had just written, I gave quotations from several leaders among us who had written some things which seemed to indicate they considered themselves to be infallible. One of these men I quoted was Buster Dobbs. A year or two later we were at Abilene Christian University for the lectureships. Buster was standing in front of our booth, where several of us were talking about a possible debate with Maxie Boren (which never materialized). I picked up a copy of my book, opened it to the section where I had quoted Dobbs, and asked him to read that paragraph and tell us whether I had misrepresented him. He read it, and then said, "Awww, you're just trying to trick me!" I replied, "No, I'm not trying to trick you. I am simply asking: would you ever be willing to say, as most of us would, 'I could be wrong about something'?" He refused to say that. So, I said to him, "Then I guess I did not misrepresent you. You do think you are infallible." He did not deny that. Brother Al, please keep up your good work!!
BONUS: Testimony from a Filipino Preacher --- Brethren, I received the following email on Saturday, July 21 [which just happened to be our wedding anniversary -- Shelly and I have been married now for 34 years]. This dear brother is a native of the Philippine Islands, and also a gospel minister in his homeland. His testimony really touched me, and I would like to share it with you. I pray you will be as uplifted and encouraged by it as I was. --- Al Maxey
My heart goes out to that young man with a "conflicted plea" [from your article "Dear Heretic ... Help"], because I myself have agonized over similar matters these past few years, reminiscent of my heart-rending spiritual struggle twelve years ago when I left the church of my childhood, the Baptist Church, for "the one, true, undenominational Church of Christ church." I started out as a cocky, know-it-all, highly sectarian preacher who prided himself with a good Bible knowledge -- what with my immersion in such "sound" religious publications as Contending for the Faith, The Spiritual Sword, Firm Foundation, Behold the Pattern (Music), Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ (Brownlow), Piloting the Strait (Miller), among many others. I swallowed hook, line and sinker most all the pronouncements of the respected writers from these pieces of literature, and I parroted their lines in many of my sermons and personal studies with my "denominational friends." And yes, I joined with them in their denunciations of "liberalism," and I developed a condescending attitude toward the so-called "change agents" like Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, Rubel Shelly, Max Lucado, Cecil Hook, and many others whom I came to know only through the critical reviews of their "false teachings" by our "sound brethren."
A turning point in my quest for spiritual enlightenment came when I found out I could not even answer many of my own questions about our preachments and practices, not because there were no sensible answers, but because the sectarian walls that I had helped build around my religious consciousness prevented me from seeking out the answers by honestly facing my own inconsistencies and thinking outside of the (iron) box. As I increasingly found myself unable to reconcile some of our pulpit pronouncements with the practical points of Christian living, I grew ever more agitated, even to the point of feeling like losing my mind. But, by God's grace, I was led to places where I found simple answers to what seemed to be complex questions, and to people whose legalism-to-grace testimonies I was able to relate to.
The sectarian walls around me started to be torn away, and like that proverbial frog that has just leapt out of the well, I finally began to appreciate far more the beauty of God's Truth from a larger perspective. Like many others, I am still finding my way out of the woods of legalism, but at least I have begun this exciting journey to freedom and to really understanding what Christ meant when He said, "Come unto Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Now, I don't feel the urge to spend each day condemning people to hell simply because they don't parse some Bible passage the same way I do (but who, nevertheless, share the same core convictions I have on the essentials of the Christian faith). Now, I don't have to show my pride in my religious heritage by imposing our micro-traditions on other Christian groups -- I have learned to appreciate their unique expressions of faith and to gain insights from their walk with God. Now, I don't have to be worried about preserving the peculiarities of an American church on Philippine soil, or to be consumed with the "issues" over which my American brethren have fought an internecine, protracted war -- as if all the church "issues" in America should necessarily become the issues among Philippine churches. Now, I don't have to preach about some aspects of a great religious plea which have no relevance at all in a Filipino's life -- I have learned to dwell on matters that connect with the day-to-day realities in my fellow Filipinos' lives, anchoring all these matters to the basic truths in God's Word. Now, I don't have to fret about being branded as "dangerous," "liberal," "false teacher," and what have you, for holding the convictions I now have, because I have been where my critics are and I know I have already crossed a threshold that leads to a more fulfilling relationship with my Lord.
That is why I have also learned to respect all the more Christian writers and editors who are concerned not with indoctrinating their readers, but with fairly presenting their readers facts and convictions from which they may all learn how to better relate with God and their fellows. Brother Al, you are one of the few Christian editors and writers that I truly respect. As for the self-proclaimed and unrepentant watchdogs and "indoctrinators" in the church, honestly, I have grown sick of them as much as I cry for them. Let them be convinced of their own soundness, if that is what they want. In truth, they will only continue to alienate themselves from what I believe to be a swelling number of honest seekers of what is true and good.
Mabuhay ka, kapatid! (Long live, brother)
Yours in Him, ------- ----------
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