by Al Maxey

Issue #319 ------- September 29, 2007
We can find common ground
only by moving to higher ground.

Jim Wallis {b. 1948}

Unity Through Surrender
Forfeiting Freedom For Fellowship

There is a view, most fallacious in nature, held by some within the church, that unity can only be truly realized when a narrow uniformity is imposed by a few upon the many. In the face of resistance to such thinking there inevitably arises great conflict. Those who desire to be free tend to resist the efforts to enslave them. And, as irrational as it may seem to reasonable men, it is those who refuse to submit to tyranny who are characterized by the tyrants as the source of the struggle. If the resistant rebels would just submit to the whims of the few, if they would simply abandon their own preferences, perceptions and practices, surrendering themselves totally to those who would control their thoughts and lives, then there would finally be peace, harmony and unity. The Father would smile favorably upon His children who had now, at long last, become united.

Frankly, it is the same "peace and harmony" found on the school playground when terrorized children turn over their lunch money to the school bullies. Yes, the playground is peaceful at recess; no one is being pummeled; no fights are being broken up by teachers. It is "harmony" achieved at the price of submission to tyranny. Brethren, we need to face the fact that there are those in the church today who seek to bring the entire family of God into subjection to their own personal and party perceptions and practices. Those who refuse to surrender to these rigid religionists will be accused mercilessly of being the cause of the division among the disciples of Christ. "It is their fault we are so fragmented. If they would just forfeit their views in favor of ours, we could have unity." No, brethren, we would not have unity ... we would have uniformity. The latter is not what Jesus prayed for, nor is it what He died to establish. Our oneness is not based on all men rallying to a position or a pattern, it is based upon rallying to a Person. As Jim Wallis [b. 1948] astutely observed in his work The Soul of Politics: A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change, "We can find common ground only by moving to higher ground." That higher ground is Jesus Christ, not the endless traditions and teachings of fallible men that have arisen all around Jesus Christ. We can find common ground in Him, but unity will never be achieved if it must be founded upon a uniform perception among men of the life, teachings and work of the Lord Jesus and His apostles, as well as the significance of the examples found in the New Covenant writings and the innumerable inferences and assumptions drawn from these examples (with endless additional assumptions being drawn daily from silence).

Such misguided thinking was evidenced anew in a recent article by Dr. Sellers S. Crain, Jr. This man preaches for the Rivergate Church of Christ in Madison, TN. His article, which is titled What Are You Willing To Give Up For The Sake Of Unity?, appeared on page 12 of the September, 2007 issue of the Rocky Mountain Christian. As always, I encourage you to take some time to read this article. Examine for yourself what this brother has to say; don't just take my word for it. This will give you a much better basis for judging my fairness and objectivity, or lack thereof, in the following reflective review. Additionally, as is my custom, a copy of this article has been sent to Sellers Crain well in advance of today's mailout. Any comments or clarifications he might choose to make will be very much welcomed, and they will be given a prompt and respectful reply.

Crain begins his article by making reference to a recent unity meeting held in Nashville, Tennessee between representatives of the three main groups that arose from the so-called American Restoration Movement. These would be the Disciples of Christ, the Churches of Christ, and the Christian Churches, each of which, sadly, has countless sub-factions resulting from additional internal squabbles over the years. Needless to say, the descendants of the Stone-Campbell vision have certainly failed over the years to carry the banner of unity in Christ. Indeed, we have come to have the unenviable distinction of being one of the most divided, not to mention divisive, movements in religious history. Obviously, something went terribly wrong somewhere, and I'm thankful that more and more within the various segments of this movement are now beginning to work together for greater unity among us. May God truly bless these efforts.

Sellers S. Crain writes, "The popular thing today to achieve a unity among these groups is for those of us within churches of Christ to admit our part in the sin of the division that took place near the beginning of the last century, first recorded in the census of 1906." In the very next paragraph, Crain retorts, "I have no intention of apologizing for or repenting of the sin of division since I did not cause it." Well, no one who actually caused that division is still alive, thus his statement is technically true. However, are we guilty of the sin of perpetuating it? If we are not actively striving to overcome this shameful separation within the household of God, and if we're not working tirelessly to bring brethren back together, then I believe we must shoulder some degree of culpability for the current division. Declaring, "I didn't start it" will carry little weight before the Throne if we can't also declare, "But I have done my best to end it." No, it is not up to me to apologize for the mistakes of my ancestors. It is up to me, however, to do everything within my power to correct those mistakes. A good place to start is to remove from our hearts and minds the attitudes that led to that shameful separation of spiritual siblings. Unless we are willing to abandon the thinking that caused this woeful condition, we will simply continue to perpetuate it.

Crain's "justification" for continuing this separation of siblings, of course, is to be found in the phrase "without scriptural support." In the view of these men, they are fully justified in perpetuating the division because they honestly believe they have the support of the Scriptures for insisting everyone else on the planet must submit to their perceptions and practices. Therefore, they are not really the ones "perpetuating the division," but rather those who obstinately refuse to bow to their theological whims. They are merely "contending for the faith," even though it can be quite easily and convincingly demonstrated that what they contend for is, in large part, little more than long-cherished assumptions, deductions and inferences drawn from silence that have been elevated to the status of divine decree. They, however, do not perceive their convictions in this light, and therein lies the problem. What for most disciples of Christ is merely a matter of personal preference based on personal judgment is for these people a matter of life and death. It is a salvation issue. Heaven and hell hang in the balance if their particular party pattern is spurned by the rest of humanity.

So, who is to blame for the division that exists among the descendants of the Stone-Campbell Movement? "In my opinion," writes Sellers Crain, "it was those who insisted on bringing in practices our people had long ago decided were unscriptural." Did you pick up on what Crain said here? Our people decided. They decided what was "authorized," and they decided what was not. Those who dared to disagree with them were therefore the ones who are to blame for the division. "Do as we say, and do as we do, and we'll all have unity. Do it your way, instead of ours, and we'll be divided ... and it will all be your fault." This whole attitude is clearly perceived even in the title of Crain's article: "What are YOU willing to GIVE UP for the sake of unity?" It is always the other guy who must surrender if there is to be unity. Why? Because I'm right and they're wrong! Period. End of discussion. We are heaven bound; they are hell bound. Thus, if we're ever to have unity, they need to abandon their heresy and embrace Truth (which, of course, is solely in our possession). What arrogance!

The theological issues that were behind the division, in the view of Crain, were instrumental music and missionary societies. Naturally, the New Testament writings have absolutely nothing to say about either. Which is his point. God was silent, therefore they are sinful. "It is my conviction that the vast majority of members of mainline churches of Christ still sincerely believe it is sinful to engage in either of these practices," observes Sellers Crain in his article. Frankly, I disagree with this assessment of the sentiment of most within the mainline congregations. It is my experience, from numerous contacts with brethren throughout the world, that those who truly believe these two items to be SIN are far less than half the members in the mainline congregations ... and that number is dwindling rapidly. This does not necessarily mean they are ready to actively embrace either of them; it simply means they no longer regard them as being sinful in the sight of God. They should be regarded as nothing more than personal preferences, and most certainly do not rise to the level of either fellowship or salvation issues. The rigidity of the ultra-conservative, legalistic patternists on this issue is very rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Most thinking brethren have come to realize that there is absolutely no rational, responsible exegesis of the Scriptures supporting such claims. It is all based on assumptions drawn from what God didn't say, which is a flimsy foundation upon which to establish eternal LAW.

The so-called "Law of Silence" is truly the foundation upon which brethren like Sellers Crain build their theology. Thus, it stands in the way of any effort to unite with our estranged siblings in Christ. He writes, "The main problem in resolving our differences is the same as it was in 1906 when we officially divided. It is a difference in understanding the Law of Silence." Unfortunately, he is correct. The legalistic patternists are so wedded to this hermeneutic that they are incapable of interpreting Scripture through any other model. The whole CENI methodology is inherently flawed, as I have sought to demonstrate time and again in my Reflections, as is the fallacious "Law of Silence." The only thing it has accomplished is the fragmenting of the Family of God. In my view, CENI, along with its attendant absurdity on the prohibitive nature of silence, has been one of Satan's most effective tools against the unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17.

Notice the following comment from the pen of Bro. Sellers S. Crain: "We in mainstream, a cappella churches of Christ, sincerely believe that silence forbids adding to the truth. Those on the other side believe that silence permits involvement in things not authorized by scripture. Until this issue is resolved, we will not have unity no matter how much we proclaim we are 'together again.' No problem or disagreement can be solved by trying to sweep it under the proverbial rug of theological gobbledygook." Sellers Crain could not be more wrong! First, there are, we admit, some within the mainstream Churches of Christ who do indeed believe biblical silence forbids. In the mainstream congregations, however, this number is greatly dwindling. It is among the ultra-conservative, legalistic factions of our faith-heritage that this position is still embraced by most of the members. Second, Crain is utterly mistaken in declaring that "the other side" believes that silence permits. What we on the "other side" have been trying to get across to people like Crain for years and years is that true biblical silence neither prohibits nor permits. Silence merely signifies God said nothing one way or the other. It therefore becomes a matter of personal judgment, one arrived at only through a process of prayerful evaluation of said action in light of revealed biblical principles, as well as the impact of said action upon one's fellow saints, the unredeemed one seeks to win, and the cause of Christ. Will said action bring glory to our Father, or will it bring dishonor? Will it help or hinder evangelizing the lost? Will it build up or tear down the saints in a local area? These and other questions must all be addressed before said action is ever embraced. No, Bro. Crain, "the other side" does NOT believe mere silence alone permits some unmentioned action. Far from it.

Bro. Crain declares, "It is my firm conviction that unity can be achieved if these practices are eliminated. Those who say they really want unity passionately should recognize this is the solution to the problem of division within the Restoration Movement. If they are unwilling to give up these additions, how serious are they about unity?" This same statement could be made to Sellers S. Crain, Jr. by those within the One Cup wing of our movement. Is he willing to give up observing the Lord's Supper with multiple cups? If not, then just how serious is he about unity? This same statement could also be made to Sellers S. Crain, Jr. by those within the Non-Institutional wing of our movement. Is he willing to give up fellowship halls, support of Christian institutions of higher education, homes for orphans and the aged? Is he willing to stop eating in the building? In fact, is he willing to have the kitchen removed from his facility? If not, then just how serious is he about achieving unity? There are brethren who believe it is a SIN to have a paid located preacher. Bro. Crain, are you willing to step down from your paid position to achieve unity with these particular disciples? Let's face it, brethren -- when you adopt this line of "reasoning," the only way "unity" will ever be achieved is for the entire Body of Christ to conform to the whims of the most narrow-minded among us! Such is too preposterous to even contemplate, and yet that is the slippery slope upon which men like Crain currently slip and slide. The sad thing about this is: they're too blind to perceive it.

Bro. Crain feels that these unity meetings are little more than an attempt by "the other side" to get those within the Church of Christ wing of the splintered Stone-Campbell Movement to compromise their beliefs and practices in favor of unity (the very thing, ironically, that Crain and others like him are demanding of those who differ with them). Sellers declares, "We are not being asked to give up anything. We are being asked to add things to our worship and work that we sincerely believe are unauthorized in scripture." Actually, this is not true. No one is asking Bro. Crain to add anything to his worshipful expression unto God in a corporate assembly. Those who worship with instruments are more than willing to embrace their brethren in Christ who do not have the same preference, acknowledging them as beloved brethren. There is no desire to recreate them in their own image. They merely desire to break down the walls of hostility that have existed far too long, and simply join hands as brethren. This doesn't mean we all have to worship in the same building, or that one side must "give up" or "add" something for the sake of a forced fellowship and unity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with each group continuing to worship in separate facilities with separate traditions. What IS wrong is the continued spiritual and familial separation, and the lobbing of grenades by one side into the camp of the other. My sister and I, for example, do not live in the same house (we're not even in the same state), we do not have the same traditions, and we see the world differently in some ways, but we have the same father and mother. We are siblings, and we love each other. Yes, we have our differences at times, but we are family. The same needs to happen in the Family of God. We may have differing traditions, differing preferences as to worship style, but we are children of the same Father, we serve the same Lord, and we are filled with the same Spirit. It is time to cease being sectarians and factionists, and time to begin behaving as brethren.

Bro. Crain, "the other side" is willing to support you in your worship of God without instruments, and in your evangelistic efforts according to the methodology that you believe will accomplish the most good for the Kingdom. Are YOU willing to graciously grant "the other side" that same freedom? Or, will you insist that they surrender their will to yours in such matters before unity can exist? Is fellowship contingent upon perfect agreement with your perception of God's will? And what assurance do we have that your perception of Truth is the correct one? After all, each of the countless factions just within the Church of Christ wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement believe sincerely that they, and they alone, are in possession of perfect perception of Truth. Thus, which particular perception becomes the standard to which all others on the face of the earth must submit before unity and fellowship can be realized? Yours? Theirs? Whose?! Maybe, Bro. Crain ... just maybe ... it is not about some elusive pattern, but all about a Person. The apostle Paul told the squabbling siblings in Corinth, "You were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" [1 Cor. 1:9]. Several decades later, the apostle John wrote, "What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" [1 John 1:3]. The basis of our fellowship is JESUS, not the party particulars of a pattern.

I have absolutely nothing against Dr. Sellers S. Crain, Jr. as a person. I don't know the man. In fact, I had never even heard of him before reading his article in the current issue of Rocky Mountain Christian. I have no reason to believe him to be anything other than a sincere, devoted, zealous servant of the Lord Jesus. He's my brother in Christ. It is not Bro. Crain I oppose, but his teaching. I firmly believe it is wrong, and that this mindset is exactly what caused the division among us, and that it is what is perpetuating it. This way of thinking must change, and I simply ask Bro. Crain to engage in some serious reflection on the points I have sought to make in this reflective critique of his article. Further, I would be more than happy to enter into a respectful dialogue with him should he choose to respond to my observations in this current issue of Reflections. May God richly bless us all as we daily seek to answer that divine call "into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ OUR Lord" [1 Cor. 1:9], and may the Spirit continue to work within us to bring us closer together as beloved brethren.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Ontario, Canada:

Brother Al, I was not surprised at your answer to the elders in Arizona. You have responded well, as always. You are able to get to the heart of an issue, and to see the answers God would have us to see. You are a gracious gift to us all. Keep up the great work.

From a Reader in Nevada:

Bro. Al, "Predators in the Pews" was an excellent article. Our little group is blessed with no sexual offenders, but we are sorrowfully filled with spiritually lazy folk. We have thus far found it impossible to encourage them enough to share their own faith so as to bring other lost lambs into the kingdom. We have so many who are happy to limit their Christianity to attending the church gathering for an hour once a week. Well, enough of my ranting. I pray God's blessings upon you!

From an Elder in Missouri:

Brother Al, Once again, your most recent article was a well-thought-out, balanced reflection on this very difficult subject. I fully agree with your conclusions and advice. We must be ever vigilant, yet balance that with true forgiveness. I look forward to your next issue of Reflections, as I do each week. Thank you for being there, and for doing what you do!

From a Doctor in Alabama:

Bro. Al, Just a quick note to say that I think you handled this challenging issue extremely well. When you sent out your special request a few weeks ago, I found myself caught in a spiritual "tug-of-war" over the issue -- on the one hand, I felt that we have an obligation to forgive and accept the repentant sinner; on the other hand, we must realize that repentance doesn't "cure" a sinner of the temptation to sin, so we can't afford to ignore the threat that such a person might potentially pose to innocent members of the flock. I think you've struck the right balance between these two opposing concerns. As someone once said, there's a difference between forgiveness and trust: forgiveness ought to be given freely, but trust has to be earned. We should be willing to forgive anyone who expresses repentance, but we would be foolish to place our trust in anyone who has not proven himself trustworthy. Again, I think you struck the right balance. Keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, You answered the question the very way Christ would have! I know in my heart that I would have fellowship with anyone who believes in Jesus, but, honestly, I would want to kill if any of my grandkids were to be violated by a sexual offender among us. May God forgive me!

From a Reader in Missouri:

Dear Brother Al, As you have stated, many will have their own convictions on this topic, but I believe every parent has the right to know of the presence among them of a convicted sexual offender. I, for one, would not be comfortable assembling with such a one -- I have my grandchildren to consider. This does not mean that I believe this person cannot be forgiven by God. It does not mean that they can't serve God. It just means that it would be far too stressful for me to always be on watch every second when they're around. I believe there are many child molesters that simply cannot be helped; they are just too sick. I have personally heard from professionals who confirm this. Thanks for your thoughts on this subject, as this is truly a struggle many Christians must deal with. For me, it is not a matter of not wanting to forgive, but a matter of protecting the innocent. Just my thoughts.

From a Reader in Nevada:

Bro. Al, About 20 years ago I left a church here in ------- where the preacher's grandson molested children. This probably went on for a period of 15 years. He wanted to molest my son, who did not go for it. I was a deacon at this church, and helped to get the kid in jail. He is now a registered offender. The church, if you want to call it that, is still in business, with a day school -- a place where this man can still seek out victims, even after a law suit was settled for seven figures!! You can use this letter.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Years ago I attended a Pentecostal service one evening during a revival and the evangelist was speaking about wolves in the flock of God. I have never forgotten his statement that you can always tell a wolf in sheep's clothing because the wolf has a bushy tail sticking out in back and a snout that will protrude in front. I thought you did an excellent job with this delicate issue of sexual predators in the church. All should check the web sites for the postings of such sexual offenders.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Al, Outstanding article regarding this most important issue we face in today's wicked and sick society! As a believer, and as a law enforcement officer in a major west coast city, I was one of the ones who responded to your special request. I heard about it from Buff Scott, who passed along your request through his Reformation Rumblings. God bless you and brother Buff. You cats are true front line soldiers!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Having spent many, many hours studying the Passover/Lord's Supper of the first century church, and the changes that have occurred over the years, I would like to offer some thoughts on this subject. For the most part, on a personal level, I agree with what you said in "Toddlers at the Table." However, from the evidence we have from the 1st century practice of the Passover and the Lord's Supper, I believe unbaptized children did participate with their families around the family table. The celebration of the Passover included the children asking questions. You pointed that out. They did actively participate in the Passover, which was normally a family event. The questions they asked were the keys to explaining the events of the meal and the symbolism of the elements. After Pentecost, the Jewish people who became Christians did not just throw all those customs out the window. They remained very Jewish. They observed the Lord's Supper in the context of a full meal, a portion of that meal being dedicated to the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine in remembrance and celebration of what Jesus had done for them on the cross. They taught and worshipped at the table. Using the family table for teaching and worship was Jewish custom, and it would have carried forward unchanged until the Gentile church came to prominence after the destruction of the Temple. Over the centuries we have changed the Lord's Supper into something that it was never intended to be, moving it totally away from the family table.

Having lost that family table style of worship and teaching has left us with a void with respect to teaching our children about the Lord's Supper and its importance, a void that did not exist within the 1st century Jewish church. I believe there comes a time in almost every child's young life when their curiosity about what mom and dad are doing with the "cracker and juice" reaches the point that it becomes an opportune time to teach that child about the Lord's Supper, while also allowing that child to participate a time or two simply to ease their curiosity and allow for some hands-on learning experience. I am not against the limiting factor of baptism for regular participation. In fact, I think that is a good practice. However, neither do I believe that total exclusion is the answer to teaching the young. Brother Steve Sandifer, who has written extensively and in-depth on the Lord's Supper, and who has taught classes at both the Pepperdine and ACU Lectureships on this topic (a Houston, TX minister, and former missionary in England, who, in 2002, received ACU's "Change the World" award), wrote the following: "What then should be the role of children in the Lord's Supper? If children participated in the Jewish feasts, and if they were welcome at early Christian assemblies, why do we exclude them from eating the Lord's Supper? I want to encourage you to rethink the place of children in eating the Lord's Supper. We leave it up to individual families to decide for themselves concerning their children's participation, but I think it is appropriate that parents use the Lord's Supper as an opportunity to share with their children what Christ has done and continues to do for us."

If we totally exclude our children when they are full of curiosity, then we have missed valuable teaching times which can help set the state for further teaching about Jesus. It may even help open their hearts and minds to that understanding that they need while satisfying their curiosity and giving them something we can tell them to look forward to in the future. On the other hand, I also believe that to allow the unbaptized child to participate on a normal weekly basis will cause the child to not fully appreciate what Jesus has done on the cross for us when they do start thinking more fully about Jesus. Bro. Al, I appreciate all the fine teaching you have done, and I continue to learn from your studies. I look forward to every study you mail out, as they always make me think and study more! Grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus!

From a Reader in Arizona:

Brother Al, "Predators in the Pews" was truly a very fair, balanced and compassionate article. The comments submitted by readers that you included were all spot on, showing both the love and oversight expected of Christian leaders. I commend you for addressing such a delicate, yet prevalent, issue. When you initially sent out your query to your readers, I did a quick Internet search to find examples of church protection policies. There are some actual examples out there on the Web. One article I found listed a few examples of policy rules that I thought were pretty good. That article can be found at:

From a Reader in South Carolina:

Brother Al, I would like to thank you for your Reflections, and for the encouragement they give me. They are a great guide in my personal studies, and they have helped me to search more deeply. I have been a Christian for most of my life, and yet still, to this day, find it difficult to study. Your Reflections have helped me, and for this I am very thankful. I appreciate you as a brother, and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts in the future.

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I really appreciated your comments in Reflections #315 under the heading Promoting Partyism for a Price. I agree that the Christian Chronicle has adopted a dangerous policy in allowing select special interest paid advertising that can only contribute to furthering the chasm between brethren. Thank you for exposing this editorial tendency. It appears your exposť of this trend has led them to double their efforts in the October issue. I was wondering if you had seen this new paid advertisement? Keep up the good work of trying to promote unity among brethren, and of shining a spotlight on those who seek to prevent it.

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