by Al Maxey

Issue #344 ------- April 7, 2008
There is One Mind, and all the powers
and privileges which lie in any, lie in all.

Ralph Waldo Emerson {1803-1882}

Balance Within The Body
A Plea to my Beloved Brethren for
Greater Congregational Equity

BALANCE. That is what it's all about. The more I reflect upon the many ills besetting the Body of Christ, the more convinced I am that the sickness and dysfunction we too frequently witness in our congregations is simply a matter of imbalance. When one little band seeks to dominate their fellow believers -- when one perspective or preference is imposed, with all others being vigorously opposed -- there is a deadly lack of balance in the local body of believers. Cancer begins with just a few cells that seek to dominate the body. In time, these cells take over and squeeze the life out of every organ around them. The goal of cancer is to dominate every aspect of the body. In so doing, however, it not only kills the body, but it assures its own destruction as well. When a faction within the whole seeks to impose its will upon the many, a slow, painful death is the inevitable outcome. Any local body of believers that allows itself to be hampered, hindered and hounded by a few who refuse to move beyond their personal comfort zones is a body destined to perish.

Some are likely going to be offended by that statement, but it is nevertheless a fact. Paul spoke bluntly to the Galatian brethren who were being threatened by those who were promulgating a legalistic, patternistic religion over and above a grace-centered relationship with Jesus Christ. He got quite tough with those who were troubling them -- he even hoped they would castrate themselves. And, yes, Paul knew it would not be well-received by some. "Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?!" [Gal. 4:16]. Yes, dear brethren, taking a stand for freedom in Christ against those who would continue promoting slavery to law and tradition will make enemies. And yet, we must be courageous. The lives of others depend upon it, as does the furtherance of the Gospel. Paul pronounced an anathema upon those devoted to legalism; those who were seeking to return their brethren to bondage, and "to whom we didn't yield in submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" [Gal. 2:4-5]. We must never, ever, ever surrender to those who would drag us back into bondage to a rigid religiosity. To surrender to such persons for even an hour is to flirt with death and destruction!! We must prove ourselves far wiser than that. There is no balance in the domination of the many by the few; nor, we might add, in the domination of the few by the many. Neither course is conducive to spiritual wholeness in the Body. We must seek a harmonious balance.

Balance is to be found in flexibility, not rigidity. It is to be found in loving acceptance of those with whom we may differ, and respect for their convictions, rather than in condemnation and exclusion. It is to be found in allowing others the same liberty to grow in the grace and knowledge of God and His Word that we demand for ourselves. It is to be found in a sensitivity to the spiritual needs of our brethren, rather than a coldness and aloofness to those whose needs may be dissimilar to our own. It is to be found in a willingness to give, even if it may not be personally comfortable or convenient to do so, rather than demanding all others must give in to us. In short, balance is to be found when we are being led by the Spirit, rather than being controlled by the flesh. In evidencing the very attitude of Christ Jesus in our daily dealings with our beloved brethren, we will achieve a blessed balance. The apostle Paul spoke of balance in Romans 14 when he urged both sides of an issue to accept one another and stop judging and condemning one another. Neither side had the right to impose their own personal convictions and preferences upon the other. Those who ate meat could continue to do so; those who ate vegetables exclusively could continue to do so. They would respect one another, but they must not seek to regulate one another. "One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God" [vs. 5-6]. Did Paul suggest one view was right and the other wrong? Did Paul demand that one side surrender to the other for the sake of peace and harmony within the local body of believers? Of course not. Rather, for the sake of peace and harmony, both sides were to begin loving and accepting one another ... differences and all. This is godly BALANCE. And, oh, how rarely we actually practice it in our congregations!!

What is far more typically seen in congregations where there exists a diversity of perceptions and preferences with regard to certain practices is that the vocal few will impose their will upon the majority (who have a tendency toward timidity) by means of what is commonly characterized -- "rule by intimidation." Most people tend to retreat from confrontation, and this is exactly what the few are counting upon when they attack whatever or whomever they oppose. If something happens with which they take exception, or which falls outside of their comfort zone, one can expect an immediate confrontation. Whatever it was will be stopped, and it will be stopped NOW. It matters not in the least who or how many may approve or benefit from that which occurred or was proposed. It matters not in the least that they can't provide a biblical basis for their objections (indeed, they'll often refuse to do so). They don't like it, and that is the end of the matter. Period. End of story. What is tragic is that in the majority of cases, this "rule by intimidation" is extremely effective, and thus their will, once again, prevails over their brethren. This is imbalance in the congregation, and it will halt spiritual growth and forward progress faster than anything else. Indeed, it will kill a congregation.

Brethren, please stop right now and read the very first reader's letter at the end of this article!! Now, is pew position a salvation issue? One would almost think so from the antics displayed by those who opposed this moving of the pews (which was something the vast majority of the brethren felt would be beneficial). None of that mattered, of course. What mattered was -- they didn't like it, and they were determined to stop it regardless of the cost. Well, you guessed it. They got their way. "Rule by intimidation." The pews are back where "God wanted them" ... and they grow emptier by the week as brethren, fed up with such legalistic nonsense, find more grace-centered environments in which to worship and serve their God, and in which to encourage and stimulate one another to love and good deeds. The reality is -- no matter what one seeks to do, there will always be a few who don't like it. Always!! In the city of Corinth there was a problem with a member who was in need of discipline. Not everyone was in favor of disciplining this individual, and yet the congregation went forward with what needed to be done. Paul wrote later, "Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority" [2 Cor. 2:6]. Yes, the vocal few threw a fit ... and the majority did what was right in spite of it. Praise God they showed some backbone!! It resulted in the repentance of one who was previously on the road to perdition.

Let's return to the congregation that struggled over the "weighty matter" of pew placement in a church building. How might balance have been demonstrated in this situation? Perhaps the majority of the members, who felt a reconfiguration of the pews would be beneficial, could have suggested a temporary trial repositioning for three months, with a congregational assessment at the end of that period to determine if the good envisioned transpired. If not, then place them back where they were. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, this reader said such a suggestion was indeed made. This, of course, rarely sways those hardened in their personal preferences, as they are deeply convicted that their view is the ONLY view. In a balanced congregation, the few would say, "I really don't like it, but at the same time it clearly is not a salvation issue, therefore, because I love you, I'm willing to see if your position proves to have merit." The majority might then respond, "We respect your conviction that the old way of positioning the pews is your preference, and we thank you for being open to our preference. And because we love you, we will return these pews to their former position if our expectations of benefit prove to be unfounded." Perhaps, even if the repositioning proves beneficial, but the few still favor the other arrangement, they could all agree to six months one way and six months the other. This way respect is shown for both groups, and neither group attempts to dominate the other by imposing its view exclusively upon the other.

I once had a member of a congregation for which I preached come into my office one day very, very concerned over something that had occurred during the Lord's Supper the previous Sunday morning. A song had been sung during the passing of the bread, and another song had been sung during the passing of the fruit of the vine. The vast majority of the congregation loved it, and stated how it had touched their hearts. This brother, however, was not happy about what had happened. I can still remember his statement (and others have made this same statement to me over the years about other similar incidents with which they took exception). He said, "I did NOT appreciate these people IMPOSING their preference on me that Sunday morning!!" I looked at him for a moment and then said, "Brother, haven't you imposed your preference upon them the other 51 Sunday mornings of the year?!!" There was an extended silence, and he finally admitted, "You know, I hadn't thought of it like that!!" BALANCE. Sometimes we do it your way; sometimes we do it their way. No one dominates; all have a chance to be edified. That's how LOVE behaves in a FAMILY. There were times as young children that my sister, Rosemary, and I would contend with one another over whose preference would prevail. I don't even remember now what all our "weighty" issues were, although I'm sure we each regarded them as "salvation issues"!!! Nevertheless, as kids are prone to do, I wanted it MY way, and she wanted it HER way. At some point, mom and/or dad would step in and say, "Al, you had your way last week, now it's your sister's turn." BALANCE. Immature minds hate that concept. Mature minds, however, know it is the pathway to peace and harmony within the family.

The argument is made by some, of course, that if the majority within a particular congregation are allowed their preference on occasion, then this will cause the few (who insist upon the following of their preferences exclusively) to "stumble" in their faith, and perhaps even be lost. This is often referred to as the "weaker brother" argument (based upon a misapplication of Romans 14). Yes, if your brother's faith is indeed unsettled, and if something might indeed cause this brother or sister to stumble and fall and be lost, then we who are strong in faith need to be considerate of these babes in faith. But, let's be brutally honest here, okay?!! In 99.9% of such cases, these objectors are anything BUT unsettled in faith. Their convictions are cast in concrete. They are not about to stumble or falter or fall. This is just a ploy to force the opposition into compliance. I call such people "professional weaker brethren" (see my article on this in Reflections #25). Such people as these we are NOT obligated by Scripture to yield unto; indeed, we are exhorted in Scripture not to yield in subjection to such persons for even an hour [Gal. 2:5]. To do so is to forever be held hostage by these people. You have become enslaved to their will, and they will rule with an iron fist. The congregation will NEVER move beyond the parameters of their personal preferences and perceptions. The result is -- you will lose your young people, those who yearn for freedom in Christ and who are grace-centered will gradually leave, numbers will diminish, and at some point the congregation will be reduced to a handful of diehard traditionalists sitting around bemoaning the "Great Apostasy" that has decimated their congregation, when in fact it was they themselves who brought it about.

Brethren, we are witnessing this week after week, month after month, year after year. Congregations of the Churches of Christ that adamantly refuse to consider responsible change, and who instead cave in to the demands of the hardened traditionalists among their number, are closing their doors and selling their property. Any living organism that cannot or will not adapt to its changing environment will become fossilized (and this includes a local congregation). I would encourage the reader to consider: Reflections #49: Fossilization: An Extinction Theory and Reflections #206: Calcified Callous Recalcitrants.

Beloved brethren, I send forth this plea with much the same spirit with which Paul came before the Corinthian disciples: "in fear and in much trembling" [1 Cor. 2:3], because I know without a doubt that this message is going to upset some of you. And yet I pray God will soften your heart to see the deep love and concern for the church that prompts me to write these words. I love my Father and His Son, I love His children, and I long for the day when we can set aside our petty party and/or personal preferences, perceptions and practices and simply embrace one another in love as fellow spiritual siblings ... whether we're in perfect agreement or not. I long for the day when our assemblies can become times and places where the various worshipful expressions of ALL God's children can have equal expression, and when brethren allow other brethren the same freedom and liberty they demand for themselves. I long for the day when we cease eviscerating one another, and begin encouraging one another. I long for the day when the Family of God begins acting like FAMILY, and ceases behaving like FACTIONISTS. Christ prayed for this, and I am willing to sacrifice myself in the quest for this. I'm pleading with my brethren for CHANGE --- change of heart, change of focus, change of attitude, change of priorities. Will you join with me in issuing this plea and in embracing these changes?! I pray that you will. It is also my fervent prayer that you will receive this issue of Reflections in the same spirit with which it is sent forth: one of love and deep concern for the One Body of our Lord, and with a desire simply to see the factional feuding cease and the unity for which our Lord prayed realized. May God bless each of you as together we seek a greater balance within the Body.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Colorado:

Dear Brother Al, I have been a reader of your Reflections for some time now. For a while I was a subscriber, but computer glitches have, for some reason, made that impossible. However, I read your articles every week on your web site. Until recently, I was a member of the Church of Christ denomination. Thanks to your writings, and those of Leroy Garrett, Cecil Hook and Carl Ketcherside, I began to change my rigid way of thinking. I then went on an Emmaus walk, and while not a life changing experience, it truly was a thought changing experience. A very dear friend and brother has encouraged my continued walk toward freedom. Study, prayer and reflection have brought a whole new paradigm of "church" to my view. I now no longer view "church" as an organization, but what I believe God actually intended it to be -- the people He has called out and saved. Jesus did not die for an institution -- He died for people. Despite this change in thinking, my wife and I determined to remain with the organization called "Church of Christ" in hopes of making a difference. Not long after that, the majority of the men decided to change the pews around in the building to face each other. This was an effort to draw us closer together. It also profoundly affected the singing in a positive way. The fallout of the few was swift and devastating. While the pews were being moved, one brother threatened to call the Sheriff. Others said they would never be back until the pews were returned "to where God wanted them." The temple had been defiled!! A law suit was threatened by these few. Now, the pews are back and the temple has been restored ... and there are fewer and fewer people sitting in them. We are now meeting in our home with a growing number of people who are fed up with such legalistic nonsense. We have now come to know the closeness, warmth and encouragement of believers banded together in love rather than in form. I do not believe this would have been possible had it not been for the encouragement of knowing that there were others, such as yourself and your readers, who are actively seeking and fighting for the freedom in Christ that Paul thought too important to give away!!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Bro. Al, As usual, it is taking me a while to wade through this week's issue of Reflections. And so, as usual, I take a break and go take a peek at the letters from your audience. As always, I am delighted with the progress that open, loving, honest people are making. Hugs to you!!

From a Professor at Cal Poly State University:

Brother Maxey, I would just like to write and compliment you on a very well done Christian web site. I have just finished looking it over, and it sounds pretty solid. Keep up the good work!

From a Minister in Illinois:

Brother Al, I agree that people should not divorce, but, after all, it is just a sin, like any other sin, is it not? As such, divorce is completely covered by the blood of Christ. There are no large or small sins in God's sight, so why do so many in Christendom think divorce is so huge, and yet they say so little about the many other sins they engage in every day?! In my opinion, too many Christians are judging one another, and that isn't their job. They should be looking within their own lives!

From a Reader in Montana:

Brother Al, Like so many other readers, I have gained so much from your writings. I pray God will continue to bless you in wonderful ways! I would like to have a copy of your debates with Broking and Thomas. Please let me know how I can get copies. Thank you, and may God bless you in His service!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Maxey, We recently "found" you and have been enjoying getting your Reflections via email. Also, we have been going back through the Reflections archives studying various subjects. We have become Maxey Fans!! God bless you!

From a Reader in Canada:

Bro. Al, Thank you so much for your Reflections articles. Are you married?! Can we clone you?! The world needs more real men like you. You are more than a blessing to us!

From a Minister in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, I don't know whether or not you have checked the Reflections on the Precious Book Divine blogspot lately (since making mention of it within your article "Ostracism in Oklahoma" -- Reflections #337). As you know, it used to be an "echo chamber" for the legalistic patternists, but that all changed dramatically when they wrote the "hit piece" on Quail Springs Church of Christ and their minister Mark Henderson. Their work in producing the advertisement in The Daily Oklahoman started attracting people to their blog site; people who began challenging their views. This generated a huge amount of traffic on their web site. In the past few weeks, these legalistic patternists have retreated more and more from the many questions and challenges to their narrow thinking. Finally, this past Sunday the leaders of that site removed all the questions and comments by the "liberals," and they then set controls on their site so that no further posts could ever be made challenging or questioning them. They still continue to post their own views, but the views of others are no longer welcome, as they couldn't refute them. You may already have been aware of this action, but I thought it was something you and your readers might be interested in knowing. I pray that all is well with you!

From a Minister/Author in California:

Dear Brother Maxey, I have had a once in a lifetime experience that I am sending you in the hope that you will print this in your Reflections. To begin the story, it started with this wonderful 90-year-old mother asking her daughter to ask my wife if she would make her a scarf. My wife made the scarf and we then decided it would be great if we could deliver the scarf in person so we could get acquainted. The very next Sunday we stopped by and delivered the scarf, which brought a few very nice pleasantries and a big hug for each of us. In the course of our visit with this 90-year-old woman, she took out a harmonica from the side table and proceeded to play a couple of tunes for us. At that juncture my wife said, "Oh! My husband plays the harmonica too!" So this lady absolutely insisted that I go get my harmonica. I did, and we played several tunes together. Afterward, she insisted that I play a few songs by myself for her, which included The Little Church in the Wildwood and The Old Rugged Cross. This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. This past Thursday morning, which was my 88th birthday, she called and left the most beautiful recording on the answering machine at our house. She began by singing Happy Birthday, left several precious pleasantries, and then read a poem she had written for the occasion. She then played the tune "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands," and closed with these words, "Happy Birthday -----, I LOVE YOU!!" The daughter of this woman sent word to my wife that upon her mother's death, her mother has requested that I play a couple of songs on the harmonica at her funeral. This whole story has certainly touched my heart and has bonded our relationship beyond measure. Never in my life have I ever had such a moving experience! Thank you for printing this, Bro. Maxey. I will share it with this lady.

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