by Al Maxey

Issue #349 ------- May 8, 2008
It was not the object of Demosthenes to make
the Athenians cry out "What a splendid speaker!"
but to make them say "Let us march against Philip."

John Stuart Mill {1806-1873}

Lord's Supper Meditations
Communion Commentary Concerns

William Penn (1644-1718) once wrote, "Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood." Let's be honest with ourselves -- too frequently those who assume for themselves the right and privilege of addressing others are doing little more than engaging in pompous, pretentious pontification. In a word, they are simply showing off. Such a spectacle may very well gain the attention of an audience, at least for a time, but it is hardly designed to inspire them to action (except perhaps to boot the buffoon from the podium). Shakespeare (1564-1616) wisely observed, in his classic work Henry V, "The empty vessel makes the greatest sound," which is somewhat reminiscent of the famous English saying, "The noisiest streams are the shallowest." But, perhaps Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) summed it up most fittingly -- "Every ass loves to hear himself bray!" Enough said!!

Speaking of public speaking, within our local assemblies and fellowships there are a great many opportunities for the Lord's people, young and old, male and female, to share with their spiritual family what is on their hearts and minds. Preachers, obviously, have occasion to do this rather frequently, but so also do others within these local gatherings. There are classes, devotional talks, speakers at retreats and seminars and workshops, and, of course, there are the traditional, almost obligatory, or so it seems, "Communion meditations" one finds in many a faith-heritage within Christendom. Oftentimes, these fairly brief reflective talks are quite moving and inspiring, and they truly help to focus our thoughts upon the purpose and meaning of the memorial meal of which we are preparing to partake. At other times, however, the focus sadly shifts from the table of our Lord to the speaker at the pulpit. On some occasions these speakers have become so self-absorbed that I've seen them ramble on for 10-15 minutes, giving personal anecdotes and telling jokes. I can actually remember one or two times over the past 30+ years of my public ministry where I came very, very close to rising up and putting an immediate stop to the whole spectacle (and, indeed, I fault myself now for not having done so). In my view, and you are all free to disagree, I do not feel this to be the appropriate setting for joking and the promotion of self. It's a time to call the people of God, and any non-believing visitors present, to focus their thoughts upon the selfless, loving act of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Yes, the Lord's Supper can be a time of joy (when properly perceived), as well as a time of sober reflection, and a time of hopeful longing, but it is not a fitting time for foolishness.

This past week I received the following request from a reader in Monroe, Louisiana -- "Dear Brother Al, Will you please write a column about Communion meditations. This is so very important to me because it seems that so many times we fail to present the true reason for Communion. I think this is a time the leader should refrain from telling the congregation anything that would make them laugh or snicker. For someone to do such a thing, in my opinion, shows a pronounced disrespect for an event I consider to be very sacred. If you decide to write on this subject, will you please dwell on the responsibility of the leader to bring the crowd to a better realization of the meaning and purpose of this very precious moment? I think far too many of our members lack a genuine appreciation of the very depth of Christ's love for us as expressed in His sacrifice. This request is something I have considered asking of you for a long time, but I kept hoping that you would cover it."

First, let me just point out what should be obvious to everyone: There is absolutely no divine command mandating any such meditation prior to the partaking of the Lord's Supper. This is purely and simply a tradition of human origin. This, of course, does not make it wrong, nor should such absence of divine "authorization" be misinterpreted as suggesting it be cast aside as a godless "innovation." Traditions in themselves are largely neutral in nature. It is what we do with them, and how we regard them, that generally determines their rightness or wrongness. I personally have no objection to the practice of having a brief talk prior to (or even during) the taking of the elements of the Lord's Supper, as long as such a reflection is done with a sense of reverence for the One we assembled to remember and respect for one's fellow communicants. Where such attitudes are not being consistently evidenced, however, I would much rather see this tradition abolished than to repeatedly witness it being abused. The Lord's Supper can still be observed quite well without it, but when it is abused the whole event tends to be diminished by such foolish distraction.

There may well be any number of viable accompaniments that serve to enhance the worshipful experience of those observing the Lord's Supper. A brief, reflective, meditative talk is just one of many. Quite a few congregations have chosen to dim the lights during this phase of the assembly. Some find this very moving spiritually; others don't care for it. In some assemblies the participants sing a hymn as the elements are being distributed. Again, some find that this helps focus their hearts and minds; others don't like it one bit. In a growing number of congregations one is finding brief videos being used as the audience breaks the bread and drinks the cup. Some of these videos are silent; some have music accompanying them (both a cappella and instrumental). As with any such effort to try and enhance the worshipful experience -- some are greatly uplifted by these various devices, others hate them. None of these attempts to bring greater meaning and relevance to the experience are wrong or sinful in themselves, and, indeed, there is much to commend them. Nevertheless, each congregation must decide for itself what does or does not best benefit the majority of their congregation. I say "majority" because no matter what one does, not everyone will approve. Thus, one's choices must be governed by what is ultimately best for the most, otherwise a congregation will never progress beyond the likes and/or the dislikes of the few ... and such a course is a pathway that leads to the inevitable demise of a congregation. My personal recommendation is that congregations practice a balance between these various devices, rather than permitting any one of the above (or any one group within the congregation) to dominate the worshipful experience of the entire congregation. Where genuine love truly exists among the members of the Family of God in Christ, acceptance of diversity of preference will be practiced, resulting in greater harmony and unity, as well as more meaningful Communion experiences.

But, let's return to the spoken Communion meditations prior to the distributing of the elements, as this is the true focus of this particular reflective study. I agree with the reader from Louisiana, who suggests that this is an opportunity for the person delivering the meditation to help the audience focus on the meaning and purpose of what is about to occur in the assembly as we all surround the Lord's Table. It is truly hoped that the speaker has taken some time prior to this occasion to do some prayerful reflection on what he intends to say, and the tone with which he seeks to convey it. As to what is said, there is a great deal of personal freedom, as long as one keeps in mind that his words should bring glory and honor to the Lord, stay focused on the spiritual significance of the Lord's Supper, and evidence a regard for those to whom he is speaking. It should in some significant way touch and/or motivate those who hear the message, uplifting them spiritually and helping them to see that partaking of the Lord's Supper is truly a call to personal service unto the One whom we remember in this event. For those who might wish to review the seven key aspects of the purpose of this event, I would encourage a study of Reflections #55 -- The Lord's Supper: Perceiving its Purpose.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Lawyer in Hawaii:

Dear Pastor Maxey, Thank you so much for your very careful analysis and examination of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Twelve Steps, and the Twelve Traditions in your excellent article Stairway to Recovery -- Reflections #164. Christians need to hear from those of us who understand the difference between the fellowship of AA today -- with all of its diversions, variations, secularism and idolatry -- and the fundamental basis for the original fellowship of AA -- with its reliance upon man's Creator, leading people to Jesus, obedience to God's will, abstinence, growth in fellowship through Bible study, prayer, seeking guidance from and fellowship with like-minded believers, and love for and service to those who are still suffering. Again, thank you.

From a Missionary in Peru:

Brother Al, Thank you for your recent Reflections titled "The Split-Second of Salvation." It is really hard to conceive that some actually hold to such beliefs as you mentioned. Those making such ridiculous statements concerning baptism have no more spiritual knowledge than the most darkened Romanist. It's just works-based salvation all dressed up in a ritual. I agree with you that it's impossible for us to discern the moment of regeneration, and the mode of the Spirit's work is diverse and varied with each one of us, but certainly saving faith does not come through any ordinance. May the Lord bless you, brother, and may His Spirit continue to be your divine Teacher. If you are ever in these regions you are most welcome to come and stay with us! I appreciate so much all the time that you invest in preparing your weekly Reflections. May the Lord continue to use you as His instrument to exalt His grace and to liberate many who are in bondage to legalism.

From a Minister in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, Your article "The Split-Second of Salvation" was, without a doubt, the best job I have ever seen of covering all the bases and the many controversies which have arisen regarding the "moment of salvation" issue! It was done in typical Maxey style!! I praise God for you, my brother!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I don't know how you keep up with the correspondence you must get, and with your work as a minister/elder with your local congregation, and with the hundreds of well-thought-out and well-written articles you produce each week, but I am thankful unto God that you do!! "The Split-Second of Salvation" was an excellent article! Keep up the good work.

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, Are you certain that you cannot read minds?!! Just the other day I was contemplating this very issue you covered in "The Split-Second of Salvation." The conclusion that I came to was this -- salvation is a process, not an event. We human beings get so consumed with issues of time and space, yet both of these concepts are meaningless when discussing the great and almighty God. Time and space are truly irrelevant to Him. For someone to think something as ludicrous as God not saving someone just because they were two seconds away from immersion is almost beyond comprehension!!

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Dear Brother Al, "The Split-Second of Salvation" was a great and timely message for me, as I have been contemplating the very same issues! I have come to the conclusion that God is in the business of saving sinners, not condemning them. He desires all men to be saved and does not wish for any to perish. So why would He condemn a truly penitent heart (one that simply wants to obey Him) just over a matter of timing?! Blessings, brother!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, What a thought-provoking article!! It has amazed me over the years that my Church of Christ family has castigated others (especially the Baptists) because they weren't being baptized "Scripturally." Could it just be that baptism simply as an obedient response to a command of Jesus Christ (which is what the Baptists teach) IS Scriptural?! The emphasis we need to be making is on The Christ. Let's help people to achieve faith in the Son of God. Then men and women who have come to a relationship with Jesus will respond in loving obedience to such commands as baptism, loving one another, living godly lives, etc. Our job is to lead them to know Jesus. Yes, like you, I teach that they should be baptized. But our real message is that God sent His Son into the world. Everything else finds its relevance, or lack thereof, in Him. Thus, faith ... not baptism ... is the primary response of a hungry soul to God. Thanks for all you do, my brother!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Thank you for your superb comments on this subject. It is amazing that we get into "trouble" with some brethren when we dare to express the knowledge unto which we have attained thus far in our personal study. It is my belief that you have summed up quite well the reason for baptism with one of your opening and closing comments. Our human/finite nature needs a "point of reference," and so God has provided us with something we can reference in our lives with regard to our relationship with Him. However, I don't see anything in Scripture that suggests God confines Himself to such points of reference. As you have stated -- In His sight we either belong to His Family or we don't. Brother Al, you have a massive ball rolling for God, and I pray that it will continue to grow in mass as it "crushes" the foolishness of man's "knowledge."

From a Christian Church Pastor in California:

Brother Al, It's Friday morning and I'm winding down on a great few days at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. I have focused on classes on church history, seeking to get a historical perspective from the Church of Christ viewpoint that I've never known. I have gotten all that I hoped for ... and much more! It has helped me to understand how the divisions in the Restoration Movement came about. I will share more later. Also, I mentioned you and your Reflections to several people this week at the lectures, so hopefully you will be getting some new subscribers. Al, thanks for being a very big plank in the bridge for me between our two traditions. God is doing some amazing things among us, and it is exhilarating to watch it unfold. As for your last article: for what earthly reason does any human being need to know the split-second someone is saved? It is not our business to specify the exact point when that happens in someone's life. That's God's business. Salvation is NOT all about what I do or when I do it. It IS about what God does, and HE can do it any time He pleases!! After all, He's God!! Thanks, Al, for saying that so clearly in your last Reflections.

From a Missionary in the Philippine Islands:

Dear Brother Al, We have all heard such foolishness as this: "What if you had convinced me that I needed to be baptized, and we were on our way to the building to get it done, and I was killed in a car wreck? Will I go to hell because I wasn't actually dunked, but in my heart I was truly committed to doing it?" My standard answer to such is: "I have never heard of someone being killed on the way to be baptized ... have you?!" Generally, that shuts them up! Al, while we do not agree on everything, there is still enough agreement between us that I think of you as my brother in Christ despite those items on which we have differences. I'm willing to let God sort it all out in the end.

From a Minister in Texas:

Bro. Al, In response to your article as to when salvation occurs, it is inane and ludicrous for you to even raise such a question. Show me even one instance when an individual had gone through the necessary hearing, believing, repenting and confessing, and was standing in the water of the baptistery, and he suddenly died of a massive heart attack or stroke before immersion, and I will show you an individual that God Himself didn't want because that individual's heart was not sincere. That person was just going through the motions as a show for those in the audience!!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I really enjoyed your most recent Reflections article -- "The Split-Second of Salvation." Once again I am amazed at the hairs people in the church are willing to split. I was raised in the Church of Christ, which I always felt was conservative, and, honestly, I still consider myself a "speak where the Bible speaks" Christian, but some of the positions held by some (as described in your last article) defy credulity! As an "intellectual exercise," I have heard the scenario discussed about the guy being hit by a truck on his way to be baptized, and the usual consensus was that he would be saved. Yet, going so far as to question the salvation of somebody dropping dead in the water while being baptized is, as you noted, to risk blasphemy against Almighty God. Al, please keep up the good work. You are answering questions which I, for one, have waited decades to hear even addressed, much less answered. Thank you!!

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Dear Brother Maxey, Thank you so much for your spirituality, insight, talent, and willingness to share with others such studies that we are simply rarely ever able to find anywhere else!!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Brother Al, In light of the attitudes of some described in your article "The Split-Second of Salvation," it is no wonder that the Churches of Christ are losing brothers and sisters by the thousands. Believe me, Al, if it were not for you, my wife and I would be long gone!! It just makes me sick to my stomach to read and hear about the narrow-mindedness of such people in the church with this mindset. May God have mercy on their souls!!

From a Minister in Maryland:

Dear Brother Maxey, I am a minister at a very conservative, legalistic, old-school African-American Church of Christ congregation. I'm a graduate of a college in Texas, and your Reflections were recommended to me by a fellow alumnus. I have been hooked on your Reflections ever since!! I need your advice, as I am in a situation where my beliefs and perspectives about Church of Christ doctrine and practice have now changed, but I'm in an environment, as you well know, where one can't even have any open discussion about these things, or these legalistic brethren will think you have lost your mind. My conscience will no longer allow me to preach and teach these patternistic and legalistic doctrines, so I feel like this is coming to a head very quickly. My income is tied to this place, and I have a family, so I have been praying fervently for guidance. Should I leave? Should I stay and preach what I have now learned from the Scriptures? I know that you have stated that many of the brethren within the Churches of Christ are now becoming more and more open-minded and reasonable when it comes to examining and even moving beyond the old traditional dogmas, but I just do not see this same openness and reasonableness within the African-American Churches of Christ. I just need some guidance. Thank you, Bro. Maxey, and please keep up the good work!!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, Greetings from the great state of South Georgia, where the state bird is the gnat. Your latest Reflections was a great study, as usual. Thank you for your work and study. I find it very strange that we humans try to place the Creator into a box by defining for Him the exact second when salvation occurs! As if we could ever know or understand anyway!! This all causes me to wonder: Since God does indeed judge the heart of man when it comes to salvation (rather than simply being a "Ticket Taker" in heaven), then does He also judge the heart of man in other things as well? For example, what is HIS view of a couple that say their marriage vows in public, but in their hearts they do not mean them? Are they then, in the mind of God, not married? Blessings to you, dear brother!

Special Web Site --- There is a very special young disciple in the Philippine Islands who I firmly believe is destined to become one of the great spiritual leaders among his people for the cause of freedom in Christ Jesus. You were first introduced to him this past October (although anonymously at that time) in Reflections #322 -- Bereans in the Philippines: A Filipino Disciple Stands for Freedom, with a special update on his personal situation at the conclusion of my study in Reflections #324. This dear brother now has an Internet site where he is sharing his insights with readers around the world. Some of you are already reading and benefiting from his marvelous writing skills and deep discernment of God's Word and the issues that face us in our challenging times. His most recent comments -- "Deconverting from Sectarianism" -- are very insightful, and I would encourage you to examine them. His web site is: You all will be edified.

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