by Al Maxey

Issue #359 ------- August 11, 2008
The dissenter is every human being at those
moments of his life when he resigns momen-
tarily from the herd and thinks for himself.

Archibald MacLeish {1892-1982}

Debate Between Disciples
A Reflective Review of the Value
of Debate within the Family of God

Thomas Paine (1737-1809), on December 23, 1776, during a time of great national challenge, made the following memorable statement, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly." Brethren, whether we choose to acknowledge the fact or not, we are at war. Truth is being assaulted by the forces of darkness; the Faith, "which was once for all delivered to the saints" [Jude 3], is under vicious attack. Jude, the brother of our Lord, took all of this very seriously ... as should each of us. He stated, "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith" [Jude 3]. These are indeed the times that try men's souls ... these are times that test our resolve and prove our worth. Are we "summer soldiers" and "sunshine patriots," or are we daily devoted to standing boldly on the front lines, with the sword of the Spirit in hand, defending the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? There's no place for "weekend warriors" in the army of our God. You are either engaging the enemy on the front, or you are cowering in the rear. There is no middle ground; no fence riding. Jesus said: You are either with Me or against Me! So, decide! Albert Simpson, in the year 1897, wrote a popular hymn in which we find this challenge in the chorus: "What will you do with Jesus, my friend? Neutral you cannot be!"

Some things are worth fighting for, and giving one's life for ... some things are not. Truth falls into the former category. Paul made it clear to his readers that he was "appointed for the defense of the gospel" [Philp. 1:16; cf. vs. 7]. Peter declared that the disciple of Jesus Christ must "always be ready to make a defense" regarding this hope we have in Christ Jesus [1 Peter 3:15]. Contending for the faith is not an option, it is an obligation. This is especially true of those our God has called to be the spiritual leaders of His people. Indeed, if one is not capable of "exhorting in sound doctrine and refuting those who contradict" [Titus 1:9], he is thereby unfit to serve as a leader in the church. I make absolutely no apologies whatsoever for contending boldly and tirelessly for Truth and against anything and everything, and even anyone, that seeks to diminish God's message of grace, dismember His One Body, and disunite His One Family. There are those within my faith-heritage, and some with whom I am even personally close, who would love to see me abandon my efforts to bring reform and responsible change to the people of God. "Al, just concern yourself with your local work and fade into the background," they advise. Although there would likely be fewer heartaches and headaches associated with such a withdrawal from the public square, it nevertheless would, in my view, be an abdication of my calling from God. Do I heed the call of men, or the call of God? I think the answer is obvious. God has blessed me with ability, credibility and opportunity. How can I deny Him who has never denied me? I shall serve Him boldly as long as He grants me life, for to do otherwise is unthinkable. If this costs me income and security and friends, then so be it. At least it won't cost me my soul. "For what profit is it to a man if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" [Matt. 16:26]. The apostles faced similar challenges from those who would have preferred their silence, but their response was: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge" [Acts 4:19], but "we must obey God rather than men" [Acts 5:29].

Brethren, when we contend for the faith, when we are set for the defense of the gospel, there will of necessity be some degree of contention. The challenge before us, however, is to contend for Truth without being unnecessarily contentious. This is not always very easy to accomplish, and I will admit to failing in this resolve on more occasions than I would care to count. However, I am passionate about the cause of Christ Jesus. I am zealous when it comes to standing boldly against the falsehoods that undermine Truth, and I am fervent in my resolve to stand boldly for ALL efforts by ALL my spiritual siblings to facilitate peace, harmony, and greater oneness within the Family of God. These are noble goals; they are worthy of our impassioned efforts. I've devoted my life to serving the Lord as best I can each day He gives me, and, frankly, I have very little respect for those who begrudge Him even minimal commitment (some of whom, by the way, have a tendency to become the very ones who prove to be the most vocal in their harsh criticism and condemnation of the tireless efforts of others). The apostle Paul sought to be a faithful steward of the gospel, yet hardly a day went by that someone didn't seek to pass judgment upon his every action. Nevertheless, this passionate servant of Christ stated, "I care very little if I am judged by you!" [1 Cor. 4:3]. Paul had a mission to accomplish, and he didn't intend to become distracted by those cowering in the rear hurling abuse at those who were fearlessly engaging those persons arraying themselves against the grace of God and the freedom He offered through His Son Jesus Christ. We must be no less determined today.

Brethren, let's just state the fact that is before us, one that should be obvious to all who have lived for any length of time in this world -- there are, and always have been, both in the secular and spiritual realms, those who are adamantly opposed to war. They are pacifists. They want no part of combat or conflict; indeed, they would willingly lay down their own lives rather than take up arms against an enemy determined to destroy them and all they stand for. I personally do not believe the Bible promotes such a philosophy. Just the opposite. We must put on the full armor of God, take up His sword, and confront the foes of our Father. When some in the first century, for example, sought to impose legalistic regulation upon those free in Christ (saying that one must be circumcised to be saved), "Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them" [Acts 15:2]. This critical issue was then brought to the attention of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, at which time "certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees" stood up and began, once again, promoting and seeking to impose this legalistic perspective. We're told in Acts 15:7 that, as a result, there was "much debate." The Greek word for "debate" employed here is zetesis, which signifies "a line of questioning; impassioned dialogue; a debate regarding controversial, disputable matters." Yes, one of the great turning points in the life of the early church, and in the clarification of its very purpose and mission, centered around a debate that began in Antioch and then moved to Jerusalem. Had this debate not taken place, the direction and nature of the Lord's church would have been greatly altered for the worse. Had the pacifists prevailed, and all controversy and debate been suppressed, legalism would have gained a solid foothold in the church. Thank God those willing to fight for their freedom took their place boldly on the front lines!!

I am thoroughly convicted that confrontation is absolutely necessary at times in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. Not only determined confrontation with the evil forces of darkness that surround us, but also confrontation with our brethren who may have become misguided by that encroaching darkness. There are also, sad to say, servants of Satan who have invaded the ranks of God's army, and whose goal is to destroy His people from within. The apostle Paul calls these persons "false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ" [2 Cor. 11:13]. He states that these servants of the devil "disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" [vs. 15]. Should these deceitful workers be confronted by our Lord's faithful disciples? Should they be exposed? Should their pernicious doctrines and practices be refuted powerfully and publicly by God's spiritual leaders? Absolutely!! And God help us if these leaders do not live up to the responsibilities He has bestowed upon them to serve as defenders of and contenders for Truth. We must follow the example of Paul, who "preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus ... speaking boldly in the name of the Lord; talking and debating with the Hellenistic Jews" [Acts 9:27-29]. In Acts 17:17 we are told that Paul "was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and with the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present." The Greek word employed here is dialegomai, which means "to dispute, contend, argue, discourse, reason" with another person. Clearly Paul was contending with (and debating) those who held views contrary to Truth. We encounter this word yet again in Acts 19:8 when Paul "entered the synagogue" in Ephesus "and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God." The very next two verses say he did the same for two years at the school of Tyrannus. Paul knew the value of debate, and made use of it quite effectively.

Debate, as a teaching device, is also a powerful tool in the hands of one experienced in its use. Jesus made masterful use of it as He conveyed Truth to His disciples via the medium of repeated public confrontations with the hardened legalists of His day. Although Jesus may not have won over many of those rigid religionists with whom He debated (indeed, they sought to kill Him for His efforts), He did win over the multitudes as a result of their daily witnessing these exchanges. For example, on one occasion, when Jesus was engaging the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians, "one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that Jesus had answered them well ..." [Mark 12:28]. This is the Greek word suzeteo, which means "to dispute, debate with" another. Yes, my Lord and Example was a great debater, and others recognized His skills in contending for Truth against those who had departed from it. Time and time again, through the use of public debate, the crowds witnessed the failure of their religious leaders to defend their positions and practices, and this won many of them over to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Thus, in reality, these "public debates" were designed NOT to convert the ones with whom He was contending (although that would have been a bonus), they were rather designed to convert those who were listening. This is a truth to keep in mind as we discuss the value of debate for the disciples of Christ Jesus today.

I think we would all agree that the notion of public debate, even though rather common in the political arena, is a somewhat controversial practice when employed by disciples of Christ. Whether those debates are between believers and non-believers, or between differing disciples, and whether they be oral or written, there are those who highly favor this practice and those who detest it with a passion. The fact is: the value of debate has been debated for centuries! I personally do not care for oral debates, but that is just my own preference in the matter. I know of many who think it is very effective. A written debate, or dialogue, on the other hand, is far superior, in my view, and I have engaged in several of these over the years. Indeed, I'm involved in one at this present time -- The Maxey-Broking Debate on the doctrine of Patternism in the church. Since the value and place of debate in the church, and as a tool in the hands of disciples of Christ, is a matter about which there is quite some diversity of opinion, I decided it might be rather interesting, as well as educational and enlightening, to do a survey of the readers of these weekly Reflections (which now number well over 12,000 readers worldwide). I anticipated this would give me a fairly good representation of the views of those within my faith-heritage, since the makeup of these readers covers virtually every spectrum and demographic of our brotherhood, as well as many who are outside of it. Thus, on July 28 I sent out a special request asking for your thoughts, and, as with previous such requests, you did not disappoint me. I emailed this request on a Monday evening, and when I checked my mail the next morning there were already over 200 responses, and they've been coming steadily, and in great numbers, since then.

From these hundreds upon hundreds of responses from brethren all over the world I have gained several vital insights. First, and this result came as somewhat of a surprise to me, those of you who favor debates outnumber those who dislike them, and this was by a rather large percentage. About 70% of you who chose to respond to my special request felt there was value to debates between differing disciples of Christ, and of this number the vast majority felt written debates (or discussions/dialogues) were much more effective than oral debates. A great many of you based your dislike on negative personal experiences with debates in the church in past decades, experiences which have left you with a "very bad taste in your mouths" for this particular methodology of examining differing perspectives and practices among believers. Several of these negative experiences you chose to share with me in your emails and phone calls, and I would definitely agree with you that the attitudes and actions displayed during those occasions were not in keeping with the spirit of godly confrontation that I believe is specified in Scripture. Those debates had devolved into debacles -- disastrous spectacles that brought nothing positive in their wake. In such cases the only true winner is Satan. Thus, I can certainly appreciate the distaste you have developed for debate. Negative experiences can have a lasting impact upon our views, no question.

On the other hand, there is ample evidence that debates held between differing brethren (and that is the focus of this present review, not debates between believers and non-believers) can produce (and, indeed, have produced) positive results in the lives of those participating (whether speakers/writers or hearers/readers). This is conditional, however, on these debates being conducted in a responsible manner, and the participants behaving in such a way as to bring glory and honor to their heavenly Father. Yes, this may well require those standing for Truth to contend earnestly with those who, in their view, seek to promote falsehood. They will need to speak out boldly. This will most likely require some degree of confrontation, and that can become heated. Such is NOT contrary to the spirit of godly defense of Truth, however. In both OT and NT writings one will find abundant evidence of several of the giants of faith boldly attacking falsehood, and even using such devices as mockery, sarcasm and ridicule to expose the fallacies, as well as the foolishness, of those practices and precepts opposed to God's will. Elijah, as he contended with the prophets on Mt. Carmel, is the perfect OT example, and both Jesus and Paul certainly "drew blood" on occasion in their confrontations with the misguided religionists of their day. Such tactics, therefore, are NOT unbiblical, even though some Christians may find them personally distasteful. I would refer such readers to my article "The Fine Art of Godly Mockery" -- Reflections #31. Nevertheless, such devices must clearly be used with discretion, as they, like any other good device or tactic, are subject to misuse and abuse.

"I'm Against Debates"

As was previously mentioned, approximately 30% of the readers who responded to my special request are very much against debates between differing disciples, whether those debates are oral or written. Many of these people were quite adamant, in fact. There were no shades of gray ... they just flat out hated them. Period. A medical missionary in China said, "Debates of the past are still fresh on my mind. I remember the debate in Abilene between E. R. Harper and Tant. It was not nice. It was fun, but not nice. Lots of things are fun that are not nice!" This was the view of several readers. They confessed to "enjoying the spectacle," but on later reflection felt no real good came of such "antics" and "theatrics." Indeed, many felt the cause of Christ Jesus was actually harmed by the behavior of the debaters (and, in some cases, of the spectators). Again, I would acknowledge the validity of their charge, for far too many such debates were NOT conducted responsibly. In such cases, as many readers noted, the only one who truly profits from such an exchange is Satan. A minister in New Mexico stated it this way: "Fencing may be an enjoyable sport, but it has the potential to lead to fatalities."

A reader in California wrote, "I grew up in the 1940's at a time when religious debates were in vogue. My father would drive considerable distances to hear them, and I went along. I loved them. They were occasions for each side to delight as their champion tried to get the best of the opponent. It was common for preachers to get big laughs as they 'zinged' their opponent. As I now reflect back, I doubt seriously that much good was ever done insofar as changing the minds of those on the other side. Interesting? Yes. Profitable? Doubtful." A reader in Florida wrote, "I am 67 years of age, yet I remember that as a pre-teen I attended a debate at the church building and my stomach felt like it was being 'tied in a knot' as the debaters raised their voices in anger, swung their arms, and pointed back and forth. 'This is not how Christians should behave,' I thought. I have no desire to attend another debate!" One reader who responded said, "If my first impression of Jesus would have been of Him 'getting up in my face,' I doubt that I would have ever become one of His disciples." And yet, such "in your face" confrontation seemed to be effective for Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. But, this brother is right -- what works for one person may not work for another. Not all people respond to the same spiritual stimuli.

A reader who signed his email "A Recovering Legalist from Kentucky," wrote, "There is an evil about debates that far outweighs any good: it is the willingness to go to any extreme, no matter how silly, just to prove a point. Also, generally, the more proficient debater will appear to win no matter where the truth lies. Debates do not promote learning of Scriptural truth, but merely try to win converts to one's position." A reader in Hawaii stated, "Two stubborn, arrogant men arguing, at times heatedly, does not seem to be conducive to resolving differences between brethren and healing old wounds." An elder in Indiana declared, "Since I was raised with the Non-Institutional brethren, I definitely have a rather negative attitude toward debates. The Church of Christ has a bad reputation of wanting to fuss and fight and challenge everyone to a debate. I've been to two debates in all my 67 years, and one was a typical, terrible exhibition of rude, pagan behavior. It was between a Non-Institutional Church of Christ preacher and a Pentecostal preacher. They went at each other like alley fighters. When this fiasco was finally over, I was talking to one of the Pentecostal brethren and he asked me who I thought had won. I answered, 'The Devil.'" One reader in Texas actually worried that Satan was trying to use my present debate with Darrell Broking to distract me from the success of my Reflections ministry. He said, "I personally admire and appreciate your studiousness and writings in your weekly Reflections so much that I truly hate to see you pour that extra effort into the debate arena. But, that is just me speaking, because the argument could easily be made: 'If his debate rescues even one soul from the torment of legalism it would be worth it.' But truly, Al, you do so much of that already in the calling God's given you, that this debate may be Satan's way of pulling you away from the many you are daily reaching through your Reflections." Believe me, this very point did cross my mind, and I did give it serious consideration. However, I still believe that, if handled responsibly, this present debate could very well open the eyes of countless people that I might otherwise not have been in a position to reach. Thus, I felt it worth the effort and the risk.

"I'm All For Debates"

The majority of you who responded to my special request felt that debates between differing brethren in the Family of God could potentially be very productive, IF they are conducted responsibly. Most also felt that written debates held far more potential for good than oral debates, the latter being far more prone to devolving into godless public spectacles. Given the amount of division within Christendom, however, and also within our own faith-heritage, some of you voiced the belief that dialogue and debate between brethren is very much needed. A minister in Texas declared, "Debates are needed now more than ever!" An elder in Tennessee, even more specifically, believes that my debate with Darrell Broking is needed, and he urged me, in rather poetic terms, not to forsake my responsibility to bring to light the Truth for those who will be following this written exchange. He wrote, "You have a 'congregation' before you at this present time in the readers of this exchange who haven't studied together probably in their lifetime. You agreed to speak at this particular 'gospel meeting,' and the auditorium is now full. Please don't forsake this assembly. Instead, do what you do best: reflect the truth that unity is what Jesus prayed for and disharmony makes Him weep yet today. Your readers will feast upon the skill with which you explain the dire consequences of sectarianism and promote the advantages of working together in the kingdom." A reader in Missouri concurs, saying, "I do not see your present debate as being a wedge that is driving people apart; I see it as exposing a wedge that is already in place. Ignoring it will not make it disappear." A Baptist missionary who is laboring for the Lord in Peru wrote, "Al, you have a gift in writing clearly and exposing the errors of false teachers within your denomination. Thus, this debate could be used to lead some from darkness towards the Light." As a well-known leader within the Christian Church wrote to me, "To expose error is to speak up for Truth. Alexander Campbell was correct in feeling that a debate gave opportunity for Truth to prevail."

Many of you felt, in the words of a student from Oklahoma Christian University, "that debates have a proper and good place in the church today." There were a number of reasons given for this conviction. Some feel that debates between differing brethren -- especially written debates -- provide good reference material for those seeking to understand both sides of the issue (material that will be there for generations to come). A preacher in Arkansas wrote, "I want to hear the differing arguments, examine these against what the Bible says, and then see if either side of the debate will hold water." Seeing the contrast of views on various issues might actually help resolve the matter in the minds of those truly searching for Truth. Sadly, too many brethren (often on all sides of some issue) have no real conception of why they believe as they do. This is simply what they have been taught, what they have always practiced, and thus they embrace this "hand-me-down truth" with little further thought. Such people couldn't defend their views and practices if their life depended on it. However, I am finding that more and more disciples of Christ are now questioning and challenging all aspects of their faith, and this is a good thing. At the end of the process their faith will be their own, not the handed down faith of another. Such brethren have open minds and open hearts, and are willing to change so as to conform to whatever Truth may be revealed to them through their study of God's Word, a study perhaps facilitated by these debates. A reader in Texas observed that such exchanges will often "force us (the reader/hearer) to think about, and even rethink, our positions." Again, this is a good thing!

A missionary working within Nicaragua wrote, "I enjoy debates when I read them. If the participants prepare well I usually get some new ideas to consider." They challenge our thinking; they challenge our comfort zones; they make us study and stretch our minds. A reader in California said, "Debate is a good thing. It exposes a Christian to the Scriptures. It exposes him to sound logic. It exposes him to a point of view different from his own." A brother in North Carolina concurs -- "they may generate further study on the part of the audience." A well-known author observed, "Debates challenge all readers to examine what they believe and why they believe it. A few, with the Lord's help, will have the scales of tradition peeled from their eyes as they make their way through these debates. Al, you possess the gift of tactful confrontation skills. This is a talent which you have the chance to use for Kingdom value. Do not allow others to distract you from this noble task. Prayer will help you in this, and I am headed there for you right now!" Yes, it is quite easy to become distracted from the purpose of debate. To lose sight of one's ultimate purpose in such exchanges is ultimately to fail in such exchanges. Therefore, I appreciate the prayers on my behalf, as should any participant in a public debate over Truths that may well impact one's eternal salvation and his/her fellowship with their spiritual siblings.

A fellow minister here in New Mexico opined, "I feel that debate has a legitimate place in the church, and can be healthy if the goal is to understand each other. In debate we are challenged to define, consider and justify our own beliefs." A preacher in Alabama wrote, "Discussions between brothers who are in disagreement are both necessary and can be of great benefit. Such can help individuals navigate through the various arguments to a more biblical perspective on various issues." Perhaps the author of the following proverb had some form of public polemic in view when he wrote, "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him" [Prov. 18:17]. We should never just assume that a position or practice is right without subjecting it to intense scrutiny. A part of this process could certainly be responsible debate between those who promote a particular position or practice and those who may wish to challenge it. Ultimately, if done responsibly, the Truth will emerge from such an exchange. A reader in Ontario, Canada, in writing about my current debate with Darrell Broking, said, "I am looking forward to the rest of this debate. I am finding it helpful to have both sides presented, and think that it will assist me in the process of thinking through these issues. If God is using the two of you to teach the rest of us some valuable lessons, then we should be open to learning them. Thus, I appreciate each of you taking the time and effort to articulate your thinking on this important matter."

A reader in the state of Montana said, "I feel that written debates, such as the one you are now participating in, can be a much more educational process (than an oral debate). Not only do the participants have the time (and lack of 'in your face' pressure) to really think about how to present their view of things and respond to the other person's position, but the 'audience' gets to take in far more information than in an oral debate. In a written debate format, we (the 'audience') can read, re-read, look up references for ourselves, ask others about this or that, and then go back and re-re-read the positions and contemplate why they are held. We can LEARN from the process, rather than just taking sides." A reader in Georgia stated, "I think written debates have value and will bear some fruit in some lives, for this format allows for contemplation and study." A brother from Texas writes, "Written debates are much more conducive to careful analysis. They can be read in private where one can pause to reflect and then re-read, to go at their own pace, and not be subjected to any peer pressure by others. So, I believe debates such as your current one with Mr. Broking have a very legitimate place." A reader in Mississippi concurs: "Your current debate with Broking is good because it presents a grace-oriented approach to the gospel to Christians struggling with a legalistic, CENI approach -- to Christians who may not know how to find their way biblically from legalism to grace!"

An elder's wife in Colorado writes, "Debates/discussions like you and Mr. Broking are having can be kept, read and studied as people have the time and desire to do so. It can be used for private study repeatedly when the readers want more information on the subject. It has the dignity that the oral debates, no matter what was promised, never quite attain." A minister in Oklahoma wrote, "Much can be learned from a debate properly conducted. I would love to see them brought back in vogue. It would be great for brethren to get together and debate an issue just for the sake of learning, rather than trying to beat someone into submitting to their own point of view." A brother in California confessed that he "never would have become grace-centered" had it not been for a debate that was held where he lived. "That day my eyes started to open and I began reading the Bible for the meaning, and not just for the legalistic way that had been pounded into me from my birth." A preacher in Florida said, "It is one thing to read your Reflections articles, which are always insightful and inspiring, but the debate format (as in your debate with Darrell Broking) allows me to actually hear and follow the reasoning and logic (or lack thereof) that drives people to these legalistic views, and that, in my opinion, is valuable. In other words, it's one thing for you to declare, 'they say...,' and quite another to actually hear/see them say it."

The Need for Debate

A brother in the great state of Texas observed that "for too long now we have been passively attending church, sitting in pews, and allowing tradition to become the word of God." I think he has a very valid point. Whenever someone begins teaching as divine doctrines the precepts of mere fallible men [Matt. 15:9], their standing before God is brought into question. Darrell Broking has declared that the very standard of truth upon which both fellowship and salvation depend is established, at least in part, by the inferences and assumptions of fallible men. Such a false doctrine, to be perfectly blunt, undermines Truth!! For us to sit silently and passively in our pews week after week while such false teaching is being broadcast far and wide is unconscionable. As the above reader from Texas noted: "Silence in the face of false doctrine supports the false doctrine. We must remain silent no longer." Amen! Those promoting false doctrine, to the destruction of precious souls, must be confronted ... brethren, if not by us, then by whom? We have passed the buck long enough; it's now time to take personal responsibility for contending for the faith. How dare we profess to be Christian leaders if we refuse!! Note the following insightful words from a brother in Amarillo, Texas -- "If we have been entrusted with the word of truth, responsible stewardship requires that we engage one another over important matters." The apostle Paul said that he "opposed Cephas to his face" because the latter was "not acting in line with the truth of the gospel" [Gal. 2:11-14].

There comes a time when we must acknowledge the value of the wise proverb -- "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" [Prov. 27:17]. If you have ever sharpened iron with iron, then you know that this produces friction. Sparks fly. But the end result is a sharpened tool or weapon; one made far more effective and useful by the process. There is nothing wrong with men confronting one another ... even when sparks fly ... as long as the end result produces more effective servants for the Lord. Too frequently we tend to erect walls of separation between ourselves and those who differ with us on some matter of perception or practice. Perhaps we need to heed the wisdom contained in the following plea of God to His people -- "Come now, and let us reason together" [Isaiah 1:18]. What possible rationale can one fabricate to justify the continuation of these walls of separation and exclusion? It is time for them to come tumbling down. That will never happen without communication between those on both sides, and such communication may at times be confrontational in nature. Our divisions have made this unavoidable, sadly. A reader in Texas declared, "To assume that debates will do nothing more than build a thicker wall between factions within the church is to assume that one cannot change. However, if one is of the mind to seek Truth and follow it wherever it might lead, then debates will not cause the wall to become thicker, but rather cause the wall to crumble."

A beloved brother in Christ from California wrote, "I think a basic question for you to consider is -- what do you hope to accomplish through this debate?" He had in mind my debate with Darrell Broking on the issue of patternism in the church. But the question could be applied just as easily to any person regarding any topic of discussion or debate. The question is -- What exactly do you hope to accomplish by this exchange? That is a fair question, and it needs to be answered honestly by anyone who seeks to engage in public debate. Therefore, let me answer it. Is my goal to convert Darrell Broking to my point of view? Well, that would be nice, and I would certainly like to accomplish this, for I truly believe his perspective and practice to be greatly removed from the objective Truth of God's inspired Word. However, realistically, I know that it is very, very unlikely that Darrell's convictions will be altered by my arguments. Just as it is unlikely that he'll ever change mine. We would both love to see this transformation of thought and practice in the other, but I doubt we expect it to happen. Thus, this is not truly my goal or motivation (although I pray to God that He will touch Darrell's heart and bring this conversion about).

Although I have many goals in mind, such as helping, in some small way, to bring down the walls that divide us by exposing the doctrines and practices that serve to separate us, nevertheless my primary goal is to take advantage of this God-given opportunity (and I truly believe it to be God-given) to reach behind these walls of exclusion and present to the view of those indoctrinated by legalistic patternism, perhaps for the first time (in some cases), a grace-centered alternative to what they have always been taught. It took some doing, but I have succeeded in getting the "powers that be" within this ultra-conservative, legalistic camp to grant me access to their people. They will now be able to hear, in great depth, a position much different from the one they have always been taught. It is an open door of opportunity that I've long prayed for, and one that our God has now granted. As Darrell and I present our two positions, the multitudes look on ... they are listening ... they are thinking (some of them, anyway). It is for them that I have leaped at this opportunity to share the good news with them ... and I do so via the medium of this debate with Darrell Broking. Jesus Christ did the same for the multitudes when He engaged the religious leaders of His day, and they flocked to His teaching because they clearly saw the distinction between what He taught and what their own leaders were teaching. That awareness of a better way, via our Lord's interaction with these legalists of His day, led many precious souls to freedom. In following His pattern, I pray God will grant some of the same results today.

A brother in Oklahoma stated that the hardened legalists, like the one I'm currently debating, "are so set in their ways that nothing could ever sway them from their views." Sadly, I fear he is right. Therefore, he writes, this debate "is not to convince them ... you never will ... it is to educate the rest of us." This is one perceptive brother!! A reader in Texas observed, "If the purpose of religious debates is to convince our opponent of his error, then I suspect the success rate is extremely low. When this debate of yours is finished, Darrell Broking will not have changed, and neither will you. The question is: will others be brought to a fuller understanding? My answer is in the affirmative." Another brother observed, "I do see value in your debate. First, you definitely become more of a 'known quantity' among those that agree with your adversary. I'm talking about the 'little people' that are being led by your adversary (and his supporters). These people will get the chance to see Al Maxey in action, and will thus have an opportunity to verify the information they have been fed about you. They will also become aware of your web site and all that it contains. Thus, I think you have a very good chance of getting their attention, and maybe winning some to the Truth." As a dear brother from Alabama notes: "Although it's nearly unheard of for one debater to be persuaded by the other, the target audience isn't really the debate opponent -- it's those who are listening!"

"The purpose of such debates is not (necessarily) to convince the person you are debating. That's a lesson I learned a long time ago," wrote one reader. It is rather the interested by-standers "who are the true targets of the information and the articulated points brought out in the debate." A brother in North Carolina stated it this way: "Christ loved people so much that He often 'debated' with the religious minds of His day. I can't help but think that He was doing so in order to help those who had been subjected to the bondage of the religious leaders of the day." A woman in California said that when she contemplated those precious souls chained behind the walls of their bondage, this "takes me to my knees in prayer that God will intervene somehow, and that He'll break those chains of legalism ... once and for all." I personally am convinced that this prayer is being answered, at least in part, through such debates as the one I am currently having with Darrell Broking. A physician in South Dakota wrote, "I do not feel that your goal is to turn the world into a group of Al Maxey clones. As I understand it, you are generating thought provoking discussions that test our beliefs and traditions, as well as our convictions. I find your discussions very insightful and helpful, to say the least. I also feel that this kind of discussion/debate is necessary in that it helps us to continuously reevaluate our beliefs, confirm our faith, and thereby strengthen our convictions." I couldn't have stated it better myself.

Final Thought

Is there a place for debate in the church today? Is there any value in differing disciples taking time to dialogue, and even contend, with one another over the issues that divide them? I believe there is. In fact, I believe that we must. Our Lord prayed for our oneness; for our unity. The devil works tirelessly to separate and divide us. We must be just as determined to fulfill the wishes of the former, and resist the schemes of the latter. This will take no little time and effort; it will be a wearying work; it will generate a fair amount of tears and heartache. However, if we remain faithful to our calling to stand boldly for Truth, and against every false way that would destroy the cause of our Lord, then it will also bring about some stunning victories of faith in the lives of those who previously were enslaved to the forces of darkness. These many precious souls are worth our sacrifice. And yes, speaking out in a public way is a sacrifice in some ways, because it will cause some to array themselves against you, to speak evil of you, and may even cost you those who previously professed to be your friends and brethren. Our Lord never said it would be easy, but the rewards will be far beyond compare. Seeing those who were previously in bondage now experience the joys of their freedom in Christ is a reward we can know here and now, and the eternal joys that will be ours on that great resurrection day will cause the struggle here below to fade quickly from memory. Let us, therefore, go forth courageously into each new day, determined to serve Him with every part of our being, charging through every open door He places before us, and let us do so with love for the lost, concern for the misguided, and a deep reverence for our Father, His Son, and His Holy Spirit. May our God bless us all as we step confidently into the darkness around us with the Light of Life that is so desperately needed by those who dwell therein.

Update on the Maxey-Broking Debate on
the Doctrine of Patternism in the Church

In an email to me dated June 18, 2008, David Brown, the editor and publisher of the magazine Contending for the Faith, promised that he would advertise this debate on patternism within his publication, and that it would come out in the July, 2008 issue. I received my copy of that issue just the other day, and David was as good as his word. Indeed, I must admit, his promotion of this event exceeded my expectations. I honestly did not believe he would give it the prominence it needed, and I was wrong. For that, I extend to him my sincere apology. David actually devoted three whole pages to this debate, even including pictures of both Darrell and me. He provided the URL to my web site where the readers of his magazine could find every word of this debate, and he even wrote the July Editorial on this -- it is titled "Evaluating A Debate." It goes without saying that I don't agree with some of what appears within that article, but I appreciate his effort nevertheless. For those who don't get this magazine, you can read his article online. Just Click Here to go to this study. David Brown is also featuring every word of this debate on his congregation's web site -- the Spring Church of Christ, which is located about 25 miles north of Houston, Texas. I believe this to be a very courageous, and even noble, gesture on his part, and I thank him for it.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

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Reflections on the Holy Spirit
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The Maxey-Broking Debate
on the Doctrine of Patternism

{This debate is now in progress}
Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, Thanks for that article on Frances Ridley Havergal. It was inspiring and uplifting -- just what I needed to read today!

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Bro. Al, Wow!! What an amazing issue of Reflections. The hymn "I Gave My Life For Thee" was one of my late grandmother's favorites. Knowing this, we sang this song to her on her death bed. Brother, I thank you on a job well done. There are not many who are willing to stand up for what is right, like you do. May God continue to bless you richly.

From a New Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, I would like to subscribe to your weekly Reflections. I ran across your web site and find the articles to be quite encouraging and enlightening. I'm a member of the Church of Christ here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Thanks for your good work.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Thanks, Bro. Al, for taking the time to engage in this discussion with Darrell Broking. On one hand, I find it inspiring, for the Restoration Movement was built on the assumption that when honest people with different points of view engage in dialogue in a God-honoring way (i.e., with gentleness and respect -- 1 Peter 3:15), Truth will eventually emerge. On the other hand, I find it discouraging, for, as much as I love this fellowship of ours, Darrell Broking is representative of the attitude that, in my opinion, is destroying us!! --- i.e., such people find it nearly impossible to admit it when they have been honestly mistaken. They begin every discussion with the pre-formed conclusion that Churches of Christ are closer to the NT teachings than any other fellowship. Therefore, every position they have traditionally held (such as opposing instrumental music in worship) must be the correct position. In my experience, such people who begin with such conclusions spend most of their time in these discussions misrepresenting the views of their opponents. Brother Al, I appreciate your attempts to rise above this. However, I find Broking's repeated misrepresentations of your views to be the antithesis of what Restoration was intended to be. Keep the faith, brother.

Special Offer --- A good friend, and faithful reader and supporter of my Reflections ministry, is Fred Peatross. He is a resident of West Virginia, and has served the Lord in a number of capacities over the years: minister, deacon, elder, and missionary to the people of Ukraine. He is presently one of the four editors of New Wineskins Magazine, which I would encourage everyone to read. Fred currently has an interview on there with both Geraldine Ferraro and Newt Gingrich. You will find these interviews fascinating. Fred also is the person behind a work known as Abductive Columns, in which he shares his insights with his readers. His current article, which came out on July 29, is a piece on my debate with Darrell Broking, and he provides his readers with links to this debate and to my Reflections web site. If you would like to receive his mailouts free of charge (they are sent by email), you may contact him and request these at -- I believe you will find them very challenging and uplifting.

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