by Al Maxey

Issue #364 ------- September 16, 2008
Thou sleepest, Brutus,
and yet Rome is in chains

Voltaire {1694-1778}

Believers in a Box
Shhh ... Do Not Disturb!
Saints are Slumbering

I can't help but think that Prov. 6:10 is a rather apt depiction of far too many disciples of Christ today: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep." In verse 9 the question is posed to these spiritual sluggards: "When will you rise from your sleep?!" The apostle Paul, adapting a quote he took from the prophet Isaiah, pleaded, "Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead" [Eph. 5:14]. He also informed the Roman brethren, "it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep" [Rom. 13:11]. We have become a people "at ease in Zion" [Amos 6:1], tucked away in our cozy little comfort zones. Too many have become little more than believers within a box, shielded from those about them, shut off from all who might dare to challenge their cherished convictions, personal preferences, and party perceptions and practices. It is a blissful ignorance; a calm repose. Their box is a coffin, however, and the hush that descends about them is the silence of a tomb. There is the smell of death, not the sweet savor of a life of sacrificial service offered up unto the Lord among those about us who are perishing in the darkness.

Voltaire [1694-1778] nailed it when he spoke of Brutus sleeping while Rome was in chains. Too many who profess to be disciples of Jesus today are similarly indisposed. There are precious souls all about them in chains -- in bondage to the harsh masters of legalism and sin. Yet these "walled-in weekend warriors" slumber peacefully within their comfortable religious boxes while others perish in shackles. They are seemingly oblivious to the oppression that exists about them. A soldier asleep on watch, or snoozing in a foxhole, is of little use to our Commander-in-Chief; indeed, such are a liability. So is an entombed disciple -- one encased within his own peaceful mausoleum while the world suffers and dies on his doorstep. President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) rightly observed, "If men and women are in chains anywhere in the world, then freedom is endangered everywhere." Brethren, we must abandon our religious boxes. We were not called by Christ to slumber in cozy chambers; we were called to put on armor, take up a sword, and engage the forces of darkness on the front lines of the battle for men's souls.

I fear that the church has grown comfortable. We have found that "zone of comfort" which, in reality, equates to a zone of complacency. We no longer feel a sense of urgency to accomplish our mission. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What have we been called to? And, what can you and I do, individually as well as collectively, to help achieve these godly goals? These are questions that have not only gone unanswered, but largely unconsidered. Why? Because we have been much too busy tip-toeing around sleeping saints to sound the trumpet summoning God's people to action. "Let's not disturb them!!" Au Contraire!! Let's blast them out of their padded pews and into the streets. Let's shake their box until they spill forth from it, so that they might start being the church, instead of going through life just going to and doing church, neither of which are biblical concepts. It is time for us to take the Light into the darkness, rather than merely cursing it from behind our sectarian walls of exclusion. Salt cannot flavor and preserve while in a crystal shaker, and yeast does not do its work unless mixed in with the dough. Sealed in a protective wrapper, it is useless. So too with the genuine disciple of Jesus Christ.

I heard an old preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ once declare within a sermon that if he were given a single wish that would be immediately fulfilled by the Lord God, then he would wish for every church building on earth to burn to the ground overnight, thus forcing the people of God to spill forth into their communities. It was his feeling, and I believe he has a point, that we have become a people who tend to "practice Christianity" within a building; behind closed doors. Our Light has been placed under that proverbial basket, thus hiding it from those who need it most. I'll be honest with you, brethren, I'm personally convicted that we would be far more effective within our communities if we were all meeting in homes and inviting in our neighbors, instead of meeting in a single church building, waiting for the lost to come to us. If the legalistic patternists want to "restore the pattern," why don't they start here, instead of worrying about the preciseness of some "act of worship" within some "worship service" inside some "church building" -- none of which are even mentioned in Scripture, must less regulated. Focusing on these, rather than our true mission in this misguided world, has transformed us into feuding factionists and squabbling sectarians, rather than everyday evangelists of the grace of God to a perishing world. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves!

A gifted brother in Christ, Max Lucado, once did an article on what happens when fishermen do not fish. A group had gone to a lake for a week of fishing, but the rains were really heavy, so they ended up packed together inside a cabin. It wasn't long before they were at one another's throats. When fishermen do not fish, they fight. It was an amusing story; an attention grabber ... but it shares a valid insight into human nature. If we, as disciples of Christ, as fishers of men, are failing to fulfill our calling, then our sights will turn from the lost and turn upon one another. Rather than harvesting souls, we are harassing saints. Rather than picking the grain from the stalks in the field, we're nitpicking our siblings in the Family of God. Brethren, we have simply been "cooped up" too long. It is time for us to get "out and about," once again becoming focused upon and engaged in the "business of our Father."

Let me develop this thought in a somewhat different, but certainly no less critical, direction. I am convinced that too many within Christendom, and especially within various faith-heritages (and sub-sects thereof), have theological perspectives and traditional practices so "neatly packaged" (dare I say "pre-packaged"?) that they have become virtually sealed air-tight. These personal and party preferences (now elevated to precepts) are paraded as The Pattern for fellowship and salvation, and they are so tightly wrapped and boxed that they are impervious to review, much less to reform. Open the box and expose the contents?!! Never. Ever. This is exactly why the more legalistic and patternistic a group is, the less willing they are to engage in open and responsible dialogue with those who differ with them. That is why they will hide under their desks rather than answer questions responsibly. That is why their Internet "discussion" groups are so restrictive and regulated, and why virtually no one can get in. Their theology is "neatly boxed," arranged just as they like it, and they don't want it "messed with" by those godless "outsiders."

Such a "boxed" theology is an almost certain recipe for religious calcification. Their thinking becomes rigid, their practices become rigid, and their outreach to the world about them becomes increasingly ineffective, for in our enlightened day and age people have no desire to exchange freedom of thought for mind-control, and freedom of worshipful expression for a humanly deduced and devised regulation of every particular of some elusive pattern, a pattern that varies greatly with each and every party, sect, faction and schism in Christendom. If a congregation is not growing, both spiritually and numerically, if there is tension among the members, I can almost guarantee you that there are "legalistic patternism" issues at work within that group of religionists. I can also guarantee you that in time it will destroy that congregation. Such little groups are closing their doors for the last time in ever increasing numbers, and many predict that by the end of this century such hardened legalistic congregations of patternists will be all but nonexistent. If they won't wake up, abandon their boxes, and embrace the freedom in Christ Jesus to effect the necessary changes to their teachings and practices, they will perish ... and deservedly so!

I receive emails, letters, phone calls and even a few personal visits from people every day who are fed up with being "boxed in" by the tedious tenets of a tyrannical Traditionalism. They've had it ... and they are leaving the Churches of Christ in droves! Frankly, I understand their concerns completely. Indeed, I'm in sympathy with them. Saints should never be shackled by their sectarian siblings. Believers should not be berated for voicing convictions contrary to the accepted "group think" of the party. We are free in Christ, and if a religious group seeks to limit that freedom ... then flee it, is my advice. The only exception to this is if you feel you are in a position to perhaps challenge that legalistic mindset from within and bring about some degree of change that may yet transform a few within this faith-heritage into what the Lord intended them to be. Such is my own personal determination. My weapon? The "box-cutter (sword) of the Spirit," with which one may do battle with those walls that box us in and keep us from fulfilling our mission.

A dear brother in Christ, who is a leader with a well-known international mission effort among Churches of Christ, recently shared with me a letter he had written to an individual who was struggling with some of the changes being made by an awakened leadership at her congregation. They are attempting to come "out of the box" in their thinking and practice, and to become more relevant to the lost about them. Such requires responsible change, and this is truly uncomfortable for those who have, in some cases, been slumbering for decades! One of the changes taking place at that congregation is that they have introduced an instrumental service, while also maintaining an a cappella service. This brother has stated to me: "Maybe some of your readers can critique my position -- either to affirm or refute it. I would welcome your comments as well, but I think I know at least the gist of what you would say!" Needless to say, I will not reveal this brother's identity, or his location, or even the organization for which he works, as we all know what would happen. The "keepers of the box" would go after him without mercy, seeking to destroy him. This brother is doing a tremendous work for the Lord throughout the world, and I won't jeopardize that in any way. However, I will share some of his letter to this woman in the hope that it will touch your hearts and minds, and challenge you to "think outside the box." If you have any comments for this brother, I will forward them on to him.

I believe that this brother has used some very sound reasoning in his letter to this sister in Christ. He has also displayed a loving and benevolent spirit, something not often displayed these days among those persons who seek to promote a particular partisan position or pattern, and who seek to impose it upon others against their will. Therefore, I applaud him for his gracious tone, as well as for his spiritual insight. Clearly, he has sought to challenge this sister (and all of us who read this letter) to "think outside of the box," with the "box" being our traditional perceptions and practices which tend to bind us back from any significant forward progress in our efforts to reach the lost and edify the saved with the relevance of eternal Truth (which should never be frozen in time and place and cultural expression). Although Tradition may be limited and limiting, Truth is truly limitless. It transcends all barriers and boundaries, and may be both embraced and expressed in a wide variety of culturally acceptable ways by any person any place and at any time. You can't box Truth!! It will always burst through such barriers ... as it should ... as it must. Truth is on the move, and it is bringing change in its wake. So, wake up, brethren ... shake off your shackles ... climb on board ... and let's journey boldly together into the glorious future our Lord has prepared for us. It might not look like the past, but to that I simply say -- Thank God.

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

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707
Reflections on the Holy Spirit
A Published Tract by Al Maxey
Order From: J. Elbert Peters:
The Maxey-Broking Debate
on the Doctrine of Patternism

{This debate is now in progress}
Readers' Reflections

From David Brown, Editor/Publisher:
"Contending for the Faith" magazine

Al, I just hope and pray that the Lord will delay His coming -- for your sake and for the sake of others who love the wide gate and the broad way as you do. For maybe, just maybe, you and they will humble yourselves and realize your own failure to take responsibility for your sins. Maybe then godly sorrow could be created in your heart for your sins against Him. Thus, you might break down your own stubborn will -- the seat of all sin and rebellion against God -- and bring forth works suitable for repentance as the Bible teaches you must, that is if you truly desire heaven to be your home. It is sad to see someone such as yourself claim to love God and believe in His Son as his Savior while all the time displaying disbelief in and rebellion to Christ's Gospel system. You, Al, are what you are (a nutty false teacher) because you want to believe and practice that which is contrary to the Gospel of Christ. For some reason you hate the Truth and enjoy convincing yourself that you can disobey God and go to heaven. That is so sad, Al. But, that is the way you are and no one can change you but you. What a shame and great sadness it will be for you to meet your Lord in your present state of disobedience. Al, I love you more than you love yourself. So, it is my prayer, always saying not my will but God's be done, that, in the wisdom and good providence of God, He will give you even more opportunity to repent of the pitiful state of mind that you've chosen to create and nurture in yourself. Hopefully, your conscience is not so seared that all sensitivity to the Truth has been destroyed. Think evil of me if you will, Al, but I've only told you at least some of the truth about yourself. In Service to the Master, David Brown

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Dear Brother Al, I read Darrell Broking's comment to you (which appeared in the readers' section of your last issue of Reflections) with one eyebrow raised in amusement. You and I have heard that same type of rhetoric all of our lives -- "I'm gonna pray so that you don't go to hell." What a crock!! Anyway, keep up the great work, brother. You are an inspiration to me, and to countless others. I constantly forward your Reflections to friends and brethren who are still "trapped" in their legalistic congregations.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Brother Al, Thanks for your service to the Lord in all that you do. I thought it was interesting that you allowed Darrell Broking to place a comment to you in the readers' portion of your last Reflections, and yet such is not the case on his ContendingFTF web site. They require that you join to post, and all membership requests have to be approved by the moderators. You are required to tell the group leaders all about yourself and why you want to join the group. A description of their group reads: "To discuss biblical, doctrinal, and current events issues confronting the Churches of Christ." And yet you have to be "approved" by them before you can have a discussion with them. What are they afraid of?!! I thought the Truth would stand on its own. "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" [1 Pet. 3:15]. May God bless those who seek to know God and are not afraid to learn of God, instead of just promoting a position that they hold as if they had all the right answers.

From a Reader in Canada:

Bro. Al, Who would ever have believed that one of these legalistic patternists would step up to the plate and debate you on their teachings!! And yet, I have never heard anyone, in my whole life, say so much to say so little, as has Darrell Broking. It is so strange, but this seems to always happen with them. They can talk in circles faster than a dog can chase its own tail. I have heard their rhetoric all of my life. We would all like to see them change their minds, but it is really their hearts that need to change first. I have now stopped chasing my tail and God has changed my heart. Saved by grace -- it is a gift. Now I boast in my God, not in my own accomplishments or in my rule keeping. The older I get, the more I have come to realize just how little I knew back when "I knew it all." I love you, brother.

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, It is so very comforting to know that for the Christian, by virtue of God's marvelous grace, we can err on the side of freedom rather than caution. Praise God!

From a Minister in New York:

Dear Brother Maxey, I just happened upon your web site today as I was researching an article from the Christian Chronicle about the situation with the Church of Christ Academy near Nashville and the Maury Hill Church of Christ. Your Reflections article was, in part, a critique of an article by Bro. Jimmy Jividen on the principle of "silence." I just wanted to say that I genuinely appreciated the way in which you conducted yourself, and also the good light you cast on Bro. Jividen in that article [Reflections #354 -- A Sectarian Shroud of Silence]. I grew up within the Church of Christ, and ministered with non-instrumental congregations until about seven years ago. It was at that particular point in time that I realized I had very little in common with most of these brethren, especially with regard to the silence of the Scriptures and our general hermeneutical principles. So I left the Church of Christ and have been happy within the Independent Christian Church. I've talked with people all over the country, and when I bring up my heritage in the Church of Christ and the Stone-Campbell Movement (my great-great-great-grandfather was baptized by Barton W. Stone) what I get is raucous laughter and derision. It truly saddens me to hear people dismiss those in Churches of Christ as "theological hillbillies," as one man put it. The reason the Churches of Christ are no longer growing (which even your church growth experts admit) is at least in part because of the hairsplitting legalism that is still rampant in that fellowship. I hope I don't sound mean-spirited in this email. It's not my intent. I love the Church of Christ, and would never have left it if I could have stayed there and not had to constantly deal with the legalistic mindset -- a mindset that for many ministers (if they would just admit it) saps all of the joy of ministry right out of their lives! Well, brother, let me restate that I really appreciated your Reflections article, and will return to your web site quite often, as I enjoy your writings!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Good article, as always! The phrase "to whom we gave no such commandment," even if it were textually sound, still would not be applicable to some "law of silence," since it would deal with men, and not God, issuing the commandment in question. Or did I miss something?! Keep up the good work, brother!

From a Minister in Louisiana:

Bro. Al, It's been a while since I've written to you about your various articles, but I must say that I have never seen the stretch by someone who would even begin to acknowledge to be a child of God, born under grace, cleansed by the blood of the perfect Lamb, who would then have the audacity to rape the Word of God with such self-righteous justification, as the individual who used Acts 15:24 to say that "silence" is authoritative. I say "rape" because what that person did was take something not his, use it in a manner never intended, destroy the pure innocence of it and take the God-given beauty of it and turn it into something that rips the heart out of the very essence of life. To give an illustration -- how could a parent punish a child for doing something "wrong" when the parent never said it was wrong in the first place -- never even made reference to the subject in any way? We as parents would think another parent a lunatic for doing such. So, why in the Sam Hill would we think God would do something just as ridiculous? Sorry for some of the country tirade, but that pathetic attempt to justify a doctrine that these legalists can't/won't even apply with consistency got my goat. Brother Al, be careful not to cast the pearl (God's Word) before the swine!

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Dear Brother Al, Greetings from the far left in New Jersey. I continue to enjoy your weekly Reflections, and also the debate (although I am behind in my reading of it). The fourth affirmative by Darrell Broking has been a little discouraging ... as well as tiring. I'll catch up one day before it is over, however. On another matter, as you seem to have a particular interest in "our history," I found a book I thought I would pass on to you if you are interested. It is the Biography and Sermons of Marshall Keeble, Evangelist, edited by B. C. Goodpasture and published by Gospel Advocate in 1964. If you have an interest, I'll send it to you. Now back to work -- both of us!! Have a blessed day!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Dear Brother Al, I will put a check in the mail to you this afternoon for your book Down, But Not Out, and I would be glad to have you autograph it for me. What a deal!! I am so grateful to you for the contribution you have made, and are making, to the Lord's church. I see that I am on the program this Sunday for the Lord's Supper devotional remarks, and so, as always, I'll go to your Reflections Archives for inspiration. Blessings to you!

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: