by Al Maxey

Issue #420 ------- November 6, 2009
A writer can do nothing for men more necessary,
satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the
infinite possibilities of their own souls.

Walt Whitman {1819-1892}

A Rose By Any Other Name
Is the Scent of a Disciple Determined
by Denominational Distinction?

The great English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616), sometimes called "the Bard of Avon," penned some of the most moving and passionate lines in English literature. Without doubt, my favorite play from this literary genius is Romeo and Juliet. It is the story of a young boy and girl who have the misfortune of being born into feuding families (the Montagues and Capulets), and yet who, by a series of fateful circumstances, fall deeply in love with one another. The families are beside themselves that "one of their own" would have any love for "one of them." Unthinkable!! Utterly outrageous!! "He/she is not one of us, you know!" In Act 2, Scene 2, Juliet, pondering her pitiful plight upon her balcony one dark night, utters one of the most memorable lines in all of human literature: "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? ... What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; so Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title." Juliet fervently desires, with every fiber of her being, that she and Romeo could forever cast off their names, which have tragically come to define (and thus divide) them, and simply embrace each other for who and what they truly are: soul-mates bound together as one by love.

Some Shakespearean scholars, in commenting upon this section of the play, observe that Juliet is here "informing Romeo that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention, and that she loves the person who is called 'Montague,' not the Montague name." In other words, what really matters in any meaningful relationship is who someone truly is, not what someone may be called. Exactly why the Montague and Capulet families were feuding is never clearly specified in the play, which is very much reflective of real life, for too often those engaged in long-standing contentions have long forgotten that which prompted the original falling out with one another, which makes the squabbling just that much more tragic, not to mention foolish. Love, however, has torn down the barrier between Romeo and Juliet. Their love for each other refuses to be bound by the hatred of their kin. In a moment of clarity, Juliet realizes that no matter what names one may call another in an effort to defame or define them, such caustic characterizations have no actual bearing on who the person truly is. If they are genuinely a "rose," then they will smell just as sweet even though one may call them a "skunk lily." Montague and Capulet are, after all, simply names, and in the eternal scheme of things, "what's in a name?" Of greater consequence was the content of their hearts -- which were filled only with love for one another, a love that pushed back generations of conflict and merged two souls as one!

Parabolically, we might speak of the people of God as being roses planted in a great global garden, well cared for and guarded by His Spirit. These are all beautiful blooms, each giving off a sweet smelling scent as the Son walks appreciatively among them. But imagine if the rose bushes began attacking one another --- "You're not really a rose; you're a stink weed." "Okay, you may be a rose, but you're a yellow one, and we all know that the Father only loves red roses." Before long the garden is in disarray. The bushes are becoming diseased; some are withering and dying. And the Master is saddened, because in His sight, each one smelled just as sweet as the others, even though no single rose was identical to any other. Color and classification did not matter to Him, for the scent of each was equally pleasant and precious. If only you and I could learn to "stop and smell the roses" like He does, instead of seeking to define and divide them by denominating them, His vast global garden would be a much more lovely place to be.

Now, please don't misunderstand -- I am in no way suggesting to you that naming something or someone is necessarily a negative thing. Indeed, there is much that can be positive about this practice that is literally as old as mankind (Adam named the animals, after all). Look at roses. According to some rose societies there are over a thousand different varieties!! There are big ones, small ones, the climbing variety, the bush variety, yellow, red, pink, and on and on. Virtually all rose lovers will tell you the same thing, however: they all smell equally sweet. The Body of Jesus Christ is like that. There is great variety and diversity within this universal body of believers. Some of us are feet, some are hands; some are eyes, noses and ears. Some are Jewish, others are Gentile; some are rich, some are poor. Some were raised in families that go back generations in a particular faith-heritage, as I was. My heritage is within the Stone-Campbell Movement. There are others who have roots just as deep in a different heritage. Worship styles and preferences will differ among believers; understandings of the end times will differ; we might even differ on precisely when God perceives a person to be saved (assuming His perception is even affected by such things as space and time).

So, who among us smells the best to our God?! Which of us is the "favored child"?! Each denomination tends to believe that they, and they alone, are the "chosen" one ... and, of course, each of the countless factions within each of these countless denominations tend to believe the same. As the circle of salvation is drawn ever smaller by rigid religionists and persistent patternists, the global garden of our God is reduced ultimately and inevitably, if such madness persists, to a single rose -- ME. Is it just possible that the Great Gardener has designed His global garden in such a way as to display the beauty that abounds within diversity? Are we different by design? Why not bloom in that part of the garden in which you have been planted, instead of spending your time plotting how to uproot your neighboring rose?!! The apostle John was ready to uproot a fellow "rose" simply because this other disciple was planted in a different part of the garden [Mark 9:38; Luke 9:49]. Could he not see that this other growing plant had value to the Lord in its own right; that worth was not measured by proximity to US?

There were "roses" in the city of Corinth that were making distinctions among themselves based upon personalities. Some had denominated themselves as being of Paul, or of Cephas, or of Apollos ... and some had even denominated themselves as the called out (church) of Christ [1 Cor. 1:12]. It wasn't so much their personal preferences that were wrong here, it was the fact that they were beginning to divide the Family of God over these preferences. It was okay to be a "son in the faith" of the apostle Paul -- Timothy was [1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; 2:1]. However, it was not okay to use this to elevate oneself above, or array oneself against, or position oneself apart from his fellow disciples, as many were beginning to do back then (and as countless disciples do today). I happen to love many of the traditions of my own heritage (just as other disciples love the traditions of their own heritage), but am ashamed of the fact that I once, decades ago, perceived those traditions as the very basis of one's salvation. They are NOT. They merely denote the reality of diversity among devoted disciples of our Lord. I am a part of that part of the Stone-Campbell Movement that denominates (names) itself the Churches of Christ. Yes, I'm that kind of rose. More specifically, I am associated with that bunch within that wing of that movement that would probably be considered "progressive." Yes, I am also that kind of rose. In the eyes of some of my fellow plants, that makes me not a rose; however, in the eyes of the great Gardener, I have no doubt I smell just as sweet. My fellow roses may choose to call me "stink weed," but If GOD perceives me as a rose, then I shall sleep quite well at night, for, after all, that which is a rose, even though it be called by any other name, smells just as sweet!! If God favors the scent, then I shall keep right on blooming right where He planted me ... and shall allow the other varieties within His garden, planted at His pleasure, to do the same.

My fellow red roses, why is it we can't bring ourselves to accept those pink roses that are growing nearby in God's garden? Why must we denounce them for being of a different color? Why must we form plots against fellow plants?! "But, they are pink!" Yes, but there is one soil. "But, they are climbing roses!" True, but there is one fertilizer. "But, they are miniatures!" Yes, but there is one Gardener, and He only has one garden ... and we are both in it. Brethren, I'm going to speak bluntly here ... and some of you aren't going to like it. But, here goes: I am in sweet fellowship with other roses that do not grow on my bush! Okay, there ... I said it. There are other bushes in this garden besides ours. I have grown beyond "bush-ism" (and I'm not talking politics here). After studying my Bible more closely, and learning from the Gardener Himself, I have forever given up "bushing" in favor of gardening! In other words, I shall fellowship ALL of my fellow roses, no matter their color or size, and I shall continue proclaiming to the world around me the reality of One Garden consisting of countless precious roses on a number of different bushes ... each of which smell just as sweet to the One who planted them!! I will never again preach or teach that only red roses from my bush will appear as the centerpiece on the banquet table at the wedding feast of the Great Gardener's Son. There will be a colorful assortment.

Further, I am not the only rose "petal-ing" (yes, pun intended) this Truth. On page 6 of the November, 2009 issue of The Christian Chronicle, in an article titled "Restoration Movement Branches Observe Great Communion," we discover that at over 35 sites across the country, all on a single day (Sunday, October 4), brethren from the various denominational divisions of our Stone-Campbell Movement assembled as one to celebrate the Lord's Supper. It was characterized "The Great Communion," for it was one of many steps now being taken, 200 years after Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address, by unity-loving saints, to bring our movement back together (as well as a step toward bringing Christendom closer together). I am pleased that one of those 35+ locations was the Montgomery Blvd. Church of Christ in Albuquerque, New Mexico (where some of my in-laws are members). Over 600 people at that visionary congregation took part in that communion! Has this time of great communion solved the problem of our great division? No. But, it is progress ... we are moving in the right direction!! Saints took some time to stop and smell the roses blooming next to them ... and they discovered that, although those roses might be called by a different name and are growing in a different location, they smelled just as sweet. In so doing, they detected a whiff of heaven. May that whiff become a mighty wind!

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

Readers' Reflections

Special Notice: --- Many of you may remember that in January of this year my Reflections web site was declared by a noted independent web tracking organization to be the #1 Church of Christ web site on the entire Internet. In July, when an updated list was released, I had fallen to #2 behind Edward Fudge's web site. The brand new listing (November, 2009) has just been released. Edward and I have retained our positions as #1 and #2 respectively. That list of the top Church of Christ web sites may be viewed by Clicking Here. I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you for continuing to make my writings so well-received globally. May our Father continue to use these reflective studies to help open the eyes and hearts of His beloved people, and thus help bring about the unity and harmony for which His Son prayed before enduring the cross.

From a New Reader in London, England:

Dear Brother Maxey, I was just reading through the study you did on the stoning of Stephen (Reflections #61), the church's first martyr, as I'm currently writing an essay on the persecuted church. I thought what you had to say in that article was really good, and I genuinely believe that we need many more people like you who will stand up and speak out for Christ no matter the consequences! Please add me to your mailing list for your future articles. Thank you.

From a New Reader in Canada:

Brother Maxey, Thank you for adding me to your mailing list. I know that I will find your Reflections challenging. In fact, I stayed up way too late last night reading some of them. Your thoughts on what constitutes "salvation issues" is where I have been headed for some time. I want to be challenged to think differently because I am more interested in being right with God than being right with people, at this point in my life. Thank you for having the courage to speak your convictions!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I was delighted to read that you and Sid Seitz have a good-natured rivalry going! He has been a long-time friend and was part of the group that planted a new congregation when we lived in the Seattle, Washington area. He, like you, is one of my favorites! I loved what you wrote in your last article: "Spiritual Sibling Rivalry." You always make more sense than anyone I know! Keep up the good work. Maybe someday the knuckleheads will wake up to the Truth that you print!!

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, You have really struck a nerve across Christendom in your article "Spiritual Sibling Rivalry." If we are all honest with ourselves, we must admit that what you pointed out in your assessment is 90% of the problem we face today. I find it interesting that, even in the most militant and legalistic congregations, they will still refer to other Christians as their erring "brethren." Well, if they ARE truly "brethren," then why don't they treat them like true brothers and sisters, instead of treating them like outlaws? Your aim was spot on in your following comment: "In the time of Christ Jesus there was the Gentile fold, the Jewish fold, and even the Samaritan fold. Talk about rivalries!! Yet, there was common ground that united them in one great fellowship." Maybe that phrase, "Give me that old-time religion," has a far more important message for us than the one we've been hearing for the past 100 years! Christ's rebuke of John in Luke 9:49-50 rings louder and clearer today than ever before --- ["Master," said John, "we beheld a man driving out demons in Your Name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us." Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you"]. Press on, brother!

From a Reader in Washington:

Well done, Bro. Al, as usual. I will think positively that folks will take your words to heart. I have to remark: when new folks come into our congregation professing to be Christians, they are accepted as such. Not Baptist Christians ... not Church of Christ Christians ... not Pentecostal Christians ... they are just Christians!! How refreshing!! Soldier on, brother!

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Brother Al, I must say, I really enjoy your Reflections!! Indeed, they have aided in changing my perspective on the patternistic regulations that I had been taught. In fact, they have provoked a great many thoughts. So, I'd like your permission to copy and use them in some of my sermons. Thanks in advance! Also, would you please keep my family and me in your prayers (we will need it) as I try to open the eyes of some within the One Cup fellowship!

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, Your Reflections article titled "Spiritual Sibling Rivalry" was so good that I printed it out to share with others!! I will also forward it to people by email. Good show, old chap!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I am continually amazed at how you are able to find the time and energy to write as much as you do, considering all your other responsibilities! May the Lord God bless you with good health, strength and stamina!!

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for your excellent article on sibling rivalry --- it was really great! Christendom is NOT presenting a picture of "harmless" sibling rivalry to the world. Rather, we are presenting Cain and Abel hatred and animosity. A case in point: A while back, I happened to mention in a sermon at another congregation that our local congregation has given copies of our food pantry key not only to the volunteer Fire Department, but also to the Baptist and Methodist churches within our community -- with the simple instruction that they feed the hungry. You would have thought we had sinned the sin against the Holy Spirit!! One sweet brother felt obligated to corner me after the service and explain to me how Baptists and Methodists were NOT Christians, and that by allowing them to "get the glory" for feeding the hungry, we were "partaking of their evil deeds." That man was so upset that I sincerely believe, had he been wearing a gun, he would have shot me! God help us! Christians must find ways to hold their doctrinal differences at bay while feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and doing all the other Matthew 25 things. In a world that doesn't want to hear about Jesus, our biggest selling point in the Good News story is Love! How can we talk it, if we don't walk it? We must put aside our denominational differences and present a united front to the world -- JESUS is Lord. Until we come to grasp the truth that in Christ Jesus all are ONE, we will continue to lose. We need to work together in spite of our differences!! Al, Thank You for your good work and good studies toward this end. May God increase the borders of your ministry!

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