by Al Maxey

Issue #449 ------- July 28, 2010
Words ought to be a little wild for they are
the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.

John Maynard Keynes {1883-1946}

Maxey's Musings
A Few Random Reflections

In the year 1794, in his classic work titled "The Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology," Thomas Paine (1737-1809), whose writings did much to help inspire and promote the cause of freedom through our own American Revolution, observed, "There are two distinct classes of what are called thoughts: those that we produce in ourselves by reflection and the act of thinking, and those that bolt into the mind of their own accord." Thinking is not an activity that is highly prized in some quarters, especially when such reflection and contemplation tends to question or challenge what is regarded by some to be "accepted thought." Thus, there will always be some who discourage independent thinking, as well as a few who avoid it altogether for fear of reprisal from the "thought police." It can be rather intimidating, after all, for a person to be under the gaze (and under the gun) of "Big Brother" (and this is true not only politically and socially, but also theologically). To preserve the "party," it is often necessary to prohibit free thought, and it is against this abuse of our freedom in Christ that I have fought for decades!

I absolutely refuse to allow any person to do my thinking for me!! Nor am I interested in forcing my thinking upon others against their will. Yes, I genuinely enjoy considering the thoughts and insights of other disciples, and I have never hesitated to share my own reflections with those interested in hearing them. But, to demand of my fellow disciples compliance with my own convictions is something I will never do, nor will I condemn a brother or sister for daring to differ with me, for they too are free to examine the Scriptures and to apply their best understandings as best they can to their daily walk with their Savior! What I do object to, and what I will do my best to expose and eradicate, is the malicious mindset that elevates its own perceptions and preferences, and subsequent practices, above those of differing Christian mindsets, and which will demand all other disciples to bow to their theological whims! It is a way of thinking that declares, "I am right, you are wrong ... I am saved, you are lost ... I am going to heaven, you are going to hell" --- and all based on the sandy foundation of one's own personal assumptions and deductions from his/her study of God's Word (and generally this involves inferences drawn and elevated to LAW from things God never said). Brethren, such people are, in the words of Paul, "false brethren" who have "sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus in order to bring us into bondage" (Gal. 2:4). The apostle Paul "did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour" (vs. 5), and neither shall I. We are free ... free to think and free to act ... and we must never, ever submit to those who, according to Paul, are now severed from Christ and fallen from grace by their narrow-minded legalism. If such people wish to live their own lives by such constraints, then that is their choice and I will not stand in their way. However, most hardened legalists are not content to "live and let live." They feel they must dominate those who differ with them. They must attack and defame; slander and condemn; persecute and victimize. They feel they must do all within their power to utterly destroy the lives and the ministries of such "apostates," and, frankly, I don't believe the Father expects His children to sit by silently and let this happen unchallenged. Paul said to expose such people; indeed, he said he wished such persons would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12)! Such, at least, might keep them from reproducing their own kind! Oh, what a blessing that would be to the Family of God!

Tragedy in Tulsa

There was a "tragedy" in Tulsa?!! Well, not from my perspective. The Tulsa Workshop, which was held this past March in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was one of the most wonderful, spiritually uplifting events I have been involved with in a good many years. I absolutely loved it, and I hope to be a part of it again. A number of you have written and asked if I was going to be one of the speakers at the 2011 workshop. It's a bit too early to know. To my knowledge, that list is still being worked on by the program leaders. If they invite me, I would be happy to accept, but if they don't, then that is fine too. Either way, I encourage people to attend next year. It is an awesome experience. You will not be disappointed. So, what is this about a "tragedy" in Tulsa? Well, there are some (and I discussed this mindset above) who feel the leaders of this workshop, and some of its speakers, have "abandoned the faith" and become "wild-eyed, radical liberals." Indeed, the Contending for the Faith bunch have characterized everyone on the program as a "bunch of loons." Why? Because we don't "goose step" to their particular party drum beat. Thus, the annual Tulsa gathering of saints is viewed as a tragedy of grand proportions, for the speakers are "preaching souls into hell."

A very dear friend of mine, one who has supported my ministry for many, many years, has recently come to the belief that I have abandoned the faith. You have no idea how this pains me, and I have tried repeatedly to assure him that his perceptions are misguided. I even spoke with him personally at The Tulsa Workshop (he had one of the booths there), and we have corresponded a number of times since, but I simply cannot convince him. No matter what I say, he remains certain that I teach what he says that I believe (which I don't). I won't name him here because I don't want to cause anyone to have hard feelings against him or his ministry. He does tremendous good in the kingdom, and I support his ministry 100%. Many of you will know who he is, though, for he has been making his accusations in public during his speaking engagements and also through his monthly periodical. Nevertheless, I want him, and each of you, to know that I love him dearly. He and his wife are precious souls, and they are my beloved siblings in Christ Jesus. In his July, 2010 issue he wrote the following: "In late March we had our annual exhibit booth at Tulsa, as we have for over twenty years. ... One of the speakers has been a friend of mine for many years. I could not believe he would go that way, but he has. His three speeches were: (1) 'From Slavery to Freedom,' in which he pictured commandments as slavery, and saying that our relationship to Christ does not depend on commandment keeping. (2) 'From Law to Grace,' in which he said that there is nothing you can do in order to be saved but accept it (he later explained that he meant you can't earn it). (3) 'From Faction to Family,' in which he denounced the idea of refusing to see the way as broad and flexible. ... This is very saddening to me."

Let me just briefly comment on the above, since this brother's periodical goes out to thousands of people throughout the world. First, I don't believe obeying God's commandments constitutes "slavery." I cannot even imagine myself declaring such a thing!! Being forced to obey the commandments of MEN, however, is another matter. When mere men seek to bind us to their own personal or party perceptions and preferences, which they themselves have elevated to the status of precepts, then to submit to such would indeed constitute slavery. I refuse to be enslaved to manmade law. The apostle Paul wrote the brethren in Colossae, asking, "Why do you submit yourself to decrees such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch,' in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?" (Col. 2:20-22). In the next verse, Paul calls this "self-made religion," and declares it to be of "no value." On the other hand, however, Jesus Himself declares, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). He tells us what those commandments are: Love God and love one another. I don't believe this enslaves us, but rather ennobles us. I am more than willing to follow the precepts of my God as a man who has been set free by His Son, but I am NOT willing to submit to the decrees of my brethren ... because, again, I am a man set free from such legalistic legislation by His Son. I think the problem here lies in the fact that some of my brethren have confused their deductions with God's decrees. I will gladly submit to the latter, but I will adamantly refuse to be enslaved to the former. Thus, let me state again for clarification: obeying GOD'S commands does not constitute "slavery" (in the negative sense of that term); obeying the commands of mere MEN most certainly does.

Does my relationship with the eternal Father or His Son depend upon command keeping?! I suppose that depends upon what one means by "depends upon." My relationship with the Lord depends upon my loving Him with all my heart, body, mind, soul, strength, etc. If that love is genuine, then it will demonstrate itself. One way my love is evidenced is in my daily walk with Him, which will involve ordering my life according to His expectations. My compliance with His will is NOT done in order to save me or to keep me saved; it is done out of gratitude to the One who has already saved me! Thus, my relationship does not truly depend upon these evidences, but rather these evidences are motivated by my relationship with Him. My saving union with Christ is by grace through faith, and not of anything I myself could ever accomplish. Thus, my relationship depends upon the former (by grace through faith), and not by anything that may fall within the parameters of the latter (which only evidence the reality of the former state), with the exception of LOVE -- which is the command our faith will motivate us to evidence obedience to in our every action throughout our lifelong journey with Him. Command keeping in order to BE saved, however, removes us from the realm of grace and enslaves us once again within the realm of law. Thus, like the apostle Paul, I will not promote such dependence upon LAW for my relationship with the Lord. To do so would NOT unite me with Him, but would rather sever me from Him, as well as causing me to fall from grace. I have chosen not to follow that deadly course, and hope to help others make that same choice.

My friend further wrote that I had stated in one of my speeches in Tulsa that "there is nothing you can do in order to be saved but accept it." If our salvation is truly a "free gift" from the Lord, then that is a valid statement!! One does not work for, so as to earn, a gift. If that which I receive is "wages due," then it is no longer, by definition, a "gift." Paul writes, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works" (Eph. 2:8-9). "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). One receives a gift; one doesn't earn a gift. At least my friend pointed out that in my speeches in Tulsa I also spent a good deal of time explaining precisely what I meant by my statement -- "he later explained that he meant you can't earn it." Yes, that is exactly what I meant. Thus, I'm not quite sure what his problem is with my statement. All I can figure is that the term "nothing" tends to diminish the doctrine of salvation by some measure of human effort (works). GRACE is a very difficult concept for some disciples, especially those raised within a faith-heritage that for many generations preached the necessity of working for our eternal reward. Thus, many struggle with the truth that salvation is in His hands, not ours, and that our part in the process is to receive His gracious gift by faith. What must I "do" in order to be saved? Have faith in Him and what He has done for me and be willing to show it unashamedly, for as James says -- a faith that refuses to evidence itself is a faith that stands alone, and unshown faith cannot save you (James 2:14f). The Lord wants us to do more than simply give lip-service to our faith, He expects us to live that faith before others!! Those who willfully refuse do NOT have the kind of faith that receives His gift of salvation.

In my third speech at Tulsa, my friend claims that I "denounced the idea of refusing to see the way as broad and flexible." To be honest, I am not even sure what this statement means! It makes no sense to me. All that I can assume is that he's suggesting that I no longer believe the way leading to salvation is "narrow" (Matt. 7:14). I certainly do not teach the doctrine of "Universalism" -- all men are ultimately saved and all paths ultimately lead to salvation. What I suspect my friend is troubled by, however, is that I refuse to equate the "narrow way" to the Church of Christ church, or to any specific faction or schism thereof. When Jesus spoke of the way being narrow, I do not think He was speaking of the constrictive parameters of some group's tradition or party preferences. I believe the way is "broad and flexible" enough to include those believers who may have differing perspectives and traditions and preferences. Yes, it is "broad and flexible" enough that one doesn't have to be my twin to be my brother -- but it is "narrow" enough that we both have to have the same Father!! If it is this perspective of the "way" that my friend suggests I am unwilling to denounce, and that I am thereby unwilling to accept the narrowness of the narrow-minded factionists among us, then he is absolutely correct.

Question from Colombia

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a Reflections subscriber who serves the Lord as a missionary in Colombia, South America. He wrote, "Bro. Al, I would like your frank opinion on a discovery I've made that answered for me the dilemma of when one is saved!! Reading my Spanish Bible one day, I realized that John 1:13 talks about being 'begotten' by God by faith, not 'born.' So, I checked with two trusted Greek professors in my life and they assured me that it should be 'begotten,' and not 'born.' Most translations say 'born.' It seems clear to me that God plants that incipient life within us at faith, but the full life of this new believer comes at the new birth of water and the Spirit (John 3:5)." First, let me encourage the reader to examine my in-depth study of the John 3:5 passage (Reflections #212: Born of Water and Spirit) as its meaning is far less clear and certain than many might assume. There are a number of possible understandings of this statement by Jesus to Nicodemus, and honest hearts and minds have debated them for centuries.

Second, with respect to the John 1:13 passage -- "who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (NASB, which, in a footnote, gives the alternate reading of "begotten") -- there is also some degree of debate among biblical scholars. Some believe, for example, that the verse should be linked with the following verse (John 1:14), and that the one born of God, rather than by the will of a man (Joseph), was Jesus. In other words, the incarnation was not the result of any man's decision, nor was it the "will of the flesh," but rather the will of God and the work of the Spirit. Some commentators, and some early Church Fathers, spend quite some time seeking to validate this understanding of the text. Most, however, tend to take the passage as being connected to the prior verse (John 1:12), and that true believers are "born of God" -- i.e., it's not man's will that determines if one becomes a child of the Father, but God's will. Flesh and blood cannot force itself into the Family of God -- we are born/begotten "from above," not by the actions of those dwelling here below.

The Greek word about which there is some translation issue (should it be "born" or "begotten"?) is gennao, which appears almost a hundred times within the pages of the New Covenant writings. How one translates this word depends largely on how it is used in the passage, and whether the context is speaking of the father or the mother. Typically, one is said to be "born" of a woman, but "begotten" by a man. It is the same word in both cases, however. Jesus, for example, was "born in Bethlehem" (Matt. 2:1), but that which was "begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 1:20). It's the same word in both places! Men don't give birth, and women don't impregnate, but both play a vital part in the process. At what precise split-second is this new life one's son or daughter? At the moment of conception? At the moment of birth? I performed a funeral a good many years ago for a child that died within the mother's womb about a month or so before its due date. The parents held and caressed their little son after his body was delivered, named him, had a funeral for him, and bought a stone for his grave. He was their son, even though he had never taken a breath. He may not have experienced a live birth from his mother's womb, but he was begotten by the father. I had a person tell me later that it was a waste of time to treat that "fetus" like a child, for it had not been "born alive." They should have just tossed it out. Some people, frankly, just seem to invite a good thrashing!! I wonder if our heavenly Father will toss out any sons He has begotten if they die before their bodies emerge from the watery womb?! I think you can probably guess my response!

Food for Thought --- James, the brother of our Lord, wrote, "When lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin" (James 1:15). This leads to an interesting question: at what precise point does one commit sin in this process? Is it the mere presence in our psyche of some earnest desire (the actual meaning of the Greek term, which in and of itself is neither good nor bad; it's a neutral term)? Is it when that earnest desire begins to take root in our hearts in some negative sense? Is it at the point we ACT upon that desire? Certainly, one's emotions, in and of themselves, are not sinful, although they can devolve to such rather quickly. Few would argue that when one ACTS upon such negative desires, one SINS. Yet, the Lord makes it clear that the "conceiving" of such negative desires is just as much SIN as "giving birth" to them (acting upon them). "Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). Thus, sin is already alive prior to "birth" -- being alive at "conception" in the heart. What about FAITH? Is it possible God recognizes and accepts our faith even before that faith "gives birth" to action?! This certainly doesn't suggest that said action is unnecessary; after all, saving faith ACTS. But, at what split-second in time does God recognize that faith as being the quality of faith which He seeks? At what point did God justify Abraham and count him as righteous? --- before or after or at the precise split-second of his circumcision? Paul says that it was before (Romans 4). At what point did the Father recognize the faith of Abraham when He called upon him to offer up his son as a burnt offering? --- before or after or at the split-second he plunged the knife into Isaac? Scripture says it was before! In fact, Abraham never actually did what God called him to do, although Abraham clearly had his heart set upon doing so! God saw the heart!! God saw the faith!! God saw the commitment!! Yes, unless providentially hindered, men need to ACT upon their faith, but is it the ACT that saves one, or is it the FAITH that motivates the act?!! Frankly, I think too many of us have placed the cart before the horse, so to speak, and in so doing have completely missed the true focus of our Lord, which failure, I truly believe, has seriously tainted our theology. "God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). I can't help but think that bestowing the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius prior to his baptism (Acts 10-11) might very well be a reflection of this very reality of what God considers sufficient unto acceptance, with the subsequent evidentiary acts being far more for our benefit than His.

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

A 193 page book by Al Maxey

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

A 230 page book by Al Maxey

Order both books from Publish America at: or (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, You are so wrong on so many points!! Faith saves us when we keep the Law!! You cannot have Christ apart from the Church of Christ!! He died for it. You need to forget all you think you know and just obey the Scriptures. I will pray for you!!

From an Author/D.Min. in Alabama:

Dear Bro. Al, Again, let me thank you for writing the Foreword to my fifth volume in this series. Also, I am praying that God will continue to bless your ministry, for the things you write about are extremely needful in order to promote unity among God's people. You have a way of eliminating the underbrush and going directly to the very heart of the teachings of God. One thing that stands out in your teachings is your insistence upon context. Most of our divisions within the Stone-Campbell Movement have resulted from a lack of knowing how to read the Word of God accurately!! Our fellowship, as a whole, has practiced a "piecemeal interpretation." We need to understand the immediate context (verses preceding and following a text), the remote context (the whole of the book itself), the larger context (books outside the present book), and the cultural context (the customs of the society). I have observed in your writings over the years your application of all of these rules in seeking to eliminate all the baggage of tradition that has been brought to the biblical text by many sincere and devout, though misguided, believers! As a result of your insistence upon context, you have helped thousands of Christians come to a greater understanding of what salvation is all about!! Please continue, as I know you will, to promote unity in diversity!!

From a Reader in Australia:

Brother Al, I received my copy of your new book One Bread, One Body the other day. I planned to hold off reading it until this weekend, as we are traveling to a 90th birthday celebration on the other side of Australia and it would help pass the time on the trip. However, I just could not last out until the trip to start reading this book. Last night I sat up half the night reading it. It is a very thoughtful study on Communion, and it certainly speaks to a lot of our traditions on this! What I love is the way you have brought the Lord's Supper to life, and at the same time have projected your love for the Saviour into the book. Well done! This is a topic near to my heart, and it is such an honour to have a signed copy of this book from you, my much beloved brother! Thank you!

From a Reader in Wyoming:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you so much for sending me your book One Bread, One Body. I appreciate it very much! I'm looking forward to reading it next week on my flight to Papua, New Guinea. Keep up the good work you are doing. The disciples of Christ need someone who is level-headed and understands God's grace.

From a Reader in Washington:

Dear Bro. Al, What a wonderful book!! I love it!! Chapter seven ("Examining Eucharistic Expectation") of your new book reflects my own understanding so much that I could easily have written it ... of course, not as well as you. Are you familiar with Ervin Bishop, a Greek scholar who was a Senior Translation Consultant for the World Bible Translation Center in Ft. Worth, Texas? He was responsible for the "Easy-to-Read Version" of the Scriptures. I've got a copy of the speech that he gave at the 1990 Scholars Conference in Abilene, Texas. He deals with some of the same thoughts that you've put forth in your book!! Keep up the very good work, brother. Batsell Barrett Baxter was once my hero, but now that he is gone I have replaced him with you!

From a Baptist Pastor in Iowa:

Brother Maxey, I'm thoroughly pleased with your resource on the Old Testament Minor Prophets!! Your studies on this site have been a tremendous help to me, and I super appreciate you providing it to the public. Thanks a million, and God bless you!

From a Reader in Oregon:

Brother Al, I just wanted to let your readers know that the late Cecil Hook's books are still available free of charge. His family is carrying on his ministry at a new web site -- The New Freedom's Ring.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Al, First of all, congratulations on your 37th wedding anniversary!! I can only hope and pray to be married for that length of time! Second, I just purchased the paperback edition of your new book from your publisher. Thank you so much for offering us that lower priced option. I have read many good comments about this new book of yours, including the review by Michael Smith on his Growing Faith blog site. Now I'm really eager to read your book!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Bro. Al, You're costing me a lot of time! I have now spent another half day reading your Reflections: this time on the Law of Silence. Good stuff. The consistency found in your argument for Specificity distinguishes it from the argument for Silence (the latter is so utterly inconsistent that one actually has to drum up the whole concept of expediency just to compensate). That view is just too twisted and confused to unravel.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, Thanks so much for your article "Blood, Sweat and Tears." It's provided answers to so many of my questions. I'm still trying to read and digest all the spell-binding back issues of your Reflections on your web site, and am pleasantly surprised to find that my own thinking is reflected in almost every topic. I can only imagine all the time and energy necessary to research everything so thoroughly. God bless you in this brave struggle!

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