by Al Maxey

Issue #471 ------- January 14, 2011
Above all we need the reassuring presence
of a visible community, an intimate group that
enfolds us with understanding and love, and that
becomes an object of our spontaneous loyalty.

Lewis Mumford {1895-1990}
The Transformations of Man

Our Purpose for Assembling
Are Christians Failing to Perceive the
Divine Design for their Gatherings?

I sincerely believe that most of us realize, at least on an intellectual level, that time spent in company with fellow believers is vital to the success of our daily Christian walk. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews counsels us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of some (Heb. 10:25). Yet, there have always been, and always will be, those who fail to see the relevance of these assemblies! Thus, they rarely come together with their spiritual family, and, though they seem not to perceive the fact, are all the poorer for this forsaking of their assemblies. I've dealt rather extensively with this troubling failing, and its consequences, in Reflections #174 -- Abandoning Our Assembling, which I would urge the reader to carefully examine. I must admit that my thinking has evolved slightly since the writing of that article.

One of the keys to reversing this trend is to be found in understanding the primary purpose of our times together with other believers. Many stay away from these assemblies because they simply fail to perceive the point of them. If we can instill within their hearts and minds a sense of their worth, and an appreciation for their divine design, we will quite likely see a very dramatic increase in the number of those who flock to these gatherings. On Thursday, 30 December 2010, I mailed out a Special Request to all my readers in which I said, "I would like to examine our purpose for these gatherings (when believers come together at specific times and places). Not in light of what these assemblies have now become, but in light of what the Lord originally intended them to be."

As I have done a number of times before during the past eight years of this Reflections ministry, I sought your input on this vital matter, and, like before, you did not disappoint. The response was immediate and overwhelming. I received literally hundreds of responses from all over the world. I went through half a ream of paper just printing out the emails, not to mention the phone calls I received, and those nearby who spoke to me in person. Some of you even mailed me books you thought would be helpful, and I now have quite a pile to read through (which I'm loving). Thank you! Your insights were of tremendous value to me, and a number of them will be shared in this current study.

Why do God's people assemble together? What is the point? A number of my fellow believers apparently have been unable to find any satisfactory answer to these questions, for they have chosen to frequently absent themselves from these gatherings. Others attend somewhat grudgingly, out of a sense of duty or fear of reprisal, but are the last into the place of assembly and the first out. I am convinced that such actions may well reflect a tragic failure to perceive the true purpose of our times together. And the blame for this can't all be placed on those who choose not to come; it must also be borne by spiritual leaders who perhaps have themselves failed to perceive the divine design for these assemblies, and thus fail to adequately provide what is needed by the flock entrusted to their care! Shepherds, do not expect your sheep to come running to an empty trough, or one filled with fodder! If the fold is not a place where our sheep earnestly desire to be, the problem may well be with the fold, not the flock (although we have to admit that some sheep will forsake both flock and fold no matter what the shepherds do).

To be perfectly honest, there are a great many reasons why disciples of Christ Jesus may choose to assemble themselves together. For example, in Acts 6 we find that "the Twelve gathered all the disciples together," and then they charged the group with the task of choosing from among themselves men who could be given the responsibility of seeing to the daily needs of the widows. We might classify this as a "ministry meeting." They were there to discuss the needs of the group, and how best to minister to those needs. Clearly, there are times when disciples today need to assemble for similar planning and proposing of how best to serve our Lord and one another. In Acts 15 we find the saints assembling to consider a serious problem that was occurring within the Body of Christ. Various interest groups spoke up advocating their own views, and a rather heated debate took place within this assembly. Ultimately, however, the Spirit worked through the leaders of this gathering and a resolution was proposed that would serve to promote God's grace over law. Again, there are times today when brethren with varying views need to assemble to dialogue with one another over vital issues facing the Body of Christ.

The apostle Paul commanded the saints in Corinth to discipline one of their erring members "when you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:4). Therefore, it is not inappropriate for rebuke, reproof and correction --- even for the casting out of one who will not repent --- to occur within an assembly of God's people. Acts 12:12 describes how several disciples "had gathered and were praying" in the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. May God's children assemble for the specific purpose of praying? Of course! In fact, there was a time when our middle of the week assemblies were known as "prayer meetings," for they were largely characterized by fervent prayer and supplication. Frankly, I would love to see more assemblies like this! A large group of disciples was gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem awaiting Pentecost (Acts 1 -- and during this gathering an apostle was chosen to take the place of Judas). Disciples in Troas gathered together to "break bread" (Acts 20:7). They also dialogued with Paul, who just happened to be passing through their area. In Jerusalem, the early disciples "continued to meet together in the temple courts every day. They broke bread in their homes and ate together" (Acts 2:46). Yes, we can even assemble together to share a meal in our homes, or assemble together as Christians in a public place.

All the above references, and there are many more we could provide, indicate that there are very few, if any, restrictions placed on Christians when it comes to the "when," "where" and "why" of assembling themselves together. It should be noted, however, that not a one of these gatherings were without some clearly specified purpose. There was a reason for the people to have come together on that occasion, and they knew what it was, and they regarded it as significant enough to want to be there. It wasn't to fulfill a duty; it was to meet a need. Thus, these assemblies were relevant. They meant something to the disciples, and that relevance drew them to the gatherings like a "grace magnet." This perception on the part of the flock is essential to healthy assemblies! I cannot stress this enough! When the sheep perceive no purpose for coming to the fold, they will stay away. Yes, some will stay away anyway ... that has always been the case. But, when a significant number are staying away, wise shepherds will take a close look at whether they have adequately conveyed to the flock the purpose and relevance of their various times of assembly. Demanding that disciples appear at the building simply because it's Sunday morning and "that's where you're supposed to be on Sunday morning" doesn't "compute" in our current society. If that's the very best rationale one can provide for assembling, then expect to see a continuing decrease in attendance. "Duty" may drive sheep, but it doesn't draw them! This is something some shepherds have yet to appreciate. Yes, good sheep (devoted disciples) will possess a sense of duty toward their Shepherd and their fellow flock members, but that is something that must come willingly from within them, rather than being imposed upon them! It is also motivated by love, not law.

Yes, there are many different reasons why God's people might choose to assemble themselves together on some occasion. They might come together at the funeral of a loved one, or they might assemble at a wedding ceremony. They might gather to hear a chorus from one of the universities sing for them. We could list countless other reasons why Christians assemble, each of which has purpose and significance for those assembled. Generally, however, when we speak of "the assembly" of the saints, most think first and foremost of the Sunday morning "worship service" (although this designation is nowhere found within Scripture). Lumped in with this assembly, but generally regarded as lesser to it, are the Sunday evening and midweek assemblies. For the purpose of this present article I will primarily focus on the Sunday assembly. Why do we gather at this time? What is the purpose for these gatherings? Have we truly perceived God's intent for these times together, or have our assemblies evolved into something entirely different from the divine design? These are some of the questions that I posed to you in my special request, and your responses were very enlightening.

I should perhaps also note, prior to getting into these many responses, that a good many of you were quite thrilled that such questions were even being asked! For example, a brother in Kansas wrote, "Brother Al, let me praise you for approaching this topic with a 'come let us reason together' mindset. In the Church of Christ of my youth, such would not be permitted." Which is precisely why so many are thrilled with this discussion -- for too long it was forbidden to question or challenge our sacred sectarian "cows." Those who dared to challenge their brethren to think were quickly "dealt with" (as some are attempting to "deal with" me). A reader in Oklahoma declared, "Praise God for even raising these questions! Unfortunately, I can hear already the charge: 'That "change agent" Al is on a rampage again.'" The leaders of the legalists are only too aware that the people are tired of tradition being elevated above Truth; that they are ready and willing to engage in thought and embrace responsible change. As a brother in Pennsylvania wrote, "I believe your timing is excellent regarding this topic." "This study has been long in coming," wrote another reader. "I am looking forward to these explorations with much prayer for you, and also for any others, like myself, who have wondered about this, but who have kept our thoughts to ourselves." The time has come for those thoughts to be aired.

Worship and Praise

The traditional response to the question, "Why do we assemble together on Sunday?" has generally been: "We assemble to worship and praise our God." Thus the characterization: "worship service." A small number of you (and I was genuinely surprised at just how few) stated the conviction that this was the primary purpose of our "primary assembly." You further declared that you would like to see much greater emphasis placed on the proper observance of and respect for the "five acts of worship." Some wanted more time spent on the Lord's Supper and less on the sermon. Others felt the singing should be improved. "The prayers are too shallow," wrote one woman, "I can almost lip-sync them!" In short, some felt it should be about collectively worshipping our Lord, but that we were guilty of offering up "the sick and lame" in our "sacrifices of praise." The assemblies were in need of modification, but only so that they might be more pleasing and acceptable to God. We weren't "doing it right," in other words, which upsets our God. Thus, our assemblies should be vertically oriented, according to this view. It is all about what God wants, and the "proper pattern" for performing these "five acts" is spelled out in Scripture! As the sign above the door into the auditorium says, "Enter to Worship, Depart to Serve."

Although this is indeed the traditional understanding of the purpose of our Sunday assembly, there has been a tremendous amount of extremely intense questioning and challenging of this perspective recently, especially within the churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement (my own faith-heritage). Many are now beginning to realize that, although there is certainly nothing inherently wrong with saints assembling to express their heartfelt adoration for God in worshipful acts, this may not have been the primary purpose for which God desired His people to gather themselves together. It is far more likely our present practice in our Sunday assemblies comes to us from Catholicism, modified somewhat by the Protestant Reformation and the religious evolution that ensued thereafter!! A Christian from Pennsylvania wrote, "I have felt for a number of years now that the typical format for the 'worship service' -- irrespective of one's faith-heritage -- is seriously lacking in terms of ever achieving what God intended for His people." A reader in Virginia expressed it this way: "I suspect that God is not displeased with our efforts to honor Him in our church 'worship assemblies' today, but I also suspect He is concerned and disappointed that we are missing out on what He intended." I can't possibly imagine that God is upset that His people come together to praise Him!! However, I believe that if we perceive these assemblies as the only times we show such worshipful devotion (as too many do), then we have completely missed the point both with regard to the nature of worship and the intended purpose for our gatherings.

An elder in Iowa wrote, "I have thought about the assembly for quite some time, as you obviously have as well. I do not believe they were intended to be 'corporate worship settings,' as we have evolved them into being." A dear brother from Oklahoma states, "It has been my conviction for quite some time now that we have our assemblies all wrong!" A precious sister-in-Christ from the state of Florida summed it up this way: "Yes, we can worship God in our assemblies, but we can also do that anywhere and everywhere. Worshipping Him just might not be the 'main purpose' for our coming together on the first day of the week." Frankly, I believe she's got a very valid point. Genuine worship of our God is not limited to five acts, nor is it limited to a particular time and place. Our worshipful expressions are ongoing throughout our lives. For some reason we have adopted the view that we go to "church," and there we "worship," instead of perceiving the reality that we ARE the church, and our worship of God is daily expressed. "Church" isn't something we "attend," it is who we are --- we are His called out people, and our very lives are expressions of praise unto Him. To limit this to a "service" on Sunday is an absurdity. "The term 'worship assembly' is like fingernails on a blackboard for me! In no place in the New Testament writings do I see where we are to assemble to worship," declared a reader from Oregon. A minister from Mississippi wrote, "I imagine God looking at our assemblies and shaking His head, saying, 'No, no, no! That's not it at all.'"

A Christian Church author from Missouri, whom I have met and greatly respect, observed, "For some months now I've been agitating against people who claim to 'speak where the Bible speaks' calling our assemblies 'worship services.' It would be good if every church in the world would recognize that the apostles uttered not one word in the inspired writings about Christians meeting 'for worship.'" A reader in Texas challenged: "Find a 'worship service' anywhere in the New Testament!! If you can't, then why are our public assemblies designated as such?!" A brother from Kansas wrote, "My perspective is that it was man, not God, who married the words 'worship' and 'assembly' (or 'worship' and 'service') together. Long story short, the concept of formal worship (expressed in five formal acts) emerged in the fourth century, not the first." A One Cup preacher who lives in Missouri declared, "If you look at church signs all over the country, you will see that they all refer to their 'worship' times. In church bulletins all over the country, you will see references to their 'worship' services. I find this very odd, as there is really no such thing as a gathering for the purpose of worship found anywhere in the NT." "My theory is that our Church of Christ 'Fathers' found their proof text for the 'worship pattern' from a lexicon, not from the New Testament documents," opined a reader from California.

Evangelism and Entertainment

There were a handful of readers who were of the opinion that the church leaders should plan and structure our assemblies in such a way that they are attractive and entertaining to the general public -- specifically to non-believers. We ought to be offering activities and events that draw the lost into our assemblies so that we can evangelize them! Thus, we preach sermons that will convert the lost, we sing songs that will speak to them in some way, we order our entire assembly time so that it will be "visitor friendly." We advertise in the paper that "everyone is welcome" to attend, and they will all be made to "feel at home." We have "Friend Day" at our building; "Bring A Neighbor Day;" "Invite Your Teacher Day;" etc. One reader lamented, "Too often, the focus of today's assembly is geared to non-believers, and thus they are evangelical in nature." "Evangelism should occur outside the assembly," observed a reader in Oklahoma, and I think he makes a valid point. A reader in Michigan writes, "Although outsiders are not to be shunned, and being 'visitor friendly' is not a sin, real evangelism is to be done by the rank and file, so to speak, outside of the assembly. We have this backward (evangelism being done by 'professionals' inside the assembly)."

A minister for a Christian Church in Arkansas observes, "The modern church growth movement has popularized the concept that the gathering on Sunday is to be primarily an evangelistic opportunity. Consequently, Christians have gotten the idea that their mission is to invite people 'to church.' This has contributed, I think, to the level of ignorance among Christians who are not motivated by the compelling mission of teaching people themselves. Instead, they need only to get their friends to the Sunday meeting where they will be impressed with the show and the oratory. As a result, preachers understand that they are to be witty, entertaining, and not very forceful in their preaching, lest the visitors be offended and not return to the assembly." A dear friend of mine, who now preaches in California, stated, "Today, some churches gather together to watch one person try to convert outsiders (because that's what they pay him to do)." A dear brother here in my own state of New Mexico wrote, "I recall discussing with a mentor during college how the customs of the invitation and the invitation song are of human origin!! A simple reading of Scripture shows how evangelism was accomplished outside the assembly. Most, if not all, of the examples in the NT show converts immersed before they ever set foot in an assembly of the saints. We definitely need a paradigm shift in our congregations!"

A reader from Ohio admitted, "About five years ago we left a congregation whose leadership was intent on following the Mega Church pattern of catering to visitors and designing the assembly to appeal to outsiders. The stated goal was to increase in size to 600 members by the year 2010. In my opinion, this was completely the wrong focus." A preacher from the state of Ohio also wrote that he recently left the inner-city congregation at which he was preaching when a couple of new elders were appointed who immediately informed him that the assemblies would be undergoing a radical change. "The new focus was to be on the visitors, and making the assembly 'visitor friendly'." The Lord's Supper was "taking too long and could be boring to the visitors who didn't understand what was being done," thus it must be modified. The Shepherd's Prayers for members was taking too long and was "boring the visitors, so it was announced that those members who had prayer requests could go out of the auditorium and down the hall to the elders' meeting room during the invitation song and they would be met and prayed over. Thus, in this way the services could be ended more quickly." I don't blame this minister for leaving, and for declaring emphatically, "It's NOT about the visitors!"

Edification and Encouragement

Okay, if our assemblies are not really about outsiders (non-believers, strangers, curious visitors), and if their primary purpose is not to be a formal "worship hour," then just who are these assemblies for, and what is their ultimate purpose? The answer that I have discerned from my own study of Scripture is: our assemblies are for our Father's children, and the purpose of these gatherings is to provide edification (building up) and encouragement to the local body of believers. In short, it is Family Time!! To use one of the very common phrases of the NT writings -- it is one another time!! A minister in Pennsylvania opined, "I have come to believe that our assemblies should probably look more like a family dinner than anything one typically sees on any given Sunday morning." A brother in Kentucky wrote, "In the Bible, it seems Christians came together for eating, fellowship, learning and most of all, to build the enthusiasm and stamina of their brethren to face the often violent society in which they lived." An elder in Iowa said, "The primary reason I glean from Scripture for the assembly is the building up of one another (edifying the saints)."

This is most certainly consistent with what we find in the inspired New Covenant writings. "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24-25). Why should believers gather together? Because the times are tough; they need the strength and encouragement of one another in their daily walk. The more often they are able to come together for this purpose, the better! Indeed, in the early church, the disciples of Christ met daily ... they didn't wait for the Sunday "worship hour" to get their weekly "dose of encouragement." A reader from Tennessee stated that the gatherings of the early church "were meant to encourage one another and to help those who were weaker in the faith." It was to be a family support time, and "I cannot experience 'family' by going to a building and looking at the backs of the heads of those in front of me." A reader in Michigan summed it up this way: "The real focus of our assemblies should be horizontal, not vertical." A dear brother in Oregon agrees: "When we assemble it is to edify and encourage one another. Our assemblies are for our horizontal relationships, not our vertical relationship." Perhaps the apostle Paul says it best: "When you come together ... let all be done for edification" (1 Cor. 14:26).

From a dear sister in Florida we read the following thought: "From what I read in the Scriptures, we are to worship God 24/7 in everything we do. When we come together, though, our meetings should be for edifying and encouraging the saints, so that they will be equipped to go out into the world and evangelize the unsaved. Our assemblies should be for US. As we are fed and nourished, we then go out and feed those outside." A fellow minister here in New Mexico admits that he once frequented the assemblies "as a duty rather than a desire. However, I now attend as an opportunity to see, love and fellowship with my spiritual family." A reader from the state of Ohio wrote, "If we think of the Church as our Family, it isn't so hard to see the purposes of our assemblies!" When we gather as Family we do so with "one another" uppermost in mind. We pray together for one another; we encourage one another; we stir up one another to love and good deeds; we laugh with one another, cry with one another, embrace one another. Yes, at times when family comes together, there may be a guest from outside the family. They are always shown courtesy, they are always welcome, but these familial gatherings are not for them, although they may witness our displays of love and long to be part of such a family.

"The assembly of the church, mistaken as a stand-in for OT ritual revitalized, is actually all about the encouragement of God's people to be just that: God's people. It is not designed to lift God up in worship, per se, but is rather designed to edify and encourage individuals to be the people the Father calls them to be," writes a brother in Florida. He goes on to state that "the whole idea of 'assembly,'" as it is practiced today in too many places, "need rethinking." A preacher in Mississippi says, "I believe we have truly missed the boat in making our assemblies about pleasing God, for in so doing we have missed altogether the avenue, opportunity and obligation of edifying and encouraging one another." A reader in Texas wrote, "Our times together, corporately, should be times of mutual encouragement through dialogue regarding blessings and struggles with everyday life, so that we are all better equipped to cope with the world around us." An elder in Wyoming observes, "When we examine the Hebrews 10 passage, we see that these times we come together are to encourage and spur one another to love and good deeds. They are not for converting the lost." A sister-in-Christ in Kentucky said that she perceives our assemblies as Family time; it should be all about "one another." "We worship our Father in our everyday lives," and we spend each day, outside of our assemblies, "spreading the good news and inviting more people into the Family." But, our gatherings are for US. A preacher in Oklahoma observes, "The assembly should be for the purpose of building each other up so that we might successfully face the devil head-on during the week."

Concluding Thought

I like the way a brother in Massachusetts phrased it: "So, why do we, or should we, come together on Sunday? Putting it simply, it is to encourage one another and renew times of fellowship, and, yes, even to praise God collectively for what He has done for us. It is a time for family to be together so they can see each other and celebrate life together. It is a time of mutual encouragement and of enjoying one another's company. It is a time to pray for each other in each other's presence; a time to physically hold the hands of the troubled, embracing them with sincere concern; a time of intimacy, in which we show that we care for one another; a time for sharing the joy of walking with our God." As the graphic at the very top of this Reflections shows, we're "doing life together," so let's encourage one another in that journey. Yes, you may indeed be able to "worship alone" on a mountain top (the excuse some give for abandoning the assemblies); you may indeed be able to keep the greatest commandment ("Love God"). But, you can't keep the second one, which is like unto it ("Love One Another"), alone on a mountain top. You must come together with your spiritual Family to accomplish that; you must not forsake these times of assembly, for they are times of encouragement and edification. You need that from us, and we need it from you!! It is together that we gain strength and courage for our spiritual warfare! As Solomon points out -- "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Eccl. 4:12). Or, as Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) observed, "Above all we need the reassuring presence of a visible community, an intimate group that enfolds us with understanding and love, and that becomes an object of our spontaneous loyalty." Amen!! May God help us all to rethink and, if need be, to restructure our times of assembly so that they might be more in accord with our Father's divine design. We will all be the better for it.

Special CDs for 2010
A number of very special CD offers are now
available for purchase, including some never
before offered!! Just click on the link above
for additional information on how to order.

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)

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Indiana:

Dear Brother Al, I just finished reading both of your books --- Down, But Not Out and One Bread, One Body. They are excellent, and needed so badly in our brotherhood. God will bless you for this work!! I also want to order your CD's (a check is included with this letter). When I was a preacher years ago (I am almost 80, but I am still teaching a Bible class), I always hid my notes in my Bible as I did not want people to know I used notes. Then one year at The Tulsa Workshop in came Rubel Shelly with a large yellow legal pad with his notes on it. I said to myself, "If Rubel can do it, so can I." As you can see from my letter to you, I am still using yellow legal pads! Rubel Shelly, like you, was and is one of the greatest teachers in our brotherhood! God bless you, and please keep up the excellent work you are doing. The brotherhood needs it so badly!!

From an Elder in Missouri:

Dear Brother Al, I worked a campaign in a New Mexico town many years ago (when I was still preaching) that resulted in many studies and many baptisms. I was witness to something in one of these baptisms that makes your point about the sacramental beliefs among some in the Churches of Christ relative to baptism. The person responding to the invitation to be baptized was asked the typical questions and her "confession" taken. One of the members began making some noise about the confession not being taken "in the water," and began demanding that it be "done right." He was taken aside by one of the elders and, I assume, "shown the way more perfectly." A similar story -- I have baptized a few men in prison. One such incident was in a place where we did not have a baptistery, so we used a bathtub that was used for whirlpool treatments. The man was over six feet tall, and it took both a corrections officer and me to get him completely immersed. Later, when I was telling of this incident to some of the men at a meeting, one of them spoke up and insisted that we make arrangements to have this man baptized "right" as soon as possible. He explained that I had NOT "gone down into the water with him" (Acts 8). Ritualistic tradition! Sacramentalism! Brother Al, as always, thank you for challenging our thinking!! Keep up the good work!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, What you said is so true -- you do indeed have the ability to infuriate and inspire, all at the same time!! I know you will be accused of promoting Baptist theology in your magnificent article on baptism and sacramentalism (Reflections #470). I'm convinced that some within our fellowship are more concerned with perpetuating the party line than in allowing God to speak to us. I once placed my faith in baptism, because from childhood that is what I was taught. How much more liberating to place my faith in the saving power of God -- "by grace through faith." My salvation, if I die standing in the baptistery, is not dependent on whether I missed immersion by just a few seconds!! It is dependent upon whether or not I accepted the Lordship of Jesus and accepted His sacrifice on my behalf. This isn't Baptist theology, it's biblical theology. Don't ever let up, my brother!! Al, you are literally helping thousands break the shackles of human traditionalism in favor of freedom in Christ. I hope you and Shelly have a great 2011.

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you for your article titled "Is Baptism a Sacrament?" It was insightful and put into good words many of the thoughts that I have struggled with for some time. I agree with what you are saying. Blessings to you this new year!

From an Elder in Texas:

Brother Al, I agree with your assessment/feeling concerning baptism. I have felt this way for some time, and I am glad that you expressed yourself the way that you did. I believe that this thinking, as you said, is gaining acceptance in our brotherhood.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, I just finished reading "Is Baptism a Sacrament?" This was really well done, as is usual with all your Reflections. I will comment, however, that the New Testament is consistent in teaching that a Christian must be "spiritually immersed" into Christ. Consistent with your position in your last article, water immersion is not sacramental, but it is always subsequent to one's spiritual immersion. Again, #470 was good; you do good work with your Reflections. Keep on!

From a Minister in California:

Dear Bro. Al, "Is Baptism a Sacrament?" was a very good article! Although I was raised in the Churches of Christ, and come from generations of such disciples, I came to the same conclusions as you years ago (rejecting the sacramental view of baptism). As a preacher in the Churches of Christ for 30 years, this conclusion on my part did not win me very many friends. However, the last congregation at which I preached embraced this position at least within the leadership, and those of the membership who didn't agree, at least didn't draw lines of fellowship over it.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Brother Al, Excellent study!! You have just stated my position exactly. Thank you for your devotion to Truth!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Having grown up in the Southern Baptist denomination, and being "converted" (just before I married my wife) to the Church of Christ, the sacramental view of baptism taught in this latter group has always been a struggle for me.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Dear Brother Al, OUTSTANDING!! I was always amazed at the verbal gymnastics many overzealous brothers had to perform in order to "explain" the "Cornelius Conundrum" and St. Peter's obvious declaration that these people had received the Holy Spirit before being baptized in water.

From a D.Min. in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, What a blessing you are for being able to express that which, up until now, was deemed "unaddressable" (well, in our brotherhood, that is). Your study was well-thought-out and well-written!

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, Outstanding article!! One of the best I have ever read on the subject of baptism and sacramentalism. Thanks for putting my thoughts into words.

From a Minister in Michigan:

Brother Al, Thank You!! The Body of Christ is seen to be a bit larger than we previously might have thought when we get a truer picture on baptism. I appreciate your study and your reflections on such matters.

From a Deacon in Virginia:

Dear Brother Maxey, This is a truly inspired Reflections. It is awesome in biblical Truth; clear and concise. God has blessed you with the most magnificent insight, as well as with the ability to communicate that understanding so simply and beautifully.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Dear Bro. Al, I thought your article on baptism was very well-done. It is hard to imagine how far we've come in the last 10-15 years in Churches of Christ. People are beginning to feel more comfortable to question, even at the expense of possibly being ostracized. This evolution is not complete by any means, but brethren are no longer as apt to swallow wholesale the theology of the past. There was a time when if the preacher declared something, it must be "gospel." After all, who would know better than him?!

From an Elder in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, Your article on baptism and sacramentalism was just wonderful! I will be forwarding it to many individuals! After teaching my class on Galatians last Sunday, a brother came up to me and asked me if I had read your baptism article. At that time I had not. This was after a much loved sister came up to me and challenged me concerning my teaching on baptism. Her view is that it is during baptism that we have access to the blood of Christ. The Scriptures do not teach this anywhere! Your article touched several chords that I've been processing during many years of teaching!! First, some of our folks would be shocked to realize how many attitudes and positions we have inherited from Catholicism. The pervasive attitude of sacred spaces and sacred places, the procedural and formulaic pattern approach to worship, and, to me, worst of all, merit theology of infused rather than imparted (reckoned) righteousness. Another chord for those of us who grew up in the Churches of Christ is what Dr. F. F. Bruce called "letting down the side." We do not like the idea of telling our loved ones that their traditional views may be wrong. And we don't like the exclusion and excommunication which will follow. Some of us have personally experienced these things.

Bro. Al, your articles have inspired me and encouraged me for years! God bless you for responding to His call to focus on the issues of our heritage. Most just walk away, but I believe He calls some of us to try to help our spiritual family members out of the bondage that brings fear and a great sense of failure. Sometimes, when I find myself studying at 4:00 a.m., I wonder what the point is and why I was prompted to wake up so early. I believe that it is His Spirit preparing and compelling me and you and others to enable us to teach and speak grace to those of the "circumcision party." Contrary to what some contend, I believe that you and others of like mind have no desire to be contentious, but rather to enlighten those who do not understand grace. We love our people!! Thank you, brother!!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Your article "Is Baptism a Sacrament?" was well-worded, my brother! You're a blessing! You are also correct when you said that your conclusions will inspire some and infuriate others. Focus on those who are inspired. Let them be as water to your soul, and realize that our God is using you as a channel to bless those raised with the sacramental view of baptism. I am so thankful that I was raised in a grace-centered Church of Christ.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I just wanted to write and quickly say that I am with you 100% in your last Reflections. What you wrote is "right on" for your church heritage (and all others listening in). I realize that there will likely be many persons who voice their disdain and disparagement for you and your message of grace. I am in prayer for you always, brother, that you will remain true to our Father's will in your appointed work that He has placed on your heart.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Bro. Al, Thank you so much for "Is Baptism A Sacrament?" For several years I struggled with my understanding of the purpose for baptism. Having grown up in our common faith-heritage, it was only through much supplication unto our Father that my understanding matured. It was you, brother, who first introduced me to the very powerful, liberating message of Galatians! It was there, meditating upon that inspired message, that I came to a much greater understanding of our covenant relationship. Over time I came to realize that the Church of Christ doctrines I was taught regarding baptism and the Lord's Supper have much in common with the Roman Catholic views. We took great pride in our denunciation of Catholic doctrine, when all the while we embraced similar sacramentalist views. How strange it is to look back and think about all of that now! Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I have great respect for you coming forth with a message that will no doubt cause a tidal wave of response! To be sure, many of the responses will be expressions of outrage for ever having questioned our most sacred dogma. You, sir, are IN FOR IT. So, strap yourself in and get ready for a very interesting ride!! Through it all, may the Father be glorified by your boldness and courage to reflect upon His revelation to us! We love you, Al.

From Daniel Denham in Virginia:
(A writer for Contending for the Faith)

Al, You seem to think that programming mindless miscreants who are steeped in sin to persist in their sins is somehow defending the faith. How many couples living in adultery do you have at your congregation?! How many adulterous couples are there whom you have persuaded to remain in their sorry state through your forays at The Tulsa Workshop and other venues of spiritual putrefaction?! How many souls have you destroyed (yes, they were all willing, but you gave them what they wanted: a justification for their sin, and all based on lies and fraud)? Yes, you should be proud of yourself, Al. Few have done the damage you have done in leading souls to Hell. You must be high up on the old Devil's favorites list. It is going to be dark and hot where you and they will spend eternity together!!

From David Brown in Texas:
(Editor/Publisher of Contending for the Faith)
The following is excerpted from a lengthy email he sent to
a number of his followers (with a copy to me) on Jan. 6th.

Al thinks that every preacher is motivated by "nickels, numbers, and noise," along with a strong desire to occupy the chief seats -- one of the basic and better ways to accurately describe the psychological makeup of those who promote and attend The Tulsa Workshop. Their motto should be -- "We are not conceited, for we are far better in every way than what we think or you think we are!" Didn't Paul tell the brethren to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they are such as serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16:17-18). Al and his crowd should be known as the Big Belly Brethren. Look at some of the names who company with Al -- Terry Rush, Rick Atchley and Don McLaughlin. If ever there were "belly servers," these four epitomize them! The whole Tulsa Workshop cannot be beat when it comes to exemplifying "the blind leading the blind" and also their final and only destination (Matt. 13:14). When all is said and done, the fundamental reason for the existence of The Tulsa Workshop, and all such endeavors, is to serve as the Devil's eatery where he devours at will the smorgasbord of tasty brethren laid out on The Tulsa Workshop's serving table for him by the likes of Al Maxey and all the other "belly servers."

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, Have you ever been around a hornet's nest?!! I'm praying for you, brother!! Your article "Is Baptism a Sacrament?" is an excellent work; you called it like it is! Most among us are sacramentalists, for sure! I have struggled with this for many years, but have finally come down on the side of grace for salvation, and obedience for sanctification. The verse which I found cannot be disputed or contradicted is Ephesians 2:8 -- "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." Paul also discusses the difference between a free gift and an earned wage in Romans 4. There is nothing spoken in the Word that could make it any plainer than this, at least for me. Bro. Al, I believe you have been given an opportunity to teach the absolute truth about this issue, and I would encourage you to respond to the anticipated negative emotional responses you will get with the same presentation of Truth mixed with Love that you have been so long recognized for!! Not to sound overly prophetic, but I do believe that you have been given this opportunity because God trusts you with the Truth He has allowed you to see. My guess is that you may never know the degree to which the blind will now see because of your work!! By the way, I'm also guessing that you will have to address 1 Peter 3:21 in some upcoming Reflections in order to beat back the protests of the legalists.

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, Your article today -- "Is Baptism A Sacrament?" -- came almost as if on cue. I am currently having a discussion about baptism with a very dear friend. She hasn't been baptized, even after many years in the faith, and I've had what was very close to a sacramental view for many years. Over the course of our studies and discussions (some rather heated) we both came to the realization that while baptism is certainly a part of a Christian's faith, it certainly is not the act that "saves" you!! We've both broken through some barriers! She is now going to be baptized, and I am learning to trust in the Lord and be open to His Word, even if it causes some small angst. Your article was perfect for us both, and the timing was impeccable!! Thank you so much.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, Within your last article you spoke of an evangelist who, while doing door-knocking, boasted of taking a stranger "in 15 minutes from doorstep to baptistery." That sounds like a NASCAR pit crew for Jesus!! Just as bad is rushing a child to the baptistery because they have "reached the age of accountability." Sorry, kid ... yesterday you were okay, but today you're bound for Hell.

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, I've just finished reading your Reflections issue: "Is Baptism A Sacrament?" Thank You!! I have sat in Churches of Christ for over 50 years, so I have lots of insider knowledge about Church of Christ doctrine. You have helped me sort out some of my questions. Yes, I do agree that many Church of Christ folks view baptism as a sacrament, even though that word is not a part of our vocabulary. I also viewed it as such for many years, and I was genuinely perplexed that my Baptist friends were unconvinced of our Church of Christ "gospel of baptism." It is a bit embarrassing now to think about all the silly debates we were having over this. Thank you, Al, for all your hard work, and for your courage to speak out and challenge our traditional thinking! God bless you!

From a D.Min./Author in Alabama:

Brother Al, I thank God that He is using you to help bring about a greater understanding of His written revelation to mankind. I am also grateful for the fact that you are stressing that we all study the Word of God with fresh eyes, and that we actually think for ourselves. Also, your ministry is not so much you working for God, but God working in/through you!! You have a way of cutting out the underbrush and getting right to the heart of the biblical text. I am praying that God will continue to bless your ministry.

From a Missionary in Peru:

Brother Al, Thanks for your latest Reflections on baptism. Although this article will surely turn up the heat and inflate the rage of the legalists, I am certain that God is using you to save many within your denomination from error. May the Lord grant you and your family, and your fellowship, a spiritually prosperous new year and many victories in the Lord's service.

From a Reader in England:

My Dear Brother Al, Thank you so much for your latest Reflections on baptism, which encouraged me greatly. Your clear, perceptive, well-argued teaching on this matter was excellent -- as I have now come to expect from you every week. I am a UK Christian and am horrified to see the church across the world falling into the trap of sacramentalism, sacerdotalism and Pharisaism. We don't preach and teach Grace nearly enough, nor clearly enough!! My own church very much seems like a lone voice sometimes, surrounded as we are by a great mass of "Christians" who would enslave the people with their perverse rules, regulations, observances and rites. May God bless your endeavours to persuade those in your own churches to see clearly the simple Gospel of Grace, and to adhere to it and live by it.

From a Reader in Canada:

Dearest Brother Al, Your writings are still the very best, on a week in and week out basis, that I am able to find anywhere. Thanks be unto God for the knowledge, wisdom and abilities He has blessed you with, and for your willingness to share them with the world in such an easy, concise way. From the very depths of my heart I thank you. I know this may sound just a bit corny, but you are a source of inspiration that has held me together during some very difficult times. I do truly love you, and pray God will bless you and Shelly.

From a Pastor in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, Well-said (your last article). In the non-denominational church in which I now serve, water baptism is a frequent and exciting public event celebrating and affirming faith, salvation and commitment to the "newness of life" in Christ that baptism dramatically symbolizes. And I say "public" because our view of baptism as a proclamation of faith and obedience is that a private proclamation is no proclamation at all.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Maxey, I left the Churches of Christ because many times I left the assembly feeling worse than when I went in. I started praying fervently for God to guide me and my family to a new church home. Your writings have encouraged me along the way so much!! Brother Maxey, because of you, God has showed me that I don't have to be a member of any exclusive group in order to genuinely worship Him! Thank you so much for being open to His calling, and for sharing your message of His love with others! I wish so much that you were here in Georgia!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, I was raised in and thoroughly indoctrinated in the Church of Christ; I knew CENI; I also felt my mission in life was to convert as many Baptists, Catholics, etc., etc. to the "right way" --- i.e., the Church of Christ way --- as I could! I was taught that I had to "follow the rules" or I would go straight to Hell. The solemnity and rigidity of the Church of Christ rule-dominated, legalistic doctrine was becoming more and more discouraging to my family and me. There was a "snowbird" couple that we got very close to, and I'd talk to them about my growing concerns (our daughter and her husband had left and were going to a Baptist church). They were the first folks who expressed any tolerance of "other religions," and they assured me that our daughter was not damned just because she wasn't attending at a Church of Christ. This couple suggested I check out Al Maxey's web site, and read some of his writings. That was the very beginning of a real eye-opening, heart-healing transformation for my husband and me. The more of your writings we studied over the next year, the more I saw that all my life "religion" had been all about regulations rather than a relationship with Jesus!! The more that I delved into your Reflections, the more I was troubled by things happening in our little legalistic group. Any time I would mention at church something I had read by Al Maxey, I would get cold, hard stares from the other members. One man finally told me to quit quoting "that flaming liberal Al Maxey; we aren't interested in anything that man has to say!" The class actually went to the preacher and asked him to reprimand me for sharing portions of your Reflections with the members. I called you to vent, and to this day I am so appreciative that you were willing to talk with me!! We have been gone from the Churches of Christ for almost two years, and are now members at Calvary Baptist, where our daughter attends. The feeling of brotherhood here is palpable!! We may not do everything by the Church of Christ RULES, but, by golly, the relationship we now have with Jesus is deeper than we've ever experienced in our lives. Bro. Al, God bless you for all you do -- you have literally changed our lives!! Thank You!! Thank You!!

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