by Al Maxey

Issue #478 ------- March 4, 2011
The superstition in which we grew up, though we
may recognize it, does not lose its power over us.
Not all are free who make mock of their chains.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing {1729-1781}

Supererogatory Worship
Reflective Study of Colossians 2:23

Many of you are very likely already wondering about the mysterious word in the title of this issue of my weekly Reflections. Supererogatory. Is that really a word, or did I just make it up? It is actually a word in the English language. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states, "Supererogation is the technical term for the class of actions that go 'beyond the call of duty.' Roughly speaking, supererogatory acts are morally good, although not (strictly) required. The Latin etymology of 'supererogation' is paying out more than is due (super-erogare), and the term first appears within the Latin version of the New Testament in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Although we often believe that Good Samaritanism is both praiseworthy and non-obligatory at the same time, philosophical reflection raises the question whether there can be any morally good actions that are not morally required." Roman Catholicism advanced and abused this particular philosophical concept, teaching for a time that one could make meritorious deposits in some spiritual fund (through one's good deeds above and beyond the call of religious duty) that could be used by the clergy to offset sin in one's own life (and, at times, in the lives of others). St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), for example, saw the leading of the ascetic life as "supererogatory." During the time of the Reformation, this system was strongly opposed by those who felt the Catholic Church had gone too far.

The primary problem that arose with "going beyond the call of duty," religiously and spiritually speaking, is that in time these supererogatory acts came to be viewed as obligatory. Thus, they were mandated by church law. Yes, going the extra mile in our loving service to God and others is commendable, and even desirable. Our God is greatly glorified by such actions. However, when these good and honorable acts are moved into the realm of religious requirements, they quickly become just another set of burdens heaped upon the backs of God's people to further enslave them to LAW. Both fellowship and salvation are soon tied to these various supererogatory acts. As a result, they are no longer "above and beyond" the call of duty -- they are Christian duty itself. These acts are now not only required, but they will become increasingly regulated, and even restricted, all of which is the natural evolution of legalism.

Are supererogatory acts performed by devoted disciples of Christ wrong?! Are they sinful? The answer depends largely upon a disciple's motivation for engaging in those acts. If these acts are simply the expression of the overflow of the love of a disciple for God and man, then "the more the better." If, on the other hand, they are viewed as obligations of divine law and deeds required to merit some saving grace, then they are contrary to the whole purpose of the New Covenant. There is no divine regulation that suppresses or restricts our daily demonstrations of genuine love for God and man!! The same is true with respect to our worship. Worship is simply the expression of the devotion of our hearts, and this is not restricted, regulated or regimented by our eternal Father under this Covenant of Grace in which we abide. What are the parameters of acceptable worship? There aren't any! We are free to pour out the fullness of our heart's devotion any time, any place, and in any fashion that truly glorifies our Father and encourages and edifies our brethren. To regulate worshipful expression is to restrict it -- to legislate is to limit -- and such is contrary to the very nature and purpose of New Covenant worship!! I would encourage the reader to examine my following two studies: Reflections #33 -- Worship Reformation and Reflections #112 -- The Nature of True Worship.

Okay, so how does Colossians 2:23 fit into your theory, Bro. Maxey?! I have been asked this question repeatedly over the years, as some feel any worshipful act or expression beyond the "five acts" in a "worship service" on Sunday morning constitutes "soul-damning sin." They refer to the statement by the apostle Paul in this passage dealing with "will worship" (KJV) and suggest that Paul is condemning any "act of worship" that comes from the heart of man rather than from the Word of God (i.e., "according to the pattern"). If you are using multiple cups in the Lord's Supper, you are guilty of godless "will worship." If you have Bible classes, praise teams, dimmed lights during Communion, instrumental music, drama skits, and a thousand other "innovations," you are guilty of "will worship" -- i.e., "going beyond" the duty to which God has called you in Scripture. Such legalistic, patternistic thinking is not uncommon within certain segments of Christendom, especially within the more fundamentalist factions. You mess with the "worship service" and the "five acts" and you have exhibited "will worship" that will result in you being cast from fellowship with the "faithful," and ultimately cast into hell to be tortured forever by God. Or, so contend those "contentious for the faith." Actually, these petty people would be very surprised to learn that Paul's teaching in that passage is far more directed toward them than those they so wickedly characterize as "progressive" and "digressive."

If you will look at the context of Colossians 2, you will quickly perceive that our Lord Jesus Christ, in part by His loving act of self-sacrifice, has removed each of us from our bondage to religious regulation and transported us into the warm embrace of a forever relationship with the Father. Rigid rules of worship are abolished. Never again will His people be subjected to the bondage of -- "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch." No longer may another act as our judge in regard to any religious activity. We are free! We may express the full range of our worshipful devotion to our God without any person regulating or restricting that expression. We are also free from the attempts by others to impose their own personal or party precepts and patterns upon us. If some desire to embrace and follow such, and they are genuinely doing so to the glory and honor of their God, then they are free to do so. They are NOT free to bind such upon others. Romans 14 points out that our convictions may be as different as night and day, but we both serve the same Master! Thus, it is not up to any one disciple or group to judge, regulate or condemn their fellow disciples.

There were some in Colossae, however, who were seeking to impose dogmatic decrees upon their fellow disciples of Christ. They were taking a theological stand on visions they felt they had seen; knowledge they believed they had that came via special revelation; insights "lesser" Christians didn't possess. This had made them arrogant and not a little self-serving! Unfortunately, some of the brethren were being defrauded by their delusions, for they were buying into the empty deceptions of their philosophy, which, to be sure, had the appearance of wisdom ... but not divine wisdom, which alone could redeem and transform them. This challenge to their blood-bought freedom in Christ was coming primarily in three different, though very intimately related, forms from these "enlightened" ones: legalism, asceticism and angelic venerationism. Those who were promoting these concepts were advocating perceptions and practices not ordained by God, but which originated from their own wills and whims, which was causing them to claim a humility that they did not possess, while at the same time exhibiting an arrogance that was all too obvious! Supererogatory worship, humility, and even certain aspects of asceticism, could all be good and acceptable if properly motivated and perceived. On the other hand, they can quickly become abominations and atrocities when improperly motivated and perceived!! It is the latter that the apostle Paul was addressing in Colossians 2:23 (and, indeed, within the context of the entire second chapter of this epistle). Notice the wording of the following translations and versions:

Jesus dealt with this same attitude of "affected piety and humility" in His Sermon on the Mount. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them" (Matt. 6:1). Jesus then gave an example: "Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men" (vs. 16). Was engaging in a fast wrong? Of course not! But if one's motivation was all wrong (if one's heart was not genuine), then what could otherwise be a good act of devotion/worship, could become for the person engaged in it an act of sinful, even willful, pride. Fasting has been characterized by some as a supererogatory act, in that it is clearly not connected in the NT writings with our eternal salvation. In other words, it is "above and beyond" what our God has called us to in the way of demonstrated devotion. Thus, whether or not one chooses to engage in a fast is optional, and whether or not one benefits from a fast is conditional -- it is all about the heart. It may not be imposed as a divine duty upon others, nor should it be used as a public display of one's piety. Jesus says to do it in secret ... after all, the only response to your act that matters is God's, and He is looking at the heart.

The KJV and the ASV both use the phrase "will worship" in Colossians 2:23. The NASB and ESV adopt "self-made religion." Various other renderings can be seen in the listing above. These all are attempts to translate a single word in the Greek text that is "a rare compound that has not been found in extrabiblical writings and is used in the NT only here" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 208]. Therefore, "It may be accepted as a Pauline construct which later passed into the Greek of the early Church" [Dr. Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 3, p. 159]. The word is -- ethelothreskeia. The meaning of this extremely rare Greek word is: "a cultus which is freely chosen, which is not commanded or forbidden" [ibid]. "Supererogatory worship" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon of the NT, p. 115]. "By his own volition he worships what seems best" [Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 218]. In Dr. James Strong's monumental work we find it characterized as: "Voluntarily adopted worship, not that which is imposed by others, but which one affects himself" [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1058].

What the legalists don't like one bit, but which is a fact nevertheless, is that this term is theologically neutral. In other words, supererogation is neither good nor bad, positive or negative, right or wrong in and of itself. Thus, Paul is not condemning engaging in worshipful acts one may have personally devised to glorify and honor God; nor is he condemning humility or various acts that may be ascetic in nature. Indeed, all of these may well be quite beneficial to the disciple engaged in them, as well as acceptable unto God. On the other hand, they each could very well become very harmful to the disciple engaged in them, and unacceptable to our God. It is the Why and How of their usage, as reflections of inner motivation, that make the ultimate determination!! After all, Paul urges the saints in Rome, who had vastly different ideas of what worshipful expression should look like, to order their own walk by their own convictions of faith (Rom. 14:22). The problem arises, and this is where the caution to the Colossian brethren comes in, when one group of disciples seeks to impose its convictions in these areas of supererogatory worship upon their fellow believers. If we surrender our freedom to others, bowing to their worship styles and preferences under threats of condemnation and castigation, then we have been defrauded, writes Paul.

When Paul wrote to the Colossian brethren, "he exhorted them to be dead to the law of outward ordinances" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 110]. Tragically, this is a reality of the New Covenant that the legalistic patternists have completely failed to perceive!! Thus, they seek to restrict and regulate all the worshipful expressions of those around them (do not handle, do not taste, do not touch, do not ..., do not..., etc.), while at the same time attempting to impose their own "will-worship" (supererogatory acts) upon their brethren as though these acts constitute divine decree. The urgent warning of Paul for the Colossian brethren is just as needed today, for we who are free in Christ face the same deadly dogmatists with their divisive demands! We must each refrain at all costs from "being bound in the bondage of ordinances and regulations concerning such outward things" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 135]. Thus, Paul appeals to us to "die to the dominion of outwardness ... to the dominion of the external ... to outward rule and regulation" in our worship [ibid]. In short, those who are free in Christ are "not ordinance-ridden" [ibid, p. 134]. It is time for us to appreciate this truth ... and to begin living it. Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his classic "Word Studies from the Greek New Testament," rightly observed, "They had died with Christ to legalism, how absurd then for ordinances to be imposed upon them" [vol. 1, Colossians, p. 214]. "To permit oneself to be 'dogmatized' is to permit life to become a round of rules again" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 207]. "Christianity is not a religion of prescriptions, but of a living relationship with Jesus Christ" [ibid, p. 208].

Let's face it, brethren -- legalism is nothing other than godless "self-righteousness cultivating superstition" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 121]. Dr. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), in his massive "Commentary on the Whole Bible," boldly declared, "Subjection to ordinances, or human appointments in the worship of God, is highly blamable, and contrary to the freedom and liberty of the gospel" [via e-Sword]. "It is self-evident, therefore, that Christians will not permit false teachers to lay this unnecessary yoke of human ordinances upon them again, just as though they had never yet heard of the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible -- The New Testament, vol. 2, p. 330]. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). Beloved fellow disciples of Christ --- you are free!! However, there are those who would restrict and regulate this freedom, and who would impose their own supererogatory acts upon you as LAW. Never, ever yield ... not for a second ... to such persons, for they are "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. 2:4-5). May God give us all the strength to defend our freedom and resist those who would enslave us.

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)

Special CD Offers

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Missouri:

Brother Al, I finally got a chance to finish reading Reflections #476 -- The OPA Strikes Again: Batty Battey's Body Bashing. All I can say is "Thank You!!" As a lifelong member of the One Cup fellowship within Churches of Christ, I find it shameful and embarrassing that one of our preachers (George Battey) would write, publish and distribute such filth as is found in his booklet. I was very offended at how he twisted God's Word in order to use it against his own brethren! The interesting thing is: George can actually be a fun and pleasant guy to be around. I have heard him give some stirring sermons. It is unfortunate that he is so shackled by the legalistic traditionalism to which he and a few others in the Old Paths Advocate faction are so devoted. I know, because I used to be one of them!! Keep up the good work, Al. I look forward to seeing you at The Tulsa Workshop. God bless you!

From a Minister in California:

Brother Maxey, It was GREAT talking with you on the phone today! As a preacher in the One Cup group, I very strongly support and encourage you in your fight for what's right. You must continue this good fight of faith (with God's Holy Spirit leading the way). Brother, the stands that you have taken against evil brethren are very much needed. ALL of your Reflections articles are great, but your single most brilliantly conceived and presented essay is "The Split-Second of Salvation" -- Reflections #348. I still believe that this article would cause even the most hardened legalist to pause and think ... even if only for a split-second!! Keep up the great work you are doing!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I admit that I have thought at times, "I wish that Al would just leave these wackos alone!" And yet, I do not believe such would serve the purpose of Christ Jesus. Some men are put out on the front line of the battle for Truth because of their talents, and you, brother, happen to be one of those warriors God has placed out there in the trenches to deal with the buzzards!! Basically, and this may have been the point of your last Reflections, those who are intent upon devouring the lambs of God WIN when God's warriors step back and ignore what is happening right before their eyes! Brother Al, when you expose the ridiculous actions of these people, it opens the eyes of the rest of us to what is really happening! Keep up the great work, and warrior on!!

From a Missionary in Honduras:

Dear Brother Al, This morning (as I do every Wednesday) I am headed to the Tegucigalpa dump with food for the hungry!! At this dump, people compete with the buzzards as they search for something which they can eat or sell. It is a sight that is incredible, and impossible to describe. It's a very dark place! Your article today ("Battling the Buzzards") really hit home. Recent attacks on our ministry are best described as buzzard puke!! I really appreciate the advice that one cannot win a puking contest with buzzards! Thanks for all you do for the Kingdom.

From a Missionary in Tanzania, Africa:

Dear Brother Al, As crazy as it may sound, my wife posted that picture (the little girl followed by the buzzard) on our refrigerator years ago to remind us not only of how blessed we are, but also to cause us to focus not on trivial things, but rather on things that really matter in this world. There is pain and sorrow in this world that we will never know or experience. So, as we consider our own blessings, we should also be considering what we can do to be a blessing to others!

From a Reader in China:

Dear Bro. Al, I just read "Battling the Buzzards." I don't think I can remember you ever being quite so passionate in your writings before!! You must have received some really crazy emails to light that fire!! I LOVE IT!! Tell ya what -- you load 'em up, and you and I can sit there and pick those "buzzards" off one at a time!!

From a Minister in Toronto, Canada:

Brother Al, Both the buzzard photo and the article about the OPA booklet gave me the same sick feeling!! Many of us are thankful that you have the ability to deal with the teachings of such persons! Even though you will probably not be able to convince any of those whose income or reputation depend on the stands they have taken, nevertheless you are helping those caught up in their deceitful webs to break free.

From a Missionary in Belgium:

Brother Al, I would like to order all sixteen of your CDs -- as per your Special CD Offers. A check is enclosed. Also, the piece you wrote about the age of the earth -- Reflections #475 -- Theory of Evolutionary Creation: Are Christianity & Evolution Compatible? -- comes with excellent timing for our purposes here, as our upcoming program includes a mini-debate on this issue.

From a Minister in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, I enjoy reading your articles. I also appreciate your honest and open approach to the various topics you address. Thank you for your good work in your writing ministry. Please send me one copy each of your books Down, But Not Out and One Bread, One Body. Never give up, brother!!

From a Reader in Florida:
(An email sent to her sisters-in-Christ)

Dear Sisters, I'm sending you a link to Al Maxey's last Reflections (#477), which I feel the need to share. You may have already read it if you are on his mailing list. Sometimes I've not enjoyed reading some of Al's Reflections articles, as they reveal the internal debates and battles of the various Church of Christ factions over doctrine and some long-held legalistic attitudes. Lots of times I've wondered why he bothered dealing with these attitudes!! Well, this article makes it very clear why Al Maxey continues to respond to the attacks he gets from his opponents in the church, and why he reveals their false doctrines to his readers through his writings. I will now have a much different attitude when I read his future articles dealing with the hatred and the opposition he faces! I'll understand that there are buzzards out there feeding off of the weak and sick in spirit, and that when we ignore them, doing nothing to protect the wounded and weak, we become part of that evil. Thank God for men like Al Maxey who have put themselves and their families at risk for vicious attacks from these people in order that they may free the slaves from their bondage to sin and legalism. God bless him!!

From an Elder in West Virginia:

Dear Brother Al, It has been a couple of years since my wife and I sat in your office and chatted with you! I appreciated that moment so much, and I still carry the memory of seeing you there at your desk amongst your interrupted work, taking the time for an unexpected visit with a brother passing through! Al, I am nearing the end of my earthly course. I am now an elder with a congregation that has fallen prey to vultures twice, yet we have managed to hang tight and stay loyal to the Lord. With God's help I'm trying to help mend the broken hearts and heal the hurts from the work of these vultures by demonstrating His love for these victims to the best of my ability. Brother, one of my biggest regrets is that I did not come across you years ago!! Your teaching has opened my eyes to a great many things that could have helped me better confront and confound these scavenging birds!! Perhaps God will bless my final years with opportunities to serve Him better! And, Bro. Al, I have you to thank for that! May God continue to bless your work for His cause.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, You are in a league all your own with your weekly Reflections series, and what a joy it is for us to witness a contemporary mind, such as yours, having such an impact on the Body of Christ through your writing and speaking. Also, what a joy it is for me to know you and have the privilege of sharing you with others! Keep up the great work. You are in my daily prayers!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, "Battling the Buzzards" was your most powerful Reflections yet. Now, I must decide what I am to do with what you have shown me!! Thank You, Al.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, I too want to battle the buzzards, and I know that many of us will resolve to do the same as you. Thus, we will be a force to be reckoned with! Thank you for exposing the danger the buzzards pose. Keep on keeping on, brother!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Brother Al, You've got to have the hide of an alligator to ward off all the buzzards that attack you on a weekly basis!! However, knowing you personally these many years, I defy anybody to refute your teachings of Truth from the Holy Bible. Your debate with the Contending for the Faith bunch -- The Maxey-Broking Debate on Patternism -- for example, showed that these people could only resort to name-calling and expressions of hatred toward you personally, rather than any reasoning from Scripture, throughout the debate, which just showed their foundation was loose sand, not solid rock. Brother Al, please keep up the good work. You have far more readers learning the right way via your teachings than you could ever imagine!! May the good Lord continue to bless you and your family.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Dear Brother Al, Just for the record -- I was almost gone spiritually (like the girl in the picture) when you so boldly rescued me from the vultures of discouragement, hopelessness, despair and surrender. When no one else could (or would), you stepped right in and helped me safely to the camp where I found the nourishment of compassion, love, TRUTH and understanding. Thank you, Al, for keeping my "buzzards" at bay. I will forever be grateful for you helping me to reach the safety of that camp!! I love you, brother!!

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, You have put us all to shame by your willingness to confront the buzzards in order to rescue their victims. Silence in the face of such evil can be very deadly!! I thank you for this article ("Battling the Buzzards"), and the serious reminder it provides that we are in spiritual warfare ... and that all too often, the enemy is in our ranks!

From a Disaster Relief Leader in Louisiana:

Brother Al, I agree with your writings most of the time, as you know, and have always deeply appreciated the work you do to "unseat" the legalists who are hurting the Gospel so much!! I only wish you were closer, so we could do some "face-to-face" talking. The photo you used in your article of the child stalked by the vulture stirred my heart. As you know, I have spent over 30 years helping hungry people in the wake of all kinds of disasters (including 6 wars)! I'm attaching some photos I took in Ethiopia in 1985, the only place I have been where people actually fell dead around me (not just one time, but many times)! God bless you, Al. May your ministry grow and continue to succeed. We need scholars such as yourself to point out the sin of legalism. The Lord Jesus Christ spent much of His time fighting this very same evil. However, let's not forget the many great brothers and sisters within our fellowship who devote time and money to feed the hungry in the name of our Lord. I am very proud to "cast my lot" with the Churches of Christ, for they are doing much around the world to help those less fortunate. I commend you for your work, Al, and pray that God will bless your fellow elders who, in their wisdom, continue to encourage you in this work!! And God bless your sweet wife, whom we remember fondly from our visit with you in Honolulu, Hawaii after hurricane Iniki.

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