by Al Maxey

Issue #482 ------- April 8, 2011
The condition of women affords in all countries the
best criterion by which to judge the character of men.

Frances Wright {1795-1852}

Emerging Women's Roles
Increased Conflict within Congregations
over Decreased Restrictions for Women

A Plea for Pastoral Connectivity

"Her world is her husband, her family, her children and her home! We do not find it right when the woman presses into the world of the man." I would imagine there are some disciples within the church who would find these words to be quite insightful ... perhaps even inspired! They would most likely be shocked to discover, however, that these words came from the lips of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). Although there is most certainly an element of truth to what Hitler has declared (after all, women do tend to be uniquely gifted in matters pertaining to the home and family), yet to suggest that this rather limited domain is "her world," and that women should refrain from ever stepping outside its parameters, thereby intruding into the domain of man, is an unenlightened, though not uncommon, perception. A sentiment expressed repeatedly over the centuries is that a woman is inherently inferior to a man! Thus, she has no right to dwell on a level above her "allotted station in life."

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) observed -- "The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind." Lord Byron (1788-1824) stated that women "ought to mind the home -- and be well fed and clothed -- but not mixed in society." Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), in a letter to his fiancÚ, wrote -- "Housekeeping and the care and education of children claim the whole person" of the woman! Freud felt that a woman was unfit for any other profession! So, her "whole person" was to be devoted to her husband, children and home! The great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), in his Table Talk, said, "Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children." Napoleon, never one to mince words, declared, "Equality for women? That is madness. Women are our property; we are not theirs. They give us children ... and they belong to us as the fruit-bearing tree belongs to the gardener." Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) believed women "form the sexus sequior -- the second sex, inferior in every respect to the first." An old Chinese saying states: "A girl is worth only a tenth of a boy." The Germans were far more generous in their ancient adage: "One boy is better than three girls."

There has long been tension between the sexes. This has been clearly evidenced throughout history in numerous ways -- should women be given the vote, should a woman receive pay equal to that of a man when performing the same job (should they even work outside the home)? Should women be seen in a worship assembly (in some religions they are screened off from the men so as not to be visible)? May they speak? May they participate? If so, to what extent? May they be leaders? I have been in a leadership position within the Churches of Christ heritage for 35 years now, and have served in American, European and Asian cultures. During this time I have seen an increasing concern over issues pertaining to a woman's role in the church (and especially with respect to her role in the public assembly). A good many years ago I made the prediction that the next major division to afflict our faith-heritage (and other groups as well) would not be over worship styles, but rather over women's roles!! It is becoming increasingly evident that this prediction was correct! I am currently in contact with a number of members and leaders in several different congregations in several different states that are in danger of being ripped apart over this very issue. It is heartbreaking to witness the warfare being waged over women and their place in the Family of God. I fear the only one truly rejoicing in all of this is Satan!!

Let me affirm once again for the record (although I've done so many times before, as in Reflections #113 -- Women in the Church: Reflecting on the Nature of their Role) -- I am very supportive of women having a greater role within the church (and within our public assemblies) than they have traditionally been allowed within the Churches of Christ. I believe we have deprived ourselves of one of our most valuable resources, and we are certainly none the better for it. Some of the nonsense with respect to women and their role that poses as "sound doctrine" is little more than the theological grunting of religious Neanderthals. A couple of good examples of this type of evil oppression/repression can be found in my following two studies: Reflections #276 -- Trim Not Thy Tresses and Reflections #257 -- Godless Retreats for Women. Additional evidence of this nuttiness is documented in Reflections #476 -- The OPA Strikes Again: Batty Battey's Body Bashing. The Old Paths Advocate lords will not even permit a woman to say "Good Morning" inside the church building during a Sunday "service." What insanity!

I personally believe it is time (indeed, past time) for the disciples of Christ to lay aside their traditional and sectarian blinders, and study the Word anew (praying for the Spirit's leading) to determine the genuine intent of our Father with respect to the interaction of His children when they assemble together. To be perfectly honest, I believe we have failed miserably to truly perceive the purpose of our corporate gatherings, which in turn has facilitated the type of legalistic warring and wrangling we witness in too many areas related to the so-called "patternistic particulars" of these "worship services" (please see my following study on this: Reflections #471 -- Our Purpose for Assembling: Are Christians Failing to Perceive the Divine Design for their Gatherings?).

On the other hand, there is, in my view, a far greater failing!! -- and this failing I must lay at the feet of those called to leadership. Convinced by their own study that certain changes need to be made, and that these changes are consistent with the precepts and principles of God's written revelation of His nature and His will for His people, they drive the flock to that "greener pasture" before their sheep are ever ready, thus inflicting great harm upon many of those entrusted to their care. A good pastor knows that he cannot drive sheep ... they must be led! When this principle is forgotten, "leaders" become "lords." A flock will rebel against a shepherd who seeks to drive them where they are not prepared to go, but they'll willingly follow a shepherd who has truly and intimately connected with his own flock, who has prepared them for the journey, and who then patiently LOVES THEM FORWARD to where they need to be. Too many leaders, I fear, have genuinely perceived the "greener pasture" where their flocks may be spiritually nourished, but, lacking in connectivity with their sheep, they sought to drive them, and only succeeded in destroying them. They had good intent, but poor insight! Their mission was honorable, but their methodology was horrendous! The former coupled with the latter is a recipe for disaster, as many leaders are discovering as they watch their congregations crumble before their eyes!

A preacher from the state of Indiana wrote me last week, asking, "How do we determine the greater benefit when there seems to be two options? For example, the women's role issue has been an ongoing discussion at the congregation where I preach -- it started long before I got here. The minister before me taught a lot about women's role in the church, and he pushed for allowing greater participation from women within our congregation! I have not championed this as much as he did, or as some here would like for me to, although I am definitely not against it. Nevertheless, it's still on the minds of many people here (both pro and con). We have a group that is strongly opposed to such changes and have threatened to leave if they are implemented!! One gentleman recently said that if a woman ever served him Communion, then that would be the very last day he stepped into this building. I didn't have the heart to tell him that a woman serves him Communion every Sunday (his wife sits next to him and hands him the trays)!! There are others who feel that their gifts are not being allowed to be used (some of the women go home in tears quite often because they feel oppressed and undervalued). Following one course of action would benefit one group, while following a different course would benefit the other. Which do we choose? Does Truth trump benefit?!! Anyway, our elders have purposefully taken the position that while they see nothing in the Scriptures that would prevent women from doing many of the things we've traditionally not allowed them to do, yet for the sake of peace and unity we will not pursue those changes at present. I'm curious as to what you think on this."

Several things stand out in this brother's email to me. First, he points out that a great deal of teaching has been done in the congregation on this matter, and that this teaching went on for an extended period of time. He further speaks of "ongoing discussion," another very positive thing. When teaching is patiently presented, and opportunities are provided for dialogue between the leaders and the members, the group is on the right evolutionary path for some potentially very healthy changes. In too many instances, and I can think of several congregational examples just off the top of my head, the leaders will engage in the study (perhaps for an extended period of time), become convinced in their own minds of the rightness of their new perceptions, and then make a pronouncement to the congregation that based on their own study "the following changes" will be implemented. This a grave mistake, but a rather common one, and reflects a deadly disconnect between shepherds and sheep!! Don McLaughlin, the Pulpit Minister (since 1997) with the North Atlanta Church of Christ, in Atlanta, Georgia, and also an adjunct professor with Harding University, and I were co-presenters at a class for ministers at the recent 2011 Tulsa Workshop in which we sought to emphasize the absolute necessity of connectivity between leaders and members. With connectivity also comes sensitivity (these two truly go hand-in-hand) for all the members, even those saints with whom one may differ. These traits are critical for any successful transition from long-established congregational practice.

In any group of disciples of just about any size you will find quite a diversity of opinion and preference with regard to the practices of the corporate body, especially when those practices are associated with the public assembly or with the organizational structure of the congregation. Most disciples can accommodate themselves to a certain amount of change, as long as those changes are not regarded as being at odds with their perceived identity and/or distinctiveness, and as long as they are patiently educated and adequately informed as to the purpose of said changes!! On the other hand, it is a rare group of disciples indeed where some change or necessary action is undertaken and effected without some degree of opposition by some element within the group! Even the apostle Paul, when he commented on the necessity of disciplining an individual in Corinth, said it was "punishment which was inflicted by the majority" (2 Cor. 2:6). In other words, some were opposed to this needed corrective action, yet Paul encouraged the congregation to press forward in spite of that opposition. So, to the minister in Indiana I would say -- Yes, Truth trumps all other considerations!! And, yes, doing what is right for the flock, and what is necessary, may at times require pressing forward without unanimous support from the sheep. These are difficult decisions, and require much wisdom, sensitivity, prayer and leading by the Spirit.

On the other hand, wise leaders recognize that doing the right thing in the wrong way or at the wrong time will almost certainly assure a poor outcome!! Most of us, who have been in ministry for any length of time, have learned this lesson the hard way when we sought to initiate some change or proclaim some teaching for which the members of the congregation were simply not yet ready. Our own studies will often lead us farther down the path of understanding than those we are called to lead. Rather than berating them for "lagging behind," we should rejoin our flock and LOVE THEM FORWARD ... with great patience and instruction! Again, this is all about connectivity. Leaders who have failed to connect with their flock are a disaster waiting to happen!! The apostle Paul summed it up nicely when he wrote: "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Cor. 10:23; cf. 6:12). Yes, my fellow shepherds, that which is right can quickly become wrong if not handled with wisdom and sensitivity. "Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil" (Rom. 14:16). Shepherds, I would caution you -- do not hand down edicts to your flock, as though you were the lords of the sheep. Instead, join them, mingle with them, get the "smell of sheep" on you, and lovingly lead them forward by your own example. Shepherds, know your flock!! I can't emphasize this enough. You must intimately connect with the sheep in your care if you ever hope to bring them to spiritual maturity! Listen to the Good Shepherd as He speaks of successful shepherds -- "the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out. ... they follow him because they know his voice. They won't follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don't know his voice" (John 10:3-5). Intimacy ... Connectivity. Without these traits you will fail your flock!!

Brethren, I have long been a voice crying out for change and reformation!! And, yes, this includes greater participation by our women in areas that are not in conflict with God's revealed will. But, such responsible reforms can only truly be successful when those we seek to lead to these greener pastures are properly prepared for the journey. Shepherds, communicate with your flock ... let them come to know your voice. Do not dictate to them ... dialogue with them!! You'll lose less sheep that way ... and might even lose less sleep! May the words of Isaiah 40:11 characterize your ministry: "He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."

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)

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Indiana:

Dear Brother Al, I really enjoyed your first speech at The Tulsa Workshop in which you suggested a new (or old?) biblical hermeneutic. I really like your concept of Biblical - Non-Biblical - Anti-Biblical - Beneficial. I did not get to attend any of your other talks, but I've ordered the CD's for each of them, and look forward to hearing what you had to say.

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, I am a regular Reflections reader, and am very happy to be included among your readership. I am interested in the who/when/where of the "direct command, approved example, necessary inference" hermeneutic (CENI). I had asked Dr. Tom Olbricht about this, and he referred me to Robert Hooper, who has never answered my communication, but given your own interest and exploration in this area of research, I thought you might know. I have read from Leonard Allen, I believe, that Walter Scott came up with the "five step" plan of salvation (from his "five finger exercise"), which later morphed into its present form of "hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized." Thus, in this same vein -- having been reared from 12-years-old on to believe that "the Bible teaches in three ways: direct command, approved apostolic example, and necessary inference," and thinking that surely this was all neatly laid out in some obscure passage in 2 Corinthians or something -- has anyone traced the history of this hermeneutic back to some identifiable source and said, "Eureka! Here it is! It was first articulated by Bro. X at Y in the year Z"?! In my research I am trying to come to understand how a fellowship (a "brotherhood") could get so caught up in such things as a "3 part hermeneutic," a "5 step plan of salvation," "5 acts of worship," and the like. It seems to me that someone was masterful in the selling of this stuff. Can you offer any help?

From a Minister/Elder in Pennsylvania:

Dear Bro. Al, For the past two years I have been compiling adult Bible class study guides for a survey of the Old Testament. I have been using (with permission, of course) various authors' introductions and backgrounds of the Old Testament books, as well as developing my own "focus on important texts" list and 20 questions for each lesson. These compilations have been well-received here at our congregation, and I plan on putting them on our web site (with .pdf security locks against editing, copying, etc.) for those who may wish to take advantage of these personal Bible studies. I want to assure you that this material will never be published, nor will it ever be sold. That being said, I want to ask your permission to use some of your material in our study guides (under the same conditions as described above). Your in-depth background studies on The Minor Prophets, for example, is very well-developed and very well-written, and I believe would serve our adult Bible classes here at Tomlinson Run Church of Christ very well in introducing each of the minor prophets. Thank you for your consideration.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, I have been reading "The Future of Faith" by Harvey Cox. He supports the notion that there is a movement within Christianity away from focusing on beliefs (doctrines and creeds) to focusing on faith. I am tending to agree with this premise that a faith focused on Jesus is of more value than adherence to a fixed dogma. This author's discussion that Christianity has for too long been focused on doctrines and creeds led me to think of one of your prior writings on the idea that the Lord's Supper and baptism have become sacramental in nature. This raises another question: has our concept of the plan of salvation (the "five steps" -- which is considered by us as the only way of obtaining salvation) become a Church of Christ sacrament? What are your thoughts?

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, Someone sent me a sound clip this morning from a "Preachers' Study" that was held around the first of the year, I believe. You were being mentioned in this public forum (which is conducted by the One Cup Churches of Christ), with tapes being sent out upon request. Glen Osburn is heard saying, "I can't say the words 'Al Maxey' without wanting to throw up, but ..." He then goes on to say how you were actually right about something, although I can't remember the context off the top of my head. Anyway, I thought that was a very ugly thing to say about you. And yet, I say Hallelujah that you are having enough of an impact upon this fellowship that they feel compelled to talk about you!!

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Dear Brother Al, I greatly enjoy your fine Reflections. Your articles on Dr. Lewis Letig Pinkerton (Reflections #445), Jacob Creath, Jr. (Reflections #480), and others have been really interesting! I recently found on Google Free Press the book "Memoirs of Isaac Errett: With Selections from his Writings" by James Sanford Lamar. The following is a quotation from Isaac Errett (from the above book) that I thought you might find interesting:

From a Minister in Virginia:

Brother Al, I am a third generation guy in the Independent Christian Church side of our movement. My grandfather was an elder in the Christian Church, and so is my father. I have been in the ministry since 1989. The last twenty years have been pivotal in my thinking and perspective. I started listening to John MacArthur back in the early 90's, and as a result I began to understand Faith for the first time in my life!! That was a huge deal for me. In the last 6-8 years I've begun to think differently about the goal of our movement to "restore NT Christianity" to the modern church. I had "CENI" drilled into me growing up and throughout my college days, and then ... gasp ... I began thinking for myself. Over the last ten months or so I've been thinking about our practice of Communion, and how often it should be observed. My study has made it clear to me that we have been "snookered." There is NO mandate in Scripture for the frequency of Communion! Gasp!! I also began to realize from this study that there was never an instance in the NT where Communion happened apart from a common meal. The early church never took Communion the way we do today. It always happened in the setting of homes and was connected to a meal. Hmmm. So, in our congregation (we run about 1200 in attendance) we've been thinking about transitioning Communion out of the worship assembly and into our small groups (which all meet in homes). Many of our small groups have a weekly meal before their study time. What a perfect opportunity for them to participate in the Lord's Supper together!! Brother Al, your writings on this subject have been very helpful to us!! Thank You for having the courage to address the "sacred cows" of our heritage!! What I have found in your writings is a brother with a common heart. There is someone else out there who thinks like me. It's a good feeling!

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