by Al Maxey

Issue #490 ------- June 22, 2011
It is difficult to get a man to understand something
when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

Upton Sinclair {1878-1968}

Life-Transforming Epiphanies
Reflecting on a List of 52 Insights Compiled
by a Former Non-Institutional CofC Disciple

Within virtually every world religion, whether it be primitive or modern, one will find elements of militant fanaticism. These are the devoted hardcore extremists who are so zealous for their cause that they are convinced all those who differ with them are "the enemies of God" and deserving of both persecution and extermination. There are some places in our world where a number of these religious fanatics are actually murdering men, women and children by the thousands, and all to the glory of whatever god they profess to worship. In other parts of our planet, such as in our own country (at present), we're seeing less actual killing, but certainly no less vicious attacks motivated by hatred for opposing views. There are extremists within Christendom -- the godless Westboro Baptist Church comes almost immediately to most of our minds -- who engage in shocking behavior so abhorrent to most people that they've gained a reputation as being sectarian psychopaths and sociopaths. Such groups tend to have very few members, compared to the larger, more rational body of believers in their faith-heritages, but they are generally far more vocal and visible due to their sick, outrageous antics. Some of these devolve into self-destructive cults; others maintain a somewhat lower public profile, but spew forth their venom upon select targets (generally those within their own movements with whom they differ). Within that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement denominated the Churches of Christ, these radicals tend to band together within several ultra-legalistic factions (which, praise God, are dwindling daily in their number of adherents) such as the scores of little groups who characterize themselves Non-Institutional and those who bow before the leaders of the Contending for the Faith mob. Although there are a number of genuinely good and decent people caught up in these factions who are simply ignorant of their spiritual plight and in need of being rescued, the leaders of these schisms are another matter altogether. They are a rabid rabble with few redeeming qualities. Thankfully, many of the precious souls they have managed to dupe into following them are finally waking up, and they are leaving these groups in droves!!

A perfect manifestation of this sectarian arrogance, which is so turning the stomachs of many within these factions that they are now turning away from them, was recently witnessed in a plea for financial support by Joseph Gladwell, "evangelist for the small-but-truth-loving West Michigan Church of Christ, which meets in Cedar Springs, Michigan" [taken from the first paragraph of Joe's email dated the afternoon of Monday, May 2, 2011, a copy of which was forwarded to me by a preacher/elder within the beautiful state of Florida, who was one of many to whom this plea for support was sent]. Gladwell continues, "We are very much a Non-Institutional congregation whose leadership insists upon 'book, chapter and verse' for all that we say and do (Col. 3:17)." The legalists absolutely adore Colossians 3:17, for they regard it as their mandate for demanding "book, chapter and verse" for their every practice (especially with those practices associated with the church building and the Sunday "worship service" -- both of which they will have a difficult time finding "book, chapter and verse" for). This beautiful passage (Col. 3:17) has been abused and misused by them shamelessly, and I would urge the reader to examine prayerfully the following analysis of what Paul was seeking to convey in this text: Reflections #325 -- An Attitude of Gratitude: A Reflective Study of Col. 3:17.

Let me just say for the public record -- I have nothing against a group of disciples who are "small-but-truth-loving." God bless 'em! Would that we were ALL truth-loving!! Further, the size of a congregation is not really determinative of faithfulness to the will of the Father. Additionally, I have no problem with smaller groups of believers, who may not be financially able to do all that they feel called of God to do in a given location, appealing to larger gatherings of disciples in other locations for assistance in fulfilling their mission. Also, if a local group of believers choose to be Non-Institutional in outlook and practice, then that is their right, in my view, and I applaud their conviction (even though I will likely differ with them on some of their personal perceptions, preferences and practices). After all, our fellowship is Person-based, not pattern-based! What I do find objectionable, and what will draw a response from me, is when such people perceive themselves as the ONLY ones favored by God, and thus begin publicly condemning and castigating all who dare to differ with them, consigning them all to the fires of hell. Sadly, this is the path far too many legalistic patternists have chosen to follow. It is destroying lives, and I refuse to remain silent in the face of such malicious militancy.

This abominable attitude surfaced in the very first paragraph of evangelist Joe Gladwell's six paragraph letter of appeal for financial support. Joe boldly announced, "Our congregation is also the only known sound congregation anywhere near Grand Rapids, which is Michigan's second largest city." Really?!! They are the ONLY "sound" congregation "anywhere near" the second largest city in the entire state? But, Joe isn't finished. He continues -- "The number of truly sound congregations in the entire state of Michigan is a number less than ten. The Lord knows for sure just what that number is, but that number is indeed almost surely less than ten sound congregations for the whole state of Michigan. The nearest sound congregation to ours is approximately 90 miles from where we meet -- in Lansing." Joe Gladwell reveals that his congregation is a 23 mile commute from his apartment in Grand Rapids!! So, doing the math, if the nearest "sound" congregation is 90 miles away, then Joe is saying that there are NO "sound" congregations in the city of Grand Rapids. NONE!! Joe writes, "There is a very large need for sound gospel preaching in the state of Michigan." So why doesn't he start in Grand Rapids? That way he could save gas and souls!!

In his letter of appeal, Joe Gladwell enumerates some of the "issues" he personally is convinced "need more preaching on in the early 21st century." I'm glad he listed these, because it helps us all to understand what "sound" preaching really is!! Here are the issues that "need more preaching on," and which are "menacing the Bride of Christ and threatening the potential salvation of Christians the world over." Are you ready? Here is evangelist Joe Gladwell's list: "preterism, premillennialism, the prom, mixed swimming, social drinking, gambling, how we worship in song, and radar detectors." In July, Joe Gladwell will be speaking at the High School Road Lectureships in Indianapolis. His two speeches, which will be on July 13 & 14, will focus on rightly dividing the Bible, and how some heretics have failed to realize that "God DID in fact give us the Bible divided exactly as He wanted it divided -- with the divider page coming between Malachi and Matthew. This is an issue that needs to be addressed more and more as time goes on, and I am more than eager to put my 'two cents worth' in." My elder friend in Florida who sent me this email from Joe Gladwell said, "No wonder the local congregation has had to reduce their support. With preaching on these kinds of subjects, there probably has not been much local growth." I guess I'm not a very "sound" gospel preacher ... I haven't done a gospel sermon on radar detectors in years!! May the Lord and the brethren forgive me!!

You know, this would be hilarious, if it were not so heart-breaking!! On the other hand, we can be thankful that it IS so ridiculous, because it is causing many of those who are being subjected to such lunacy to wake up and begin walking away from these factions and toward the blessed freedom that can be theirs by grace through faith. My writing ministry has for many, many years been focused on reaching out to those enslaved by legalism, and hardly a week goes by that I don't hear from several people who have finally been awakened to their plight, and who are now seeking to bring themselves and their loved ones out of the darkness and into the light. Near the end of my vacation this year I received a rather touching email from a reader who wrote, "Brother Al, I left the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ about two and a half years ago. Since leaving, I have had several epiphanies, and I wrote them down each time I had one. I recently shared this list with some in my church group! Someone in this group suggested that I share this list with you. You might recognize some of these epiphanies as being prompted by some of your own Reflections." This brother sent me a list of 52 "epiphanies" he'd had over the past few years! I found them fascinating, for they document his personal journey of faith and discovery, and are a testimony to the courage and conviction of a young disciple who refused to remain shackled to sectarianism. I wrote him and asked if I could share some of these epiphanies with my readers. He agreed, but requested that his identity not be revealed. I can understand this need for anonymity, especially when people are first shedding their shackles, for their sectarian captors will be doing all in their power to drag them back into bondage, or to hound and harass them if they refuse to return to slavery. Unless you have felt the full fury of the legalists, you have no idea how ferocious their attacks can be! They will show no mercy, and will not rest until they have tracked you down and tormented you into submission! Thus, out of love and respect for this brother and his newly found freedom, I will not reveal his identity. That will be for him to do at a time and place and manner of the Spirit's choosing, although he is presently doing so among close, trusted brethren in Christ.

Examining the Epiphanies

An "epiphany," for those who may not be familiar with this term, is defined as "a flash of insight," and comes from a Greek word meaning "to show forth." Have you ever been studying or meditating, and then suddenly "a light comes on" in your mind? Have you ever been reading a passage of Scripture for the hundredth time, and then suddenly that which you'd previously struggled to grasp all "falls into place" and "makes sense"? Such "flashes of insight" are known as epiphanies. We've each had them, and at times they have the power to be truly life-transforming, especially when the insights deal with great spiritual realities. As we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we mature in the Spirit, these liberating and transforming insights will shine forth in our hearts and minds time and again. They can't be forced, but will dawn within us as the Spirit of God dictates. The wise disciple will learn to heed them, and to welcome their guidance.

Quite obviously, I don't have nearly enough space in this present Reflections to list, and comment upon, each of the 52 epiphanies of this former Non-Institutional disciple. His list, after all, is seven pages single-spaced when printed out!! However, there are some of them that I truly want to share with you, as I believe you will be very encouraged by the spiritual growth evidenced in this brother ... especially when one considers the religious background from which he emerged just two and a half years ago! I pray you will be blessed by these "flashes of insight" shown forth by the Spirit, and by what few comments I may add to them by way of personal reflection.

  1. "The NT is not a new law. If man was unable to live up to the old law, why do we think man could obey a new law that is not clearly spelled out within the Scriptures? How is this "new law" better, if you have to read between the lines in order to determine what is or isn't allowed, or what are aids or innovations?"

  2. "CENI is not found within the Scriptures. 'Necessary Inference' is simply a license to abuse any passage in order to 'prove' some preconceived notion about what is considered to be law."

  3. "An example is merely an example, not a command. Just because someone in the first century did something does not mean it is now required of me."

  4. "Cornelius was clearly saved before his baptism in water. Perhaps, then, salvation does not occur at the precise moment someone steps out of the water of the baptistery."

  5. "Jesus Christ was not a legalist. In John 12, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, offers a form of worship that had not been commanded. It was heart-motivated worship. Yet, He did not condemn her for doing something for which there was NO command or example, and about which there was silence. He even defended her actions to Judas. It seems to me that the motivations of the heart are of much more importance to God than the crossing of all the t's and the dotting of all the i's."

  6. "Paul wrote, 'And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus' (Philp. 4:7). So, why hadn't I been at peace?! Perhaps it was because I had thought that my eternal salvation was somehow tied to my obedience to law and my own righteousness, which only filled me with doubts."

  7. "When Paul spoke of 'that which is perfect" coming (1 Cor. 13:10), he was not talking about the writings of the NT."

  8. "Salvation is found in a Man (Jesus), not a plan; in a Person, not a process."

  9. "The Pharisee mentioned in Luke 18:9f did not receive justification from Jesus because of his exactness of practice of religious forms, nor for his outward appearance of righteousness."

  10. "In John 3:16 Jesus stated, 'Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.' Whoever!! I have spent a lifetime explaining why Jesus was wrong!! Yes, a person might believe in Him, but that person will NOT receive eternal life because ... (sang with instruments, ate in a church building, had Sunday School, etc.). It now occurs to me that Jesus knows more about what He said than I do."

  11. "Can we reasonably believe that our God will condemn to hell someone for genuinely praising Him from their hearts just because that praise is accompanied by a musical instrument?! I can think of no example from the Bible of any such divine condemnation. Yet, the Church of Christ is the only church that I know of that believes honest and sincere praise and worship of God is a SIN if it differs in form from their own."

  12. "It occurs to me that church buildings are never once mentioned within the NT writings. If buildings are not mentioned, then how can the USE of the building be regulated or restricted?"

  13. "Where is the NT pattern for a men's business meeting? There are no NT examples of congregations having meetings in which the women are completely excluded."

Concluding Thought

The above thirteen epiphanies of this former Non-Institutional Church of Christ disciple are quite obviously only a very small sampling of those he sent to me (and he has sent me some additional ones besides the 52 he originally mailed to me). Here is a brother who is doing some serious thinking ... and who continues to do so! We need more brethren like him!! Far too many are content to sit back and allow others to do their thinking for them ... and our present predicament (a church divided into countless feuding factions and squabbling sects) is the sad result. The apostle Paul urges us to "examine everything carefully, and hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). I think that is good advice, but how many of us are really doing it?! We should be questioning everything we have been taught, "examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things are so" (Acts 17:11). If more of us had a "Berean spirit," as the above brother does, far more of us might be having similar life-transforming and spiritually liberating epiphanies!!

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in Malaysia:

Dear Brother Al, Would you kindly place me on your subscription list for your weekly Reflections studies. I serve a small Church of Christ of 85 in the suburbs of our nation's capital city Kuala Lumpur. It is great to see that you are a Vietnam War veteran. I used to see some of you come on R&R to Penang Island in Malaysia in the late 60's. It must have been amazing to serve in that war!! I'm really interested in military history. Anyway, brother, your articles are a real eye-opener, and we find them most interesting. Thank you for them. I am looking forward to receiving your Reflections by email in the near future. To God be the glory!!

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Maxey, Your article on "Jesus and the Silence Issue" was just forwarded to me. I have spent years being starved for God's grace because of the very teachings of the legalists that you describe! I would love to begin receiving your Reflections on a regular basis. Thank You for your ministry. It is helping to free us from bondage!!

From a Minister/Elder in Florida:

Bro. Al, I read with much interest your latest article "Jesus and the Silence Issue." At the same time I received your Reflections I received a copy of a brotherhood periodical representing the ultra-conservative thinking among our brethren. This publication was a special issue titled "Hold Fast the Pattern of Sound Words." For the most part, the entire issue sought to reestablish faith in the CENI approach to biblical authority. One article even dealt with the silence of the Scriptures. "Silence does forbid," its author said. I am sure that you are aware of this teaching that is so prevalent among traditionalists, but I thought you might like to know of the latest writings of some brethren. May God bless you.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Dear Brother Al, I was so happy to see your new Reflections today, as I am desperately trying to teach some friends regarding the silence of the Scriptures. It was a great article!! I am still shocked, though, by the hateful, venomous response of the preacher in Newport News, VA. You are probably used to getting such nasty comments, but it was extremely hateful in my eyes! Please don't let these types of comments ever discourage you, Al. You are sticking your neck out and trying to "out" these archaic traditions, and that is a good, good thing!! I have a huge request -- I notice your books are out now on Kindle. I surely wish they could also be Nook friendly at some point, as I recently purchased a Nook. Any plans for that?

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Brother Al, Thank you for your article "Jesus and the Silence Issue." I was undecided on a sermon subject for this Sunday and, spending a lot of time with an elderly friend in the hospital, was running short on time. Reading your new Reflections solved my problem. The lesson will be on the "Gospel" of John in one easy lesson -- Jesus is God!! In the context of the 60 or so years after Jesus had left the earth, as well as the impending crisis of the church, what an important message for John to declare! Thanks again for your thoughts. You saved the day! I thank God for blessing me with you!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Bro. Al, I read the comments by Daniel Denham, who erroneously proclaims to be a gospel preacher. Trust me -- he is anything BUT a preacher of God's Word, much less a Christian!! No true follower of Christ Jesus would ever stoop so low and act in such a childish way. Is this some type of "scare tactic"? Does this work on the mindless sheep in his own congregation? His teenage rant only proves that he is far from following in the footsteps of Jesus! On the contrary, his words mark him as a modern-day Pharisee, and we all know who their true father was!! Keep the faith, brother!

From a Minister in Missouri:

Dear Brother Al, This Daniel Denham guy really cracks me up! Is he really so full of himself that he is blind to his own sinful heart?! What really gets on my nerves is when people like this continue to cut other people down for their own advancement, and then do it "in the name of Christ." In reality, Mr. Denham and his cohorts are not any different from the hate-mongers at the Westboro Baptist Church: they are evil men doing evil things in the name of Christ. It is for people like him that eternal punishment awaits. I really do hope that he finds the Lord before it is too late!!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, Does that guy from Newport News, VA actually think he's a Christian?!! I think I'm gonna go to Virginia and have a talk with this guy!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, That was a lovely "welcome back from vacation" to you from your Contending for the Faith groupie!! Unbelievable!! Also, thanks for yet another well-put-together article ("Jesus and the Silence Issue").

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, Your article "Jesus and the Silence Issue" was another body blow to the legalists!! But, who is this Daniel Denham fellow?! I've never read such spiritual filth!! What kind of person would actually listen to this guy? His mother is rightly ashamed ... or at least should be!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I just read the response from Daniel Denham. Unbelievable!! I have two questions -- (1) How can people, who proclaim to be Christians, be so hateful, vindictive and rude? (2) When did God turn the judging over to them ... or even ask for their help in doing His job? I truly hope that you will let comments like these go in one ear and out the other!

From a Reader in Washington:

Dear Brother Al, Amazing!! I must contact this Daniel Denham. It is so good to know that he is God: the one who makes the decisions as to who to condemn or save! What a powerful man he must be! There are several persons I am wondering about; so, perhaps he could tell me their eternal condition. This is all "tongue-in-cheek," of course! Al, thank you for your continual positive messages! They are a witness to diligent study (far more than most of us are involved in). I find that the older I get, the more I know I do not know. It is exciting how deep and beautiful the Word is!! I just turned 89, and am truly looking forward to the day Abba calls me home!! Grace and peace to you.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Bro. Al, I know that you are often hammered by the Pharisees of our day, so I couldn't help but think of you when I read the following article by Terry Rush today -- Open and Shut Case. I love Terry and his great outlook. I hope this gives you a little lift. God bless you, and thank you for your constant encouragement.

From a Reader in New Hampshire:

Brother Al, Daniel Denham sounds insane! I can picture him all red in the face with a maniacal laugh hitting the "send" button as he emailed that to you. I think the Internet makes us behave far more badly than we might in person. Most people do not haul off and start screaming at someone the way they do when they're hiding behind a keyboard. The sad thing is, he most likely really believes God is pleased with him when he says these things to you. "There are none so blind ..." I have too much experience with the "Daniel Denhams" of this world. Keep up God's work, Al. You are helping countless people ... me foremost!! Remember: you know you are doing something right when you "wake the beast" and all they can do is spew venom instead of having a rational discourse like mature adults.

From an Author in North Carolina:

Brother Al, I just read your article "Jesus and the Silence Issue." Three words come to mind: Amen ... Amen ... and AMEN!!!

From a Reader in Oregon:

Dear Bro. Al, People really should read this article ("Jesus and the Silence Issue"). Thank you for it. I enjoyed it and am forwarding it in order to get it out to more people. This is a big issue in the church these days, and I hope your study will help some, if not all, of God's people.

From a Reader in Michigan:

Dear Brother Al, "Jesus and the Silence Issue" was another perfectly reasonable and scriptural essay! Thank you! On another note, I was utterly shocked to read Daniel Denham's words in your Readers' Letters section!! Surely, if he had waited a day or so he would have hit "delete" instead of "send." Then again, maybe he would just have added more invective! He was born much too late, and missed his calling -- the Inquisition was centuries ago!!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Brother Al, At first I really thought that this Daniel Denham guy was just kidding. It soon became obvious, however, that he wasn't. Wow!! He has perfectly exemplified exactly what you said in your article about some who "gleefully" tell others that they're going to hell.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, Even though I always read and very much enjoy your weekly Reflections, I am usually not one to respond, but simply read in silence. Sorry about that! Someone who is doing the work of our Lord, as you are doing, should receive encouragement and praise. I am so thankful for you!! I believe that you have an extra measure of God's wisdom, and your thoroughness in research is very commendable. So, thank you so much for all of your work, and for trying to do what our Lord intended --- unite all His people. I've long believed that the signs on the buildings of the denominations mostly serve to divide us, rather than to unify us. You are doing your part, however, to nullify those signs and to unite God's people. Thanks again!!

From a Reader in Australia:

My Dear Brother Al, I have just read your latest Reflections, and must, in particular, respond to the comments of Daniel Denham. My wife and I were horrified to read how you, our dear brother and friend, could be so vilified by someone who claims to be doing God's work and leading one of Christ's churches. Please be encouraged by the knowledge that you are reflecting Jesus and His teachings! I know this because I have had the privilege to meet you in person and spend time with you and Shelly. I was also privileged to meet a number of the members of your congregation last year at The 2010 Tulsa Workshop, and to hear from them firsthand how they see you and your teaching. How I wish that I could be with you in person at this time to just support you during these vicious attacks. You can rest assured, however, that you and your whole family remain in my daily prayers. Hence, I know that you will be upheld through this present persecution. I will now go and pray that Daniel Denham will be confronted by our Savior, and that he will have a spiritual awakening!! I haven't written for quite some time, Al, but there didn't seem much for me to say other than how much I love and value you as a friend, and how much I value all the teaching you continue to produce under Christ's guidance. You are my precious and special brother. May you and Shelly be blessed today!

From a Reader in China:

Brother Al, It is amazing that Daniel Denham has so much time on his hands that he can worry about the fate of your soul. I don't know about you, but I never let it bother me when people say such juvenile, thuggish things about me! One can only speak ill of others when they are dwindling away at the very back of the line. When such people speak ill of you, it just tells you how important the work you are doing is, and it also tells you that you are always and constantly on their minds. Little Danny is paying you a compliment, and he doesn't even know it. As always, I'll be praying for the sad state of his soul, and that one day he will wrest it back from the grip of the demons who so clearly possess him now. But mostly, I'll be praying for the souls he is trying to lead into slavery through his ungodly actions and doctrine. His words are, in part, an answer to this prayer, as I'm sure most people who are truly seeking God's will recognize him for who and what he truly is, and will find themselves thoroughly disgusted by his actions!! You, sir, continue to keep your head up; you are doing God's work! Your Reflections are comforting and educating the hearts and minds of many of us here in China. Meanwhile, Daniel who????

From an Elder in Massachusetts:

Dear Brother Al, I continue to be amazed and impressed with your skill at presenting your Reflections articles, as well as your patience with those who would fight against you, like Daniel Denham and the other Contending for the Faith radicals who present themselves as though they were on a par with God Himself as they judge you and your motives. Obviously, they are unwilling to actually hear what you have to say because they believe that only they have all the answers. Therefore, anyone who disagrees with them has to be wrong. I wonder if any of them has ever asked himself the question, "What if I am wrong?!" Until they do they will never be able to see beyond their legalistic and patternistic views. Keep up the good work, brother. You are not leading us astray, but rather affirming what so many of us already believe. I also really appreciate your readers' responses. They're so reassuring, and they also reveal that God's eternal Truth is still enlightening the world. Grace and peace to you and your family.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, I just returned from vacation and read "Jesus and the Silence Issue." I only wish that the Pharisees among us would be willing to at least THINK about the issues before rejecting them outright. I also believe we need to be praying for Daniel Denham. He will be judged by the way he judges others!! Keep up the great work, brother!!

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