by Al Maxey

Issue #498 ------- August 17, 2011
Men are never so likely to settle a question
rightly as when they discuss it freely.

Thomas Babington {1800-1859}
Southey's Colloquies (1830)

Dear Al, What About...?
Quick Questions from Readers

I have a great deal of respect for Charles Evans Hughes (1862-1948), who departed this earthly life the year before I arrived. He was a fellow disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ (active within the Baptist Church), a fellow Republican, and a distinguished lawyer, judge, and statesman in our nation!! He was the 36th Governor of New York, an Associate Justice of our nation's Supreme Court, the 44th U.S. Secretary of State, and the 11th Chief Justice of the United States!! Hughes also ran for President, but was narrowly defeated in a very close election by Woodrow Wilson. One of my favorite statements by Charles Hughes came from his speech to the American Law Institute on May 7, 1936 in Philadelphia -- "How amazing it is that, in the midst of controversies on every conceivable subject, one should expect unanimity of opinion upon difficult legal questions! In the highest ranges of thought, in theology, philosophy and science, we find differences of view on the part of the most distinguished experts -- theologians, philosophers and scientists. The history of scholarship is a record of disagreements. And when we deal with questions that relate to principles of law and their applications, we do not suddenly rise into a stratosphere of icy certainty."

There are only a few areas in life where you and I may legitimately "rise into a stratosphere of icy certainty." In theological and philosophical matters especially, there is a tremendous amount of subjectivity underlying each of the "truths" perceived by theologians and philosophers! Yet, too frequently we promote, and seek to impose, these perceptions as though they were established facts, and become rather upset when others refuse to invest them with the same "icy certainty" and authority that we have. The stark reality is -- and this is particularly true when theological matters are before us -- we all have far more questions than we have answers. That is why faith is truly the key to our spiritual journey through life. Yes, we all have strong opinions and convictions, but few of us can "produce the cold, hard evidence" that forever proves our perceptions and assumptions. This being so, none of us has the right to impose as fact our findings upon our fellows!! "Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5), and "the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God" (Rom. 14:22), but, at the same time, don't condemn those who differ with you, and don't regard them with contempt (Rom. 14:1-6). They have just as much right to their convictions as you do, and, if their hearts are right before God, they are just as accepted by Him as you are!! It's okay to be different: we don't have to be twins to be brothers!! "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love."

Yes, we are all different; therefore, we all have differences -- different ways of acting upon God's principles; different ways of expressing our devotion and worship unto Him; different perceptions of how He would have us "walk" before Him. It is healthy for the disciples of Christ Jesus to dialogue with one another about these differences. It's even healthy to have respectful debate about our differing strong convictions. It's terribly unhealthy, however, to denounce one another because of our differing perceptions and practices, and it's ungodly to ever divide the Family of God over them. Sadly, we have been far too guilty of the latter for far too long. It would be far better for us to sit down as brethren, with His Scriptures open before us, and with open minds and loving hearts, and examine everything carefully to come to a better understanding of God's eternal will for our lives! And then, whether we ever come to agreement with one another or not with regard to these many personal convictions, may we always leave such times of dialogue as brethren who remain deeply devoted to one another and to our Father.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17). This is one reason that I especially appreciate the readers of these weekly Reflections writing to me. I get a great many emails every day from all over the globe. A few are quite hateful: informing me, in graphic detail, of how hot hell is going to be for heretics like me! Most, however, are expressions of gratitude for challenging them to think, and for sharing with them a fresh perspective of God's Word and Will that they were simply not hearing from their religious leaders. I also get a good many questions from my readers, which always challenge me to do some thinking. Many of my Reflections articles, in fact, come from such questions from you, and I thank you for allowing me to take your queries and share them (and my responses) with your fellow readers. In this current edition I want to share several questions from various readers that I believe you will find quite interesting. Further, I pray that you will find my responses both encouraging and enlightening.

Question #1

In the Readers' Reflections section (see below, at the end of this article) you will find a letter from a man who lives in Kenya, Africa. This dear brother is a native of that country, and he has devoted his entire life to sharing God's message of Grace with his own people. The first question comes from him. He writes: "Currently, I am wrestling with two issues that require philosophical perspectives. If you find the time, would you kindly help me to understand the following: (1) What is the concept of God according to the church? (2) Is there a relationship between faith and reason with specific reference to: resurrection, life after death, miracles?"

Ayn Rand (1905-1982), a Russian-born novelist and philosopher, whose work I greatly admired as a young man (her book "The Fountainhead" was a classic; one of my favorite novels), declared that God was "a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man's power to conceive." That fact hasn't stopped mankind from trying, however. Our concepts of deity are as countless and varied as the stars above us. Even when we seek to limit the scope of those perceptions by the qualifier "according to the church," we're still left with so many that it would take a lengthy book to document and discuss them all. The concept of God held by Catholics, for example, would be somewhat different from that held by Baptists, and a Jehovah's Witness would most likely differ significantly with both. Whether or not one accepts the doctrine of the Trinity also significantly affects one's concept of deity!! Some conceive of God as one, while others insist God is three-in-one (or three separate Beings, but of one essence or purpose).

Thus, I am not really overly confident that we can assert there is any specific "concept of God according to the church." Just as the church universal is made up of diverse disciples (with diverse theological, philosophical, historical and cultural backgrounds), so also are its understandings diverse on just about every conceivable topic. Perhaps the closest we could come is to say that there are probably some concepts of God that most would accept as true -- He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient; He is eternal, immortal, holy; He's Creator as well as Sovereign; and the like. Perhaps the aged apostle John came the closest to expressing the concept of God that would best define not only Him but His people -- "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16). In the Old Testament writings perhaps the most significant concept of our God may be found in that simple, yet infinitely complex, phrase: "I AM." Thus, to the degree that we, who are finite, can grasp this self-affirmation of the Infinite, we may come close to an enlightened conceptualization of God.

With respect to the question regarding faith and reason, the dynamics of the relationship between these two realities has long been debated within Christendom (and in many other world religions as well). In 1998, Pope John Paul II published an encyclical titled "Fides et Ratio" ("On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason"). He confronted the idea "that faith and reason are somehow incompatible and contrary in nature." Some theologians maintain that the challenge of how to relate faith and reason to one another has long been "THE problem of Christian apologetics." There are those, for example, who regard faith as a subclass of reason (this is the view of Rationalism). On the other hand, Fideism takes the opposite position -- viewing reason as a subclass of faith. Dualism seeks to completely separate faith and reason from one another, suggesting the two have nothing whatsoever in common! The far more accepted view, however, is that there is some overlapping of the two, and that Christian apologetics is best served by faith and reason working hand-in-hand. Some have quoted Hebrews 11:1 in support of this position: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Faith is more than "blind trust," it is asserted; rather, it is an assurance that, even though the object of said faith is unseen, is still reasonable and logical (thus, convincing and convicting).

Our God expects us to be a people of faith, but He also expects us to use our minds. "'Come now, and let us reason together,' saith the Lord" (Isaiah 1:18). God could have simply declared, "I am God. Do as I command. Do not ask questions. Do not try to understand. Just obey." But, the Lord desires that we not only hear Him, but that we understand as well. "And after Jesus called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, 'Hear, and understand'" (Matt. 15:10)!! Yes, "faith cometh from hearing" (Rom. 10:17), but quite often understanding is gained through reasoning. Thus, our Lord not only desires for His people to hear Him and believe, but also to reason with Him and to understand. It was with this in mind that Paul, "according to his custom, reasoned with them (the Jews) from the Scriptures for three Sabbaths, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and to rise again from the dead" (Acts 17:2-3). "He was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks" (Acts 18:4; cf. vs. 19). Faith devoid of some rational foundation upon which to rest is empty and blind. No, we will not always have all the answers (in fact, we'll always have far more questions than answers), but there must always be some reason to believe what we believe. We must be discerning believers, not gullible believers. "Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). Test the spirits ... search the Scriptures ... ask questions ... challenge ... probe!! One's faith will be stronger as a result! This not only applies to matters such as resurrection, life after death, and miracles, but anything that may be beyond our ability to validate immediately and empirically. Think it through, use the cognitive abilities God gave you; such may never lead to scientific certainty, but it can lead to spiritual conviction that is rational in nature, and when the finite seeks to grasp the Infinite, that may be the best we can hope for.

Question #2

"Dear Brother Maxey, I am trying to minister to a woman who has been attending the worship services with the body of Christ here where I preach. She argues that she was immersed while a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and, as such, sees no reason why she should be baptized in order to be added to the Lord's church. Can you give me some insight on how to deal with this?"

There are so many traditional misconceptions being expressed here that I'm left wondering where to begin! I won't even get into the phrase "the worship service," as I have dealt with that many times previously. There is also more than just a hint of sectarianism present whenever we begin referring to our denominational group as "the Lord's church." What makes you think this woman isn't already a part of the Lord's church? No, she may not be an "official member" of your group, but if she is "in Christ Jesus," then she is already incorporated into His universal One Body. She is already a member of His Family, and has merely been associating, working and worshipping with disciples who have differing traditions than yours. There's only ONE "church" of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is made up of every person who is in relationship with Him. Some of those disciples may be in our own group, some may be in other groups. This notion that our little wing of an historical movement is somehow "the one true church" is the epitome of arrogance. If this sister states she is in a spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ, and if she says she has manifested her faith by being immersed, then leave her be! It makes no difference where that baptism took place. Her act of faith (baptism) was between her and her Lord; she doesn't need you to sit in judgment on the matter.

By the way, I wonder how many individuals are even aware of what the Seventh Day Adventists believe about baptism. Does this preacher even know? Or, is the assumption that since these people are not in "the one true church" that their every doctrine and practice must of necessity be false? The Adventists themselves have listed on one of their web sites -- Click Here -- 28 of their fundamental beliefs. Number 15 deals with their position on baptism. It reads:

Sounds pretty good to me! If you feel the need to rebaptize this Christian woman, then I would simply ask of you this question: "Upon what basis?" What additional understandings and insights do you feel she needs in order to "qualify" for this "sacrament" that gets her into "the right church"?! My dear brother, I am stating these things ... and I am stating them rather boldly ... for the purpose of trying to get you to think. Each of us at times (myself included) need a good "smack up the side of the head" to knock the sectarian silliness from our minds. Sometimes it takes a bold confrontation to wake us up. Brother, God has sent one of His daughters your way. Love her; serve her; help her in her journey through life. But, don't try to sit in judgment on her heart. If she says she has done what her Lord has asked her to do, and she is sincere in her conviction, welcome her with open arms.

Question #3

Brother Al, I would love to hear your thoughts about sharing on social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.). When is it appropriate, and when is it not appropriate, to share one's beliefs and convictions? I often have individuals tell me that "Facebook is not the place" for some of the things that I post. I find it interesting, however, that the ones who complain the most are usually the ones who disagree with me on the things that I share! Maybe I go too far sometimes, maybe not. I just like to make people think!"

We live in a fascinating era of virtually instant global communication! Within seconds I can be in audio/visual/textual communication with just about anybody on the planet, as long as they have the proper equipment and I have their contact information. This has opened wide the door to endless possibilities for good ... as well as for evil. Many people's lives have been wondrously enriched by these new channels of communication, just as many have been tragically destroyed. Like anything, there is always the potential for both positive and negative effects! Those who use this medium for godly purposes can do much good for the Lord and His cause; those who use this medium for godless purposes can obviously do a lot of harm. I have no doubt whatsoever that if the apostle Paul were living today, he'd have a Facebook account, he would be "tweeting," he would have an "official" web page, and he would be staying in contact with brethren throughout the world via email. Just imagine being able to read daily or weekly "E-pistles" from the keyboard of this devoted apostle! Just imagine being able to write Paul and ask for clarification of something he had taught, and to have him write you back just minutes later! That would be awesome!!

Brethren, this wondrous technology may well be far more than the apostle Paul could ever have imagined in his wildest dreams, but it is our reality. God has given us this "door of opportunity" to reach out to countless precious souls throughout the world with His message of Grace and Love. We must not fail to take advantage of this technology, for it can literally impact the spiritual journey and eternal destiny of countless precious souls. Like any other avenue for sharing our faith, however, we need to employ wisdom and exercise caution. Just because you have an "audience," doesn't give you the right to abuse them or waste their time! With privilege comes responsibility, a maxim many have seemingly forgotten. Our responsibility is to do good unto others, not inflict harm upon them; to build up, not tear down; to challenge, encourage, and motivate; yes, even at times to correct and discipline!! But, always with love, and with a desire to see lives enriched and blessed, and on course and in tune with the divine will.

So, just what should we and shouldn't we be sharing with others on all of these social media sites? I suppose my answer would be largely determined by what your stated purpose is for establishing or participating in such sites!! Some of them, for example, are for the specific purpose of discussing the Bible, or church history, or theological issues. Such sites allow for a certain amount of in-depth dialogue, and even debate. Thus, one might share the fruit of one's studies and insights on a site like this, where such sharing might not be appropriate on another site that is more focused on just keeping in touch with family and friends. Personally (and this is just my view), I view my Facebook site as a place where I can simply give people a brief glimpse into who I am as a person, what my interests are, some of what I may be doing during the week with respect to work or leisure, and the like. It is where I can boast on my kids and grandkids, share pictures with friends and family (and with those of my readers who may wish to know a little more about who this person is who sends them Reflections each week), and also to get to know people a little better who are my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus!! My Facebook page is not a place where I have any desire at all to engage others in lengthy theological debates or discussions, so if someone initiates such on my site, I simply remove those posts. If they persist, I remove them. I use my Reflections to share the fruit of my personal studies (which is mailed out now, after almost 9 years since I began this writing ministry, to almost 20,000 readers ... just how many more people read them online, I have no idea, but I've been informed by those who do web site tracking that it is quite a large number), and I'll occasionally wander onto the site of a discussion group and add my "two cents worth" on some topic (though I do this very rarely). I also receive a LOT of email from people around the world who want to ask questions, or who are in need of a word of encouragement, or who perhaps seek counsel for some situation in their lives or in their ministries! I always try to respond to such requests, as I perceive that as being part of my ministry from God as well.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is -- let your own purposes be your guide, yet make an effort to be sensitive to your audience. Don't be afraid to share what is on your heart, and don't hesitate to speak boldly for what you perceive to be Truth. Also, don't let visitors to your own web sites or social media sites dictate to you what you should or shouldn't share with those who have come into your space. Remember: they are in your space, thus they are guests, not landlords!! If they don't like what you are sharing, they can leave! At the same time, don't intentionally seek to antagonize or alienate your guests. Use this medium to draw people in (so that you might impact them positively), not drive them out. After all, it's hard to teach someone while they're running away from you!

Special CD Offers

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

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

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

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Washington:

Brother Al, Your words continue to bless me, as well as all who read them!! I am really hoping to see you and speak with you "live" next March at the 2012 Tulsa Workshop. I believe there will be a good many of your Facebook friends there also.

From a Minister in Kenya, Africa:

Brother Al, I have personally had problems in trying to understand 1 Peter 3:21, and have also struggled in teaching it. But, God has used you greatly and mightily to help me understand this text now. Your Reflections this week ("Critical Question on 1 Peter 3:21") has blessed me abundantly, brother. Thank You!! It is crystal clear to me now that baptism is not some empty ritual of washing, but is a solemn pledge of faith from a pure heart and a good conscience in response to God's gift of saving grace! I pray that God will help me to share this conviction with others here in my country! Bro. Al, the Reflections I receive from you are a BIG blessing to me, and to the entire Body of our Lord Jesus here on this other side of the ocean. They are quite helpful to us especially in our Bible Classes. Please keep up the great work in our Lord's kingdom.

From a Missionary in Peru:

Dear Brother Al, I agree with everything that you said in your recent Reflections on 1 Peter 3:21. Men can wrangle over the meaning of Greek words forever, but if they really want to know what was important in the mind of the apostle Peter, then the first few verses of this epistle give us the answer. Peter states that his readers are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied" (1 Peter 1:2, KJV). Not much water there!! But much about the foreknowledge of God, the sanctification of the Spirit, and the shed blood of Jesus resulting in Grace and Peace!! When we leave out the work of the Spirit, and focus on getting right the externals, we are ignorant of truth! If we can just jump into what Peter said at first, before we jump into the water, we shall have bucket-loads of joy in the Lord when we do get baptized!!

From a Minister in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, What clarifies the 1 Peter 3:21 text for me is the phrase "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." We're not saved by water or the physical act of baptism, but through what Jesus affected in His resurrection. Baptism is a picture of what Christ did to save us. Paul expresses this same argument in Romans 6. My case for baptismal salvation went right out the window as I got the full meaning of Paul's argument about Abraham and circumcision in Romans 4.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, Well done!! You may want to write a commentary on 1 & 2 Peter one day. I really do enjoy reading all of your Reflections, and have been inspired by you to use Kenneth Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament for my devotions.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for your study of 1 Pet. 3:21. It helps me greatly to know that there are brothers within the Churches of Christ who have come to the same conclusions on so many Scriptures as I have. I fight legalism all the time, and it really does get you down at times. Thank You, Al, for your writings!!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, The passage in 1 Peter 3:21 has indeed been a stumbling block for many because it has been interpreted in such a way as to diminish the free gift of Grace that has been offered to us! I am so thankful for your in-depth analysis and research that brings the true meaning of this passage to light, as well as for your ability to tie it into the consistent theme of the Good News that we are saved by Grace through Faith, not by Works, lest any man should boast. Bravo, brother!!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Bro. Al, Well Done on your latest Reflections! Being raised in the Church of Christ, I struggled with this for years, even though I left the movement in 2001. Deep down, our sinful flesh, along with help from the Tempter, is just trying to find some human work to add to God's Grace --- some law that we think will shield us from the wrath to come --- because simple faith in Jesus is hard for us to hold on to (it just seems absurd to the rich and educated, the proud and self-reliant)!! Yes, brother, baptism is simply an outward profession and a public confession of our inward faith in the finished work of Christ. It is an important "Ebenezer," or stone of remembrance. The Churches of Christ, however, are not alone in their legalism!! There are many others who would also point a finger at baptism as the precise point in time where they "rest assured" in their salvation, rather than to Jesus and their faith in Him. We're truly in a spiritual war, brother, so keep fighting the good fight!!

From a Reader in Canada:

Dear Bro. Al, We ought to seek to be baptized because it is what we are commanded to do once we've decided to repent of going our own way to going the way that Jesus has shown us. Those who say that water immersion (baptism) is not required are going against an express command of the Lord Jesus (who they claim they have chosen to obey). Baptism, in a sense, is showing that we have made a commitment to follow and obey the One whom God has sent. I'm sure you agree! Keep on doing what you are doing so well, brother. I can't tell you how much your witness means to me! Your Canadian brother in the Lord Jesus.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Brother Al, Whenever I read your Reflections I have to pause and think of just how fortunate we are that we get to hear you in person here every Sunday. I feel like we all take you so much for granted, and that maybe we don't even appreciate you as fully as we should. Your teachings of the JOY that comes from living in the freedom of Christ, and of the peace that comes from not having to wonder from day to day if we're really saved, are such a blessing to us. I am also thankful that your fellow elders here agree with you, and that they allow you the freedom to teach all of us (and the thousands out in "computer land") God's Truth. We love you, Al ... probably more than you realize!!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, You are something else!! I have been studying the topic of baptism, and have gone back to the Greek to see if I could make any sense of it. From what I have found, you are right on track. I have been receiving your weekly articles for about two years now, and I have never found you to be in error yet. Please keep up your thoughtful good work! Al, I studied Bible at David Lipscomb 60 years ago, but this year I've begun to question why the Churches of Christ believe what they teach on this, and what that belief is based upon. Going back to the Greek, and to the teachings of Scripture, I have found that what they teach is just not there. They are teaching in error. So, I want to thank you for what you are teaching and preaching!!

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Brother Al, Great article, by the way, in your latest Reflections ("Critical Question on 1 Peter 3:21"). As you and I have talked before, baptism is a participation in the Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and what greater demonstration of our faith than to parallel what He has done! Just like when we participated in Thanksgiving plays in school -- we did it to connect with those who had done it first. We gain an understanding by this participation that no amount of intellectual gymnastics can provide. The point at which forgiveness of sins occurs is when my heart is right before God. He looks at me and says, "-----, now you have it; now you understand in your heart."

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I enjoyed your article on 1 Pet. 3:21. I appreciate your open mind and your search for Truth. Here is something to consider along those lines. In this text by Peter, the phrase "removal of dirt from the body" has traditionally been understood as being literal dirt on one's skin. I think maybe it has reference to sin, not dirt on a person's body. Why would Peter, in this context, even refer to actual dirt on a person's skin? What would be the point? Maybe the verse is saying that baptism does not remove one's sins, but instead is "the pledge of a good conscience." When one is baptized into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, they show their acceptance of His sacrifice (His blood of atonement) and can therefore have a clear conscience since their sins are forgiven -- "He released us [washed us -- KJV] from our sins by His blood" (Rev. 1:5).

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I consider that when Peter says baptism is not for the "putting away of the filth of the flesh," he was not merely stating that baptism is not a bath to remove dirt from the physical body!! To me, that would seem to have been an uncalled for statement; one unnecessary for Peter to make (in fact, to think that Peter thought it was worthwhile to point out that baptism was not a common bath to remove dirt from a person's body is a bit ridiculous). I believe that Peter meant "sins." If so, Peter was emphasizing that it is not water itself that cleanses one from sin. I wonder why writers and teachers never think to point this out!!

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: