by Al Maxey

Issue #512 ------- November 30, 2011
Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics
is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.

Christopher Hampton {b. 1946}

Grumblings and Rumblings
"Go Away, Kid; Ya Bother Me!"

W. C. Fields (1879-1946), a man well-known for his quick wit and sharp tongue, was once asked if he liked children. He quickly responded, in that famous voice which many have sought since to imitate, "I do if they're properly cooked!" In the 1940 film "My Little Chickadee" he uttered one of his most classic lines, one that has found its way to the lips of many persons (and even the Looney Tunes rooster Foghorn Leghorn) who would love to see certain ones (like the little chicken hawk), whom they regard with distinct disfavor, simply vanish into thin air: "Go away, kid; ya bother me!" This is a statement of derisive dismissal. It is a verbal back-of-the-hand-to-the-head; a condescending aside to an irritant. It is the level of respect due a gnat.

If you have served the Lord in any significant capacity, daring to speak out when it was not always popular to do so, you have likely experienced firsthand the sting of such a contemptuous dismissal. I am certainly far from alone in having a committed cadre of critics who watch my every move and examine my every statement like the little chicken hawk who hopes one day to drag away the carcass of ol' Foghorn Leghorn and feast upon his remains! There are many who are on the frontlines of the battle to bring freedom in Christ to those enslaved to legalism that have endured, and continue to endure, the calumny of the cantankerous critics who are determined to maintain control over their captives. The more effectively God uses us in our respective ministries, the more determined our enemies become in their efforts to silence us at any cost. I had a well-known person in our faith-heritage inform me recently that he has vowed to spend whatever time he has left in this life seeking to destroy my work. Again, many of you could relate similar accounts of how some have sought to sabotage your sincere service to the cause of Christ. Although painful, there is some comfort in such commonality: We are not alone!

In the life of every grace-centered, Jesus-focused disciple there may be found one or more little spiritual dwarfs named "Grumpy" (who was one of the seven dwarfs in Disney's "Snow White"). They tend to be a rather negative lot; foul-dispositioned, hyper-critical, and anti-everything-you-stand-for. They will watch you like Foghorn Leghorn's little chicken hawk, and will attack without mercy, going for the jugular, at every opportunity. I have a number of devoted "Grumpys" in my life, and I imagine many of you do as well. Hardly a day goes by that I don't get an email from one of them -- just a brief note to inform me that I will one day be "hopping from brick to brick in hell." I am constantly hearing from people that one or another of these "Grumpys" has published yet another rant against me or my ministry, the vast majority of which are so outrageous in their assessments and assertions that I find them almost amusing. Rarely will I waste any time responding to them. I regard such persons much like David must have regarded Shimei who "went along on the hillside parallel with him, and as David went Shimei cursed, and cast stones, and threw dust at him" (2 Sam. 16: 13). Yes, such persons can make one weary (vs. 14), as they continually shout, "Get out, get out, you worthless fellow!!" (vs. 7), and some may be tempted (like Abishai) to "go over and cut off his head" (vs. 9), but most often the best response to such persons is no response!! The apostle Peter offered this very wise advice: "Keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (2 Pet. 3:16). I'm convinced that in most circumstances the most effective way to respond to a grump is with grace!! David said to his men, with regard to his caustic accuser, "Let him alone and let him curse" (vs. 11).

I'll be honest with you -- this is sometimes hard to do, and I don't always succeed. At times, the accusations, and the assaults against one's character, ministry, and even family, become so intense and so insidious that frustration takes over and one lashes out against his/her antagonist. Of course, this is exactly what they desire (as many are only seeking to make a name for themselves at the expense of others), and it only fuels the fire of their fanaticism. What is sad about the whole situation, though, is that some brethren will accept what these persons say against you as being true, without ever bothering to investigate for themselves the allegations being made. As we all know, a person's character and work can be adversely affected merely by an accusation, even though no substantiation is ever offered; just throwing such a charge out there for the public to peruse can be damaging to another -- and such critics know this all too well. I had a person state several years ago that he would willingly LIE in order to silence me (and he has sought to do so repeatedly). And, yes, some people will believe those lies. And, yes, it hurts!! It was meant to; that is its purpose. You "bother" them, and they want you to "go away." There were some "Grumpys" who hounded and harassed the apostle Paul from city to city, seeking to silence him. Paul became so frustrated on one occasion that he actually told some of his brethren that he wished these people would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12). Yes, such persons were preaching "from envy and strife," seeking to "cause distress" for Paul (Philp. 1:15, 17), but Paul kept right on doing what God had called him to do, refusing to be silenced. So must we!

What Paul did do, however, was expose such people for their tactics. Yes, at times he was forced to defend his apostleship against their ridiculous charges (2 Cor. 10-11), and at times he even named names (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 4:14), but for the most part this devoted apostle of Christ realized that the best response to "dust throwers" was simply to remain faithful to one's calling from the Lord. Yes, expose their nonsense for all to see, but don't allow their assaults to divert you from the good work you are doing. These tactics were used against Nehemiah by those who sought to hinder the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem (Neh. 6), but this good man refused to be distracted by their shenanigans. We must maintain that same resolve today in the face of similar tactics to divert us from our ministries. In fact, I would urge you to read Nehemiah 6, as it will encourage you to see the wisdom and resolve of this godly man as he dealt with his opponents. "Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: 'Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.' But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: 'I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?' Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer" (vs. 2-4). If your opponent can divert you from your good work in proclaiming God's grace and freedom in Christ by enticing you to endless debates with them over piddling points of law, then they have gained a significant victory over you.

If such efforts to distract one from one's work fail, the next step is to slander both you and your ministry (and at times even your family). The hope is that you will become so discouraged by such defamation, or that enough others will believe it and overwhelm you with opposition, that you will abandon your ministry. Sadly, this has proved effective against some preachers and teachers who simply didn't have the stomach any longer for the struggle they were forced to face each day. Sanballat, for example, sent out letters to people making all manner of false accusations against Nehemiah. "I sent Sanballat this reply: 'Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.' They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed'" (vs. 8-9). When slander fails, they will often next resort to physical threats. "But I said, 'Should a man like me run away?'" (vs. 11). Yes, when you dare to speak out for God, and dare to speak up for Truth and Grace and Freedom, those who are still law-bound will go to great lengths to discredit you so as to destroy your work. Nevertheless, like Nehemiah (and countless other giants of faith), we must remain focused on our calling and faithful to our cause, even when the "Foghorns of Factionalism" and the "Leghorns of Legalism" demand, "Go away, kid; ya bother me!"

In the last few weeks, just by way of illustration, a number of individuals have written and published abroad some rather pointed attacks against not only my ministry, but also the ministries of some very devoted leaders in the Body of Christ Jesus. One of these men, who is a well-known preacher, and who writes regularly for "The Spiritual Sword" (a very legalistic publication of the ultra-conservative wing of the Churches of Christ), referred to me in his weekly email periodical as a "modern mocker" of God's Word, determined "to avoid the force" of various biblical passages "by ridiculing them." Although I "profess" to be a friend of the Scriptures, I nevertheless have a "blasphemous attitude toward the plain teaching" of these Scriptures. He declared in this article (published on Nov. 8, 2011), that I have "compromised the Word of God" so that I might lift up instead my "own opinions." He concluded his article, which he sent out to readers throughout the country, "I would not want to be in the shoes of some preachers on the day of God's final judgment." With that statement, I would have to agree!!

Another very well-known leader in Churches of Christ, who has spent decades holding seminars and workshops throughout the nation, published an article on his blog site on Nov. 16 (which he then mailed out to various people) that asserted "Al Maxey and Edward Fudge openly resent being disagreed with and most of what they write and preach is pronouncing anathemas against people who have the gall to dispute what they say. ... Their approach [and he then includes Terry Rush and Marvin Phillips along with Edward and me -- ahm] is that they want to preach their interpretations and they want you to listen submissively as though they are wise and you are not. ... They are not willing to give sensible and accurate biblical answers to your challenges. ... Both Peter and Paul repeatedly warned about perverted teachings among our own brethren."

This is just a small sampling of the sectarian silliness that some of us face on a regular basis as we seek to proclaim freedom in Christ to those still enslaved to a law/works theology. Such malicious misrepresentation can be wearying at times, but one eventually learns to accept it as part of the price that must be paid by those willing to stand on the front lines of the war being waged for the souls of men! It's rarely pleasant to be targeted, but there is some satisfaction in knowing that one's efforts are having such a positive impact that those opposed to Truth and Freedom view you as a threat to their own efforts to continue promoting religious rigidity and sectarian schism. Brethren, may we never tire in the face of such grumbling and rumbling. There is work to do. Work to which our God has called us, and for which He has equipped and empowered us. Thus, we must never retreat from those who oppose our ministries, no matter how vicious or violent that opposition may become (and it will). So, when your own personal Foghorn Leghorn says, "Go away, kid; ya bother me," remember -- the big rooster may crow the loudest on the fence in the morning, but it's the little hawk that has fried chicken on the table in the evening!! Kinda gives a new twist to Psalm 23:5, doesn't it?!! -- "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies."

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A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
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An Examination of Eucharistic
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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Maxey, I have been reading your Reflections in your Archives since 3:30 this morning!! I am challenged, and you are helping me to find answers. Please add me to your mailing list. Reading Issue #496 ("Sheep In Wolves' Clothing: Some Practical Considerations For Sheep Dwelling Among Wolves") was painful for me, for this is where I am! I am the daughter of a very conservative elder, and also the wife of an elder of a very conservative congregation. We've "lost" our children (they are all wonderful people and married to believers, but serving the Lord outside our heritage) because of their inability to accept the patternism and legalism they grew up with. I had been praying for wisdom, and then stumbled upon your writings. Thank you!! I am delighted to have found your site!!

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Al, I stumbled upon one of your Reflections articles some time back while doing some research, and I cannot express the JOY I have found from your writings!! I have spent the last 18 years trying to sort through the bondage created by the brainwashing I received at the hands of ultra, ultra-conservative and patternistic brethren in the Church of Christ. So much time was spent trying to pound into our heads the do's and don't's of the "pattern," that Jesus and love for others (that testifies we are His children) was totally overlooked. I have refused to go near anyone involved with the Churches of Christ for years, terrified that I would somehow get dragged back into that bondage from which I was able to escape. God has very gently brought me along, and I now find that I am at a crossroads in my life. While I have made great progress spiritually, and am truly enjoying my freedom in Him, there have been several nagging issues that I have not been able to fully resolve in my mind, even though I have studied them and researched them repeatedly (such as the role of women in the church; also: divorce and remarriage -- I plan to purchase and study your book Down, But Not Out). These issues are of concern not only to me, but also to my adult children, who were also brutally battered emotionally and spiritually by the legalists, and are now on their own journeys in which they are discovering the real Jesus, and who they are in Him.

Al, I am so thankful to have found your writings!! What comes to my mind is the Scripture: "Perfect love casts out fear." I do not fear what you have to say (i.e., that it will bring me back into bondage), because the love of Christ shines forth in your writings! You have an incredible grasp of the historical and cultural influences on the readers of the OT and NT writings, which play a vital role in understanding what God intended as the Holy Spirit inspired the writings. Your understanding of the Greek, and the balanced application of it in context and harmony with all the rest of Scripture, is another thing that I have prayed for -- and now thank God for, as He has placed you and your writings in my path. Sorry to have run on, but you just don't know how elated I am to have found your work!! Thank you once again, and God bless you!!

From a Minister in Arizona:

Dear Brother Al, You are a breath of fresh air!! I have been reading your Reflections online and enjoying every minute! Please add me to your email list. Also, I would like to purchase a signed copy of your book Down, But Not Out. Please let me know the cost, including shipping, and I will get a check to you. Thank you very much!!

From a Minister in Indiana:

Dear Brother Al, While preparing for a message on the Lord's Supper, I revisited some of your Reflections articles on this subject. As I did so, I was reminded again that you are an excellent thinker and writer! Your material on this subject (in addition to some old Carl Ketcherside writings) has helped my understanding immensely!! I'm thankful for you, brother! I hope that you and Shelly, and your whole family, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

From a Reader in Indiana:

Brother Al, I always enjoy learning about the people who are responsible for writing the songs that appear in our hymnals. Growing up "conservative" Church of Christ, I would notice the names listed in the song books, which gave credit for the creation of the lyrics and melody, but I never put much stock in the idea that these folks might actually have incredible and amazing life stories. I can't say that I was totally ignorant about any of their stories, as, like most people on the planet, I had heard the basic overview of John Newton's life and his hymn "Amazing Grace." But I had no idea that so many of these other individuals had stories just as fascinating. So, I just wanted to thank you for all the work you do to bring these people's stories to light!

From an Elder in Arkansas:

Brother Al, I am one of eight shepherds at a congregation in south Arkansas. Upon reading your identifying markers of Progressive Christianity (Reflections #510), I was greatly encouraged to read that there are actually brothers from my spiritual heritage that think as I do!! I immediately forwarded your article to all my fellow shepherds!! Please keep up the good work!!!!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, I appreciate you and your courage to write and challenge the "Old Guard" that has turned into the most divisive denomination in all of Christendom. I fear that the denominational Church of Christ has even surpassed the Pharisees in their own estimation of themselves (i.e., that they are right and correct in all aspects, and all others are wrong). If you do not fall into line with the thinking of the "Old Guard" Church of Christ doctrine, you will soon find how cold and lonely life can be. Those whom you thought were your friends will abandon you like rats off a sinking ship, and you will be labeled as a troublemaker and a "pot stirrer," as my wife and I have been. This, of course, is not news to you, for you have stood the ground of the "progressives" for as long as I have known you, and I honor you for your courage and tenacity. I have preached, taught and served in the Churches of Christ for over 30 years, but my wife and I now find ourselves at loose ends. Do not get me wrong, we have not left Christ or His Body, just the denominational Church of Christ. We are not mad at anyone, just tired, disappointed, discouraged, and depressed. What will be the ripple effect of our decision on all those we care deeply for? We do not know, but will leave it in God's hands.

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, Just this morning I was reading an article about the "Doctrine of Election." As I was reading the writer's "justification" for this doctrine, and how far this writer was stretching the Scriptures to fit his doctrine, I thought to myself, "Why do we make it all so complicated?" In most cases, the Scriptures that were being "stretched" were so simple a child could understand them, yet these guys come along and read an expansive and complicated doctrine into them! And then I got this week's Reflections on the seven thunders!! Ahhh, the simplicity of good, sound hermeneutics!! Thanks for reminding us all to simply read what the inspired writer says! Imagine: a "mystery" actually means a "mystery," and "sealed up" actually means "sealed up." Who woulda thunk?!! God bless you, brother!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, You left me hanging with "Mystery of the Seven Thunders." (LOL) It is comforting to know, however, that God has a plan. I may not know what it is, but He does. That He is still actively engaged with His people is a wonderful thought!

From a Reader in Illinois:

Dear Brother Al, I just received your latest Reflections on Revelation. Oh, how well I do remember you teaching that book to us 30 years ago when you were preaching in Kaiserslautern, Germany. I also remember how my late wife was so impressed with that study, and was continually encouraging you to someday write a book on Revelation. She mentioned that many times as the years went by. I will be ordering your Revelation CD tonight or tomorrow, and am looking forward to digging into it. Hope all is well with you and yours. Love you guys!!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, What a great job you are doing!! You have changed many people's "stinkin' thinkin'." Please send me your Revelation CD (my check is enclosed). I really look forward to the study.

From a Minister in Nevada:

Brother Al, I have greatly enjoyed reading many of your Reflections and debates. Within them I find many of the same conclusions that I have come to from the Scriptures before your writings ever began to increase my understanding! Thank you!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Brother Al, I love your spirit of reflection and of unity (not uniformity). I quit the patternists long ago!! Are you on Facebook?

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I hope you and Shelly, and all of your family, will have a great Thanksgiving. I am personally thankful for your Reflections articles, and I continue to thank God for your ministry, and to pray for you because of all the "mess" you have to put up with from your critics. Keep it up, brother!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Dear Brother Al, I haven't written in a while, but I do continue to benefit greatly from your in-depth study of the Word. We are pushing forward in our group in our study and examination of those pesky traditions, and we're making changes where we can. Of course, there is still some resistance from our more rigid "Church of Christers." I am interested in knowing if you have any material on the issue of clapping or raising hands during songs, prayers, etc. I personally can find no biblical basis for banning those things, but I know that I'll face objections when I mention it at our congregational meeting on Sunday -- but, mention it I will. If you have any suggestions on passages to use, or just some logic and common sense on the topic, I would appreciate your help. Thanks again for all you do!

From a Minister in California:

Brother Maxey, I have been trying to follow your line of thinking on baptism not being sacramental. Of course, in Restoration Movement churches we tend to see it as the moment in time when one comes into covenant with God through Christ, and one is therefore saved at the point of baptism. Where do you see that covenant taking place? In other words, at what point does one actually become saved (or is that even the correct question)? By the way, I know that this line of questioning is typically used by the legalists in order to "expose" those they believe to be "in error." Let me assure you that I am not trying to do that! I am just looking outside a box I have lived in for a long while, and am honestly seeking some solid answers. Thank you!

From a Reader in Florida:

Good (very early) Morning, Brother Al. I read, study and benefit so much from your Reflections, and haven't sent you nearly as many "thank you" notes as I should have! I spend many a morning during my "time-with-Jesus" enjoying a spirit-swelling read of one (or more) of your writings! This morning I reread your study on "The Nature of Man: Body-Soul-Spirit" (Reflections #32). It is an awesome article!! Thank you, thank you for all of the time that you spend in studying and writing these edifying, inspiring, thought-provoking messages. God bless you and keep you, dear brother. You can't possibly know just how grateful I am to have you as a part of my life!!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Maxey, I just read your article "Unequally Yoked Together: Does 2 Cor. 6:14 Apply to Marriage?" in Grace-Centered Magazine. I found it very useful. However, it did not address whether Christians from different denominations may marry, or if such unions are a sin. Is there any way you can please clarify this for me? I am in love with someone who is not in the same denomination as I am, and I have been having problems with my mother regarding my relationship with him. I would appreciate any insight you can give me. Thank you for your time!

From a Reader in Indiana:

Brother Al, Thanks for all your hard work in helping all of us who are "recovering legalists" keep from falling off the wagon again (so to speak). There is great joy when we finally start figuring out that there is a reason why we felt like there was something just not quite right with what we had always been taught (and yet were always afraid to challenge). We are not saved by what we can do, will do, or have done, but by what He has already done for us!! Along with the freedom and joy that comes with the realization that God really IS bigger than my microscopic faith-heritage, there is also the nagging:

  1. Frustration that others can't seem to see these truths.

  2. Confusion as to why we have been blessed with having these blinders removed, while others still struggle.

  3. Anger over the small-mindedness, ignorance, and arrogance that comes from those who are still captive to these deceptive and depressing ideologies.

  4. Guilt that we can't have more patience, understanding, and love toward those who believe the same things and are being held captive by the same lies that we ourselves believed and were in bondage to not so very long ago.

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, I just reread your article "The Nature of Legalism" -- Reflections #435. Another awesome Maxey article!! Al, my husband and I left the ------- Church of Christ two years ago, after spending the previous two years actively trying to get them to see the importance of letting the grace of God fill our hearts instead of all their "rules" choking out the Holy Spirit completely. We had no elders, so were "governed" by the "Men's Business Meeting." I was chastened by this "governing body" for emailing several of your Reflections to members of the church, since "those articles" were written by "that flaming liberal Al Maxey." Our wonderful, loving, God-fearing preacher (also one of your readers) was chastised repeatedly for his "liberal ideas," and he finally resigned after "The Men" tore him up for saying in a sermon that we might be surprised to know that not all of our brothers- and sisters-in-Christ were worshipping and working at a Church of Christ. Several families left at that time, including us. We just couldn't stand their kind of "love" any longer. Since all the Churches of Christ within reasonable driving distance were of that same legalistic mindset, we didn't know where we were going to go ... we just knew that we had to leave! We now worship at Calvary Baptist Church and praise the Lord that we're finally FREE!! I'm so tempted to send your article on legalism to all the brethren we left behind at --------, but they probably wouldn't get past the name Al Maxey at the top of the page. My heart breaks for those poor, misguided people!! Thank You, Al, for everything you are and do! We love you!!

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