by Al Maxey

Issue #520 ------- February 7, 2012
For where God built a church, there
the Devil would also build a chapel.
Thus is the Devil ever God's ape.

Martin Luther {1483-1546}
Table Talk

Sectarianism's C-ism Schism
Upper Case or Lower Case Church?

Noted church analyst George Barna, in his book "Revolution," challenges Christians to recognize that "we are not called to go to church; we are called to be the church" (p. 39). For too many Christians, Barna fears, loyalty to Christ has been replaced by loyalty to one's faith-heritage, resulting in sectarian squabbling rather than spiritual siblings working together as one to bring the lost to the Lord and into the sweet fellowship of the fullness of the Father's Family. It is a deadly disconnect between upper case "C" (Church) and lower case "c" (church) with respect to the reality of Christ's One Body. Some have criticized Barna for minimizing the importance of the local congregation of believers. This was not really Barna's intent, however. Instead, he sought to redirect Christians to the greater importance of the universal Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, a focus that has become tragically forgotten as disciples become increasingly denominational and factional in their theology and practice. This is particularly seen in the preeminence of proselytizing (rather than evangelizing): seeking to bring people into our church, rather than bringing them into Christ; converting them to our traditions, practices and patterns, rather than to divine truth, principles and precepts; promoting religion over relationship. We have become little "c" sectarians in a world where God has called us to be big "C" saints. It is churchianity over Christianity, and it is destroying us!

The kingdom of our God is made up of individuals, not institutions. The Church is a living organism, not a sterile organization. That universal one Church is not identified by any particular sign on a building, but by the sign of the Spirit within a believer. Distinctive names, traditions and structures have no place in the determination of genuine discipleship. There is only one Church, and all those in Him are in It. These individual members of that universal Body may not look alike (hands don't look like ears; eyes don't resemble feet), and they may not function alike, but the beauty of His One Body is that they share a unity of the Spirit, and are thus called to promote that unity in a bond of peace and harmony, all of which is accomplished in LOVE. Thus, barriers of human distinction and walls of exclusion/isolation come down. Although there are, in reality, still men and women, rich and poor, young and old, Jew and Gentile, and a host of other noticeable differences between us, they no longer constitute cause for separation, but rather are cause for celebration. We rejoice in our diversity, for it only highlights the power of the Spirit to make us One Body. "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink" (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

Jesus declared, "I will build My church" (Matt. 16:18). Those drawn into relationship with Him would thus constitute His consecrated community of believing ones. They would be the great called out assembly of devoted disciples, a spiritual community that would transcend both time and place, and which would also be identified by spiritual fruit borne such as love, compassion, forgiveness, patience, and the like, rather than by human labels and distinctives that tend to denounce and divide. That one, universal, spiritual "Church" of Christ Jesus has existed since its establishment by Him, and no force in the universe has the power to destroy or diminish it. In the course of human history, however, His disciples have sought to distinguish themselves from one another based upon countless human perceptions, preferences, practices and precepts. Thus, they began to establish various sub-communities of disciples who shared similar convictions on a host of theological "issues." These communities developed their own set of traditional teachings and practices over the course of generations and centuries, which ultimately resulted in groups identifying themselves by various names. Today, some two thousand years after Jesus called forth this Body of saved souls, we find countless named groups of disciples who have little to do with one another, and who largely perceive themselves, and themselves only, TO BE that special "called out assembly" that Christ established, to the exclusion of all other named groups. "Yes," they emphatically declare, "there is indeed only ONE Church ... and WE are IT. All those other groups are imposters and apostates."

One of the things that has long frustrated me about my association with the group denominated "Church of Christ" (which group, and its dozens of splinters, may be found in the Yellow Pages under that named listing), is the hardened conviction by too many of its leaders and members that they, and they alone, ARE that "one, true Church" of Jesus Christ, and that anyone "not of US" is bound for hell. That is the little "c" boasting that it IS the big "C" to the exclusion of all other little "c's." That is arrogance (not to mention ignorance), and it is abominable! It is also not limited just to the historical, denominational group known as "Churches of Christ." This attitude can be found in virtually all "churches" within Christendom, although some exhibit it far more than others.

The upper case "C" versus lower case "c" conflict is a fairly common one, and these terms are not unknown or unused in theological circles, among both laymen and scholars. In the vast majority of cases, the big "C" is said to represent the one, true, Jesus-established, universal "Church" that He Himself "built," and which is made up of ALL those (past, present and future) who are truly in relationship with Him. The little "c" is said to represent those various communities of believers who have congregated together around shared theological perceptions, persuasions and practices. These are the countless "churches" that dot the religious landscape. For some strange, inexplicable reason, my own faith-heritage, that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as the "Church of Christ," tends to reverse these two. For example, in his latest issue of "Hugh's News & Views," Hugh Fulford (a minister in Tennessee), when asked by a woman to identify the denomination to which he belonged, responded, "I am a member of the church of Christ." He then went on to explain in his article (which was mailed out to his mailing list on Tuesday, January 24, 2012), "It always bothers me to know that such an answer is extremely inadequate. While she heard my words she really did not understand what I said. When I said, 'I am a member of the church of Christ,' I had in mind the spiritual body of Christ. But she heard me saying that I am a member of a denomination called the Church of Christ. She said, 'My grandfather was a member of the Church of Christ.' (Here I wrote 'church' as she intended it, with an upper case 'C,' as the proper name of a denomination; not as I intended it, with a lower case 'c,' simply a descriptive of the spiritual body of Christ. To the person who has studied the matter thoughtfully, there is a huge difference.)"

Whether one views the universal One Body of Christ as big "C" or little "c," and whether one views the various churches within Christendom as big "C" or little "c," is largely irrelevant. Either way, the same distinction is being made: there is only one, universal Family of God, and all those who are in Him are in this Family; and yet there are countless religious groups (churches/congregations) who are made up of those disciples who share a common history and common convictions with respect to various points of doctrine and practice. The age-old problem is that many of the latter seek to equate themselves exclusively with the former, declaring that they (and they only) ARE that "one, true Church universal." Many "lower case" churches have sought to promote themselves as THE "upper case" Church that Jesus Himself established, thus proclaiming their named group, and their practice, and their doctrine, and their understanding of Scripture, the ONLY one approved by God. Such thinking is not limited to my own faith-heritage, but may be found in most other groups as well. Wherever it might be found, it is disturbing to witness the effects of such ignorance, for it inevitably leads to the further dismemberment of our Lord's precious One Body into countless little "c" sects and factions.

I exchanged an email or two with Hugh Fulford after his above article was mailed out, and later that day he asked me a most interesting question: "Al, is it possible to be a lower case 'c' church of Christ without being an upper case 'C' Church of Christ?" Again, since our heritage typically uses the upper case/lower case terminology differently than most other Christian groups, what Hugh was asking is simply this: Is it possible for some group of believers to be Christ's universal One Body without being a "denomination"? It is certainly possible for these believers individually to be a part of that One Body, for ALL who are in Christ are in that One Church. I know of believers who don't affiliate with any named group, and don't go to any building, but merely meet in homes to sing and study and pray and encourage one another. If indeed these individuals are in Christ, as they profess, then they are most certainly a part of His One Body, and clearly are not part of any named group. However, when these people begin to regard their group as being in some way more spiritual or more right than other believers -- when they identify themselves by some name, and urge others to find people with that same name if they want to "worship correctly" -- when they declare their understandings and practices "approved," but the practices and understandings of other believers "unapproved," then this group has taken on "lower case 'c'" status. Some or all of the members themselves, individually, may still be within the One Body, but their group has become something else altogether.

My association, my affiliation, is with the GROUP identified in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ." My family has been part of this religious group for generations. Years ago I made the conscious choice to remain associated and affiliated with this group, and to work and worship within its particular parameters. I like many of its traditions, but also dislike some. Yet, they are good people, and I have no problem regarding most of them as "brethren." However, I have dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus who are associated and affiliated with other groups as well. You see, my Family is much larger than just those found within the parameters of my own faith-heritage; it is as vast as the parameters of God's gracious acceptance in Christ! If you are in Him, and I am in Him -- we be brethren! We may differ on any number of traditional practices, we may differ in our understanding of some biblical doctrines, and we may even discuss/debate these with one another on occasion (though this should always be with mutual love and respect). What we must never do, however, is fragment the Family over these many differences. You don't have to be my twin to be my brother! We may differ in many ways, we may reside in different houses, but we are still FAMILY. That is the beauty of the upper case Church; individually we are ALL part of it if we are in Him.

Is it therefore wrong/sinful for various disciples, who are in the upper case Church, to be affiliated and associated with some group of disciples who share certain preferences with regard to worship style or evangelistic technique? Of course not. Let those who are uplifted by unaccompanied singing meet together; let those who are edified by singing with instrumental accompaniment meet together; let those who want Bible classes meet together; let those who don't want classes meet together; let those who want to use one cup meet together; let those who wish to eat a fellowship meal in the church building meet together; etc. DO NOT, however, begin equating your group with the One Body, declaring it to BE the One Body, to the exclusion of all other groups who may differ with you. Our Lord's "Church" is not made up of groups (nor equated with just one group), but is a Family made up of individual sons and daughters who may very well be affiliated and associated with any number of groups that share common traditions and convictions. Patrick Henry, in a speech he delivered at the First Continental Congress (Philadelphia, October 14, 1774), stated, "I am not a Virginian, but an American." What was he attempting to convey by this remark? Yes, he was indeed a Virginian; he was from Virginia, after all. However, Patrick Henry wanted people to know that his citizenship was much broader than just a particular part of the whole. Henry was not just a Virginian, he was an American.

Brethren, my association is with the historical group known as "Churches of Christ." This is my religious heritage, and I am very much in love with my brothers and sisters in this fellowship of believers. However, my true membership is in a Body much vaster than any particular group sharing a particular history and certain traditional practices. My membership is in the One Body universal; the One Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am a member of the One Body, but I labor primarily (though not exclusively) with that segment of Christendom, that faith-heritage, known as the "Church of Christ." I have always made it very clear, however, that I do not equate the latter with the former, as too many apparently do. Yes, there are those individuals within the latter who are a part of the whole, but the group with which they associate does not itself constitute that universal whole exclusively. Virginia is not America; Virginia is rather a part of America; also, Virginians are not the only Americans -- so are Texans, New Yorkers, New Mexicans, etc. Similarly, the group denominated in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ" is not exclusively and completely the One Body universal, yet there are those within it who are a part of that universal One True Church, just as there are individuals from other faith-heritages who likewise are part of the upper case Church. Therefore, may God open our eyes to the distinction between upper case "Church" and lower case "church," and the proper place of each in our daily walk with Him and His children. And may His indwelling Spirit help us all to begin embracing our fellow blood-bought believers, regardless of our differing traditions, as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. We are Family (big "C" Christians), not warring bands of factionists (little "c" combatants). Dear Lord, help us to be big enough to rise above the fray of our factions, the stench of our sects, and the littleness of our legalisms. Transform us by the power of Your Holy Spirit, allowing that Spirit to immerse us into the hearts and lives of one another, just as He immersed us into that blessed union with Your Son. Amen!!

Special CD Offers
There are some very special
CD offers
for readers in 2012.

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

Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)

Readers' Reflections

From an Elder in Florida:

Brother Al, My wife and I were just discussing Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos, who taught Jesus accurately, but had to be taught more completely "because he knew only the baptism of John." I asked her what she thought they taught him. Her response was, "The context was that Apollos must have known only about the water and not the more important baptism in/by/with the Holy Spirit. Much of the Church of Christ needs a visit from Priscilla and Aquila." I thought that was pretty good. Al, I just looked online at the site for the 2012 Tulsa Workshop and thought of the time I was able to spend with you there last year. My wife and I just now both knelt and prayed that you would be used of the Lord as Priscilla and Aquila were: to help correct critical deficiencies in the Stone-Campbell branch of our Lord's One Family. I sincerely believe that our "watered down" view of the Holy Spirit is largely responsible for our divisions and the spirit of divisiveness in our movement. Unity is said to be the product of the Holy Spirit ("unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"). Al, I believe that you will be used powerfully of God in Tulsa, and I commit to being in "prayer and fasting" for you the whole time that you are in Tulsa teaching at the workshop. God bless you, my brother!

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, I just read your article "Mystery of the Large Letters." Today Paul would have increased his font size, underlined the text, and placed the words of his conclusion in bold type. I agree with what you stated in the article: "Legalism has always been one of the greatest threats to the gospel of grace, and Paul was willing to use any tactic to impress upon his readers the deadly danger of succumbing to such teaching."

From a Minister in Georgia:

Brother Al, I have thought of the possibility of Paul's "large letters" being related to his experience on the road to Damascus when he was blinded. Although he later regained his sight, I wonder if it is possible that the bright light impaired his vision -- a perpetual reminder that he should not be overly exalted about this vision he received from the Lord. Just a thought.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I really appreciate your willingness to "go back to the Bible" as it was written, rather than as some have interpreted it. And I especially look forward to learning how you perceive the passages about baptism and the Spirit. Thus, enclosed is a check for your new book Immersed By One Spirit. Thank you for immersing people into the Word of our God, teaching all He has commanded. May God continue to bless you and your ministry.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I ordered your audio CD containing your Sunday morning adult class on 1st Peter -- Encouragement for the End Times. I transferred all 16 lessons to my iPod and have decided to time my morning walk to the length of the lesson (45 minutes). Maybe I will lose some weight! I have listened to the first lesson so far, and really enjoyed it. Bless you, brother!

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Dear Brother Al, I was just reading Reflections #152 -- Paying the Penalty for Sin: Was the Crucifixion of Christ on the Cross Total or Token Payment for Sin? Recently, I was one of several people to comment on one of Jay Guin's posts on his blog site (One In Jesus), and after pressing the issue, three of the men commenting on there finally admitted that they did not believe Jesus is enough! It is a sad thing that far too many of our Churches of Christ are led by such people. The light of His Grace is shining, but we still have a long way to go. I'm not so sure but what we in the Churches of Christ are a mission field ripe for a gospel harvest. I hope to see you at the 2012 Tulsa Workshop in March.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, Continuing in my effort to stomp out ignorance, I once again used Reflections #217 (Salvation by Immersion: Reflective Analysis of 1 Pet. 3:21). I have it saved on my computer for ready use. It is just so filled with material that is something other than just one man's opinion -- it is VERY well documented and presented. Thank you! Also, I liked the way you wrapped up your most recent article. Usually, we conclude that Paul had poor eyesight and then just leave it at that. I really like the concept of Paul wanting to emphasize the message of Grace. Oh, I'm just finishing up your new book on baptism (Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice). It was interesting to watch the theological development. I am guessing that we are all sanctified by Truth, which is why the legalistic condemnation of opposing viewpoints has such a lack of appreciation of how God works in us individually to mature our understanding and personal development. By the way, I almost threw up reading the debate in the Appendix -- I hate legalism with a passion!! Press on, brother.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Al, I trust all is going well, especially the new grandbaby! I just wanted you to know that I preached my first sermon refuting the "Law of Silence," which you may listen to online at -- Silencing the Law of Silence. In my study for this sermon I found a few examples refuting this doctrine in addition to the ones I saw in your writings. May your work continue to go well.

From a Reader in Ottawa, Canada:

Brother Al, I have been an ardent admirer of your Reflections for a couple of years now, and am impressed with how you take the time to check context and counter traditional views on controversial verses. I actually studied Greek and Hebrew at a younger age and delved into the Scriptures with a passionate heart, which makes me even more appreciative of your down-to-earth articles. The thing I like about the Word of God is how it becomes clearer with deeper study. In my own Blog Site I write very straightforward articles for people to reference and think about -- sometimes tackling difficult subjects. I've frequently written an article only to find you have already done so, and in greater detail and with better explanations. You've been in contact with my dad before, and he also loves your articles. They have proved to be a good tool in spiritual discussions with people. It has certainly been the cause of spiritual growth in your own Church of Christ churches. May your work continually prosper. To sum this email up, I just thought you might like to hear from an open-minded, passionate believer who loves your Reflections, and if you ever want to talk Scripture I'm all ears! Thanks so much!

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