by Al Maxey

Issue #527 ------- April 2, 2012
Those who follow the wrong have generally first
taken great care to be voluntarily ignorant of the right.

John Stuart Mill {1806-1873}

Jesus Warned Me About Paul
The Anti-Pauline Perfectionist Party

The apostle Paul has always had his detractors: those who doubted his apostleship, defamed his person and purposes, and sought to destroy his ministry. To this day there are those professing to be disciples of Jesus who vehemently vilify the NT writings of this devoted servant of the Savior, characterizing him as being in opposition to the cause of Christ. Paul proclaimed the utter inadequacy of any human effort to merit one's justification and salvation, insisting that such were only acquired by grace through faith. Thus, those promoting access to God through the observance of rules, regulations and rituals (i.e., through their own effort to achieve patternistic perfection) tend to struggle with the grace-centered, faith-based, Jesus-focused theology of Paul. This has actually led some to proclaim their hatred of this apostle, and to demand the removal of his writings from the NT canon, declaring them to be nothing but the misguided doctrines of a mere man. Note, for example, the following letter to Clem Thurman, who was editor of the publication Gospel Minutes: "Dear Sir, Why do you place so much emphasis on Paul and what he said? Why not listen to Jesus? He is the Savior, not Paul. Paul was just a man. Don't you know it is wrong to teach the doctrines of men?" [Gospel Minutes, Oct. 16, 1992, p. 3].

From 1990 to 1994 I engaged in a rather protracted written correspondence with a man from Texas named Charles Hanson, who was an avowed critic of the apostle Paul. He was the author of a tract titled "The Non-Pauline Church in a Pauline Culture," which he mailed out to a number of Churches of Christ throughout the nation. This work prompted me to contact him and to begin my extended discussions with him (which were always very cordial, and never caustic). In fact, on Feb. 18, 1994 he mailed out a newsletter in which he stated, "No one corresponds with me except one person in Hawaii. Figure that one out if you can. Even more strange is the fact that the guy in Hawaii is not at all of the weird caliber of myself, but is cool, competent, articulate, and the minister of the biggest congregation in the Islands (according to Mac Lynn's 1991 directory of the Churches of Christ in the USA), and he always has a reasonable perspective and a gracious tone." Although our "snail mail" relationship was very pleasant, I was never able to sway him from his perspective on Paul. It has been 18 years since I last heard from Charles (I still have all our letters saved in a file), and I have no idea where he is today (or if he is even alive). I can only pray that he has altered his view that the Churches of Christ "have been hiding behind the epistles of Paul for a long time, but Christians must do more than fulfill the simple institutional legalism which he preached" [excerpt from the above referenced tract].

Yes, some felt Paul was the ultimate legalist, and thus they rejected his teaching. Others, however, detested Paul for being too focused on God's grace, feeling that he diminished the need for acquiring God's favor by keeping commands and performing good works. Charles Hanson was of the former view. Just recently I was contacted by a preacher who proclaims the latter view. His name is Peter Prest, and he is the native evangelist in Nigeria, Africa that I spoke of in my previous article (Reflections #526 -- "Must I Be 95% Sin Free?"). At the time I penned my article, I was not yet aware of his views about the apostle Paul. However, within hours of that article's mailing, I received three very confrontational emails from him. I will share them below so that you may perceive the perspective of which I spoke above.

Mr. Prest has gone from declaring that one must be 95% sin free "before one can ever benefit from the sacrifice of Christ on the cross" [see his full statement in my previous Reflections], to declaring that the "narrow gate" that provides entrance to life everlasting is at the end of the HARD pathway of "perfection -- 100% sinless." If in fact this is true -- that eternal life is only for those who have achieved by their own effort a 100% sinless existence -- then what need do they have of Jesus?! If absolute perfection before my God can be attained by my own effort, then Christ on a cross is simply wasted effort. Why? Because I saved myself by my own sinless perfection, thus making HIS sinless perfection unnecessary. The truth of the matter, of course, is that "there is no one righteous, not even one ... there is no one who does good, not even one" (Rom. 3:10, 12). "ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). The apostle John writes, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). He further declares, "If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His word has no place in our lives" (1 John 1:10). I have no need of either Him or His Truth if I, by my own effort, have attained unto sinless perfection.

This evangelist in Nigeria is proclaiming the "good news" that only those who are PERFECT may experience eternal life. Salvation is for those who are 100% sin free. I have a question for Mr. Prest --- Sir, are YOU 100% sin free? If you answer in the affirmative, then John says you are self-deceived and you make our Lord to be a liar. If you are NOT 100% sin free, then you are LOST. That means if you have even ONE sin in your life, you forfeit salvation. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10). I find it hard to believe that Mr. Prest is 100% sin free. If he is, then he, by his own effort, has achieved what only one other man in all of creation has ever achieved, and that was Jesus -- the very one he now makes a LIAR by claiming to be sinless. What a twisted theology; what a powerful devilish delusion! It boggles the mind that there are actually people who place their hope of salvation on personal perfection, rather than trusting in God's grace and the propitiation (covering) He provided through the death of His Son on the cross. I can either come before the Throne proclaiming my perfection, or I can come before the throne claiming His propitiation. Jesus portrayed this very scene in His "Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican" (Luke 18:10-14). This parable was given by Jesus "to some who were confident of their own righteousness" (vs. 9). In other words, the Pharisee was proclaiming personal perfection. The publican merely sought to be "covered over," being fully aware of his own imperfection. Only one man was justified that day!! Perhaps Mr. Prest would do well to examine again these words of JESUS.

Part of the problem Peter Prest is having here is that he has failed to perceive the significance of the term "perfect" as used by Jesus in Matt. 5:48 -- "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." The Greek word used is "teleios," which means "to be brought to completion; full grown; mature." We are to cease being immature in our thinking and actions, and portray a spiritual maturity that reflects the very nature of our Father. The context of the passage in which Jesus makes this statement shows that the focus is upon LOVE. We are not to love our neighbor and hate our enemy, but rather are to show forth the mature love of our Father, who loves ALL men, even those who hate Him. Don't be like the pagans, Jesus says, but be like the Father -- love fully and impartially. Let your love be "grown up," just as the Father's love is. Jesus is NOT telling us that we must be as "perfect" as GOD. He's not saying we must be 100% sin free. He's saying that we must rise above the kind of love shown by men, and display the kind of love shown by God. Thus, those who are called to evidence this quality "are not men with a conceit of perfection" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 115]. "The English translation 'perfect' is largely responsible for the idea of absolute sinlessness often given as the meaning of teleios" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 253]. He goes on to point out that "the sense is that he is teleios who gives himself to the law of love without holding back on any point, including even his enemies, in genuine agape as God does in His love" [ibid]. "Perfectionism may imagine that it is able to attain sinlessness in this life; this goal we shall not reach until we enter glory" [ibid]. "This must not encourage us to conclude that Jesus teaches that unqualified perfection is already possible for His disciples" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 161]. And yet, that is exactly what some (like Peter Prest) have done. Because of the deficiencies and frailties of our human nature, achieving sinless perfection is beyond our ability. That is not to say we shouldn't seek to sin less and less, but to be sinless is beyond our grasp. Which is precisely why we need God's GRACE and the GIFT of His Son.

Mr. Prest also appealed to an earlier statement by Jesus in Matthew 5 in which He stated that our righteousness must surpass that of the religious elite of His day (vs. 20). This has apparently also suggested to this African evangelist the need to be "perfect." Once again, however, he has failed to perceive what Jesus was teaching here. I would urge him to study very carefully the following study of this passage: Reflections #509 -- "Legalistic Righteousness: Making Payments on a Free Gift." This was that form of righteousness "which our Lord called 'the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees' (Matthew 5:20); which is the righteousness according to rules, in which a man, like the rich young ruler, might think himself 'blameless'" [Dr. Charles J. Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 81]. It was that form of law-based righteousness (or self-righteousness) depicted in our Lord's Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18), a story He told "to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt" (vs. 9).

It is a righteousness that, to state it simply and succinctly, results in a perceived right standing before one's God based solely on one's preciseness and correctness in keeping religious rules, regulations and rituals. "It is that righteousness which lies in legal observances; which consists in and results from conformity to an external law" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, part 3, p. 113]. It is "The righteousness of formal precept as contrasted with the righteousness which is by faith" [ibid, p. 123]. In Paul's statement to the brethren in the city of Philippi (Philp. 3:4-6), "We are left with the fair presumption that, if any man could be saved by his own works, he was that man" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. Sadly, there are individuals today within the more fundamentalist, ultra-conservative sects of Christendom who also perceive themselves as being that man -- i.e., they believe themselves to be justified before God by their scrupulous submission to sectarian precepts and perceived patterns within the Scriptures. Therefore, the pathway to righteousness is through a maze of rigid religious rules, regulations and rituals. Thus, in the words of the NIV, they stand with swelled chests and boast, "As for legalistic righteousness, faultless" (" legal rectitude, faultless" -- NEB, Philp. 3:6). Like Saul of Tarsus before them, as well as the scribes and the Pharisees, their perception of righteousness is fatally flawed for it is falsely focused upon what they can achieve for God, rather than upon what God has already achieved for them! Jesus and Paul are not in conflict, as neither proclaim salvation by human perfection, but rather salvation by grace through faith. This African brother, like the ancient Jews, appears not to "know the righteousness that comes from God" (that which is given by grace through Jesus Himself as a gift), and thus seeks to establish his own (Rom. 10:3). May God open his eyes to the deadly delusion he has embraced.


2012 Tulsa Workshop --- This past week I was blessed once again to be a speaker and teacher at The Tulsa Workshop, which is held near the end of March each year in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is always a wonderful experience and spiritually uplifting for all who attend. It is a chance to meet new people, as well as reconnect with friends and fellow disciples one hasn't seen in a while. It is a time of renewal, refreshing and even rededication to the cause of Christ. In so many ways it is truly a foretaste of heaven. This picture (to your left) was taken immediately after my talk Saturday afternoon in the Pavilion. Pictured with me is Rachel Williams from Ohio, who did an absolutely awesome job as my singer for this event -- she sang the Rascal Flatts song "Bless the Broken Road" during my Thursday morning sessions and also at my Saturday afternoon talk. People were touched not only by the message of the song, but also by the presentation by Rachel. Pictured in the background of this photo is Terry Rush, who, along with Shane Coffman and Jason Thornton, did an awesome job of directing this year's workshop. Make your plans now to come next year.

Tulsa Workshop CD's --- For those who were unable to attend the Tulsa Workshop this year (or who attended and would like copies of the various presentations from such speakers as Rick Atchley, Patrick Mead, Marvin Phillips, Terry Rush, Don McLaughlin, Randy Harris, Jeff Walling, and others), CD's and DVD's containing the lessons of all the presenters are now available for purchase from Workshop Multimedia. For those of you who might be interested in the CD's of my presentations at the workshop, my Thursday morning two-part series titled "Healing Grace for Broken Marriages" is CD #19 (price: $12) and my Saturday afternoon speech in the Pavilion titled "Bridging Our Brokenness" is CD #37 (price: $7). My CD's, as well as those of the other speakers, may be ordered by Clicking Here and following the online instructions.

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)
Also Available on KINDLE and NOOK

Readers' Reflections

From an Army Captain in Afghanistan:

Dear Bro. Al, Your 2010 and 2011 MP3 Sermon CD's and the two audio CD set of your Sunday morning class on 1st & 2nd Peter have just arrived! Thank you very much! I am going to start adding them to my MP3 player this evening so I can listen to them at the gym (that way I can work on both of my "getting in shape" goals at the same time). The Chaplain here is from a Church of Christ background, so if it is okay I will share these with him also. You are an encouragement to me, Al. I hope the Tulsa Workshop went well and that you had a safe trip home.

From a Reader in Washington:

My Brother and Dear Friend, I am truly thankful to the Lord for allowing me to finally meet you face-to-face last week at the Tulsa Workshop. I am hoping that this will not be our only meeting this side of heaven. I will be sharing your books that I purchased with a friend who loves you almost as much as I do. I will have to let him know, however, that I had my hand on your back and felt no wings sprouting!! (LOL) All kidding aside, Al, I am thankful for the very short period of time we had together in Tulsa. God be with you!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Brother Al, I listened to your presentations at the 2012 Tulsa Workshop. They were amazing! Thank you for doing this! I also can't wait to read your books.

From a Minister in Maine:

Dear Brother Al, I hope this finds you well and rejoicing in the awesome God of our salvation! I also hope that you had a fruitful and refreshing time at the Tulsa Workshop this year. My wife and I had hoped to be there, but things did not work out, however we both prayed that the Lord would richly bless all who heard you. Enclosed is a check for a signed copy of your new book Immersed By One Spirit. We're looking forward to reading it. Also, as I was reading your last article ("Must I Be 95% Sin Free?"), I could not help but think of what we read this morning in Rom. 2:24f concerning the Law and circumcision. I would imagine the same principles would apply to our sacramental view of baptism (which, sad to say, is still very much alive and well) and the view (which is also still very much alive) that only members of the Church of Christ denomination are saved and going to heaven. Our love to you and your wife and to all the brothers and sisters where you minister who love our blessed Lord in spirit and truth.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Bro. Al, My wife and I talked about going to the Tulsa Workshop this year, but I had to have two surgeries the week before. I really would like to meet you and visit with you. I've thought that the Churches of Christ have needed someone like you for a long time! I remember all the debates back in the 1930's that the various church members had on everything. One cup vs. many ... orphans homes ... center aisle in the auditorium ... tuning forks ... and on and on about "really, really important" stuff. My father wanted me to become a preacher, but after seeing all this stuff I just could not do it. It was all so childish, petty and silly. We have majored in minors all of my life. I had heard about you, and so Googled you to find out more about you. You are my kind of man! Thank you for standing up for what you believe! I hope I get to meet you some day soon.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, I have been quite troubled recently by my association with a local congregation of the Churches of Christ. I live in a very small town in Georgia, so there are few church options. Most of my concerns were created when we started studying a book by Phil Sanders called "A Faith Built On Sand." If what this man teaches reflects Church of Christ thinking and beliefs today, then this group is in trouble! By accident, however, I came across some of your writings, and now I have some hope!! It is good to know there are leaders in the Churches of Christ who are not as legalistic as Sanders. I only hope and pray that people like him are in the minority. Thank You for your teaching!

From Joe Gladwell in Michigan:
(The following is a brief excerpt from a 3-page email sent
to me by this Non-Institutional or "Anti-" church leader)

Brother Maxey, With regard to the scathing article that you wrote about myself and other sound gospel preachers (Reflections #490), I wish to state at this time that ... the real problem here is not me and mine being legalists, but rather those such as yourself, Max Lucado, Jeff Walling, etc. being illegalists. ... In the book of 1st John we read of people who could not tolerate the truth and thus "went out from us, but were not really of us" (2:19). This powerful NT passage fits Al Maxey to a T. ... Although I would like to retire from debating, I would very much welcome a written debate with you on the proposition: Radar detectors are in no way sinful. Affirm: Al Maxey; Deny: Joe Gladwell. Although I am not holding my breath, the offer is open from me to you up until the end of 2013, should you choose to accept it. ... And if you prefer to debate on mixed swimming rather than radar detectors (even though radar detectors are an even more compelling subject -- but both subjects are quite good and relevant), then I am open to debating you on that one instead. ... Also, I just got confirmation from Ron Halbrook (one of the most highly respected evangelists in the whole church) that you are (in Halbrook's words) "a long time apostate who keeps going further and further from the truth." Ron is not deity, but his credibility is very, very high. ... With deep concern, Joe Gladwell, evangelist for the West Michigan church of Christ.

From a Minister in Kenya, Africa:

Dear Brother Al, Your article "Must I Be 95% Sin Free?" is quite insightful. I have immensely benefited from it. As mortal human beings we are saved by grace. There is nothing we can do to merit it; it is purely unmerited favor. Brother Al, your article is a complete sermon for me. How I pray that this article could be read by everyone who is still in this life. I used to be most legalistic, but I thank God for my gradual growth. Brother, as you serve the Lord this week at the Tulsa Workshop, know that a friend and brother from Kenya will be praying for you and your dear wife Shelly.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, As per usual, "Must I Be 95% Sin Free?" is a great article. It occurred to me as I was reading this Reflections that the argument the Nigerian minister is making in his efforts to lead people to Christ is very similar to the argument non-believers often make for turning away from Christ. Sometimes the conversation goes like this -- "I don't go to church, and I'm not a Christian, because you have to be perfect to be a Christian." Sad irony, isn't it? -- that the very message he uses to attempt to lead people to Christ is the very argument they use to stay away from Christ. You don't "earn" grace. You just gratefully, with a pierced heart, fall into the loving arms of a forgiving God. Have a great experience at the Tulsa Workshop, and we look forward to your next Reflections.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Brother Al, "Must I Be 95% Sin Free?" was brilliant! Your description of this false concept is, perhaps, the most vivid and accurate of any I have ever heard. That is exactly how many people view grace -- "Gap Insurance." However, you only purchase such "insurance" out of FEAR. No thank you! When it comes to my soul, the premium and policy have already been paid in full. Al, your ability to cut to the chase and simplify things is what makes the opposition nervous, and what makes your supporters keep cheering!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, If God doesn't see us being innocent of sin, won't we receive the wages of sin? If our first priority in life isn't to do the will of God, then why would He consider us worthy of taking part in the age to come? Why did Jesus come? What would we be busy doing if we were imitating Paul?

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Al, I used to live in eastern Tennessee, and those Bible-thumpers up there are "all or nothing." You are either sinless or sinful. In fact, I have even heard them preach that you can die on the way to the baptistery and still go to hell. Just ... plain ... crazy!!

From a Minister in Hawaii:

Aloha Brother Al, Your Reflections article "Must I Be 95% Sin Free?" is a "must share" on my Facebook page! Mahalo, Al.

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Brother Al, Man, oh man! I feel for the preacher in Nigeria. He has completely missed the fact that Jesus is the way, not human perfection. If he chooses the latter, he must be 100% sinless, never having sinned at all, to be saved. If one is saved by his own righteousness, he doesn't need Jesus at all. This brother really needs to see the inadequacy of his own 95% sinless idea. Law does not demand 95%; it demands 100%. So, even by his own standard, he is lost. He has just fooled himself into thinking like a student in school: "If I can just make a passing grade." But law has only one demand: total, complete obedience; no flaws; no "misses." Weird stuff, Al. Where do you find these people?! Keep up the good work, brother.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, Good article! Those who would proclaim themselves 95% sin free are either blind to their own faults, or their own arrogance, or the obvious failure of a works-based theology to satisfy either themselves or God. Most likely, they are blind to all three! Blessings, my friend.

From an Elder in California:

Brother Al, I appreciate your Reflections so much. I am privileged to be an elder of a Church of Christ in central California. We are striving to be Spirit-directed, very forgiving, and a place of healing for many wounded by the church. I must admit, however, that in the past I have had a view very close to the one you described in your article "Must I Be 95% Sin Free?" I have now come to understand that we simply cannot be 95% sinless, because in the eyes of God just one sin renders us 100% sinful. Thus, we are in need of His saving grace and mercy. Thanks be to God that He pursued us to be His adopted children through the blood of His Son Jesus.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, "Must I Be 95% Sin Free?" is a great article! This hits the nail on the head. I would also throw in James 2:10 to boot: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all."

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Al, I was gratified to see a clear, in-depth discussion of the Nicolaitans on your web site (Reflections #73). Believe it or not, it was hard for me to get a clear, believable picture of them online, which you, however, provided so nicely. I would like to read other things from you, so would you please add me to your mailing list? Thank you!

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