Issue #531 -------
April 29, 2012
The way to final freedom is within thy SELF
"The Book of the Golden Precepts"
(an ancient Buddhist writing)
"I am free ... but frustrated, and even fearful," a conflicted disciple of Christ once informed me. On the one hand he was overjoyed by his newfound liberty; on the other hand he was feeling overwhelmed by a number of legitimate concerns. Such frustration in the face of jubilation is not uncommon. Indeed, any significant "high" one experiences will have its attendant "lows." The secret to maintaining the former is in knowing how to deal with the challenges of the latter. It is in this sense, at least in some part, that one perceives the truth of the Buddhist precept: "The way to final freedom is within thy self." Until we are at peace with ourselves, within ourselves, we continue to bear the burden of our bondage and, in a sense, remain shackled. The final freedom realized, the ultimate unburdening, is an inner one, and this, in some ways, is the most difficult deliverance of all to effect. It is here that one either fully becomes free or slowly drifts back into a captive state. One may physically remove himself from a place where he was being tyrannized, and surround himself with those who are free, but unless and until he forbids the tyrant power over his heart and mind, he remains enslaved. As Dr. William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), one of the foremost early New England voices for Transcendentalist Theology and known for his articulate and impassioned sermons, so aptly phrased it: "The worst tyrants are those which establish themselves in our own breasts" [from his sermon "Spiritual Freedom," May 26, 1830].
A significant aspect of the ministry of any spiritual leader who is involved in proclaiming freedom in Christ is helping those liberated from the bonds of legalism to learn to feel free. Until the reality of their position penetrates their psyche, their inner man may continue for a time to experience the fears and frustrations associated with their former state. Over the decades of my ministry (which is approaching the four decade mark), I have received countless letters, emails, phone calls and visits from people who, although physically removed from the sectarians who had shackled them spiritually, continued to experience emotional discomfort and even despair. While free in fact, they nevertheless didn't yet feel free. It's like the POW who, after returning to his homeland and family, may still find himself looking continually over his shoulder, reacting negatively to certain sounds or smells, and experiencing random moments of terror. Removing one from a source of tyranny is only half the journey to freedom; removing the sense of tyranny from the one liberated is the other half. In my ministry I actually spend more time on the latter than the former.
Another phase of this inner journey to fully embracing one's freedom is confronting the very real challenge of how involved to be in reaching back to those still bound. "Should I get myself and my family to safety, or should I remain with the shackled and help them break the chains of their legalistic enslavement?" These too are aspects of the frustration felt by the newly freed, and they can be very troubling to those who care deeply for those who remain behind (who may also desire to live free and unfettered in Christ Jesus, but who don't yet perceive the pathway out). Let me give you an example. Following is a portion of a lengthy email I received on Saturday, April 21, 2012 from a woman whose identity I promised to protect, but who, when I asked permission to use her letter, wrote, "You may certainly use any of my comments to write an article. I hope you know what a difference you are making. Your loving and gracious attitude in your response to my email is evidence of your faith, and I appreciate that." Her initial email to me (parts of which appear below) evidences this inner struggle to fully embrace one's freedom and share it with one's family, and it also evidences her inner struggle as to whether or not one has an obligation to those who remain behind in captivity.
I came across your web site through another web site after doing some research on matters pertaining to the Churches of Christ. I was brought up in a very conservative Church of Christ, and am a fourth generation member (so the roots run deep). I am 30 years old, and my husband and I have five small children. Unfortunately, I have witnessed dogmatism, legalism, and even divisions, within our sect. The congregation in my small community divided over the issue of divorce and remarriage a couple of years ago. My family and I then began assembling with a congregation in a larger city about an hour away. We have not "placed membership," but simply want to form relationships with other believers.
Well, the more I study, the more I see the inconsistencies that are being taught in the traditional Church of Christ. Frankly, it disgusts me! I love the people, don't get me wrong. I am just saddened by the "system" and how it has blinded my fellow brothers and sisters to the point that they are almost unteachable. I try to be patient because I know that it has also taken time for me to see the errors being taught. It is definitely a process. I have had to deprogram myself and admit that I have been taught wrongly. But it is not being taught wrongly that is necessarily upsetting (we all try to teach the best we can, and no one has it all figured out). What upsets me the most is the general practice within our group of binding personal beliefs and convictions on others and insisting that everyone else is wrong. This promotes division!
It is also frustrating to encounter those among us who absolutely refuse to recognize the inconsistencies of their teaching and practice, because they know that to do so will crumble their legal system. This is a pride produced by strict law-keeping, and a self-righteousness generated by placing hope in this false "god" men have created. Will this rub off on our children? Yes, I know that teaching grace and loving attitudes begins in the home, but is the legalistic system working against us as we try to foster a loving attitude in our kids? On the other hand, I have to wonder -- by staying in "the system" and teaching our children how to challenge legalism, will they be better prepared to enlighten others and lead the way to freedom than if we left "the system" behind? Here is another question for you that I have: how can I make the most impact (being a woman) in a legalistic congregation (if we decide to stay)? Do I ...
If I choose #1, then I would most likely be labeled a "liberal" or a "trouble-maker." They would say I'm being "argumentative," no matter how gentle and graceful I am. I once raised some questions in class, after which I was told, "You just need to go study it some more, then you'll see." Actually, we ALL probably need to study it more. If I choose #2, my guess is that I will be met with an effort to indoctrinate me even more with their legalism ("law" based on assumptions and presuppositions). Then there is #3. This is possible, I guess, but I would run the risk of being "black-balled" as a "false teacher" if anyone found out I was teaching another member something contrary to "the system." This is why we are now considering leaving the "church." NOT leaving Christ or other believers, but leaving "the system." In my situation, as a woman, I just don't believe that I can penetrate the system. It is too powerful. I also have my precious children to consider. This is where it gets sticky. "Going to church" had become my goal, rather than enjoying a relationship with our Lord Jesus and serving Him daily. This was a result of my past indoctrination; you had to "go to church." Thus, I question whether it is okay not to take my kids "to church." Would I be leading them astray? Would this somehow communicate to them that God is not important? Yet, if we are living for God daily, serving God daily, wouldn't they know by this that God is important? Is "going to church" really the standard? Is attendance in a building more important than one's heart?
I am so tired of being shackled by this religious institution (and I'm speaking of the "Church of Christ" institution). I crave simplicity. I long for deeper relationships and independent thinking. I am weary of superficial "worship services" where we practice the same five acts of worship in the same order over and over and over. I'm weary of wasting our money on buildings and insurance and "supplies," instead of using our funds to help those in need. So, I ask you, what are our options? Being ostracized may be unavoidable. Being free may be lonely. Please know that I am not bitter. I want to help bring reformation, but I feel that my hands are tied, and that is a frustrating place to be.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and concerns.
This young woman's appeal to me truly touched my heart. Over time she grew dissatisfied and disgusted with the legalistic system of her conservative Church of Christ upbringing (as a great many of us have in our faith-heritage, and as countless others have as well in their own fundamentalist sects of Christendom). She could no longer stomach the putrid patternistic pablum being proclaimed as "favored fare" from her party's pulpits. She longed for liberty, and God heard her cry. Her shackles were severed and shed. However, she now faced a new dilemma: although unchained, she was still conflicted. Freedom was a bit more complicated than expected, and new challenges appeared in her path. One of those challenges was: do I stay or do I leave? Some disciples who have found freedom do one, some do the other. What may be a sound choice for one, might well prove unsound for another. There is no universal right or wrong choice here. I urged this young woman, and would urge each of you as well, to daily check out the New Wineskins web site, as the focus of the May issue will be this very dilemma of disciples who have discovered freedom in Christ. Do we stay, or do we leave? What are the benefits of each choice? What are the drawbacks and dangers? A number of Christian leaders will weigh in on this discussion throughout the month, as will I in an article titled "Right Ladder, Wrong Wall?" (be looking for it in the next week or so). My own personal decision was to stay with the Churches of Christ, but to work actively for a reformation from within the movement. I detail my own reasoning and rationale for this continued association in one of my very first Reflections articles (Issue #20). You might also appreciate my review of Dr. Leroy Garrett's book "A Lover's Quarrel" (Issue #107) in which he discusses his own personal motivation for staying and fighting for the freedom of his fellow spiritual siblings within the Stone-Campbell Movement.
Not every freedom loving and liberated disciple of Christ is in a position to effect significant change within either their denomination or congregation, however. Some of us are blessed with this opportunity, but many are not (especially women, who typically are not given much of a voice in the more fundamentalist sects and factions). For the latter, the best option may be to physically leave their association with those entrenched in legalism and begin growing and prospering personally in a new grace-centered setting. This, I believe, would be especially true if the individual still has children at home. They need to be brought up within an environment of liberty, rather than one of rigid religiosity. Thus, my advice to the young mother is to flee the faction she was in and find a more freedom loving group of disciples; a group more devoted to love than law, to sharing Truth with others than imposing their traditions on them. One can educate one's children in how to recognize and resist legalism without having to immerse them in it daily. For far too many young people (and older ones too, for that matter), the latter will only prove deadly. I personally chose to stay within my movement and fight daily to bring reform, as I was in a position to make a difference. Although God has used me to impact my movement in a significant way, I do have one great regret: I exposed my wife and three sons to the vicious assaults of legalism and the legalists, and it left its scars on them. Thankfully, they survived it physically, spiritually and emotionally, but it was not easy for them. If I had it to do over again (knowing what I know now), I'm not sure I would have made the same decision. It is one thing to take a bold stand on the front lines of this war for spiritual freedom yourself; it is quite another to force your spouse and children to stand there with you and face down the enemy day after day and endure the full force of their fury. Although some rise to the occasion and become strong freedom fighters, many do not ... and that's a high price to pay.
The young woman who wrote to me made a very insightful comment near the end of her message (although a great many of her comments were very insightful). She observed, "Being ostracized may be unavoidable. Being free may be lonely." This is certainly one of the "costs" of becoming free. Those who have a vested interest in perpetuating "the system" will not take kindly to those who either oppose that system or choose to leave it. Not only will you be ostracized, but you will also be criticized and vilified; attempts will be made to undermine and destroy you and your influence, so that others will not follow your example or give heed to your teaching. As the Jews did to Paul, they will hound you from place to place in an effort to render you ineffective in bringing deliverance to others. I have experienced this for decades from the leaders of legalism, and it is not pleasant. However, it is the price one must be willing to pay for seeking to help others shed the shackles of their bondage to sectarianism. Yes, "being free may be lonely." You may well lose the love of those you formerly counted as friends; family members may turn against you and shun you; those with whom you once worshipped may now regard you as a heretic. Just remember: they did the same to Jesus!! We're in good company! To this young woman, and all like her, I simply say: the path you have chosen is a difficult one, and a lonely one, in some ways, but there are many liberated brethren who are on it with you. We love you and will stand by you every step of the way home!! Fight on for freedom in Christ. It is worth any sacrifice you may be called to make, any burden you may be asked to bear. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. ... For you were called to freedom, brethren!" (Gal. 5:1, 13).
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
From a New Reader in Israel:
I hope this email finds you well. I recently stumbled across your web site and read your article on the Ptolemies and the Seleucids (which was part of your study: The Silent Centuries -- A Study of the Intertestamental Period: the 400 Years Between Malachi and Matthew). I found this study to be incredibly helpful. Thank you very much.
From a Reader in Colorado:
I am reading your new book (Immersed By One Spirit) on Kindle and am finding it to be very interesting. I may send and get a hard copy soon. As for the last Reflections you wrote ("Mark's Mysterious Ending"), I found that most intriguing. When I wrote my book ("God's Covenant Plan") and touched on the subject of baptism I left off any reference to Mark 16, other than to say that the statements contained in verses 9-20 were not being acknowledged in my work as I did not see them as being authentic. Writing from a layman's perspective, however, is quite different from being able to write from a scholarly perspective (the latter being why I appreciated your input on this so much). Al, I am thinking more and more that baptism got off on the wrong foot almost from the beginning. Man was looking for security in what he did, and thus misunderstood this reference, forgetting the security of blood-covenant and living in Him. This is where security and hope lie. These baptismal concepts were passed down from generation to generation without being challenged, and we have put our hope in this act, when it was never intended to be so. We are now trying to find our way out of this confusion (which has even led Catholics to baptize infants and Mormons to baptize for the dead). Men have put all the value on this act, seeing it as being what obtains salvation.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Please send me a signed copy of your book Down, But Not Out, and also a signed copy of your third book Immersed By One Spirit. Thanks in advance (and my check is enclosed). I really do appreciate reading your weekly studies. Thank you also for your willingness to think outside the box!
From a Minister in Indiana:
I enjoyed your article titled "Mark's Mysterious Ending." I have been wondering about this passage (Mark 16:9-20) for some time now. I hope to see you do more Reflections articles pertaining to the science of Textual Criticism. Thanks!!
From a Reader in Arizona:
Thank you for writing your last Reflections about the ending to Mark. It seems that only a small percentage of believers among "Restoration" churches have much acquaintance with Textual Criticism.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Well done. Difficult subject to explain. Difficult to research. Believe I'll file this one away carefully. Have a great week.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
This was a bold article, brother ... and I love it!! I have struggled with accepting this long ending to Mark for many, many years. Only in the past decade or so have I finally come to the exact same conclusion as you: it just does not belong in inspired Scripture. You will most likely catch some flak for your position, but I'm sure you can handle it!
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Al, I have no more patience with you. You have become an apostate pure and simple. How sad that such talent is being wasted to waste the Lord's church and lead souls away from the Truth. I no longer see anything in your Reflections that is worth reading. The only reason I would consider staying on your mailing list is because I could inform people of the degree to which you have fallen and warn them of your error. But, I think virtually everyone knows it now, and are aware of your deceptive tactics and efforts. So, please remove me from your mailing list. Your many words on this matter (whether Mark 16:9-20 should be part of the Bible) merely show that you no longer have respect for what the Bible says regarding the plan of salvation (as if that had not already been confirmed).
From a Reader in Louisiana:
I love the way our mutual friend Edward Fudge addressed the issue of Calvinism vs. Armenianism. He said that when one walks up to the door of Heaven, a sign says: "Whosoever will, let him come." Then, after you have entered and look back at the door from the inside, you see these words over the door: "Predestined before the foundation of the world." As one of your readers said, "There are many passages that seem to support both sides." My advice to anyone is not to choose sides, but rather to choose God's side and just believe both, because both are true. I love you and appreciate your work for Jesus and His people.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
I have a question on Numbers 27:21. Joshua was commanded to "stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in." Does this verse signify that whatever we do must be authorized by God, and whatever is unbidden by Him is prohibited? Does this verse validate the law of silence?
No. It does, however, validate the principle of specificity. When God specifically commands us to do something, then we comply; when He specifically commands us not to do something, we also comply. In all other areas (where God has not spoken or specified His preference one way or the other) we simply use our best judgment in determining our course of action, always remembering that what we do or don't do should be to His glory and reflect our love for Him and others. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Michigan:
Thank you so much for your Reflections. I have learned so much. I have long had many of the same convictions you have, but most of the others in our congregation don't share those thoughts. Our teacher has said that there is no way that others outside of our church will ever go to heaven. All others are going straight to hell unless they see their error and leave their groups and come to ours ("the one true church"). I long ago gave up judging other people in this way (like I had been taught to do in our Church of Christ). Although I have always been in the Churches of Christ, I have had a lot of concerns about this teaching that "we" are the only ones saved. I have especially questioned this after attending the Pepperdine Lectures a few years ago and hearing Rick Atchley and Bob Andrews.
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