Issue #535 -------
June 15, 2012
It often happens that I wake up at night
and begin to think of a serious problem and
decide that I must tell the Pope about it. Then I
wake up completely and remember: I am the Pope.
Pope John XXIII (1881-1963)
On Friday, May 4, I sent out a special request to all my Reflections readers regarding the question as to whether or not a "located preacher" may also serve as an "elder/shepherd" of the congregation at which he preaches. Several people had written and asked for my views on this matter, and from my own experience of almost four decades in ministry, I know that this is a question that has been raised many times in many places within our faith-heritage. The preacher also serving as a pastor is a paradigm most Christian denominations don't really struggle with (as many of them use the terms interchangeably; almost as synonyms), but in a good many Churches of Christ this seems to be a matter of some concern (and this is true in both conservative and progressive congregations within our movement). Thus, I sought your input, as I often do on issues we face together in our walk with the Lord. As always, your response was immediate and well-thought-out. I received hundreds of emails from all over the world, and, as expected, there was quite a diversity of opinion and conviction on the matter. In this current Reflections I will share a number of these, as well as my own perspective. Just for the record: I'm both the located preacher (the "pulpit minister") and one of the elders for the congregation here (and this month I begin my 15th year with the brethren at Cuba Avenue Church of Christ), and have been serving in the latter capacity for about 12 years now. It's been a blessing, and also a challenge, and a calling I don't regret in any way accepting.
Within Churches of Christ there is tremendous diversity of conviction and practice with regard to congregational organization. Some congregations have elders, some don't. Some have deacons, some don't. Some have one but not the other. Some "conduct the business of the church" through Men's Business Meetings (see Reflections #258), some through regular congregational meetings where men and women both participate, while a few are simply run by a handful of "alpha males" (such a person was Diotrephes -- 3 John 9-10). Some congregations do not believe in "located preachers," thus the question as to whether such a person may serve as an elder is moot. One reader wrote, "I know the following goes against the grain, but is there any authority for having a paid, full-time minister?" Another man was even stronger in his comments: "There is no biblical (divine) basis for the pulpit minister, whether he functions as a shepherd or not. It is a cancer in the body of believers that interferes with the reciprocity of all believers. That's the bottom line, my good brother." Such brethren are of the Mutual Edification wing of our movement, which believes the teaching and preaching in a congregation should be done by the members, not by "paid professionals" (I would refer those interested to my study of "Pulpit Preachers" in Reflections #11). Those embracing this perception and practice, however, are few, thus their bearing on the matter before us is rather insignificant. In fact, in the 2012 edition of the massive directory Churches of Christ in the United States, there are only 102 such congregations listed. They are the smallest of all the factions within our movement.
Those Who Oppose The Practice
There were a number of people who wrote me to express their concern over the practice of the local preacher also being one of the elders. This was not a large percentage of the responses I received (less than 10%), but they did raise some legitimate questions about the practice that are worthy of consideration. For example, some felt it placed too much power in the hands of a single individual within the congregation, and there was simply too great a potential for abuse of that power, which could then result in tremendous, and perhaps irreparable, harm to the congregation. One reader pointed out that the three primary "roots of division" are "position, power and prestige," and that these have been the undoing of many a congregation where they have "gone to the heads" of their leaders. The dual role of preacher and elder was just "way too much power and influence invested in one person," wrote one reader, and several others stated they had seen cases where the person who "wore both hats" abused that trust. Without question, such things happen. We can all probably relate examples. In all fairness, though, examples of the abuse of position, privilege and power in the church can be found in all areas of leadership, not just with those persons who are serving as both preachers and elders. The reverse is also true: there are many fine disciples serving as preachers/pastors who are doing a superb work with no evidence whatsoever of any abuse of their position. The spiritual demeanor of the person in question will always be a significant factor in how well they function in such a dual role, something a congregation and its leadership would be well-advised to carefully and prayerfully consider long before such a merging of functions occurs.
A leader in the church who holds a D.Min. degree, and who has served the Lord for many decades, observed, "Most of the arguments I've heard against preachers being elders is that it would give them too much 'power in the church.' I don't buy it, at least if the preacher is the kind of man described in Scripture. If he does not have the qualities described in Scripture for an elder, then he probably shouldn't be a preacher either." In other words, it comes down to character. Men without character will likely be tempted to abuse their positions; those with godly character, however, are far more likely to be godly servant-leaders within the church. Yes, there are preachers who have sought to take over congregations and rule with an iron fist. There are elders who have done the same; not to mention a good many strong-willed members guilty of this as well. It's the nature of the person, far more than the nature of the position, that truly determines the outcome. A reader in Georgia, with respect to preachers serving as elders, concurs with the above, saying, "This must be determined by the demeanor and personality of the man. If there is any evidence that he only desires the eldership so that he can have a greater influence on policy in the congregation, then that will never work." I'll be blunt here, brethren -- any person who exhibits any evidence of a thirst for power, position or prestige in the church should never, ever even be considered, not even for a moment, for any leadership role. Such only invites disaster, and each of us can undoubtedly relate a number of church horror stories about what happens when this advice is not followed.
A few readers wrote saying that they thought having a located preacher also serve as one of the elders was not good for the preacher. In other words, their concern was not so much for the congregation itself (they saw no real problem there), as for the individual laboring among them as their minister. Some felt it simply placed too much of a burden upon his shoulders, and the shoulders of his family, and that trying to function effectively in both roles was too much to ask/expect of a man. Others felt that one side of their work might be negatively impacted by the other side. For example, I heard from a retired preacher who said he had been asked a number of times over the years to serve as one of the elders, but he had always refused. "The reason being that I did not want to vote on major decisions for the congregation. I would always speak my piece with the elders, but when the decision was finally made, it was done so by that group of men. I did not want those in the congregation, who might disagree with the decision, to be influenced negatively by my being a part of that decision. It might affect their hearing me preach. I believe the minister's chief task is to preach the Word, so I tried to stay out of the governing of the congregation." This brother went on to say that he didn't think it was "wrong" for the preacher to be one of the elders, he just didn't feel comfortable personally with doing so (for the reason given above). Another reader wrote, "My main focus is preaching the Word and serving others. Theirs is to shepherd the flock. If my passion were shepherding, I think I would step down as the preacher and fulfill that passion. My passion is preaching, and I don't think I could put forth my best effort if I were also shepherding."
Several felt the primary reason for preachers not being elders was logistical, which is largely based on the misguided corporate model of church leadership. As one reader phrased it, "How do you fire a preacher if he is one of the elders?" In the corporate model, the preacher is viewed as the "hired hand" of the congregation, and the elders are the "Board of Directors" whose primary function is to hire & fire the preacher, and oversee his work in the interim. An elder in Florida wrote, "We have turned 'the preacher' into a hireling of the church, with the elders as his supervisors. The relationship is that of employer and employee, not that of fellow-servants: members of the same team, just with different emphasis on their roles." A reader in Texas wrote, "The only time I have seen churches having issues with a preacher serving as an elder has been when the church thought the main role of the elder was to fire the preacher." A brother in Alaska quipped that a preacher who was also an elder was "like having a headless nail: once in, you can't get it out." Others felt the real problem was that the preacher/elder would become the "go to" guy in the eldership, thus bypassing the other elders. This often happens even where the preacher isn't one of the elders, however. Some members have trouble, for whatever reason, "going to the elders," but they will go and talk to the preacher (who may seem less intimidating). On the other hand, once a preacher is an elder, some may no longer feel at ease seeking him out, as one reader pointed out, as he is now "elevated" to a "higher plane."
There were a number of reasons given in the correspondence I received as to why a preacher should not be one of the elders. Some of the concerns were legitimate, and reflected the need for all parties to exercise a great deal of care and prayer and self-evaluation. Serving as a leader in the Family of God is a serious responsibility, and it should not be entered into lightly. On the other hand, many of the objections given were somewhat subjective in nature, and I can recall NO objection that was backed by any appeal to a "Thus sayeth the Lord." The above mentioned D.Min. perhaps summed it up best: "All of the arguments against a preacher serving as an elder are, in my opinion, arguments of fear or ultra-caution, not truly biblical in nature."
Those Who Approve The Practice
The vast majority of those who wrote to me, however, recognized that the Scriptures seem to validate the practice of certain spiritually gifted disciples fulfilling multiple functions in the Body of Christ. Being an evangelist or a preacher of the Word or a minister (or whatever other term you choose to employ) and also being a shepherd/elder/pastor is perfectly acceptable in light of a number of biblical texts. In the NT writings, for example, we find men who were apostles, evangelists, and also elders. That's three distinct functions, and yet nowhere is such "multi-tasking" spoken of negatively. Peter, who traveled extensively preaching the gospel, and who was also one of the Twelve, wrote, "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder..." (1 Peter 5:1). Did Peter cease being an apostle or an evangelist because he was also serving as an elder? Of course not. He performed all three functions, and did so under the calling of the Holy Spirit (who is the One who makes one a shepherd over the flock -- Acts 20:28). Those opposed to this practice might say, "That's too much power, position and prestige to place in one person," but the Holy Spirit didn't seem to have a problem with it. That's because He knew, and had the utmost confidence in, the character of Peter.
One reader observed, "I think the question would be better stated, 'Can an elder preach for a congregation?' We would all answer, 'Yes, he can, and he would be worthy of double honor according to Scripture.' With this in mind, if an elder/shepherd can preach for a congregation, then why couldn't a preacher serve as an elder/shepherd?" If "multi-tasking" is acceptable and biblical in the first instance, then why not in the second? The passage the reader referred to, by the way, is 1 Tim. 5:17 -- "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." In Eph. 4:11, Paul spoke of those called and gifted by the Lord to be "pastors and teachers." The structure of the sentence in the Greek makes it clear that Paul is referring to but one ministry, yet emphasizing dual aspects of that ministry -- i.e., a spiritual leader is both a shepherd and a teacher. Many biblical scholars suggest this phrase in Eph. 4:11 should be translated: "teaching pastors." The word "pastor," by the way, is simply the Latin word for "shepherd."
A brother in California stated, "Does not 1 Tim. 5:17 provide the answer? It refers to elders whose 'work' is preaching -- what more does one need to know?!" Another reader opined, "Without trying to make too fine a point, it seems that the word 'work' speaks of an elder who is called to preach as his vocation." A minister/author in Colorado pointed out that he believed 1 Tim. 3:1 was relevant to this question: "If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work." This brother observed, "The term 'anybody' does not seem to exclude preachers." A reader in Georgia concurs -- "Doesn't it say that if 'anyone' desires to become an elder it is a good thing. As far as I know, a preacher of the Word is an 'anybody.'" Clearly, there is nothing in Scripture that forbids disciples of Christ from serving in multiple capacities in the Body. In fact, there is much to commend such multi-tasking if the person is able to do so effectively. Just as the OT speaks of those who were both prophet and priest, or prophet and king, or prophet and judge, so also does the NT speak of those who were prophets, apostles, preachers, and pastors (and sometimes all at the same time). Thus, there is absolutely no biblical basis for excluding preachers from also serving as elders.
What are some of the benefits of the located preacher also being one of the elders? A preacher in Colorado, who also serves as one of the elders, stated that there was an "increased ease of communication" between himself and the elders. He was now seen, as well as accepted, as "one of them." Too frequently in our "system of organization" we practice a great divide between elders and preachers, with the former often seen as the employers of the latter. As a missionary in South America pointed out, "the preacher is frequently looked upon as the hireling who can be dispensed with if he doesn't fall in line with the 'ruling elders.'" This perceived chasm is often bridged, however, when the preacher "joins the ranks" of the congregation's elders. A reader in Alaska wrote, "One major conflict amidst church dynamics has been the elder/preacher divide. With the preacher as part of the eldership, communications problems are lessened." Perhaps the following remarks from one reader sums up the benefits best: "At least one benefit of being in the dual roles of preacher and elder is that it makes for a closer working relationship for all in the leadership group, and there is a sense of unity in the leadership. There is less of an 'employer/employee' attitude, and more of a team spirit. The preacher, on the one hand, gains a deeper insight into the serious work of shepherding, while the other elders, on the other hand, gain deeper insight into the serious work of preaching and teaching. Also, it is less likely that the preacher will be at odds with the other elders as to the direction of the congregation, as he is part of the team setting that direction."
One reader wrote, "Never in my 45 years with 3 congregations of the Churches of Christ did I ever see a minister who was also an elder. No one could ever give me an explanation of why they weren't. That was just how it was -- maybe because 'that's the way we've always done it.' I never found out why. I found nothing and was shown nothing in Scripture, however, that would prevent ministers from serving as elders." Frankly, in my own view, much of the problem lies in our own tradition. In my faith-heritage there seemed to be a traditional "understanding" in the past that preachers and elders were "a different breed." Preachers were the "outsiders" who were hired to come into a congregation, preach for a period of time, and then "shuffle on off" when the members got tired of them. They were not typically viewed as part of the "family." This made it easier to dispense with them. Further, it led to a false divide between the roles of preacher/teacher and pastor/elder, functions that were, I believe, designed to produce far better results when unified. The above mentioned D.Min. stated, "The 'division of labor' between preachers and elders seems to me to be a false one, created in more modern times. Everybody who knows what preachers do, understands that it is very much 'pastoral' in nature." It is the Holy Spirit who makes shepherds, and He can create them from all manner of disciples -- including preachers! Perhaps we should get out of His way and let Him do His work!!
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 Minister in Texas:
Welcome back from vacation, brother. I just read your new Reflections, and have to say that I was shocked when I read the comments on your Facebook page by those who attacked you for visiting the Center Grove Baptist Church during your vacation. I thought about posting a comment to that discussion on Facebook when the whole furor began, but couldn't think of anything to say that might help. When dealing with folks that say things like "Baptists are not Christians," it is like trying to teach a pig to sing -- it just ends up frustrating you and annoying the pig. Hopefully these folks will one day see the light. I was once as they are, and now can't believe the way I once acted. I don't know you personally, but I do enjoy reading your Facebook updates and seeing the pictures of your beautiful family. God has indeed blessed you beyond measure. Keep up the good work, and it is good to have you back at the keyboard!
From a Reader in Texas:
Your article "Factional Face-off on Facebook" was a VERY nice response! I was amazed at what some people would actually post on your Facebook page about your vacation. I was so disappointed over how our BROTHERS and SISTERS at Center Grove Baptist Church were portrayed by a few on there, and how that makes all believers look to non-believers. My wife grew up in the Baptist Church, and the Sunday after we were engaged the Youth Minister at my congregation stopped his current study and felt "called" to do a lesson on being "unequally yoked." I never forgot that. Welcome back, Al.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I was so excited to read that you have immediate family so close to us here. I live just 15 minutes west of Clemmons. My next door neighbor attends Center Grove Baptist Church. My son (probably with silent disapproval of a very few in my "real church" congregation in ---------) has attended Wednesday night "Youth Church" at Center Grove on several occasions, as our Church of Christ congregation is quite small, with somewhat limited fellowship opportunities for him with other teens. My wife and I were so excited for him to be a part of their "Youth Church." Al, your Reflections have meant so much to me since finding them a couple of years ago. I had become exasperated (and still am) by all the "garbage" we have to deal with from our ultra-conservative watchdogs. Our former minister (who was here for 27 years) moved to Raleigh about 5 years ago, and I know that he reads your Reflections and is working as best he can to focus on Christ and get past all the legalistic, sectarian "stuff" we have to deal with. I personally am finding (as a result of courage gained from your ministry and example) that the more I express my views (which aren't aligned with our ultra-conservative brethren), the more I'm finding out that many in my home congregation share my/our views!! Not all do, of course, but that is something we are working on and praying will slowly change as we focus on Christ, instead of focusing on being in the "right church." Keep up the good work, brother!!
From a Reader in Massachusetts:
I read with great sadness your last Reflections about the "Factional Face-off on Facebook." It seems there are some who want to call themselves Christians who spend so much time trying to prove themselves Christians that they forget what Christianity is all about, and then by airing their inconsistencies on a social network like Facebook they just reveal how un-Christian they really are. My guess is that those who criticized you for attending a Baptist Church have probably never actually attended one and experienced the spiritual uplifting that takes place in many of them. Having visited a couple of Churches of Christ in Baton Rouge while visiting family there a few years back, I can tell you that the Baptist Church we visited there so far outstripped those other congregations in spirit and friendliness that every time we visit there now, there is no question as to where we will worship on Sunday (it will be at the Baptist Church). "Our" congregations just seemed lifeless, and no one even came up to speak to us. In contrast, in 2008 we went to Baton Rouge to bury our grandson. We met at the Baptist Church near our son's house the Sunday following the burial, and as the service was beginning a member welcomed us to their congregation and inquired about our visit. I told them with tears that we had come to bury our grandson. This man and those around us paused and said they wanted to have a prayer for us right then. I have never felt so comforted than in the surroundings of this group of Baptists, which many in "our" group refuse to even call "Christians." I can think of no greater Christians than those people we met that Sunday in that Baptist Church. Al, please keep up your good work, and if the self-righteous patternists and legalists want to "unfriend" you, so be it. There are plenty of us who are proud to call you "friend" and "brother." By the way, I'm sending you a check for signed copies of all three of your books (Down, But Not Out -- One Bread, One Body -- Immersed By One Spirit).
From a Minister/Author in California:
Excellent summary of the factional Facebook face-off during your vacation. There are always some who try to turn Facebook into a religious rant and fanatical forum. That's why I stick to posting pictures of funny Kitty Cats!! We love you, Al and Shelly.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
(The following is a portion of a message sent by
this individual to his mailing list; I receive similar
attacks from this person regularly)
JESUS vs. AL MAXEY -- In his Reflections #534, Al Maxey proudly boasted that on a vacation trip, "Shelly and I worshipped this morning at Center Grove Baptist Church where our son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids attend. We really enjoyed it. ... The youth/family pastor spoke at the 2nd service (they have three services), and he had a fabulous message." That "fabulous message," according to typical Baptist doctrine, had for its conclusion the "altar call," inviting people to come forward and pray the "sinner's prayer." Al's article centered around the fact that some people wrote on his Facebook page in opposition to his participation in this. The gist of what he said, as usual, was that those who refuse to accept Baptist doctrine are reptiles, creatures of the "Viper" species. I guess he would have to include Jesus in this condemnation. The Lord referred directly to this so-called "sinner's prayer" in Matthew 7:21 and said that those who do this will not enter the kingdom. Can you imagine someone gambling the souls of his son and his son's family on the belief that Jesus was wrong and the Baptists are right?!
Just a few observations: My above statement was not a "boast," just a short update for friends and family on Facebook while we were traveling. The lesson that day did not end with an altar call, and no mention was ever made of a "sinner's prayer." Jesus is not talking about "the sinner's prayer" in Matt. 7:21; such an assertion only displays the writer's biblical ignorance and lack of spiritual insight. Further, I never said anything within the above referenced article, or within any of my other writings (and I hereby publicly challenge this man to provide the specific quote where I supposedly did so), about those who refuse to embrace Baptist teaching or tradition being "reptiles, creatures of the 'Viper' species." I have never, ever said such a thing, and never would. As for my family, I happen to be very proud of my son, his wife, and my grandchildren (with whom I worshipped that day in NC); they are some of the finest disciples of Christ I know. Indeed, I love, respect and am proud of all my children and grandchildren. I raised my sons to understand that it is a personal relationship with Jesus, not blind loyalty to some brand name religion and its rituals, and that all true believers are truly their brothers and sisters in Christ, and they should be treated with love and respect, that will ultimately prove to be eternally relevant. Frankly, if more could learn and practice this truth we might see less sectarian squabbling and increased unity within the Family of our Father. Speaking of my sons, my oldest son, Stephen Maxey, who lives in Albuquerque, NM, wrote me a couple of days ago, saying, "Regarding your new Reflections article: I think one of the biggest problems today, regardless of religion, is that everyone seems to think that it's okay to point their finger and judge others, while 99% of them can't look in the mirror and see their own faults." Amen! In the song I mention below, such people are characterized in these words: "Always looking around but never looking up ... a plank-eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided." Finally, may I suggest to this reader that a greater "gambling with souls" might well come from the practice of attacking all those around you with whom you differ on matters of personal or party preference. -- Al Maxey
SPECIAL NOTE -- I just want to interject at this point how very, very proud I am of my daughter-in-law, April Maxey. During the whole ridiculous mess associated with the attacks against them, and against Shelly and me for worshipping with them at their congregation in North Carolina, she never said an unkind word against the attackers, but prayed for them instead. Then, just a couple of days ago, she gave her response (which she posted on my Facebook page). Her response was to post this YouTube link to the song Jesus, Friend of Sinners by the Christian group Casting Crowns, under which she wrote: "This is my response to and prayer for those critics in the 'Facebook Face-off' of a few weeks ago." I think you can see why I am so proud of this young Christian woman, and why I thank God daily that she is a part of our family. Please listen carefully to the words of the song. The message is awesome. I particularly like one line which reads, "We cut down people in Your name, but the sword was never ours to swing." Amen! Notice just one of the verses to this song, and then the chorus (which is repeated several times in the song):
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners,
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers.
Let our hearts be led by mercy.
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors.
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners,
Break our hearts for what breaks Yours.
From a Reader in India:
As for your hateful critics: can a person go to heaven if they hate their fellow believers? These people need to stop their preaching of hate. I am a member of the Church of Christ in India since 1975, and was a minister here for many years. Because of this kind of hate by our brethren I quit preaching, although I still remain true to Christ. The arrogance level of Church of Christers is sky-high; they are slaves to it. Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Pride makes the boaster a beast, as once before it made an angel a devil."
From a Reader in Connecticut:
As one of your friends on Facebook, I actually enjoyed your posts while you were on vacation. It was good to see you have some time to relax and not be afraid to meet other Christians. If one is truly grounded in Truth, he has nothing to fear by "visiting" other places of worship. The root of the problem, as I see it, is that members of the Church of Christ denomination tend to refuse to believe that anyone who worships God apart from their group is truly a Christian. It seems to me that Jesus took the apostle John to task for that very reason (Mark 9:38f; Luke 9:49f). I regularly visit an Orthodox Christian Church and find the people there actually more loving, accepting and non-judgmental than many of the Church of Christ churches I have visited. How sad. As my grandfather used to say, "You done good!"
From a Minister in Hawaii:
Read your article "Factional Face-off on Facebook." Serious subject. Still, "You would have thought I had sacrificed a cat on the Lord's Table by the reaction" was a great (and hilarious) line, Al. I hope to be able to use it one day!
From a Reader in California:
I sent this Reflections ("Factional Face-off on Facebook") to many friends and relatives, Bro. Al. I'm glad you wrote about what happened on your Facebook site. I think I laughed the hardest and the longest (just ask my roommate) at the comment about one of the women who attacked you having "splitteth" the building. I am soooo glad so many have a keen sense of humor, and show it in such creative ways, as they write in your support.
From a Reader in Michigan:
In part one of The History Channel's show "Hatfields & McCoys" there is a scene in which both families attend the same church -- it is the Tug River Church of Christ. I had to wonder, when I saw this, just how much that "holier-than-thou" mindset in their backgrounds contributed to their feud.
From an Evangelist/Author in Cambodia:
The attitudes and actions of those few persons on Facebook, about which you wrote in your last Reflections, is a part of our heritage that saddens me deeply. Thank you for the nature of your response to them, both in content and spirit, as I know it is hard at times to keep from counter-attacking with harsh words. It is sickening to me to hear "us" say "the Lord's Church" (meaning "us"), while all others make up "the denominations." They are, of course, NOT acceptable to God, and they are NOT the "true" church of Jesus Christ (that is only "us"). May we come to our senses and repent as a movement. Thankfully, many "among us" have now seen the light of Truth, and are becoming Jesus loving disciples who are embracing all those who love our Lord Jesus. I was talking to a brother a few hours ago and he told me about watching Kevin Costner's "Hatfields and McCoys" series on the History Channel. These two families were associated with the Churches of Christ, which several scenes in the movie portrayed. In one, Costner went down to the river to be baptized, and in that scene my friend said that the Tug River Church of Christ building was shown in the background. I have been out of the country, so didn't get to see this, but now it makes me want to do some reading about these families. Love you, brother!!
From an Author in California:
I was pleasantly surprised to find Harold Key's email to you in your latest "Readers' Reflections." I met him many, many years ago in Alton, Illinois at one of the forums promoted by Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett. Harold is the one who asked me the question about legalism which I couldn't answer at the time, and which Carl answered for me. I often laugh today at my nerve to be on the same panel with Carl and Leroy when I didn't know a thimble of Bible in comparison to them! I didn't realize how much I didn't know. Ha, that's youth for you! Second: quite a few years ago a Baptist friend, who was quite a good singer, attended our congregation. I asked him to lead a song for us, and in the commentary prior to leading the song he mentioned that he was a "Hard Shell Baptist." A woman immediately got up and walked out on that revelation, and then later said some of the same stuff those women said regarding you on Facebook. Among other things, besides the legalistic philosophy, this attitude stems from a wrong view about the nature and purpose of our assemblies, in my opinion.
From an Elder in Texas:
I was intrigued to see your Reflections today. By complete coincidence (unless, of course, the Holy Spirit was involved) I had just published an article along the same lines in our local bulletin and also on my personal Blog Site. I hope you have time to give it a quick read. Blessings and peace, brother.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Happy to have you back!! We're also glad you had such a wonderful vacation, but sorry that your visit to "a false church" caused such an uproar with the legalists on Facebook!! Once again, Al, thank you for the effort you put forth every day to help people in America and all over the world. Leaving legalism certainly causes withdrawal symptoms, and it can be a long, hard process. You are a lifeline of hope for so many, many people!!
From a Reader in Texas:
In your new Reflections you wrote: "I decided a long time ago that I would no longer be party to partyism, nor would I any longer take part in the promotion of 'brand name' religion. I am a member of His universal One Body (His 'church'), and I am a brother with ALL others who are united with Him. We may differ on a thousand points of personal preference, perception and practice, but these will not cause me to sever my fellowship or association with them. They don't have to be my twins to be my brethren! This is not only a truth I proclaim in my teaching, but one I try to practice in my daily living." Al, you are one of the very few who has found the freedom to believe and teach this in the Churches of Christ!! We love you, brother!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
It amazes me how so-called Christians can become so mean-spirited in the name of Christ. This whole attitude, as was seen in the attacks of those women on Facebook against you and your family, is alien to the spirit of our Lord. How can we be a light to a dark world when we keep blowing out each other's candles?! May God continue to give you strength and courage to fight this present darkness!
From a Ph.D. in Texas:
I just finished your Reflections article about Facebook, and what Dub McClish had to say about it in Contending for the Faith. Dub studied under my dad at the old Freed-Hardeman College many years ago. Dub's sister-in-law grew up with me at Henderson (her daddy was B. B. James, the local preacher there in the early 50's and a nice guy). She married Pat Sajak, of "Wheel of Fortune" fame, but they are now divorced. Just a few historical tidbits. Anyway, Dub McClish, Hugh Fulford, Alan Highers, Harrell Davidson, and others, were all students of my dad at FHC. I know my dad believed a lot of what they do, but I never saw this same "craziness" from him!! Or, maybe I was just too young to remember (he died at age 50). Al, I am soooo glad to see you back and doing your Reflections again!!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
In 2004 I was dismissed as the preacher of the ----- Church of Christ (now a defunct congregation, which was dead long before they actually buried it). To their way of thinking, I had committed a grievous "sin." Even worse, in their eyes, was that I refused to "repent." What was my big sin? I accepted an invitation to preach a Sunday night sermon at a Baptist church just two blocks away from our building. I had several close friends there (faithful brothers and sisters in Christ) who wanted me to preach a lesson there. I informed the members of our congregation (about 40 members) during the morning Bible class that I would be preaching at the Baptist church that evening (they had even changed their own meeting time so I wouldn't have to miss our own Sunday evening service). I should have known what was coming from the questions I received during that morning class: "Are you going to set them all straight about instrumental music? Are you going to condemn them for all of their doctrinal errors?" When I told them that I was going to preach the same sermon on the life, sacrifice, forgiveness, hope and love of Jesus that I had often preached for our own congregation, many of them were incensed. One man demanded to know why I wasn't going to tell them all from the pulpit that they were going to hell, and then offer them the chance to repent. I responded, "Because they are just as saved as we are." He came unglued!!
That Sunday night my wife and I were lovingly received and fellowshipped by the brothers and sisters at the Baptist congregation. At the same time, the men at our congregation held a special meeting to discuss what they were going to do about me. They took a vote and decided that I would no longer be allowed to preach there unless I publicly repented of my "sin" of preaching in a Baptist church. I received emails pleading with me to repent; others threatened me with physical harm if I refused, calling me a heretic, liberal, and false teacher. Other area congregations were contacted, and I was informed I was no longer welcome to speak there either. We left the Church of Christ fellowship, for both my wife's and my sanity, as well as our need for freedom in Christ. Unfortunately, my story is not unique among former members of the ultra-conservative Churches of Christ. We are now enjoying our freedom in Christ, and are part of a loving, active community church. We no longer pay any attention to those in the Churches of Christ who continue to condemn us. I simply pray that they will soon experience, as we have, the relief and freedom that is found in Christ. Please keep up your good work, Al. Keep the faith, my brother, and listen to God ... not to the naysayers who attack you. Their viperous tongue is from the Devil, not from God. Your work has brought many blessings to me, and also to a great many others. Let Freedom Ring!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
First, I want to say that I really enjoy your Facebook site -- seeing all your pictures and hearing about your travels. I also want you to know that I was spiritually fed by your talk last evening at your congregation when I visited there. Growing up in the Church of Christ (my uncle was our preacher, and a great man in my eyes), I asked lots of questions about lots of things. Since you and I are the same age, I know that you know just how long I have been at this! I followed all the Facebook comments that were made after your visit to "that other church" while you were in North Carolina!! The thought that kept coming to me as I read some of those remarks was, "Judge not, lest you be judged." Al, you are such a blessing to so many, and I pray that God continues to bless you and your family as you continue your spiritual journey!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
I had someone point out to me not too long ago that legalistic patternists have a tendency toward low self-esteem, and that they are often stuck emotionally at the age they were when baptized. Sounds like the dear sisters who gave you so much grief on Facebook are stuck at about nine-and-a-half. Before we quit attending the local Church of Christ, I had numerous of the brethren (mostly women, actually) who pulled the very same stunt. Hang in there, brother. You are fighting the good fight.
From a Minister in New Jersey:
Hey, brother! I see you are stirring up trouble again! Is worshipping with a Baptist church the best you can do?!! (LOL) I one-upped you. At our township's annual ecumenical National Day of Prayer service, I was privileged to take my turn among a group of two Roman Catholic priests, one Ukrainian Catholic priest, two Presbyterian ministers, and one Abundant Life Worship Center minister, all of us speaking from a pulpit in a Presbyterian church building. We joined in singing with a combined choir (some songs instrumental, some non-instrumental). Our worship lasted over two hours, and a collection was taken to help families with children who have terminal diseases. Good was done in HIS name by HIS children of varied stripes!! I can send you a copy of the CD of the service if you really want to rub elbows with more of us "apostates." Keep up the good work, Al.
From a Reader in Georgia:
I guess we all need to "unfriend" Peter, Paul and most of the other apostles for doing the same thing you did. They went to synagogues, which, if memory serves: (1) were not Churches of Christ, and (2) had members denying the deity of Jesus. And yet, could we not say that the act of these apostles assembling and worshipping with others who were not of their own convictions is the "E" (example) in CENI? Perhaps it was you who was actually following the "apostolic example" by worshipping with a group not of your own denomination!!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
You, sir, are without a doubt one of the most sensible people I've ever met from the Churches of Christ!! I grew up in an "anti" Church of Christ, and I could not wait to get away from it. Nobody was going to heaven except the ones who were pointing out everyone else's "errors." I find you and your teaching refreshing, and am now more hopeful for those in the "Restoration Movement."
From a Reader in Canada:
I just finished reading your article on Irene Sendler titled "Heroine of the Holocaust" (Reflections #532). What an amazing woman. It brought me to tears! What a reflection of what we all ought to strive to become as members of the Body of the Lord Jesus the Messiah. Thank you so much for writing this encouraging and amazing piece on her life.
From a Minister in California:
Three weeks ago I took on one of the most amazing challenges of my life -- the 30 Day Gratitude Challenge. It has totally lifted my life to a new level. It's simple -- for 30 consecutive days I am sending out a card of gratitude to someone in my world for whom I am grateful. Today that person is YOU! Your ministry of rescuing believers from the insidious claws of legalism has been a huge blessing to me. I love to read the notes of thanks in your weekly Reflections from people who now have their lives back: who are freed from their legalistic prison. I deeply appreciate your unwavering persistence on love, truth, and grace. So, all I can think of to say is simply: Thank you, my friend! You are making a difference!
If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: