In Vietnam we referred to a much needed break from many months of combat as "R & R." We looked forward to these times of rest and relaxation. They were opportunities to refocus and recover to some degree from the rigors and stresses of daily life and death struggles on the battlefield. Similarly, those of us who serve on the front lines in the army of the Lord also need those occasions when we get away for a season of rest and renewal. My wife Shelly and I just returned from a much needed and appreciated three week vacation. It was a special time when we got to visit with our children and grandchildren, see the beauty of God's creation as we drove through several states, and simply rest, read and reflect. In this current issue I would like to share just a few random vacation meditations.
Quote from a Novelist
While away I was introduced to the writings of Dr. Kathy Reichs, who is a forensic anthropologist for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for North Carolina and for the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Medecine Legale for the province of Quebec. She is one of only fifty forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and is on the board of directors of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. She is also a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As if this wasn't impressive enough, she has authored six novels on the area of her expertise, winning literary awards for her writing.
As I was reading her second novel, entitled Death Du Jour, I came across a most interesting comment. The novel dealt with some of the deadly consequences of cultish behaviors. As the leader of one such cult was being interviewed by the authorities, he was asked, "What is the name of your group?" To this question the leader replied, "Names. Labels. Titles. The Church of Christ. The People's Temple. The Righteous Path. Such egomania. We choose not to use one" (p. 217).
It would appear that Dr. Reichs has had some contact in her past with the Churches of Christ that has left her with a negative impression of this movement. She lists them in the same category with some of the more deadly cults in recent religious history. Although I personally believe that characterization is unwarranted, nevertheless she does make a rather valid observation. There are those within the Churches of Christ (as well as other religious groups, movements and faith-heritages) who do indeed declare that they, and they alone, are the ONLY people on the planet who have understood God's Word and who are saved. If you don't assemble for worship in a Church of Christ building .... you are going to hell. Thankfully, this horrendous attitude is dissipating as discerning disciples of Christ become more enlightened to His grace. However, there are those who still proclaim this message of exclusion and isolation. "WE, and we alone, are right .... YOU are wrong. We, and we alone, are THE one, true church .... all other groups are simply godless denominations. We, and we alone, are thoroughly honest in our interpretations of the Bible .... all others are evil deceivers and apostates." Such egomania, indeed!
It appears Dr. Reichs, at some point in time, has come across a few of these factionists, and it appears this has caused her to negatively characterize, through the statement of one of her novel's characters, an entire group of believers. I think this is truly unfortunate. It makes me wish there was some way to convey to her that an entire body of believers should not be "marked" by the antics of a few egocentric extremists. It also makes me all the more determined, personally, to do all in my power to dispel the darkness of this militant ignorance with the light of the knowledge of His matchless grace. May God help each of us to be ambassadors of that grace to a world greatly in need of this spiritual enlightenment.
Quote from a Reformer
While on vacation I received an email from a brother who shared with me the following quote from Thomas Campbell --- "As I would not read your Bible for you, so I will not let you read my Bible for me." The more I reflected upon that statement, the more moved I was by it. I believe in challenging people to think for themselves. I have no desire to do their thinking for them. Neither do I have any desire for others to think for me. Sadly, there are those who seek to do just that. They desire to impose their own thinking upon the rest of us. It is one thing to share one's thoughts with others for the stated purpose of facilitating reflection (as I attempt to do in these Reflections); it is another thing entirely to impose one's thoughts upon others as divine decree. I have no qualms about doing the former. I will never do the latter, nor will I allow others to do it to me.
We all differ to some degree in our thinking. That is the human condition. That is reality. There is nothing wrong with it. Indeed, it is completely unrealistic, and even irrational, to believe that disciples must think exactly alike on all matters before genuine unity can exist. There is great diversity in our understandings, backgrounds, abilities, opportunities and preferences. These need not divide us, however. We must allow others the same freedom we demand for ourselves. I am free to open up God's Word and search it prayerfully and carefully for deeper understanding of Truth. So are you! I will come to convictions based upon my study and reflection. So will you! I will order my life according to my convictions. So will you! "Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 14:5). "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God" (Romans 14:22). There was great diversity of conviction among the disciples in Rome, and yet Paul makes it clear that these differences were not to result in separation of saints. Rather, these saints were to accept one another .... and not demand that others conform to their own convictions before there could be unity. Unity is in a Person, not a position. We are united in Christ, not in our convictions about Christ. The latter is an attempt at uniformity, and this will always lead to factions and schisms in the One Body. It is, in part, why we are so fragmented as His family today.
Question from a Reader
My response, as one might expect, would be multi-faceted. First, I am not a patternist, thus I don't believe the purpose of the New Testament documents is to provide us with a detailed "blueprint" that must be followed scrupulously so as to merit the good favor of our Father. Thus, when I read about the establishment and observance of the Lord's Supper in these inspired writings it is not with a view to detecting LAW, but rather LOVE. Patternism, practiced consistently, would need to bind all aspects of the so-called "pattern." Thus, if one is intent upon binding the number of cups, one must also, to be consistent, bind evening observance and upper room observance (as some indeed do). They would also need to bind the observance of the Lord's Supper in connection with a meal. The list of "law" could go on and on! Patternism is also inherently divisive, for with each new personal perspective as to the exact nature of this elusive pattern a new faction is formed proclaiming itself, and itself alone, to be the fully restored One True Church. Frankly, there is no more divided and divisive group of disciples than the patternists!
As I read and reflect upon the Scriptures, however, I see my God less concerned with such externals of law and ritual, and far more concerned with what is happening within the hearts of the participants. Disciples of Christ have fussed, fought and fragmented far too long over a spiritual feast designed, in part, to celebrate our unity and oneness. It is time to refocus!!
If some of my brethren believe they need to use one cup in their observance of the Lord's Supper in order to be pleasing to their God, and they do so with thankfulness in their hearts, then they have my full support. If I assemble with them I will not seek to disrupt their practice. They are entitled to their convictions, just as I am. We can still be united in Him in spite of our differing perceptions and practices. Where the problem occurs in our fellowship is when one seeks to bind his conviction upon another as law. When we make our conviction a test of fellowship and a condition of salvation, then we become promoters of uniformity rather than unity; in so doing, we truly cease being a family and merely become factionists.
I work and worship within a congregation that uses multiple cups in the observance of the Lord's Supper. However, I fully accept as brethren those disciples who use only one cup. Our difference in practice in no way affects my love for them as fellow citizens of God's kingdom. Do they feel the same about me? Some probably do. Many, however, do not ... and therein lies the problem. With the patternistic mindset one far too frequently finds a harsh judgmentalism, and following on the heels of this inevitably comes condemnation of and separation from one's brethren. We must reverse this deadly course. We must learn to love and accept one another in spite of differing convictions and traditions. The One Body is too precious to do otherwise.
Sept. 11 and Passivity
A reader from the University of Chicago asks: "Do verses such as Romans 12:19, Luke 6:27-38 and Matthew 26:51-52 have any relevance to our nation's response to 9/11, and our subsequent adventures in Iraq?" The person asking this question has obviously embraced the teachings of pacifism, as clearly seen in subsequent remarks in his email. He stated: "Grieving, angry, and confused in the wake of 9/11, American Christians have allowed the Department of Defense to usurp the role of God."
There have always been those who opposed the use of deadly force to combat injustice, tyranny and oppression. I will defend to the death the right of such persons to hold these convictions. However, I completely disagree with their thinking. Paul tells us that we should not seek revenge, for "vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord God (Rom. 12:19). If the use of force (by either a nation or a person) is solely for the sake of seeking revenge, then I would have to say that is not a Christian motivation, in my opinion. However, there are times when an evil that threatens to overwhelm us must be met head-on .... and must be met with deadly force.
If a crazed killer was running through a neighborhood indiscriminately shooting men, women and children, what would you do? Would you try to reason with him? Pray for him? Set up a Bible study? Sure, one might try, but realistically it won't be long until one realizes that if lives are to be spared one must take stronger action. If efforts to restrain such a person fail, then deadly force will most likely be necessary. Just six verses after the above biblical reference, Paul declares that governing authorities "do not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil" (Rom. 13:4). God's vengeance is often enacted through His "avenging ministers of wrath." God has given them the sword, and those who do evil should recognize that they will suffer the consequences of their actions.
No, the kingdom of God, and His revealed Truth, should not be promoted or defended militarily. Our sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). But it is ludicrous to try and take this truth and apply it to situations like 9/11. They are not even remotely the same. On a personal level, by way of example, if a man is harassing me because of my faith and convictions, I will not shoot him in the head. I will love him and seek his ultimate good. I will pray for him. But if a man breaks into my house and is slaughtering my family before my eyes, I will use deadly force against him. Some suggest this is not a "Christian" response. I had a young pacifist tell me that if someone broke into his home and was slaughtering his wife and children, and he had the power to stop it with deadly force, he would do nothing. He would just kneel and pray for the man while he murdered everyone in the house. I personally find that conviction abhorrent and do not believe it to be consistent with God's intent in the above referenced passages by the reader from Illinois. After all, when Jesus sent out His disciples He told them to take a sword with them, "and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one" (Luke 22:36). If you carry a sword, you should be prepared to use it if need be. If Jesus didn't want His people defending themselves in certain situations, He wouldn't have told them to arm themselves. No, the Truth must not be preached at the point of a sword (a truth not realized by those during the Crusades), but it is not contrary to Christian principles for persons or nations to defend themselves against evil, and quite often a good defense requires one to go on the offense against those determined to destroy them.
Did American Christians allow the Department of Defense to usurp the role of God in our nation's response to the perpetrators of 9/11? No! On the contrary. They supported this "avenging minister" of God as it used the very sword given to it by the Lord (Romans 13). I support my nation fully in its effort to oppose such evil, and I believe such support is not inconsistent with my devotion and service to Christ Jesus.
From a Reader in Florida:
Your last two Reflections were excellent. You are doing a good job.
From a Reader in Missouri:
Al, Reflection #53 was really good. The content was well worth the reflection. But what impressed me most about this issue was not so much the article itself, but the testimony of the reader from Edinburgh, Scotland. He talked about how his house church befriended an atheist; entertaining his questions, and all. After engaging his questions, and reading the Reflections you sent, he asked to be baptized. WOW! That is beautiful! Glory to the name of the most HIGH! Truly a spiritual uplift for me. Boy, I needed it. May God continue to increase this ministry!
From a Reader in Texas:
I have read many of your Reflections and find them very interesting. I share your expressed understanding on most of the issues that I have read. I am working for unity among some of the more conservative factions and believe that your writings have much to offer those who want to understand the changes in thinking needed before we can have greater unity and effectiveness in the kingdom.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Another GREAT article, Al. I like how you mentioned praying for God's guidance when studying His Word. I know a lot of CofC people will call you a "false teacher" if you even mention the Holy Spirit working in any way except directly through a bundle of paper, glue and pressed cardboard (one person even told me that was the Holy Spirit). Of course, given the way you stand for the Truth, you have probably heard worse :o). I must say, I am impressed, and also inspired, at the way you continue to stand for the Truth in the face of all that.
Anyway, regarding God's Word, I think it very important to seek His guidance when doing serious study, or any study really. Only His Spirit truly knows His mind, so if you truly are seeking the Truth in study, you should seek His guidance. It also takes faith. I rest secure in the knowledge that God's grace covers my ignorance, or rather lack of ability to understand, and I know that my studying and praying will be rewarded with understanding and insight.
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