Issue #573 -------
April 19, 2013
Where there is much desire to learn,
there of necessity will be much arguing,
much writing, many opinions; for opinion
in good men is but knowledge in the making.
John Milton (1608-1674)
One of the things I truly enjoy about my ministry (whether it be writing or speaking) is the opportunity it provides to meet and communicate with people around the world, and to be able to share with them my convictions while also considering their own. This truly evolves into an exchange of ideas (a dialogue) that has the potential of being beneficial to all concerned. Thus, I relate well with the wisdom of, and often quote, the following maxim: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17). Our social and spiritual intercourse with one another, especially when such interaction is positive in nature, has a stimulating effect on our individual and collective psyche.
I sometimes feel almost selfish because I typically get a lot of responses to my weekly Reflections, but I'm only able to share a small portion of them with the subscribers in the following week's readers' section. There have been so many times I wanted to share more reader responses in each Reflections, but it would just have resulted in too large a mailout. Therefore, I have to be selective, trying to share representative responses that I believe may be of interest or benefit to the most readers, or reflective of what most of the respondents were thinking with respect to a particular topic. Occasionally, however, I will get several really moving responses, usually rather lengthy, that I feel need to be shared, and I will devote a follow-up Reflections to sharing these insights with the readers. Such is the case with this current issue.
At the end of last week's Reflections (#572) I made the following Special Request of the readers: "After I sent out my article 'The Bottle-Fed Church: Moving from Milk to Meat' (Reflections #570), I received quite a few responses. One such response was from a very well-known leader in Churches of Christ, a man whom I have respected for many, many years. He is both a minister and shepherd, has authored over 70 books, holds seminars and workshops all over the world, has served in administration with four different Christian colleges, and has touched the lives of countless thousands for Christ for almost half a century of public ministry. He, through his writings, was one of the early encouragers of me in my own budding ministry many years ago, although he didn't know it at the time (I have since thanked him for that influence). Therefore, when he offers an insight or asks a question or makes a suggestion, I listen. After my above mentioned article, he wrote me the following:
'Al, I am in agreement with the great message of your article: "The Bottle-Fed Church." However, what is the solution? We have a transgenerational challenge in most congregations of having spiritual infants and spiritual adults in the same feeding sessions. Taking twenty-year categories, age-wise, there are different needs, different diets, and different spiritual exercises needed. Perhaps it is a return to the teaching one-on-one principles we see among the OT prophets. This takes time and a return to the emphasis on discipleship instead of assembly-line teaching and preaching. Perhaps it is time to evaluate our whole feeding menus and diets in the local church, which falls on the shoulders of the elders to feed the flock. Sadly, some elders need the "milk of the Word." I am sure in the first century "house churches" (few members in number), it was easier to feed the flock than in a sheepfold (building) of several hundred sheep, like we try to do today. Maybe some of your readers, as well as you yourself, could offer some methodologies for correcting this problem. The church is in need of biblical and positive solutions. Again, thanks for the thought-provoking article.'
"I would like to ask each of you to think seriously about what this brother has requested, and then share your insights with me. The concern presented in my article 'The Bottle-Fed Church' is one we have probably all encountered, and one with which we have probably all struggled. But, what is the solution? IS there a solution? Not just from a theoretical, ideological perspective, but from a practical perspective. What can we DO to address this problem? Again, I would love to hear from you on this. Hopefully, at some future date, I can put your thoughts together with mine and present them in a special Reflections. Thank you in advance for your input."
As you might guess, I received a large number of responses to this request, and I found it interesting that the vast majority proposed "Small Groups" as perhaps being the best solution to this problem. A Christian Church minister in Indiana wrote, "As for your special request: I think that is where small groups come in. We preachers like to think that a great deal of learning happens when we stand in the pulpit, but it really doesn't. True learning and discipleship happen when a small group of people get together to feast upon God's Word and discuss the milk and meat (whichever is appropriate for that particular group) as they partake of it." A dear friend and former minister here in New Mexico observed, "Standardized curricula and lectures have their place, but guided round-table discussions facilitate more growth through individual self-examination and sharing of thoughts. Often our best-trained and most experienced teachers/speakers deliver excellent sermons to audiences (who, many times, are not really listening). Perhaps it would be worthwhile to follow these sermons with age appropriate small group discussion of the information presented in those thoughtful sermons, with sensitivity on the part of the facilitator to the specific needs of the individuals within each group so that the material is made relevant to their situation." This is something we actually did here at Cuba Avenue Church of Christ for a number of years in our small group program on Sunday evenings. I would prepare a handout pertaining to my morning sermon (containing a detailed outline, as well as discussion questions) that would then be taken and used by the group leaders in their individual groups (and they would adapt the questions so as to generate the best dialogue among their participants). It worked pretty well, and the people seemed to enjoy having a chance to "voice their views" on the preacher's sermon that morning (which feedback was also beneficial to me on a number of levels).
A reader in Nevada wrote, "I forwarded your special request to our preacher of 34 years, and am sending you his response." I have never met this preacher in Nevada, but I know of him, and even have an autographed copy of one of his books. He wrote, "The answer would seem to lie in adding many small groups for study, prayer and discipleship, built around maturity levels, which means that lots of church members have to show initiative and get involved. This should be done without dropping the other 'feeding sessions,' since it's good for people to sometimes be in those sessions too, even though the material may be over the heads of some of them. In other words, people need to be stretched by seeing others engaged in bigger ministries and deeper studies." A reader in Arizona expressed it this way: "In the NT we find both kerygma and dialogue within the gatherings. The long-standing format of monologues provides no place for all of the members of the body to develop their understanding by expressing themselves or asking questions to clarify something. Even worse is limiting opportunities for all to pray. Missing from nearly all churches, regardless of denomination, are these opportunities for all assembled to speak and pray. This 'elephant in the living room' has been ignored too long." A reader in Alaska opines that we should move gradually, but surely, beyond the bottle-fed stage by "a diet of healthy teaching (not just theory, but also practice) coupled with age-appropriate mentoring that can only come from an authentic spiritual family, not a superficial 'meet & greet' church building encounter." Small groups (away from the building; in people's homes) can help facilitate this. Simply stated: the smaller the number of disciples interacting, the greater the potential for effective discipleship (which truly requires a level of intimacy among individuals not often found in larger, more organized and/or structured gatherings).
Again, I appreciate so much the large response to the above challenge that was posed by a beloved and respected reader. As noted, those who responded overwhelmingly suggested that the solution lies in some form of age/circumstance-appropriate small group where less structure might accommodate freer dialogue. There were also several who believed a return to some form of mentoring in the church among disciples was advisable, with which I also concur. Most who wrote believed that the age of "gospel meetings" and mega-church assemblies, at least with respect to the idea of evangelism and discipleship, has passed. Spiritual maturity, they suggested, is best accomplished by more individual attention, and personal interaction, with those whom we seek to grow in grace. The other types of assemblies and activities may certainly serve a purpose (they may be encouraging and invigorating to some, for example), but when it comes to addressing the individual needs of disciples and helping them in their daily walk, they are probably the least effective methodologies. Perhaps we ought to be spending more time getting out of our buildings and into people's lives, rather than getting into people's faces and trying to get them into our buildings. By turning The Faith into an organized, systematized religion we have largely lost our awareness that Jesus lived, died and arose to restore relationship with the Father and expand the parameters of loving acceptance among His children. When we recapture that vision, we will also see increased spiritual maturation and decreased factional feuding within the Family.
In response to my last article -- "A Vast, Complex NT Pattern: Do the Apostles Paul and Peter Proclaim Patternism and the Regulative Principle in 1 Corinthians 4:6 and 1 Peter 4:11?" (Reflections #572) -- I also received a number of excellent comments from readers. Some appear below in the Readers' Reflections section, but there were three that were a bit too long for inclusion there, yet which were so insightful that I really wanted to share them with you. Therefore, I contacted each of these three individuals and asked if I could use their emails in this current issue of Reflections. They all graciously gave their permission. Further, they each authorized me to identify them by name (something more and more readers are now willing to do -- taking bold, public stands for Truth). I applaud them for this. As one of these men stated, "I stand behind anything I write!" Another wrote, "I shared what I think, and I don't mind claiming it! I've got plenty of Irish blood in me, so I don't mind a struggle in a good cause." The remainder of this Reflections, therefore, will be devoted to their three insightful responses to my last article on patternism. What you read below will be entirely their words, not mine (with the exception of a brief introduction of each person)! I appreciate their contribution and their candor.
A Reader in New Mexico
INTRO: The following thoughts come from Virgil Fiske, who lives in the northern part of New Mexico. He says, "I came out of the Church of Christ a few years ago and do house churches now. I preached for the Church of Christ for over 30 years, but fought the legalism and the arrogance all the way." I can certainly identify with this frustration. The following is an article he shared with me that he wrote over a year ago, but which came to his mind when he read my last Reflections. I'm pleased to be able to pass it along to each of you.
First principles, the essentials, the basics of Christianity have dominated my mind lately. I was asked which denomination is right, what rules are required to be saved. I had just started a study in John, and it suddenly yelled at me. Since John's Gospel was written that we might believe and have eternal life (John 20:31), then it can be accepted that the Gospel of John contains everything we need to know and believe. It must also contain every behavior required to gain salvation. Therefore, it could be understood that the rest of the information presented in the NT comes as an illustration of how the basics presented by John play out in the life of the first century church. Should one agree with many scholars that John's Gospel was the last text written before the canonization of Scripture, then it can be assumed that any emphasis on doctrinal concepts not mentioned is excessive. Since John's Gospel contains little regarding baptism, Communion, church leadership and attendance, the contribution, worship styles, women's roles in the church, etc., how can these issues be areas over which we bicker and divide?! If we can recognize the basic principles of love and forgiveness demonstrated by Christ's sacrifice as the foundation of our faith, then all the other behavior of Christ-like people should not divide us. Jews worshipped one way, Gentiles worshipped another, and though the discussion in Acts 15 was heated, the conclusion was that both groups were accepted by God, though radically different.
Many years after the discussion on how to deal with Gentiles, the apostle John penned the Gospel and the letters that carry his name. 1 John 5:13 says that he wrote this small letter to those who believe so that they might know they have eternal life. How much should we add to what John wrote if we really want to know we have eternal life?!
John wrote as a very old Christian who happened to be the last living apostle. He must have felt that the letters written by others over 30 years earlier were important, yet he does not mention them. I started studying John's Gospel and his letters as if I was living at the end of the first century and they were all that I had. What would my saving faith and my worship actually look like? You might want to try the same. It has really changed my view of all those who believe in Jesus.
Finally, I heard John say that we should be careful not to listen to the other teachers, but instead focus on the "anointing" we have all received (1 John 2:26-27). I have seen firsthand the damage done by following our emotions, but we may have more damage by following only that which is written. For me personally now, the NT is the tool that I use to verify what I sense in my heart as I am led by the Spirit.
A Reader in Texas
INTRO: The thoughts below come from Neal Griffin, who has done a good deal of writing over the years. In his response to my article, he chose to share with me an article of his own. That article follows and is titled: "Pattern Theology -- Good or Bad?"
Pattern theology is here defined as the enforcing of examples as if they were patterns of law for all Christians in all ages. For example, we see in Acts 20:8 that the Christians met in an "upper room." From this pattern the "upper room" schism (sect) evolved. We see in Matt. 26:27 where Jesus said, "this cup." Hence, the "one cup" sect. From the same passage the term "cup" (not glass) is used, and since glasses don't have handles, and cups do, the "cups with handles" sect emerged. Similarly, the "kneeling while praying," the "no makeup, no jewelry," and the "break bread then bless it" ideas evolved. And, as if Satan were not satisfied with so few schisms, he introduced the "silence" issue, and from the silence pattern we see a host of schisms. We see the "no bus, no kitchen, no orphanages" sects. Sadly, it appears that the silence induced patterns are applied only in connection with particular party positions. Glaring inconsistencies are glibly explained away. For example, the silence advocates justify the use of water fountains, ornate cathedrals, plush preacher offices, four part harmony, elevated pulpits, overhead projectors, air-conditioners, and a host of other aids which are without Scriptural pattern.
There are patterns that should be observed. Pattern theology is especially bad when it emphasizes pet patterns to the neglect of greater principles. The love pattern is the most often neglected. Pattern theologians neglect the love pattern when they become exclusive. They neglect the love pattern when they draw "silence" or "inference" induced conclusions and enforce them as tests of fellowship. This is teaching for doctrine the commandments of men, and is condemned by God. It is a dangerous position to insist on compliance with one's conclusions. This is the divisiveness condemned in Rom. 16:17. This is the exclusiveness condemned in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians.
There are positive patterns to be observed. They are called "the fruit of the Spirit." Very seldom do brethren divide over them. It is an interesting fact that most of the divisive issues can be traced to what men have concluded should be inferred from Scripture (and silence). The fruit of the Spirit, in contrast, is very clearly perceived. When brethren put on the mind of Christ, they are busy producing this fruit. They are not busy stirring up division among brethren. They are busy trying to carry one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2). They are busy trying to accept one another (Rom. 15:7). They are busy trying to forbear one another (Eph. 4:2). They are busy trying to build up one another (1 Thess. 5:11). In short, they are trying to love one another. These are primary patterns -- basic Christianity. If we miss the point of these patterns, it does not matter about the others. We have become as tinkling brass.
Perhaps a new definition of "pattern theology" would be in order. It should embrace the idea that Jesus is the Pattern. Our pattern is a Person, and that Person is the Christ of God. While some meticulously search the Scriptures for patterns, in order to lay heavy burdens on us, shouldn't we be searching for the riches of Christ in His person? Shouldn't we be trying to put on the mind of Christ? HE is our unfailing Pattern. It is to HIM that we should look for our pattern of conduct in every matter. HE, and He alone, is the all-sufficient answer. Let us pattern ourselves after HIM. Please think on these things. I believe them to be true to the Word.
A Reader in California
INTRO: The following is not a previously written article (as was the case with the two previous works), but rather a personal email to me, in response to my last Reflections, from Bryan Givens, who is an Associate Professor of History at Pepperdine University. Whereas the two articles above were more general in nature (written prior to my latest Reflections), Bryan's thoughts are specifically directed to the two passages (one by Paul, the other by Peter) examined in my last Reflections. I thought his insights were remarkable, and thus I'm pleased to be able to share them with you.
It's been a while since I've written you, but your recent article on 1 Corinthians 4:6 and 1 Peter 4:11 caught my attention. Nobody can get to prohibitive silence in 1 Peter 4:11 unless they read it into the passage (which they do], but, superficially at least, 1 Corinthians 4:6 seems more congenial to their case. Studying the passage for myself some years ago, I came to the conclusion that not only does the passage not support the belief in prohibitive silence (as your Reflections article points out), it CANNOT do so. As we both know, the interpretation of many passages of scripture is a matter of greater or lesser probability, taking into account the broad message of the whole of the Bible. However, one can know with 100% certainty that 1 Corinthians 4:6, of all the proof-texts used to support the doctrine of prohibitive silence, does not teach that doctrine. How? I'll provide the details of my reasoning on this below, but the whole thing can be summed up by one, oft-ignored word: Context.
First, the textual context. Prohibitive silence really doesn't make much sense in the passage since that kind of issue was not at issue in Corinth, as even a cursory glance at the passage should reveal to those not trying to "prove a point." Unfortunately, the use of 1 Corinthians 4:6 to prove prohibitive silence is yet another egregious example of abstracting (or strip-mining, as I call it) one passage from its original context to prove something of far more modern vintage. The most perverse (and downright grotesque) example of this tendency to prove prohibitive silence is the citation of Romans 14:23, usually in conjunction with a similar misuse of Romans 10:17.
Second, the historical context is what proves that 1 Corinthians 4:6 CANNOT mean what the patternists say it means. "Do not go beyond what is written" begs a simple question they seem not to have examined carefully at all, because the question is: "Written where?" They would, of course, answer, "Written in the Bible." But that's what leads to the problem for the patternists: namely, the fact that the Bible had not been completed as a written text when Paul penned 1 Corinthians, especially since it is generally acknowledged as being one of his earliest letters. So, if he is referring to written text at all as a patternistic guide, he would have to be referring to the OT, which fits neither the context, nor is this where modern day patternists want to go! The one dodge they might have is to say that the Holy Spirit revealed through prophets the rest of the message of the NT even before it was written down. Even conceding that point does not help their case, simply because the charismatic utterances of first century prophets were oral, not written, so Paul could not be referring to them in this passage. So, whatever Paul meant in the passage, it cannot be a message of "book-chapter-verse" prohibitive silence, and any halfway careful reader can know that with 100% certainty.
As to what the passage does mean, I suspect that you are correct that it was a traditional aphorism rather than a reference to a specific statement in the OT, since there is no such quote in the OT writings. If Paul did have a specific passage in mind as inspiration for this proverb, my guess is that it would have been Deuteronomy 29:29 -- "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law" -- which could have served as helpful corrective to the kind of ungrounded, mystical speculation about the secrets of the cosmos to which the Greeks were prone and which would erupt in a deadly fashion with the emergence of Gnosticism. Of course, the irony of all this today is that Paul does say that going beyond what is written will lead to division, a point which the patternists all too sadly demonstrate!
From a Ph.D. in Nebraska:
What a blessing your article "The Eldership of the Church" was to me in the April issue of New Wineskins magazine! I am preparing to be affirmed by the congregation I worship with as a shepherd. We planted a new congregation over two years ago, and have now grown from four families to seventy. This is the most humbling experience in my life, and part of God's nurturing of my heart has been your recent article in New Wineskins. It affirms everything we are trying to be about, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the inclinations of the Spirit, and for sharing your heart and thoughts in the way He desired. May He bless you richly as you continue to serve.
From a Reader in Alaska:
Your article in New Wineskins on the eldership represents a serious summary on an important subject. It is a keeper; worth printing off and distributing to others interested in biblical study. Just so you will know, I have already handed a copy of your article to one of the elders here, though I don't think he needs it, but so that he could have it to share with others. Again, I want to suggest that the caliber of foundational explanation you did in this article in New Wineskins is the type of "meat" that is needed for bottle-feeders to begin the transition to greater levels of maturity so that they might be able to express informed opinions when appropriate. Blessings to you, Al.
From a Minister/Author in California:
I must thank you for your excellent treatment of the eldership in the latest issue of New Wineskins. The information you presented there would make a wonderful Bible class study!
From a Reader in Virginia:
Al, please find enclosed my check for your new book Immersed By One Spirit. I have enjoyed your other two books (Down, But Not Out and One Bread, One Body) and I really look forward to reading this one. Keep up the good work, brother!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
You stated at the beginning of your last Reflections (#572), with regard to the picture of the church sign you posted, that you didn't know where this congregation was. The picture was actually taken by a pastor in the Kansas City area named Josh Collins. Take a look at what he thought of this Church of Christ sign on his blog site.
I really appreciate this reader letting me know about the background of this picture (the physical location, who took it, why, etc.). The picture I used was of a Church of Christ sign that read: "Jesus Was A Legalist," and under this statement was the Scripture reference: Matthew 7:21-23. The blog site of the above mentioned article by Josh Collins, who is a Baptist pastor in the Kansas City, Missouri area, is: Jesus Was A Legalist. This is an excellent treatment of the lunacy of this statement which he found on that sign, and I would encourage everyone to read this article by this young pastor. -- Al Maxey
From a School of Preaching Instructor in Texas:
I often run into folks who have a bad definition of "legalism." Some seem to think it means: exerting effort to obey Jesus' commandments. However, "legalism" really means: doing good deeds for the purpose of paying for salvation.
From a Minister in Alabama:
Jesus despised those who "trusted in themselves that they are righteous." This, to me, is the best definition of a "legalist" -- they trust in what they do (even things commanded) as the basis of their righteousness and salvation.
From a Reader in Canada:
I really appreciate your ministry, Al. On every occasion that lends itself, I recommend your web site to others. I value you very much, brother, and ask God to bless your endeavors continually.
From a Reader in Georgia:
You always do such an excellent job of providing context for the passages in question in your articles, and thus you draw excellent conclusions. Too many people have a hard time seeing the context for the verses (or: the forest for the trees). Blessings, my friend!
From an Author/Speaker in Texas:
Thank you, Brother Al, for standing up against all forms of legalism that push people away from Jesus rather than drawing people to Him.
From a Reader in Florida:
One of our problems is that we have brought children up in the church, and not brought them up in Christ.
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