by Al Maxey

Issue #574 ------- April 26, 2013
Blind and naked ignorance delivers brawling
judgments, unashamed, on all things all day long.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Sectarians in Blinders
Ridiculous Religious Ranting

Those of you who have followed my body of work (whether it be my writings or my speaking engagements) know that over the years there have been several who have felt "called of God" to oppose every aspect of my ministry (including not only me personally, but members of my family). This used to bother me somewhat during the early years of my service to the Lord and His cause, but I rarely give such people a second thought these days, although I do find their antics interesting (from a purely psychological point of view -- that being one of my major fields of study in both undergraduate and graduate work at the university I attended). One of these critics, and one with whom many of you have crossed paths (and swords) over the years, is John Waddey. I've never met the man, and, to my knowledge, he has never actually heard me preach or teach (and I have been doing so for close to 40 years now). Nevertheless, he regards himself as something of an expert on "all things Maxey," and has consistently, over the years, sought to oppose and expose my "heresy." This he does primarily through his monthly publication Christianity: Then & Now, which he continues to mail out monthly via the US Postal Service, although he hasn't bothered to update his web site in years.

Mr. Waddey is a preacher who lives in Surprise, Arizona and who works with the West Bell Church of Christ. Waddey's monthly periodical is devoted almost exclusively to proclaiming the evils of the "change movement" and its godless "change agents," of whom I am considered by this man to be one of the worst. Hardly a month goes by where he doesn't allude to or quote outright something that I have taught or written (although he will rarely identify me by name), all in an effort to expose the hellish horrors of "change." On his web site Waddey declares me to be a "liberal change agent," as well as "a vocal spokesman for the change movement ... who wishes to reform the church." He continued, "I have recently read eleven books written by the most vocal change agents and frankly it seems to me that Al Maxey is in perfect concert with them on all issues." In other words, if one wishes to perceive all the many ills of this "philosophy of change," all one needs to do is examine the teaching of Al Maxey. I have sought to answer some of his accusations in the past, and those studied responses are contained in the following issues of my Reflections:

  1. Tale of Two Churches -- Issue #243 -- April 5, 2006
  2. Narrow Way or Narrow-Minded? -- Issue #340 -- March 12, 2008
  3. Applauding at Mom's Funeral -- Issue #371 (part 2) -- October 28, 2008
  4. Rebels Against Religion -- Issue #397 -- May 5, 2009
  5. The Universal One Body -- Issue #406 -- August 3, 2009
  6. Malicious Menace Unmasked -- Issue #428 -- January 22, 2010
  7. The Nature of Legalism -- Issue #435 -- March 12, 2010
  8. Change Agents and Newspeak -- Issue #461 -- October 22, 2010

In his masterful work titled "Heretics," which was published in the year 1905, the remarkable author and thinker G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) made this astute observation: "The modern world holds certain dogmas so strongly that it does not even know they are dogmas!" In the course of time, human dogmas have a tendency to become elevated to the status of divine decrees, with their proponents not in the least averse to seeking universal imposition of such dubious dogma upon the rest of humanity, with the cruel castigation of all who dare to differ with it following not far behind. Such unequivocal, tyrannical, obstinate absolutism is truly troubling to the spiritually-minded, freedom-loving disciple, yet such militant narrow-mindedness surrounds us in this fallen world of ours. As Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) astutely noted: "Wherever there is a creed, there is a heretic round the corner or in his grave." Those who are creed-bound, law-bound, and tradition-bound, are all too often bound and determined to defame and destroy all who differ with them. Simply put, they become obsessed with hounding heretics. [It is rather interesting to note, however, that the Greek word transliterated "heresy" or "heretic" actually conveys the concept of a willingness to divide and separate into various sects or factions based upon opinionated personal choice. In other words, by biblical definition, it is not those who oppose one's opinionated dogma who are the "heretics," but rather the one who insists upon imposing upon others his/her opinions as divine doctrine who is the "heretic."]

A good example of such heretic/heresy hounding over a period of years may be found in the monthly malignings of Mr. Waddey's publication, in which he time and time again sets his crosshairs on those horrid "change agents" and "progressives" who, in his view, are trampling Truth into the muck and mire of their own apostasy. It is an extremely narrow view of things: a type of religious tunnel vision. It is difficult to counter such a narrow perspective, for such persons will rarely consider any facts or circumstances contrary to their conclusions. It's as though they have permanent blinders on. Is it any wonder that Jesus, in His rebuke of these rigid religionists in Matthew 23, characterized them as "blind guides" (vs. 16, 24), "blind fools" (vs. 17), "blind men" (vs. 19), and "blind Pharisees" (vs. 26). When the blind lead the blind, the outcome is inevitable (Matt. 15:14; Luke 6:39), and the tragedy is intensified by the fact that too many of these have chosen not to see! Truly, "there are none so blind as those who will not see" -- a proverb of uncertain origin, although popularized by its repeated use in the Commentary on the Whole Bible written by the English Presbyterian minister Matthew Henry (1662-1714).

In the April 1, 2013 (appropriate dating) issue of Christianity: Then & Now (vol. 12, no. 8, p. 1, 4) is an article by John Waddey titled "Marks of Progressive Christians." It is a compilation of confused and caustic characterizations of fellow Christians in the One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like the Pharisees of old, it is not enough to such persons that others be in God's Family -- they must also be in their Faction. Anyone either to their right or left theologically is simply regarded as an apostate. Only they, and their perceptions, preferences and practices are viewed as completely compliant with eternal Truth. To differ with them is to differ with God! Period! 99.999% of humanity is headed straight for hell, and only the favored few who manage to get to one of their buildings and embrace their dogma will be saved. It is a shameful display of sectarianism, and such has led to more schism within the Family of God than just about anything else. In his above mentioned article, Waddey has marked and maligned the "progressives" in the church, and has shared with his readers seven defining marks of this "apostasy." Someone once astutely observed that a "liberal" ("progressive") was simply anyone to the right of the person making the judgment. As we examine these markers enumerated by Mr. Waddey, I think you will perceive the wisdom of that assessment. By the way, for an extensive treatment of this theological perspective, which might serve as a more fair and balanced background for the present study, I would recommend a reading of Reflections #510 -- Progressive Christianity: Major Markers of a Movement.

John Waddey writes that progressives "give lip service to their founding documents," yet do not "feel obliged to operate strictly by them. They spend considerable time and energy trying to expand or reinterpret the intended meaning." His accusation, simply stated, is that those who dare to differ with his own understandings of God's inspired Scriptures have no real respect for the Word, but seek to twist Truth to their own perverse purposes. If one were truly honest and spiritual, if one were genuinely spiritually-minded and a seeker of Truth, they would agree with him. Since they don't, they clearly are apostates who have no love of Truth, or of the Scriptures wherein that Truth is revealed. Are there such people as this in the world? Yes. Are all who come to differing conclusions than John Waddey in that category? No. There are many of us who do not view the Scriptures (especially the inspired documents of the NT writers) as a book of LAW, and thus do not feel obliged to search these writings for life-giving law. Rather we diligently examine the truths conveyed in these wondrous writings to better perceive the nature of our Father (especially as perceived in the person of His Son). They are a revelation of who He is and what He has done for us, and a guide as to how best to reflect His nature within our own lives. Thus, it is not a book of LAW, but a book of LOVE. I can't help but think of our Lord's rebuke of the rigid religionists (the legalists) of His own day: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life" (John 5:39a). Jesus had to inform them (and it seems some today need that same rebuke and revelation) that the purpose of the Scriptures was not to convey eternal life (i.e., by searching for and submitting to whatever rules and regulations one could detect or infer), but rather to reveal the One who could convey that life. Jesus told them, "It is these that bear witness of ME, yet you are unwilling to come to ME that you may have life" (vs. 39b-40). I love the way The Message has worded this passage: "You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about ME! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren't willing to receive from Me the life you say you want."

Waddey declared, "Progressives prefer their vision of Jesus to His actual teaching, His church and His worship. They especially resent and reject the necessity of strict obedience to Him (Heb. 5:9). Jesus the man they exalt while demeaning His message and His kingdom." This, of course, is a ridiculous accusation, but, sadly, many of this man's readers will lap it up greedily like a dog consuming its own vomit. Again, do such people as John describes exist in the world about us? Of course they do. We are all aware of that fact. Is this a fair representation of all who dare to differ with Mr. Waddey's understandings of Jesus, the church, and worship? Of course not. IF we accept Mr. Waddey's perceptions as the ultimate standard by which all others on the planet are judged, then maybe we can rightfully bow to his whims. However, I have grave reservations as to the infallibility of Mr. Waddey in such matters. I believe his real concern here is that "progressives" prefer their own vision/understanding of Jesus and His teachings to his vision/understanding of Jesus and His teachings (and, of course, as is the case with most hardened legalists and patternists, they believe their view is the ONLY view consistent with Truth; thus, to differ with them is to depart from Truth). One does not "demean" our Lord's message or His kingdom by arriving at understandings from our prayerful study of Scripture that are different from John Waddey's. We must each approach such reflection upon His inspired revelation with honest hearts and come to the best perception of His will that we can, and then conduct our lives by said convictions. "Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another" (Rom. 14:13). Rather, we should each be fully convinced in our own minds about the fruit of our study and reflection (even though we may differ with other disciples on those convictions), and learn to accept one another in love, just as God accepts each of us (differing convictions and all), which is the message of Romans 14 (see: Reflections #120 -- A Safety Valve for Steamed Saints and Reflections #562 -- Between Thyself and God).

We are further informed by the author of the above mentioned article that progressives "abhor legalism, which they interpret as any teaching that insists that obedience to the teaching of Christ is essential to man's salvation." Yes, we abhor legalism. So does John Waddey. In fact, in the very next breath he states, "It is true that legalism is a perversion and distortion of true Christianity." Amen, John. But then he writes, "The progressives stretch the meaning of the term 'legalism' to include anything that stresses loyalty and obedience to Christ, His Word and His church." Clearly, John is confused as to the meaning of "legalism" -- or, more specifically, what we mean by that term. I do not know of any within the progressive movement (and, again, I would refer the reader to my evaluation of the genuine characteristics of these disciples of Christ [Reflections #510] rather than Waddey's malicious mischaracterizations) who take the view of legalism mentioned by John Waddey. Obeying our Lord, when He specifically commands something, is not "legalism." To assert that we believe this is ludicrous. Legalism is simply an effort to establish one's own righteousness, or to be justified and saved, by one's own effort at keeping law (Rom. 10:1-4). It is focused on human effort, and thus looks to the efficacy of works rather than grace (Eph. 2:4-9). A couple of my readers recently offered their view of this. A school of preaching instructor in Texas wrote, "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." A minister in Alabama wrote, "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." Yes, loyalty and obedience to the Lord is vital to a right relationship with Him. When He commands, we obey ... and we do so out of love for Him. However, His commands are not burdensome; indeed, they are very few: love God and love others -- and show it. To these commands I will give obedience to the best of my ability. As for loyalty and obedience to the commands of MEN, which these men have elevated to the level of divine law, I feel no such obligation. It is this that irritates people like John Waddey the most. It is not that we are disloyal or disobedient to the Lord (that's a smokescreen), it is that we are disloyal and disobedient to their party precepts and parameters. Progressives will bow before a Person (our Lord), but they will not bow before a pattern (your law).

John Waddey wrote, "Progressives want to extend the boundaries of Christ's kingdom to embrace those whom Christ has not included." No, John, we simply want to embrace those brethren whom the sectarians have excluded. Big difference! The Lord has set the boundaries for inclusion within His Family; it is not our place to move those lines one way or the other. Yes, some would move them outward to include almost everyone; others would move them inward to exclude almost everyone (except those within the circle of their own narrow fellowship). John declared, "Progressives extend membership to those who have been added to various denominational churches founded by men." No, John, progressives extend fellowship to those who have been added to the Lord. If an individual is in Christ Jesus (regardless of his or her faith-heritage), then that person is our spiritual sibling, and we will recognize them as such, even though they may have traditions that differ from ours. Thus, I have brethren who assemble in buildings with signs on the lawn that read Baptist, Christian Church, Methodist, Church of Christ, etc., etc. The universal One Body of Jesus Christ (His "church") is much vaster than any one religious group, or any faction thereof (see: Reflections #521 -- Drawing Lines of Fellowship: The Folly of Moving God's Boundary). In this same section, John wrote, "The Lord adds those who are saved to His church (Acts 2:47)" [the emphasis here was his]. This is a common fallacy based on the KJV's mistranslation of this verse, which I exposed in an early issue of Reflections -- Issue #9. The phrase "to the church" is an addition to the text by the KJV translators; it does not appear in the original Greek. Those being saved are actually added to the Lord, and all those "in Him" are, as a result, united in One Body. I pray that John will carefully examine this verse again as it was originally written.

Here is another sampling of Waddey wisdom: "Many progressives are eager to eliminate the name of Christ from their congregation. Such an exclusive name makes them uncomfortable." This makes it sound like they are ashamed of Jesus, and thus want no association with that name. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If there is any shame or embarrassment present, it is in the sectarianism often associated with certain legalistic, fundamentalist groups (such as our own), and, frankly, that perception by those outside these groups is often justified. Churches of Christ most definitely have gained a reputation as an isolationist and exclusivist group, and there are many of us who are seeking to overcome that old mindset and present our movement in a far more Christ-like way. Unfortunately, the name by which we are denominated in the religious world (Church of Christ) has, for many, a very negative stigma attached to it. Thus, there is some justification for abandoning denominational distinctives and simply characterizing ourselves as Christians, or as disciples of Jesus. It's not just our group, there are other denominations doing the same (some Baptist congregations, for example, are dropping the name Baptist from their signs and letterheads). This can actually be a good thing! After all, shouldn't we all seek to drop all such distinctives in the Body of Christ and simply be the unified Family of God? Whether Waddey realizes it or not, one can use the name of Christ in a factional manner (which I fear too many within my faith-heritage have done). I have tried to deal with this failing in the following Reflections, which I would urge John, and those who think like him, to carefully and prayerfully examine:

  1. Following the Fourth Faction -- Issue #542 -- August 2, 2012
  2. True Church, True Name -- Issue #536 -- June 22, 2012
  3. Sectarianism's C-ism Schism -- Issue #520 -- February 7, 2012
  4. A Rose By Any Other Name -- Issue #420 -- November 6, 2009

John opines, "Progressives love to claim they are Christ's true disciples, while ridiculing and demeaning His church." I don't know of any so-called progressives who ridicule and demean "His church." I, and others, have, however, ridiculed and demeaned the view that only one particular denomination, or some little faction thereof, IS "His church" in its entirety upon the face of the earth. That is indeed a ridiculous notion and deserves to be attacked. I love His church, but I have little respect for those sectarians who proclaim their own little group "His church," and who then condemn all other disciples of Christ to hell as godless apostates, simply because they are not within their particular party. It is no surprise, therefore, that Mr. Waddey ends his tirade by condemning all progressives to the "miserable chambers of hell." Brethren, it is unlikely that you or I will ever say or do anything that will change the way John Waddey feels (although I do pray God will perform a miracle within his heart). Nevertheless, there are countless precious souls standing on the sidelines watching the attitudes and actions of all concerned, and listening carefully to the debate between these various points of view. It is for them that we must continue to proclaim God's GRACE, and continue warning them against seeking to be justified by works of law. Lives are at stake, and we must stand firmly for that which saves, as opposed to that which enslaves.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Tennessee:

We have been studying women's roles in the church, and I can't tell you how much help your Reflections articles have been to me in clearing up what is being taught here! Yesterday's class was on "women must be silent." One of our elders said that this is "the law" (1 Cor. 14:34), and that women are to be in subjection to men. After all, "Adam was created first." And yet, women are allowed to sing and to talk in Bible class, but we are not allowed to pray. Why? This elder says that is "usurping authority" over men. You know, it's hard being a woman in "a man's world."

From a New Reader in Arkansas:

My name is ------, and I am from Little Rock, Arkansas. I have been familiar with some of your writings for several years now, just through doing some browsing on your web site, and also through your work which appears every month in New Wineskins magazine. Please add me to your mailing list for your weekly Reflections articles. Thank you!

From a Minister in Arizona:

I stumbled on to your web site last year and have been totally blessed by your research and your irenic spirit ever since. I am fourth generation within the heritage of the Churches of Christ (Non-Instrumental), and my major educational background is at Abilene Christian and Pepperdine. For the past 27 years I have served as a pastor to two evangelical type churches. You and I are neighbors, somewhat (as we are here in Arizona). I hope I might meet you in person soon and express my appreciation for your ministry. May God bless you!

From an Elder in Texas:

I was encouraged to read your article The Eldership of the Church in the April issue of New Wineskins magazine. I plan to share it with my fellow elder in our small congregation here in ------, Texas. I see it as a "How To" article, and though we try to be what we should, we sometimes feel guilty for the "baby steps" we find ourselves taking as leaders trying to balance our time with our families, our jobs and our church family. I'm sure that I'm not the only elder who feels these inadequacies, but with your "How To" article, you have not only given me encouragement, but also have given me a place to focus on improving. Keep up the good work with your words.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Another great essay in New Wineskins this month, Al ("The Eldership of the Church"), and one that should be required reading for those that hold the congregational position of elder. One of the leadership requirements in many secular organizations is to perform a personal evaluation of performance that is then submitted to a body of peers to be critiqued, and a plan for improvement then implemented. I believe that our congregations would be healthier and God-glorified by such a process.

From an Author in Florida:

Al, thank you so much for your Reflections. I have read and contemplated them all. I love you and your ministry of faith, hope and love. You are an example of our motto at Life Communications -- "Jesus Focused, Grace Oriented, Love Motivated."

From an Author in Alabama:

Your writings are such a blessing to me! I trust God will continue to use you to assist His people in dealing with so many issues that divide them.

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