by Al Maxey

Issue #578 ------- June 20, 2013
He who resists a mania may be trodden under
foot like any other heretic. There occur cases,
however, in which he wins by dissent. If he can
outlive the mania, he will probably gain at a
later time, when its folly is proved to all.

William Graham Sumner (1840-1910)

From Out of the Woodwork
Flurries of Furious Responses to My
Recent Reflections on Patternism

I truly love the various ministries to which our Father has called me. They have certainly made my journey through this life enjoyable and fulfilling, though at times it can also be frustrating and even exasperating. One thing I can definitely say: Ministering for the Lord is never boring! Over the years I have worked with (and continue to work with) some of the finest men, women and young people on the planet. Disciples of Christ Jesus can truly be awesome! On the other hand, I have also encountered some real jerks! Within the church, as in every other area of our journey through life, we daily discover both the best and the worst of our species. Our challenge: To show the love, mercy, kindness, compassion and grace of our Lord to both, something that is not always easy to do.

I probably invite more than my share of negative reaction due to the nature of the work I've been called to do, a rather significant part of which is to expose and oppose the type of behavior and thinking that has kept God's people in bondage to the traditions of men and thereby limited their awareness and acceptance of the blood-bought freedom graciously offered in Christ Jesus. Those who are deeply entrenched within this bondage are often quite fearful of my efforts to share with them the Good News of God's grace (specifically, they fear the repercussions of their captors if they "give ear" to and "give in" to such teaching), just as those who enslave them are often quite militant in their opposition to all who dare to question their party perceptions, precepts and practices. Raising certain "issues" is virtually guaranteed to generate a surge of snarling and snapping from the watchdogs. Such antics can most certainly lead to some uncomfortable ministry moments, as well as the contemplation that perhaps one's time and energy might be better spent sowing the seed on more fertile fields, while leaving these particular plants to wither and die in the dry, dusty dirt of their self-made, self-serving, spiritually sterile theology. Yes, there are times one must "shake the dust from one's feet," but this is hard to do when one genuinely cares about people and their eternal destiny (as well as the quality of their lives here and now).

One of the great fallacies that has deceived and enslaved disciples of Christ for centuries is the notion that God has scattered the particulars of some divine pattern within the pages of the NT canon, and that men must "search it out" and abide by it precisely in order to be eternally saved. Further, only those who have successfully perceived the particulars of this pattern (many of which must be deduced from what God didn't say within these writings), and who practice them without deviation, constitute the "one true church." Thus, the parameters of Christian fellowship are determined by patternistic particulars. Since few can agree on this list of particulars, however, fellowship is largely limited to those within one's own religious faction, with all others (who have different lists of patternistic particulars) being apostates bound straight for hell. What a mockery such teaching has made of the message of Grace!! Thus, I have devoted much of my life and ministry to exposing and opposing this heresy. In so doing, I have become the target of the hardened legalistic patternists, and their attacks have been fast and furious every time I've dared to raise this topic. Such has been the case following my last few articles. Not a single person sought to show from a logical, in-depth exegesis of Scripture where anything I wrote was false; rather, they simply declared me a heretic and reminded me of how hot hell was going to be. Frankly, I would rather see them take my statements one-by-one and refute them from the Word. This they have never done, or even attempted. It is all (and always) ad hominem in nature: "an argumentative reaction based on an appeal to the emotions and not reason or logic; an attack on an opponent's motives or character rather than the policy or position they maintain." In short, it is an assault on the man, not the message. Such persons have plenty to say about you, but very little to offer in refutation of that which you teach.

By way of a biblical example, Stephen dared to speak out for God's marvelous Grace, and against the imposition of humanly devised laws and traditions. This stirred up the legalists, who "could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke" (Acts 6:10). Therefore, they went after the man, rather than his teaching. They stirred up the people by spreading lies about him, and even persuaded others to lie about him (vs. 11-14). As Stephen made his defense before the Sanhedrin they became so furious that they "gnashed their teeth at him" (Acts 7:54), and "covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him" (vs. 57-58). If you can't stop the message, you stone the messenger. That they "covered their ears" is quite revealing. Such persons have no desire to actually hear truth; it is offensive to them -- indeed, it angers them. Taking on legalistic patternism, and the partyists who promote it and perpetuate it, can be a very dangerous endeavor, for you are literally taking on one of Satan's most effective tools for the religious enslavement of mankind. They will rarely, if ever, engage you in honest dialogue about their views with open Bibles and open minds. However, they will not hesitate to marginalize and malign you. Remember, though: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12).

The most effective tactic one can use against the legalistic patternists and their rigid theology is simply to ask them to produce a definitive list of the specific particulars of their pattern. They absolutely WILL NOT provide that list. I have been asking for almost 40 years, and have never had a single legalistic patternist provide THE LIST. In my last Reflections article I made a point of asking Hugh Fulford for this list. Notice the following paragraph from Reflections #577 -- Perturbation of a Patternist: A Review of a View by Hugh:

The same day I sent out the above issue of Reflections, in which I made the impassioned appeal to Hugh for the specifics of his salvific pattern, he wrote me back saying, "Thanks for the advance notice of your Reflections review of my essay. I have read it over once, and will read it another time or two. I do not plan to make any formal reply to it since such would not be convincing to you or your disciples." There you have it -- yet another refusal to provide the very list that these people claim one must follow precisely in order to be saved. Brethren, this reveals volumes about those who have embraced this false theology!! A minister who serves the Lord in Kentucky (and who, by-the-way, studied at Freed-Hardeman at the same time as Hugh, many years ago), was sent a copy of Hugh Fulford's article (which article I reviewed in my last Reflections) by a Ph.D. who lives in Texas (and also a dear friend of mine). This Kentucky minister wrote a review of Hugh's article and sent me a copy of it a couple of days ago. It was a rather lengthy, and very scholarly, review of what Hugh had written, and I really appreciated the final statement he made in that review, which appears below:

And therein lies the fatal flaw of legalistic patternism: they will never, ever provide that specific list of particulars. And yet, according to them, you can't truly be saved, and most certainly can't be in fellowship with them, unless you follow it faithfully. It seems, given the importance of this list, that they would be on every street corner passing it out to all who came near them! Instead, they get upset if you ask for it. Somethin' just ain't addin' up, folks!! But, these guys keep on preaching patternism, even though they have to perform some rather creative manipulation of Truth to promote their tradition. For example, a reader from Tennessee by the name of Edwin, wrote: "Yes, there is a pattern, though many don't understand it." He then went on to give this enlightened explanation of Paul's statement to the Ephesian brethren: "We are saved by grace (instructions) through faith (obedience)." I was rather stunned by this definition of these two terms, so wrote and asked him if he was serious. He responded that he was. Yes, God's grace = instructions (law, commands), and our faith = obedience (to said laws and instructions). In other words, what Paul really meant when he said that we are saved by grace through faith is that we are saved by obedience to law. Wow!! In subsequent emails to me he wrote, "Without obedience, grace does nothing." Also, "I hope you can see from my email this morning that grace demands obedience." So, God's grace is pretty much worthless; what counts is my own effort at "following the rules." But, what do you expect them to say?! After all, their theology teaches that salvation comes from perfect perception and practice of a pattern of particulars. Thus, divine grace is simply the fact that God gave a pattern (which we have to somehow deduce from the NT canon) and faith is simply the fact of faithfully following the pattern. What godless rubbish! But, hang on ... it gets even more bizarre than this!

I, as well as many others, have long contended that there IS a "pattern" to be perceived within the Scriptures, but that this "pattern" is a Person (Jesus), not a lengthy list of petty party particulars. The expectation of the Father is that we, His children, look like Him, and He sent His Son so that we might come to know what the divine nature looks like in human form and function. Or, as Jesus said, "If you've seem Me, you've seen the Father." Thus, with the help of the indwelling, empowering Holy Spirit, we are being daily transformed into the likeness of our Lord Jesus, who is truly our Pattern. The mistake of the legalistic patternists is that they seek to become "just like" the early church in its religious practice (the particulars of which we know precious little about, in reality). Notice my following statement, which appeared in my last Reflections:

The legalists, however, become quite irate whenever we declare JESUS to be the "pattern." They don't like this one bit, for it diminishes their theology of salvation by command-keeping. The same problem arose in the first century church: there were some who declared Jesus was okay up to a point, but genuine salvation came from keeping law. "Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: 'Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved'" (Acts 15:1). The book of Galatians was written largely to counter this very heresy (a book the legalists would do well to carefully consider -- see my following articles: Reflections #202 -- Epistle to the Galatians: Magna Charta of Christian Liberty and Reflections #215 -- Embracing Another Gospel: Analyzing Apostolic Authorial Intent in the Admonition of Galatians 1:6-9). Yes, we should follow Jesus, they would contend, but salvation and fellowship are blessings realized by means of compliance with customs and commands. Jesus isn't enough!!

Surely, there are no Christians who feel that way today! Right?!! Surely, not a single serious disciple of Christ would suggest that our Savior is insufficient! Think again!! The day after my last Reflections was published, Olan Hicks sent forth an article attacking mine. It was titled: "You Can Do Exactly What Jesus Did And Be Lost." That's right ... you read it correctly ... we can look and act just like Jesus, and be lost. Olan began his article with this statement: "Several prominent brethren are now preaching that the New Testament 'pattern for us to follow' is Jesus the man, not a doctrine. One of them, Al Maxey, writes, 'By seeking to formulate a pattern from the practice of early Christians (about which we know remarkably little), rather than recognizing Jesus Himself as our Pattern in how to reflect the divine nature in our daily lives, we have succeeded only in looking less like Him and more like the embittered, embattled world around us!'" Olan then asks his readers a question: "Now, what if we do as he suggests: look to 'Jesus Himself;' what will we find?" You guessed it. What we find is "that He lived His entire life under the law of Moses and kept that law perfectly." Thus, Jesus is our "pattern" for what?! That's right -- obedience to law. Olan suggests that for us to teach that salvation is in a Person, rather than in obedience to commands, constitutes "unbelievable ignorance," and that when we appear before the Throne for judgment we will hear, "Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23). Olan concludes by saying, "At that time Al will probably ask the Lord to give him 'a list of what the acceptable pattern consists of.' I am still praying that their eyes may be opened to the Scriptures before the time comes when the books are opened in judgment." Olan admits in his article: "Jesus is indeed set forth in Scripture as our exemplary pattern." What we "liberals" have failed to perceive, however (according to Olan), is that "Jesus is our example of obedience. THIS is the pattern for us." Obedience to what? Laws, commands, rules, regulations, etc.

Brethren, this is frightening! There are people actually teaching this out there!! What is worse: there are people believing it; swallowing this deadly poison spewed forth from the very pit of darkness itself. Paul characterized this a perversion of the gospel of Christ Jesus (Gal. 1:7), and he pronounced eternal condemnation (anathema) upon any who preached it (vs. 8-9). It is, in the words of Paul, a desertion of deity (vs. 6) for a deadly dogma. It is a forfeiture of freedom; a falling from grace; a severing from Christ (Gal. 5:4). It is evidence that one has been bewitched, which results in manifest foolishness of teaching and behavior (Gal. 3:1). This is serious, and this is precisely why I have devoted myself to this ministry of exposing and opposing such legalistic lunacy. May God give me strength to continue, and may more of you join this "good fight."

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Readers' Reflections

SPECIAL BOOK RELEASE -- A dear friend of mine, Steve Hemphill, and a longtime reader of these weekly Reflections, has released a new book that I think you will enjoy. It is titled My Search for Prayers Satan Hates. It is a 230 page book that lists for $17.99 (Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC). I was honored to be asked to write something that appears at the beginning of this book (along with a few other people such as Dr. Royce Money, Chancellor of Abilene Christian University and Dr. Edward Myers, a professor of Bible at Harding University). Steve has a powerful ministry that takes him across the country and around the world, and you can read more about this at his web site: Prayer Thoughts Ministry. If you would like further information on this powerful book, or on how to order a copy, just contact Steve at

From a New Reader in Brazil:

I have been very encouraged by reading your Reflections on your web site, and I would now like to begin receiving them by email each week. If it is possible, please subscribe my email address to your subscribers' list. Here in Brazil we also have problems with legalism being spread around the country.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

For some time now I have not been in a position where I was able to read your Reflections, but today I am beginning to catch up. Concerning your article (which I just read) titled "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], Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 1, in addition to the Paul, Peter and Apollos parties, a party that said they were "of Christ." It would seem they also have a sectarian, divisive spirit. I would be interested in your thoughts about that.

From a Minister in Georgia:

Your article "Perturbation of a Patternist" was great. Thanks for sharing. I do agree that Jesus should be the only pattern that we follow. It is interesting to think about the "pattern of worship" that I was taught at the East Tennessee School of Preaching. While I agree with some of the things I learned, there are many that I no longer agree with (for example: the argument from the silence of the Scriptures against the instrument). I have always found it interesting that we pick and choose from all over the Bible in order to find our doctrine. Yet, the "pattern" of the early church that was established on the day of Pentecost was Jesus and Jesus alone. If we can learn to love God with all our heart, mind, body and soul, and make Him number one in our lives, and also love our neighbor as we love ourselves, why would we need a man-made pattern?! The "pattern" is right before our eyes in the Gospels; it is not found in picking and choosing verses throughout the Bible (and often taking those verses out of context to make them fit our preconceived pattern).

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Thank you so much for this article. I was a member of the most legalistic faction of the Church of Christ for many years. I could never understand why there were constant divisions and only those who agreed with "the approved pattern" were "faithful" followers of Jesus. You have helped me so much over the past few years with your writings!!

From a Reader in Texas:

So well-stated, brother (your studies on patternism). Thank you for explaining this so well. May our Father above continue to bless you richly.

From an Author in Texas:

The question seems to be this: Are we under obligation to copy everything the first saints did? I think not. We are under grace, not under law. We are saved by reason of God's wondrous grace through faith, and not by compliance to law-keeping. This is, I think, the very hardest thing for the works-oriented legalists to grasp. It simply does not make sense to them that God would choose to save His creation by such an easy (free) way. The Galatians were "bewitched" in this way.

From a Minister in California:

Your recent Reflections were a Home Run!! Clear as the nose on your face. And yet, the greatest news of all time -- the amazing grace of God through Jesus -- is traded in by too many for nebulous human rules and regulations! So sad! Keep writing, preaching and loving, Al. You are a bright light to so many!!

From a Reader in California:

Those manmade "patterns" do nothing but give people a false sense of security (i.e., if they are doing all the perceived "right stuff" then there will be a place in heaven for them ... maybe ... they don't know for sure, but they're a-hopin' ... as long as their worship style, singing, three-songs-and-a-prayer, etc. never vary, and it's all "scrip-shurl"). This is such a superficial "faith" ... one that is never challenged or developed more deeply so as to know their freedom in Christ. They are just doing, not being ... and so they just don't "get it." Keep ringing out the message, my brother. You are making a difference!

From a Reader in Alaska:

You've heard me say this before, but I like the way you include in your writings biblical "meta-narrative" (big picture themes) like: (1) John 5:39-40, which hints at bibliolatry [using Scripture as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end], (2) the way you recapped several "just as" qualitative principles that indeed are to be our pattern [though not in the cookie-cutter approach some concoct, but more like timeless goals or precepts], (3) unambiguous warnings about using God's Word for human purposes [not God's purposes], and (4) the paradigm shift between Old and New that Hebrews outlines. By debunking neo-Levitical approaches, you offer instead the more excellent way that Jesus embodies. In my view, you don't just take the less informed to task by pointing out where they've strayed, you try to show them the more excellent way. Somehow I suspect your "agenda" is to give God the glory (by helping others understand God's Word better) rather than trying to become a celebrity-Christian. May our Lord be your strength! Keep on keepin' on!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

21st century Pharisees face the same dilemma as 1st century Pharisees: either choose the new freedom found only in Christ and be condemned by their brothers, or defend their church tradition of legalistic bondage in order to maintain approval and religious status. Today's Pharisees are using the debate over a "pattern" in an attempt to postpone the inevitable discussion about hypocrisy, specifically in the way they apply the pseudo-sacred CENI method to seek the pattern and defend their required doctrines. As Jesus made clear, the deeper issues are of the heart. The former Pharisee Paul said that none of us have the right to judge and divide believers, or to set personal boundaries for disciples who live in the freedom for which Christ died. I love my father [NOTE: his father is a well-known minister/writer in the ultra-conservative non-institutional wing of the Churches of Christ, and a vocal critic of my own work -- Al Maxey], even though he and my mother have "withdrawn" from my wife and me over these sorts of issues! Loyalty to Christ versus loyalty to religious tradition: it seems like an easy choice, yet making the right decision has consequences. As Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his own household" (Matthew 10:34-36). Jesus paid an infinite price for our freedom. We should treasure and defend it in faith and with love.

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