A mosquito is "any one of a large group of two-winged insects, the females of which have skin-piercing mouth parts they use to extract blood from animals, including man; some varieties are carriers of certain diseases, such as malaria and yellow fever" (Webster's New World Dictionary). In other words, these are annoying little blood-sucking pests that in some cases have the ability to cause great suffering and even death to countless innocent victims. Not a very pretty picture!
About three weeks ago I received an email, addressed both to F. LaGard Smith and me, from a preacher in Alabama who has long been an outspoken critic of my ministry. He forwarded to us a modified version of an article written by John Waddey (a preacher in Arizona and editor of Christianity: Then and Now), who has also been very vocal in his opposition to my efforts at responsible reform among God's people, entitled: The Parable of the Mosquito. The focus of this piece is on a "terrible spiritual virus that is being spread among Christians." This horrific virus, with its attendant misery, is being carried by those who "look and seem harmless enough," but who are "circulating among us like that mosquito." We are informed that "they have successfully infected a large number of young men .... and scores of churches are already infected."
What exactly is this deadly disease being spread in epidemic proportions by these malicious, marauding mosquitoes from the dark depths of the abyss? The writer declares, "The disease they are carrying is called 'Change.'" This prospect has filled the hearts of some with such absolute terror that they are even writing books about it in the hope of eradicating this "evil disease" from the land. One such book, which I bought recently while on vacation, is a 324 page examination by William Woodson of Change Agents and Churches of Christ: A Study in Contemporary Problems with Change Agents among Churches of Christ.
As one can clearly see, this is a serious matter to these concerned men and women. It is their firm belief that CHANGE is a deadly disease being spread among the members of the church like a plague, and that it will result in countless spiritual deaths. Indeed, the article stresses: "So drastic are the changes proposed that any congregation that embraces and follows them to their logical end will no longer be the Body of Christ." If that is true, then these are "drastic changes" indeed! So, what are they? The author of the article declares, "the symptoms are easily discerned," so let's take a look at several of these "easily discerned" symptoms of this deadly viral disease.
ONE: "A loss of respect for the authority of the Bible in the life of the Church." I would agree that this is not a good thing! It is a mistake, however, to arrogantly assume that because some brethren may have differing interpretations and convictions from your own that they have thereby lost respect for the authority of the Bible in the life of the Lord's church. Being different does not necessarily equate to being diseased. It is the epitome of religious arrogance to assume one's own convictions to be honest and insightful, while at the same time assuming those who differ with those convictions to be dishonest deceivers intent only upon the destruction of the church. I personally believe most of my critics have just as much love for the Lord and respect for His Word as I do; we have simply, and honestly, come to differing conclusions and convictions with regard to various matters pertaining to the life of the church. This should never become the cause for separation from brethren or schism and division in the church. I believe there is room for significant diversity in the One Body in most matters; we don't have to be clones of one another. You don't have to be my twin to be my brother.
TWO: "A refusal to recognize the law of silence that forbids us to go beyond what is written." In previous issues of these Reflections (issues 12-16), which I would encourage everyone to read again, I have dealt extensively with the so-called "law of silence," a man-made hermeneutical device that not even its proponents consistently or rationally apply to the task of biblical interpretation and application (they themselves embrace many practices that "go beyond what is written," but which they rationalize away by declaring them to be "expedients." And yet, one man's expedient is another man's digression). Yes, I believe we do need to seriously rethink and reevaluate our movement's flawed CENI (command, example, necessary inference) hermeneutic, along with some of its attendant tenets such as this so-called "law of silence." It is indeed time, and past time, for responsible reform with regard to our approach to biblical interpretation.
THREE: "Victims are restless and bored with the worship Christ ordained, and crave entertainment and sensual excitement. Singing praises to God with the sacred hymns of the past is unpleasant for victims. They demand new songs." Interestingly, the same was said of those "insidious innovators" who pushed for four-part harmony, song books, shaped notes, PA systems, air-conditioning/heaters, padded pews, indoor toilets, and other "luxuries and extravagancies" designed solely to "entertain the body rather than edify the soul." One does not have to be fossilized culturally to engage in spiritual worship. Genuine worship transcends the various cultural and traditional expressions of past generations and is relevant in expression to God's people wherever and whenever they may be found. Whether we chant in a monotone or lift our voices in four-part harmony, God is worshipped. Whether we sing the "old favorites" or the more contemporary hymns, God is worshipped. Whether we clap our hands or sit on them, God is worshipped. Just remember --- the worship style you may regard as "Christ ordained" was at one time most likely considered by your forefathers as "sensual." True worship is timeless; it is of the heart!! Thus, it transcends the externals and the peripherals of differing worship styles.
FOUR: "They feel a strong urge to reach out and fellowship denominational people and their activities." The only "urge" I have is for UNITY with ALL of my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, wherever they may be found. Wherever my Father has a son or daughter, I have a brother or sister. I don't want to be like the "elder brother" in the Lord's parable who stood outside the father's house, angry and alone, because his pride wouldn't allow him to enjoy sweet fellowship with his brother (Luke 15:25f). I will fellowship my brethren .... all of them .... and offer no apology for doing so! As my Associate Minister likes to say of himself, "I am a grace-oriented, Christ-centered, non-sectarian." I consider myself the same. I have absolutely ZERO tolerance for the factional mindset. Neither did the apostle Paul. "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11). I oppose all attempts to denominationalize or dismember the One Body. It is abhorrent, and I shall speak out against it all my days. It is time to break down all the shameful sectarian, factional walls and partitions, and simply be FAMILY. I will fellowship as family all my brothers and sisters in Christ, not just those few found behind the walls of a particular sect or faction. If such thinking is "diseased," then bring it on .... and may it reach epidemic proportions throughout the world!
FIVE: "Their spiritual appetite for the Lord's Supper flags and they find it necessary to turn it into a common meal for their bellies." I don't know of anyone who, due to loss of interest in the Lord's Supper, has sought to turn it into a "common meal" for the purpose of stuffing their faces and filling their bellies. I would love to see a list of congregations that have actually done this. I can assure the reader that this is not my desire or goal, nor is it the desire of any other "mosquito" with whom I'm acquainted. What some disciples have done, however, is simply go back to the "pattern" of the early church and celebrate the Lord's Supper in connection with a "love feast" .... just as they did. One would think the legalistic patternists would be thrilled that these so-called "agents of change" were only seeking change that returned to the biblical "pattern" of the early church!! Isn't this exactly what they have been demanding of us for years?! Why then are they upset when some do it?! Go figure.
SIX: "When the Book of God says, 'by works a man is justified and not by faith only' (James 2:24), the words are scrambled in their minds and come out 'a man is justified by faith alone without works.'" Again, I don't know of any so-called "change agents" who maintain that we are saved by faith ALONE. I do know discerning brethren, however, who quote the apostle Paul, who said, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). One's faith, to be efficacious, must be visible; it must be clearly demonstrated. That is all James was saying in his epistle. He and Paul do not disagree. There is no meritorious work man can perform that has any impact upon his justification or salvation. However, neither will a passive, undemonstrated faith. Thus, according to the teaching of James, we SHOW our faith by our active RESPONSE of faith. Such things as repentance and confession and immersion are merely responses of and demonstrations of our FAITH. They are not "works" that save, but rather visible manifestations of a faith that responds to the free gift of grace. Many of us have long been vilified as proclaimers of salvation by faith ALONE. That is simply not true, and it is time these critics got their facts straight!
SEVEN: "The change in their spiritual personality is pronounced. They dislike their own spiritual ancestors and embrace those who despise the church of which they are members." Again, this is absolute nonsense. Those of us who are encouraging responsible reform and change among the people of God have the highest respect and love for our forefathers in the faith. We also recognize, however, that they were mere fallible men, as we all are; they made mistakes, just as we all do. We respect these men, but we do not revere them. Our reverence is reserved for the Lord. Thus, we will always elevate Truth over tradition, to the great discomfort of those bound more to the latter than the former. As for embracing those who despise the church --- never! It should be noted by these critics, and noted well, that one can call for responsible reformation of the church without thereby becoming a despiser of the church. Indeed, it is our great LOVE for the Body of Christ that leads us to call for responsible change. And, yes, we embrace those who likewise seek the ultimate good of the Body. Those who truly despise the church and seek its destruction are no friends of ours; they will not be embraced by us. It seems to me, however, that it is those who fragment the church into warring factions over their various perceptions of some elusive "pattern" who far more resemble the above pejorative ("despisers") than those who actively seek unity IN JESUS amidst diversity among disciples. Just a thought for further reflection!
Although the article lists several other "symptoms," I think we all get the idea. The writer sums up his piece with this charge to the church: "This viral infection can only be brought under control by isolating those infected and not allowing the carriers into the pulpits and classrooms of congregations. Students should shun schools where this disease is breeding, lest they too be infected. Any coming from a church or school that is infected should be carefully examined before being accepted into the fellowship of a congregation. Be warned what one promoter of change can do to your congregation."
And thus they continue to build the walls of exclusion ever higher around themselves and their disciples. After reading this article sent to brother F. LaGard and me, I think I have a better appreciation of what our Lord must have felt after His many confrontations with the Pharisees. Saddened and sickened .... and yet determined! We have our work cut out for us. There are those who would return the people of God to slavery. They must be opposed, and I vow to spend the rest of my life doing just that .... regardless of any personal consequences suffered at the hands of those who oppose this effort at responsible reform. Our freedom was purchased at great cost --- the blood of Christ. That is too precious a gift to surrender to those who prefer the chains of bondage. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1).
From a Preacher in New Mexico:
Greetings from Albuquerque! I enjoy reading your Reflections, Al. I don't always agree (especially on the "what happens to the dead" series of articles), but that is all right. We have both been born from above and are serving the same Lord. Seems to me that makes us brothers!
Your article on One Flock - One Shepherd was good. Rubel Shelly has a new book called "The Jesus Proposal." If you haven't read it, you need to. Good stuff. He makes the obvious proposal that unity is in Christ, not in some kind of doctrinal or liturgical uniformity. But then he makes a distinction between denominationalism (which he says is "inevitable") and sectarianism (which he says is abominable). Get the book -- you'll enjoy it.
From a Reader in Virginia:
I don't consider myself to be a member who judges and condemns folks for not being a member of the Church of Christ. The Churches of Christ are not cults. We are merely Bible believing people. I apologize to Dr. Kathy Reichs for her past encounters with Church of Christ members who possessed a hard-core extremist point of view. We all know that every group has them.
From a Preacher in Missouri:
Concerning Reflections #55 -- "The Lord's Supper: Perceiving Its Purpose" -- all I have to say is: this was deep! The way you go into details to "give the sense of the reading" is a spiritual experience for me. One more thing, Al -- I know that many are divided over the cup issue. I learned that the tray and cups were invented and patented on March 6, 1894 by a J. G. Thomas. I believe that the authority for that came not from the Lord. I believe that God's way has been departed from. Some seem to believe that how men observe the Lord's Supper is a liberty. Whether one cup, 2 cups, etc. Before 1994 I had no concern whatsoever how they did it where I was; it never entered my thoughts. Now it is important because I understand what the Bible says. So, for me, I choose to use one cup. I don't believe in the separatist view --- hating others who are not a part of your group. However, I care about doing things the Lord's way when it comes to this communion. I appreciate you dearly, Al Maxey. I thank God for you, and I hope to make other people think ... like you do me. God Bless!
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Excellent writing. Much time has been spent worrying about "being in the right," and not enough time has been spent showing people the Savior. A story was recently shared with me --- A man is confused and hurting. He goes to the door of a church building. "Reverend, I need a little help." The man in the church office says, "No one is reverend but God. Do not call me that." The confused man says, "Well, uh, Pastor, I really need some help." The man in the church office says, "One has to be married and have his house in order to be called 'Pastor.' I am not married." The confused man says, "Sir, I need help from your church." The man in the church office says, "It is not my church!" The man seeking help leaves, even more confused than before .... and without having heard the gospel, and without having been helped. Our focus on what I call "matters of opinion" has hurt the body of Christ. We are sinning in that area. As a group of believers we need to recognize that the lost are lost, and not worry if they get their words right. I believe the quote "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love" is very appropriate.
Thank you for a chance to sound off ... though I know I was preaching to the choir. It is my sincere hope that I am qualified to be a dissenter. Thanks again, Al ... good thinking. Keep pointing us to the Savior and we'll all make it home.
From a Preacher in Lubbock, Texas:
Dear Apostate Al, I would not accuse you of being a racist or of believing that man evolved from a monkey, but, Apostate Al, you make a monkey out of yourself in just about everything you write. You lack hermeneutical skill and the ability to correctly use logic. In virtually every article you write, you prove that you do not know one thing about sound biblical exegesis. What one sees in your Reflections is sophistry, distortion of the truth, eisegesis, and the desire to be "different" --- all "reflections" of an ignorant (or dishonest), attention craving apostate. Apostate Al, I do not know whether to laugh at you, or feel sorry for you. In any case, I will pray for you and for those who might follow your screwball poppycock.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
I just happened upon your website and have found it to be very educational. When I retired from the Saudi Arabian Oil Company on April 30, 1993, we travelled home on an extended vacation with stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, Honolulu, and several spots in the U. S. We attended church at the Honolulu church during that time. I see that you were preaching there at that time. The lesson was on Grace. At that time I was still firmly entrenched in the legalistic positions of the mainstream church. I told my wife that the sermon could have easily been preached in a Baptist church. We left immediately following the lesson without speaking to anyone. Since that time I have studied myself out of those positions, and would probably find your lesson to be quite appropriate. Just out of curiosity, could that preacher have been you?
From a Reader in Oregon:
Dear Brother Al, I agree with you that the "young earth" proponents have a tendency to bend over backwards to prove their theory, just as much so as the evolutionists do in an effort to prove theirs. "The Science of God," by Gerald L. Schroeder, I think goes a long way to reconcile the Genesis account with quantum physics, and while it doesn't necessarily mean that it's absolutely correct, it does make for a strong argument against the "young earth." I don't have a problem with someone who takes the Genesis account at face value, but I do believe that a complete disregard for theories that probe the depths of Creation does a great disservice of our Lord's Word. Volumes can be written trying to explain a parable of Jesus and what the "real" meaning of His story may have been, yet, singularly it seems, when it comes to Genesis, it's almost taboo among believers today to even consider the possibility that it is not literal. Sometimes I have to stand in amazement of this and want to reply, "What if Jesus' parable of the sower was really just about farming?" The heavens and earth exist because of our Creator and they continue to exist because of the laws that He built into the system. I feel that we as finite creatures will never fully comprehend those laws, but to completely disregard that they exist undermines God's infinite wisdom. As for me, the science that substantiates "old earth" is also the science that might eventually realize the Genesis Creation account. Just the realization that our latest scientific thought is on the brink of agreement with Genesis, a text that was written thousands of years ago, fills me with that much more awe and praise for the Word of God.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
When we retired to our farm and began attending the church, I found it to be a rural and rather backward group of people. I hasten to add they are great people, and I love every one of them. However, many of their statements, made out of ignorance, caused me to start asking questions until I came to an entirely different interpretation of the Scriptures. God does move in mysterious ways, doesn't He?
I was most interested in your Responsive Letter to Stafford North, whom I know personally. I had seen his article in the Christian Chronicle and had been searching for an answer. You have stated it quite clearly. I assume that you would agree that the "commandments" to sing are very general and lack a great deal of specificity. Stafford also admits this in his article. A preacher from West Virginia named Fred Peatross has a book out in which he takes the position that God is very clear on what pleases and displeases Him. He says that God is not capricious, and He would not condemn someone to eternal punishment for violating some silent and assumed commandment. God, being a just God, would not do this, and I agree with his position.
I have also read your Study on the KJV, and found it to be very enlightening. I'm looking forward to more learning from your website. Please add my name to your mailing list for Reflections.
From a Reader in Texas:
Where can I obtain a copy of your book for my sister-in-law who has suffered for years as a battered wife and stayed with her abusive husband mainly because of twisted religious teaching? She has left her husband, but is going through the expected turmoil of guilt and doubt. She is starting to see the light and I believe your book would be very helpful at this difficult time in her life.
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