Issue #586 -------
August 22, 2013
Baptism has always been a compound act
absorbing cultural patterns into itself: it
has taken on definite shape in various
cultures, shaping those cultures in turn.
Dr. Aidan Kavanagh (1929-2006)
The Shape of Baptism
In my previous issue of Reflections (Issue #585, which, by the way, none of my AOL subscribers received in their email boxes, as AOL refused to deliver it because, according to the "bounce" messages I got back, I was mailing out a "dirty" email to a large group of people -- yes, the title was "The Dirty Dozen of Ephesus," so in their view it was an email that had a "dirty word" in the title -- good grief) I discussed a dozen disciples in the city of Ephesus who had an encounter with the apostle Paul which resulted in a conversation about their awareness of the completed work of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Some, such as Hugh Fulford (whom I mentioned in the article), see this event recorded in Acts 19:1-7 as validation of the view that if one's baptism is "wrong," then such a person must "make a second trip to the water and 'get it exactly right'!" It is Hugh's belief that "anyone receiving John's baptism after it was no longer valid had to be baptized again." The point in time Hugh believes that previous baptism in water became invalid was at Pentecost, and those who were baptized with "John's baptism" after that point in time were baptized "wrong," and they therefore had to "make a second trip to the water and 'get it exactly right'!" For those who have not read my examination of these twelve disciples in Ephesus, I would strongly recommend that they read my previous Reflections before moving on to a consideration of the thoughts below, as what follows builds upon that article and some of the insights contained therein. [NOTE: This is not the only time I have challenged Hugh's views regarding timing matters associated with one's salvation. For example, Hugh also had, in my estimation, a rather strange conviction regarding another conversion account in Acts; see: Reflections #503 -- "The 'Belief After Baptism' Doctrine: Sectarian Sacramentalism & the Philippian Jailer."]
After I sent out my last Reflections, I had an email exchange with Hugh Fulford about our differing views on this matter. As always, Hugh was very respectful and gracious in sharing his thoughts and concerns, yet very adamant in his convictions, which I greatly admire and respect. Hugh and I most definitely do not see eye-to-eye on a number of things, but I applaud his efforts to differ with someone without being disagreeable and contentious. In that respect, he is an example for us all. In my previous article I had pointed out that there is no evidence that either Apollos or the Twelve apostles or even the 120 upper room disciples were ever rebaptized. The NT writings are utterly silent on that matter. This certainly does not mean that they were not "baptized into the name of Jesus," they may very well have been (and I personally think it is very likely that they were), but one cannot escape the fact that the NT writings say absolutely nothing about any such baptism for these people. Therefore, at best, we can only make assumptions, and, as anyone who has studied hermeneutics knows, divine Truth can never be established on the basis of human assumption, therefore no doctrine regarding either salvation or fellowship may be imposed upon the church which is drawn from the deductions of disciples (no matter how reasonable those deductions, inferences and assumptions may seem). One cannot simply assume something to be true and then insert that assumption into the text as a truth upon which to base a theology (such a practice is nothing other than eisegesis rather than exegesis). Yes, we all make such assumptions in our study of the biblical text, and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when we elevate these assumptions to the level of fact/truth, and then seek to impose them upon others.
For example: it is my assumption that the apostles, the 120 upper room disciples, and Apollos were probably immersed in water as a visible testimony to their faith in the accomplished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Can I prove this from the NT writings? No. These writings say nothing about it. Is my assumption logical? I believe it is. However, since it cannot be verified as fact, I have no right to try and impose it as Truth. Nor do I have the right to build some theology pertaining to baptism around such an assumption. I may formulate my own convictions on the matter based on these studied assumptions, but I may not demand that others agree with me, nor may I challenge another's salvation because they differ with me on this. As fallible beings, we are all fallible in our understandings. Thus, no man has the right or authority to demand that others must bow to his beliefs, even if we believe with all our hearts that said beliefs are true. ALL that I may urge others to obey is that which the Lord has clearly commanded in the Word, and which He has clearly connected to salvation (and that is NOT a lengthy list).
Hugh Fulford has a much different view than the one I have given above. It is his assumption that some of those listed above were baptized with the baptism of John before Pentecost, and thus did not need to be "baptized into Christ," but that others of those listed above were baptized with the baptism of John after Pentecost, and thus were required to be "baptized into Christ." The twelve disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7), Hugh believes, "apparently had received John's baptism after Pentecost" [email dated Aug. 15, 2013, 8:17 a.m.], which means, Hugh says, their previous baptism was received "after it was no longer valid" [ibid]. Therefore, they had to "make a second trip to the water and 'get it exactly right'!" On the other hand, such a "trip to the water" was NOT necessary for those disciples who experienced John's baptism prior to Pentecost, says Hugh. "Yes, it is my view that the apostles, Apollos, the 120, etc. had received a valid baptism (John's) before Pentecost and did not need to be 'rebaptized' after Pentecost" [ibid]. In other words, here is a large body of believers who were exempt from "baptism into Christ" because their Johannine baptism carried over and counted. I must admit that I had not heard this view before Hugh presented it to me. The more common assumption within our faith-heritage (at least by those who believe the rite of baptism to be sacramental in nature) is that since one HAS to be baptized to be saved, these 120 upper room disciples, the apostles, and Apollos HAD to have been "baptized into Christ," or they would all have been cast into hell. Thus, even though the NT writings are utterly silent about any such immersion, it MUST be assumed as FACT, for they could not be saved otherwise. Hugh's assumption is a radical twist on this -- yes, they had to be baptized, but John's baptism counted: its efficacy carried over; it was "grandfathered in."
In legal terminology, a "grandfather clause" in some legal document is "a provision that exempts those already involved in a regulated activity from the new regulations established." Since John's baptism was "a baptism of repentance, a confession of sin and of the need of moral cleansing, and was a symbol of forgiveness and of moral purity" [The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 418 ... Mark 1:4 says John was preaching and practicing "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins"], and since the medium employed was water, it is perceived as sufficient in itself to stand in the place of the subsequent "baptism into Christ." Those who submitted to this baptism under the old covenant would thus be exempt from the "regulation" of the new covenant with regard to the "new baptism." The previous baptism was "grandfathered in." I am not aware of any reputable or well-known biblical scholars who have taken this view, although I don't doubt there may be some (if Hugh is aware of any, I would respectfully ask that he please share their identity with me; I would love to see how they validate their view).
Hugh's theory raises some questions that beg to be answered. To his credit, he acknowledges (in the previously cited email), "Admittedly, the case of Apollos and the related case of the 12 men in Ephesus raises some questions to which none of us probably have all the answers." This is certainly true. One question that comes to mind is: how does one reconcile this view of these two efficacious baptisms with Paul's assertion that there is "one baptism" (Eph. 4:5)? Is the former (Johannine baptism) absorbed into the latter (Christian baptism) by means of grandfathering? And where, anywhere within the NT writings, do we find provision made for such a process of grandfathering so as to provide exemption from a new covenant command?
Here's another question: just how do we know that the dozen disciples in Ephesus were baptized with John's baptism AFTER Pentecost? And further, just how do we know that the apostles, the 120 upper room disciples, and Apollos were baptized BEFORE Pentecost? Do we even know for sure that the apostles, the 120, and Apollos actually WERE baptized with John's baptism? Is there any passage that declares this? The reality is -- these are ALL assumptions. They may be true; they may be false; they may be partially true. We just don't know! Yes, we know that some of the Twelve apostles were disciples of John before Jesus called them, thus it is logical to assume they were likely baptized by John, but were all of the Twelve formerly disciples of John? What about the 120 upper room disciples? We don't even know the identity of the vast majority of these people, much less whether they received the baptism of John. There is just too much we don't know about these people and their circumstances to make such assumptions and assertions.
In seeking to justify his view that the apostles, in particular, were submissive to the baptism of John prior to Pentecost, Hugh wrote to me, "Al, you might want to reflect on Luke 7:30. I think it inconceivable that Jesus would choose as His apostles those who had rejected the counsel of God" [email dated Aug. 14, 2013, 2:31 p.m.]. In Luke 7:29-30, Luke adds a parenthetical statement of explanation to our Lord's discourse to the people (after the departure of the delegation from John) in which he explains the significant disparity in response between those coming as genuine seekers of truth and those who were rigid religionists coming only to find something to criticize. "All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John" (Luke 7:29-30, NIV). It should be noted that the two words I highlighted in this passage do NOT appear in the text; they have been added, and in so doing somewhat change the meaning, making it seem that the acceptance or rejection of God's will and purpose is centered in baptism. This mistake is made in a number of versions, not just the NIV. The Pulpit Commentary rightly observes, "The English Version here is not happy, and might lead to a false conception" [vol. 16, Luke: pt. 1, p. 175]. The real difference between the two groups is not in whether or not they "got to the water," but in how willing their hearts were to receive by faith the message presented. One crowd believed, and they demonstrated that belief in a visible act; the other crowd did not believe. If one doesn't believe the message, one will not respond to it positively. Submitting to John's baptism was a testimony of faith in John's message; the Pharisees and experts in law did not believe what he preached, so naturally were not about to testify to such belief. They weren't rebuked for not being baptized, but for not believing!!
The working assumption of Hugh here seems to be that those disciples who never experienced the baptism of John must, in every case, be faithless persons who had obstinately rejected God's will and purpose for their lives. Thus, since the apostles had not rejected God's will and purpose for their lives, nor had Apollos and the 120, they MUST have submitted to John's baptism. This view, however, assumes that ALL the apostles had heard the preaching of John and had submitted to his baptism prior to Jesus calling them. Yes, we know some of them were disciples of John prior to their calling, but do we KNOW that ALL of them were? Can we say with absolute certainty that ALL of them had submitted to the baptism of John, or that they had even heard John's message? No, we can't. And we most certainly can NOT say this of the 120 upper room disciples. Luke 7:29-30 is an important passage, no question -- but it has no bearing whatsoever on this discussion, for there is ZERO evidence that all of the apostles and all of the 120 disciples had even heard the preaching of John, much less submitted to his baptism as a testimony of faith in that preaching about God's will and purpose for them. Hugh is producing assumptions built upon assumptions to prove assumptions. Not a sound hermeneutical practice by anyone's estimation.
The problem we face today, of course, is that some regard the rite of water baptism as a sacrament. I know, I know ... they get really perturbed with me when I point this out, and they vehemently deny it, but when they insist that the precise point of salvation is baptism, and that no one can be saved who is NOT baptized, and that it must be done "right" for it to count, that is a sacramental view of baptism. Indeed, in his new issue of Hugh's News & Views, which I received by email on Tuesday, August 20, Hugh stated, "Twelve men in Ephesus who had been baptized with the outdated baptism of John the Baptist had to make a second trip to the water and get their baptism right. ... Clearly, it is at the point of baptism that one actually enters into Christ." When one takes such a view of baptism, one dare NOT leave a group of people mentioned in the NT writings in the "realm of uncertainty" (biblical silence) with respect to this rite. They HAD to be baptized, and if we can't get them to the water after Pentecost, then we'll grandfather in their baptism before Pentecost -- BUT, get them to the water WE WILL, one way or the other. Frankly, one has to wonder, in light of such teaching: whatever happened to grace and faith? These seem to be left by the wayside, if not outright trampled, in the rush of ritualists to the nearest river.
There is something else I believe Hugh is overlooking here, and which, in my opinion, argues against the grandfathering in of John's baptism. The baptism of John (as well as his preaching) was largely preparatory and anticipatory in nature: it was a forward look to One who was to come and take away the sin of the world. The baptism following Pentecost, however, was a look back at the accomplished work of the One who had already come and who had already taken away the sin of the world. If both baptisms are largely evidentiary in nature, a visible testimony of our faith, the former only testifies to a hope, whereas the latter testifies to a reality! Yes, if baptism is regarded as a sacrament whereby God confers the grace of salvation, then I suppose one dunking in water could work as well as another dunking in water. However, if our baptism is a testimony of faith in something, how can a testimony of an expectation ever suffice for a testimony of an accomplished fact?! I believe this is precisely the reason Paul was concerned about the level of understanding of the twelve disciples in Ephesus: they had demonstrated their conviction that the Messiah was coming, but they were unaware of His coming, or that the gift of the Spirit had been given. Thus, their Johannine baptism (regardless of whether it was before or after Pentecost) was an insufficient testimony in light of the accomplished work of Christ Jesus. Their faith needed to be expanded to include His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, and the giving of the Spirit. It is to this, and the eternal significance of these loving acts of grace, that faith testifies in the new dispensation baptism. How could the Johannine faith-testimony ever suffice for the Christian faith-testimony?! Did the apostles, the 120 upper room disciples, and Apollos ever make such a faith-testimony? I believe it is logical to assume they did. But, if by chance they did not, then we can certainly detect evidence of this public testimony of faith in the accomplished work of Jesus Christ through their lives, teaching, example, etc. What our Lord has called for is for us to evidence our faith in His accomplished work and its salvific benefit for those of us who accept it by faith, and this we do in baptism, as a participatory, reflective recreation of His death, burial and resurrection. May God help us to see the beauty of this visible demonstration, and may we cease tarnishing it by trying to make it into something it was never intended to be.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Enclosed is my check for your audio CD Law to Liberty: "Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ." Although I grew up going to a "mainline" Church of Christ, and was a member of one as an adult for several years, I am now a member of the United Methodist Church, and serve as a lay minister, which is a part-time, unpaid, substitute preacher. I don't know if you are familiar with the work of John Wesley, but I have found it to be, at least in plea, similar to that of the Restoration Movement. If you are familiar with him, I was wondering if you could briefly comment on the doctrine of "Prevenient Grace." Thank you!
Yes, I am very familiar with the work of John and Charles Wesley. In fact, in
Reflections #517, I dealt with a theological dispute between John Wesley and
Augustus Toplady over some of the tenets of Arminianism, a theology contrary in many ways to that of John Calvin, and a theology embraced by
Wesley, but not by Toplady (who wrote the hymn "Rock of Ages" as somewhat of an attack against Wesley's views). John Wesley believed, as I
do, that God's grace is a free gift to mankind; it cannot be earned. God provides us with three kinds of grace: Prevenient (preparing),
Accepting (justifying), and Sustaining (sanctifying). "Prevenient" is an archaic word signifying "to come before." It is that
measure of grace (or "spark of grace") that God places in the heart of every man for the purpose of preparing that heart to receive Him and His Truth.
No man comes to God on his own, but is drawn by God, Wesley believed. Such was the purpose of this "Prevenient Grace" -- it was to draw people
to God, although, unlike the Calvinists, Wesley believed it could be resisted (the Calvinists taught "Irresistible Grace"). God's calling and offer
of salvation in the atoning work of His Son was also universal, as opposed to the Calvinistic view of Limited Atonement (He called only a select
few: the elect).
A favorite passage of those who embrace "Prevenient Grace" is John 6:44 -- "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent
Me draws him." The other two aspects of grace deal with one's conversion and subsequent walk with the Lord: grace
to convert and confess one's faith, and grace to commit to a life of following after and serving Him. Although Wesley characterized the third aspect
of grace as "sustaining," he nevertheless (contrary to the tenets of Calvinism) believed one could, subsequent to conversion, "fall from grace"
(or "backslide"). Thomas Oden, in his book "The Transforming Power of Grace," wrote, "Prevening grace antecedes human
responsiveness so as to prepare the soul for the effective hearing of the redeeming Word. This preceding grace draws persons closer to God,
lessens their blindness to divine remedies, strengthens their will to accept revealed truth, and enables repentance. Only when sinners are
assisted by prevenient grace can they begin to yield their hearts to cooperation with subsequent forms of grace." Frankly, I believe there is
much to commend this view of grace by the learned theologian John Wesley.
A favorite passage of those who embrace "Prevenient Grace" is John 6:44 -- "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." The other two aspects of grace deal with one's conversion and subsequent walk with the Lord: grace to convert and confess one's faith, and grace to commit to a life of following after and serving Him. Although Wesley characterized the third aspect of grace as "sustaining," he nevertheless (contrary to the tenets of Calvinism) believed one could, subsequent to conversion, "fall from grace" (or "backslide"). Thomas Oden, in his book "The Transforming Power of Grace," wrote, "Prevening grace antecedes human responsiveness so as to prepare the soul for the effective hearing of the redeeming Word. This preceding grace draws persons closer to God, lessens their blindness to divine remedies, strengthens their will to accept revealed truth, and enables repentance. Only when sinners are assisted by prevenient grace can they begin to yield their hearts to cooperation with subsequent forms of grace." Frankly, I believe there is much to commend this view of grace by the learned theologian John Wesley.-- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
Your Reflections article "The 'Dirty Dozen' of Ephesus" (Issue #585) was EXCELLENT!! I like the way you clarify the text and identify the key message without diminishing the significant moment of one's declaration of faith by baptism. No, it is not a sacrament, nor does it save us, but it is a special moment in the life of any true believer, and you have consistently maintained your respect for that special moment.
From an Elder in South Carolina:
I have used this passage (Acts 19:1-7) over the years when interviewing men for the position of pulpit minister. I mention that these twelve men were called "disciples," and that they were looked upon as friends, not enemies. Their willingness to accept and respond to more up-to-date information (as provided by Paul) was admirable. In view of this passage, I ask potential ministers how they view others in Christendom. Do they see them as enemies or as friends? My view is that they, just like we, may have incomplete or incorrect knowledge, but that they are still sincere, submissive and penitent believers. Rather than making judgments about them, we should let the Lord do that one day. Instead, I view them as friends, not enemies, and desire to share with them my understanding of the truth. That is how I would hope our ministers would view other open-minded folks who are believers and who demonstrate their faith on a daily basis, yet who do not have our understanding. In this short passage I think everything is important, both baptism into Christ and reception of the Holy Spirit. But most of all I see that these disciples were greeted as friends and not enemies, and that is what I take away from this passage.
From an Author in Louisiana:
I have noticed that the link to your new Reflections has been up for over ten hours on several church Facebook sites, and yet there have been no comments except for one. I'm learning that lots of these so-called "progressive" preachers are none too happy with your views on baptism (I agree with your views, by the way). I think one reason for their silence is that they are reluctant to engage you on your views because what you write is so well-documented with Scripture. I too have written extensively about baptism being a symbol, just as the Lord's Supper is, and have also had very few comments. Interesting, huh?!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
I have come a long way in a short time by reading your Reflections. In fact, I have read a lot of them these past several weeks. I still have one gap that I am trying to fill. While I don't think the exact moment of salvation is important in the least, as you point out, being obedient is important, or at least the intent of being obedient is important (the state of one's heart). That "gap" of which I speak comes from the passage that points to baptism as "washing away sins." Can we be saved if our sins are still "on" us, not yet having been washed away during the act of baptism? Also, with respect to this "gap," can we be saved if we aren't clothed with Christ which comes at baptism? Obviously, this doesn't have to do with any special or unusual circumstances such as deathbed issues.
This reader, in the phrasing of his questions pertaining to his "gap" in understanding, reveals a couple of traditional assumptions which I do not believe are consistent with a reasoned exegesis of the passages to which he alludes. These are very common misunderstandings, in my opinion, and I held to them for many years before finally realizing that they had far more to do with tradition than Truth. First, he stated that our sins are washed away "during the act of baptism." I believe this may well be a serious misreading and misapplication of what is actually being taught in Acts 22:16. I referred this reader to my article on this verse in Reflections #507 -- "Wash Away Your Sins: A Reflective Study of Acts 22:16." Second, this reader stated that we must be clothed with Christ, "which comes at baptism." Again, I believe we may have seriously misunderstood the intent of Paul in Galatians 3:27. I referred this reader to a couple of my studies with regard to this matter: Reflections #353 -- "Immersed by One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:13" and Reflections #362 -- "Putting On Jesus Christ: An Examination of Romans 13:14." In both of these articles, although Galatians 3:27 is not the primary text examined in either study, I nevertheless seek to provide some exegetical insight into what Paul may have had in mind with respect to the concept of being clothed with Christ, and how that is accomplished. I pray that these studies will help the reader to perceive what I believe to be a far more rational and biblically consistent view than the one traditionally proclaimed in those segments of Christendom that have a tendency toward sacramentalism, rather than symbolism, with regard to baptism. -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in New Mexico:
We've all heard about circumcision of the heart, but we almost never hear about immersion (baptism) of the heart. Why not?! John taught us that God is Spirit. That's a good understanding to have when reading 1 Cor. 12:13, as it helps us to recognize that the immersion specified there is a spiritual, rather than a physical, one. Spiritual immersion into Christ is symbolized by washing in the waters of physical baptism. Keep up the good work!
From an Author in Nevada:
Thanks for a very good article ("The 'Dirty Dozen' of Ephesus"). It is anti-legalism all the way! Your following statement from that article says it all: "By making baptism the central focus of Acts 19:1-7, I believe we miss the message being conveyed in that passage! The real focus of the passage is the working of the Holy Spirit, who was not sent forth until the Son ascended to the Father. Thus, when these twelve men indicated they had no awareness that the Spirit had been given, this indicated also that they had no awareness of the full extent of the ministry of the Messiah, who had indeed now come, had given His life on the cross, had arisen, had ascended, and had sent forth the Spirit."
From a Minister in Texas:
"The 'Dirty Dozen' of Ephesus" was an excellent article, Al. I have studied and pondered this text (Acts 19:1-7) myself, and I agree with your assessment of it. I was in a discussion with a "the Holy Spirit does NOT work today" preacher a few years ago who has an even different view of this text in Acts 19. He sees the Holy Spirit as completely irrelevant to the discussion of this text. I found it astounding that he would try to explain away the Holy Spirit's part and influence within that text. Just as perplexing and amazing is that these same people ignore the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38-39, which it seems, if taken to its logical conclusion, suggests that they practice a "baptism of John" in our modern times: one for repentance, but without acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit. Very ironic.
From a Reader in Texas:
Our preacher just concluded a series of lessons concerning the recent decision by the Elders of the Heritage Church of Christ in the Dallas area to add a Sunday p.m. instrumental service. Our congregation is quite conservative, so the sermons were an attempt to condemn their decision to introduce instruments into their worship service. Throughout the series, the sermons were littered with the usual "proof-texts" that many think prove that instruments in worship are sinful. One of these verses, although unrelated to worship, has been quoted for years to loosely support the Regulative Principle -- Revelation 22:18-19, which threatens anyone with severe punishment if they add to or take away from "the words of this prophecy." I would like to think that most would acknowledge that the phrase "words of this prophecy" limits the punishment to those who tamper with the book of Revelation. Sadly, I'm afraid that there are actually some who see this verse as pertaining to the entire NT canon (if not the entire Bible). In the context of the recent sermon series on the Heritage congregation, our preacher was basically saying that adding instruments to a "worship service" is just like adding to the book of prophecy, and thus by extension to all of the Holy Scriptures. Isn't this itself adding to Scripture (putting words into the mouth of God that He never said)? Our young preacher is sincere and zealous, but I feel, like so many others, simply does not possess independence of thought. All of our Sunday School class materials, for example, are published by and purchased exclusively from Truth Bookstore. They simply won't read any authors with differing thoughts. I would like your thoughts on this matter when you get time. Thanks, brother.
I dealt with that passage near the end of the book of Revelation, as well as other passages (from both OT and NT) which promote the same principle of respect for the inspired written Word of God, in Reflections #269 -- "Shouting Above the Silence: Reflective Review & Rebuttal of The Spiritual Sword's Stand on Silence." I believe the principles discussed therein will prove helpful in refuting the teaching that concerned this reader. The fact that his preacher draws heavily from resources derived from Truth Bookstore is also quite revealing, for this bookstore is an arm of Truth Magazine, and both are works of the ultra-legalistic Non-Institutional wing (what used to be called the "Anti's") of the Churches of Christ. As for the preacher in question attempting to link the statement in Revelation to the condemnation of musical instruments in worship, I encouraged the reader to share my following article with this preacher (and I would sincerely love to hear his response to that article): Reflections #297 -- "Holding Harps of God: Singers Singing & Harpers Harping Redemption's Sweet Song." -- Al Maxey
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