by Al Maxey

Issue #591 ------- September 27, 2013
Men have lost sight of distant horizons.
Nobody writes for humanity, for civilization;
they write for their country, their sect; to
amuse their friends or annoy their enemies.

Norman Douglas (1868-1952)

Special Guest Reflections
"Distinguishing Differences"
by Neal Griffin of Helotes, TX

One of the genuine joys of my Reflections ministry has been getting to know a great many truly devoted disciples of Christ throughout the world, and to witness an increasing number of struggling saints growing in their knowledge of grace and in their appreciation of the freedom they have in Christ Jesus. Over the years, many have written to share the details of their spiritual journeys from law to liberty, from tradition to Truth, and from religion to relationship. These victories in the lives of both individual disciples and even, in some cases, entire congregations of believers have demonstrated the power of God's Spirit at work in receptive hearts and minds. Each week I receive several such testimonies from around the world, all of which motivate me to continue the work God has called me to do, and through which He is touching lives and effecting change.

Several times during the years in which I have published these weekly Reflections I have asked certain individuals to write a guest article that I could share with the readers. I have not done this often, but now and then I feel a particular individual has something that would truly uplift and challenge the people of God, and so I try to give such people a platform where their reflections can be heard by a larger number of people than they might normally reach. For example, in Reflections #242 (March 31, 2006) I shared the insights of a doctor in Alabama on the subject of patternism. In Reflections #271 (October 23, 2006) my mother, Mary Maxey, was featured. I shared the text of a presentation she made to a Ladies Bible Class in Cortez, Colorado. I shared the personal testimony of a One Cup preacher in the Churches of Christ, who now preaches for the Christian Church, and how he has moved from legalism to grace, in Reflections #464 (November 11, 2010). And then in Reflections #495 (July 27, 2011) Dr. Barry Perryman shared some marvelous insights on the question of "Who is my brother?" Barry also has done me the honor of writing the Foreword to my third book, "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice," for which I am truly grateful.

In this current issue of my Reflections I would like to introduce you to Neal Griffin of Helotes, Texas. He recently shared with me an article he had written that, after reflecting upon, I wanted to pass along to my readers. I contacted Neal and asked if he would give me permission to feature this article, and identify him as its author, in an issue of Reflections. He graciously agreed. Also, he shared the following personal comments regarding his own journey of discovery: "The journey I've been on since the fifties has been a glorious trip into the grace of God. It all started when I began to read the writings of Carl Ketcherside and several others in The Examiner. Before this, I was a legalist in the truest sense of the word, but since I have discovered grace my ministry has been focused on freeing as many as possible from the bondage of legalism and sectarianism and introducing them to the freedom that is in Christ Jesus. Legalism prevents the seekers of salvation from experiencing the joy that should characterize following Jesus. Such publications as The Examiner, Ensign, and Integrity have, in the past, used some of my articles. Thanks for all your encouragement, Al, and I am flattered by your request to use this article. Your brother and servant by reason of Calvary, Neal Griffin." Below is the article he gave me permission to share with you. If you would like to respond to Neal, his email address is:

Distinguishing Differences
by Neal Griffin

Of the three hundred plus denominated religious organizations in the United States, there are at least three hundred distinguishing differences among them. It would be tiring to list them, especially since there are so many within each major denomination. Within the Baptist denomination, for example, there are the Southern Baptists, the Bible Baptists, the Hard Shell Baptists, the Independent Baptists, and the Primitive Baptists, to name a few. Similar examples can be drawn for all of the major denominations. It is reported that there are twelve distinctly different Churches of Christ, all of which are exclusive, and all of which claim to be the one true church of the New Testament. So, when you consider the numerous differences within only the major denominations, it is easy to understand how there can be at least three hundred.

God is not the author of confusion, as you know, so we can accurately rule out at least two hundred ninety-nine of them as being the true church. And, since God never assigned a proper noun name to His called out people, we can safely rule out the remaining one. The New Testament does not record the name of a single, God approved, denominated religious organization.

If men could allow one another to be different, there would be no need for denominated religious organizations. If it were not for brethren wishing to distinguish themselves from other brethren, there would have been no schisms at Corinth. If men were content to promote only Christ and Him crucified, there would be no need for denominated religious organizations of any kind. If men did not have inordinate needs to be exclusive, there would be no schisms at all. If men did not have inordinate desires to hold positions of authority, there would be no religious hierarchies. There would be no need for massive cathedrals, since God dwells not in temples made with hands. His dwelling place is in the hearts of born again Christians. In the name of religion, billions are spent annually on the construction and maintenance of infrequently used cathedrals. None of this extravagant waste would exist if men could allow their brethren to be different.

Being distinguishable from other brethren was not an important issue to the first Christians. The only distinction made between congregations was in reference to location. This is definitely not the case with today's religionists. We can imagine the differences that must have existed between the Gentile converts and the Jewish Christians. They were worlds apart in attitudes, traditions, and customs, yet they made no attempt to segregate themselves. In the sole example, where Jews tried to force their traditions on the Gentiles, they were overruled. But today, we see, among the denominated religious organizations, provision made for "white only" brethren, for "one cup only" brethren, "no instrument" brethren, and "no Bible classes" brethren. These schisms represent tears in the precious body of Jesus. These schisms are glaring testimonials to the fact that Satan has a divisive foothold in the hearts of many "would-be" Christians.

Distinguishing differences are expected in the human family. Even between identical twins there are distinguishing differences both in their DNA profiles and in their fingerprints. There are sometimes great differences between family members, but this does not cause them to quit being in the family. No one ever presumes to disallow a family member simply because he is different, and neither should anyone presume to disallow a member of God's spiritual family because he is different. God allows His children, in both creations, to be different. In like manner, we should not allow our love for brethren to be hindered by differences in matters not related to salvation by grace through faith.

The crux of it all is that divisive men have focused on their distinguishing differences, and exalted their conclusions in such secondary matters, to the point where they have created rifts in the body. They have built exclusive parties around their conclusions. This is heresy. It elevates men's conclusions to Gospel status. Truly, when men teach as doctrine the commandments of men, they put themselves in God's position, and God will tolerate no competition. Dear reader, you can see the dangerous implication of this. All such parties will be brought down, and all divisive participants in those parties "shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven." Read it for yourself in Galatians 5:19-21. This presents a very gloomy picture for today's hodgepodge of denominated religious organizations.

Is there any hope? Yes. There is a grand conclusion around which we can all rally. There is one great truth that can unite us all. There is one supreme pattern that is perfect. That grand conclusion is that Jesus is the Son of God. That great truth is that He died to cleanse us of our sins. That supreme pattern is the Person of Jesus the Christ. He is the manifestation of the love of God, and therein lies the solution to the problem of distinguishing differences between brethren and their resulting heresies. We must love one another more than we love our distinguishing differences.

Brethren, I call on us all, in the name of Jesus, to put aside our petty squabbles. I call on every divisive one of us to let our love for Jesus and for one another outweigh our regard for our distinguishing differences in matters not related to the Faith. I call on us to repent of our divisive stances on the so-called "issues" which have pitted brother against brother, and which have shown to the doubting world that we do not love one another as we should. I call on us to allow one another to have different opinions and conclusions without stirring up strife and division. I call on all of the divisive pulpiteers who fan the fires of division to stop it. Stop it now! I call on my brethren to stop parading their party banners; to allow Jesus to be our only banner; to let Him be our focus and pattern. I call on us all, in the precious name of Jesus, to let the love of God reign in our hearts, to accept one another as Christ accepted us (without regard for individual differences) to the glory of God, and so preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Please consider these thoughts. I believe them to be in keeping with the Word.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Georgia:

I was just reading Reflections #583 ("The Definitive Church Exam") and came across the question in the Readers' Reflections section from the individual in Tennessee who was seeking the name of a noted preacher from many years ago who was "plain-spoken to a fault, but quite humorous." Although someone else has probably already given you this information, I know who that was. It was J. D. Tant. He visited the church in Georgia where my husband and I started our married life many, many years ago and came to dinner with us. My biscuits were homemade, and I grant you that I was a novice cook at the time, but didn't feel I deserved his well-meant comment, "I always did like brown biscuits!"

From a Reader in San Juan, Puerto Rico:

I searched for a faithful church for a very long time, and finally discovered the Churches of Christ via the Internet. I have been a member now since 2007. I have been sincerely studying the Bible ever since. Lately, I have been asking a lot of questions during Bible class on Sundays. Since then, the leaders have been giving me the "cold shoulder" and viewing me with suspicion, saying, "You just need to study the Word more and get a better understanding." I found the web site Faith Facts, where you and your work are mentioned, which then led me to you. After studying this information, I have not stopped sobbing, and truly feel hurt and betrayed by the legalistic mindset here. I have visited several other congregations in the area, but they ALL appear to be extremely legalistic. I'm now considering going back to a Baptist Church. May God bless you, and thank you for your insights. By the way, yesterday I listened online to your sermon If I Were Preaching My Final Sermon. It was truly a blessing!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

What are we "hardline" Church of Christers going to do with 2 Chronicles 5 and Psalm 150?! God is an unchanging God. If He liked instrumental music then, He likes instrumental music now. I really believe we need to stop trying to imitate the early disciples and concentrate instead on imitating Christ Jesus.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Enclosed you will find a check for your CD Law to Liberty: Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ, and also for your CD set on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. Thank you for your wonderful ministry. I look forward each week to your newest Reflections.

From a Reader in Toronto, Canada:

One of your readers from New Mexico wrote (in the last Readers' Reflections), "I have always wondered about the casting of lots to pick a replacement for Judas. I've never really felt good about that." It could be that Peter and the good brethren in Acts 1:15f "jumped the gun." After all, Matthias is never mentioned again. The symbolic 12th man of God's choosing would seem to be Paul, who was chosen in God's timing, not their timing.

From a Reader in Georgia:

As I was reading your latest Reflections, I noticed once again how well you are able to break down a passage in Scripture so as to reveal what the author was attempting to communicate. And you do this not just with your own personal wisdom alone, but with the added support of documented quotes from well-respected theologians and commentators. I then began to appreciate just how unique this is within Churches of Christ -- i.e., to read something that someone outside the Churches of Christ has written. It hasn't been that long ago that it was rather taboo to read any "denominational" author, even though most Church of Christ writings back then were mostly stale regurgitation of tradition. It is still rare "among US," and very much appreciated, when authors like you present varying thoughts and well-presented and biblical challenges to long held dogma and tradition for us to consider. Were it not for this age of instant communication and the Internet, many people would never have the benefit of any opposing thought. I believe you have been prepared and raised up for just such a time as this! Keep up the good work.

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