Issue #595 -------
October 25, 2013
If I know your sect,
I anticipate your argument.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Challenging "sacred cows" is guaranteed to elicit an immediate, and often rather strong, response from those who cherish them. One who dares to place beloved traditions and convictions on the examination table for intense scrutiny in light of God's Word and our God-given common sense will inevitably find himself vilified for doing so by those who have elevated those traditions and convictions to the status of absolute Truth. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the noted English essayist, biographer and cultural critic, made the following very personal, yet honest, observation, "Every man who attacks my belief diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy; and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy." Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), a well-known British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian and social critic, in a television interview on the BBC in London in 1959, noted, "When a man tells you that something you've always believed is in fact not true, it gives you a frightful shock ... and you get into a terror." Those who are fearful often flee, and what they often flee from is Truth! Cowering in the caves of their cherished, yet calcified, convictions, they hide themselves away from anyone who might challenge them to carefully and prayerfully examine those convictions, and they attack without mercy any who come too near their secluded sanctuary.
Thus, I was only too aware that my recent Reflections would likely generate a flurry of fury from those whose doctrinal comfort zones had been disturbed. Arousing their ire was not my intent, but I knew it would be an inevitable consequence of daring to proclaim Truth over tradition to those disciples blinded by the latter to the liberating light of the former. As expected, the militant leaders of the misled wasted no time unleashing a frontal assault against my article and me. It consisted of the construction of additional "straw men" designed to further misdirect and mislead those who might be "tainted" by my teaching. Leading this pack, sadly, is one with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship (Psalm 55:12-14, 20-21), and for whom I still pray daily. The very next day, following the release of my last Reflections article on October 17, Olan Hicks sent out a response to his mailing list. That response was titled "Does the Church of Christ Consist of Denominations?" (October 18). [Special Offer: For those who are not on Olan's mailing list, and who would perhaps like a copy of this article, I will email one to any person who requests it. Or, you can contact Olan himself for a copy at email@example.com.]
Olan writes, "Al Maxey, ... in Reflections #594, reaches an unbelievable level of inconsistency and confusion about this subject. He spends the first three paragraphs accusing brethren of misrepresenting him when they say he is trying to make the church of Christ out to be a denomination. ... But then he spends the entire rest of the article saying exactly that. ... Men like Al Maxey are trying to lead people to despise the idea of holding to the original undenominational Gospel message." When I look at these statements I am tempted to wonder if this man actually read the same article I wrote!! HOW could someone read what I wrote with any degree of discernment and come up with such outrageous conclusions as to my teaching?! And yet, having been raised among those of this mindset, and having sought to refute it for many years now, I know only too well what causes such persons to make these false assumptions. They are incapable of discerning a distinction between the universal One Body of Christ and the group found in the Yellow Pages under the heading "Church of Christ." They have been indoctrinated all their lives to believe that the two are, in reality, one and the same.
We ALL fully agree that the One Body of Christ Jesus (His "one church" consisting of ALL who are in relationship with Him) is NOT, nor has it ever been, just one of many denominations or sects or factions. There is only ONE called out body of believers, and all who have responded to that call of grace by faith are members of that universal One Body. To "denominationalize" it would be to cheapen it and tarnish it; I am utterly opposed to any such effort, and always have been. On the other hand, I see many, many groups of disciples (some of whom may, in fact, individually be part of that One Body), most of which have been formed around various personalities or practices or theological preferences and perceptions, that truly have become denominational and institutional in nature. To suggest that somehow the historical group made up of congregations known as "Churches of Christ" has managed to rise above this tendency is an assertion that is simply inconsistent with the facts. Our group has just as many "denominational markers" as any other group, and in some cases more. The universal One Body of Christ Jesus, however, is not made up of groups, but of individuals. It's not about being in the right religion, but about being in the right relationship. If we are "in Him," we are in the One Body ... and this reality is in no way negated by or conditional upon our various associations with other disciples who assemble to worship according to a certain style or who gather to work according to a particular preference. These latter groupings are largely just gatherings of disciples of Christ who share certain traditions, and by taking on various designators they convey their traditional preferences. No single group IS the One Body of Christ universal in its entirety on the planet, but each group may well contain individual disciples of Christ who ARE within that One Body. The only way this becomes "confusing" is when some seek to EQUATE the two, as Hugh and Olan (and those like them) have done. THIS is why Olan can't seem to grasp how Al Maxey says in one breath that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is NOT a religious denomination, and yet can say in the next breath that the group known as "Church of Christ" IS one. I'm talking about two distinct entities. So, why is Olan confused? Because he sees them as one and the same entity. Therein lies the problem.
In a separate email to me (dated October 19), and to a minister in California who has been friends to both of us for many years, Olan declares, "Al insists throughout that there is no such thing as the 'one true church' that we can find and be a member of." Again, this is a ridiculous accusation (a true "straw man"). The obvious implication in Olan's statement is: there indeed IS a church that is easily identifiable in any given community as "the one true church," and that church, of course, is OUR church (Church of Christ). My point is that the Lord's One Church is found throughout the world, and is easily identified in the lives of those who are living in relationship with the Lord. The "one true church" does not exist in any one specific building or gathering place, but exists in the hearts of His people wherever they may be!! How will I know when I find such people? They will look like HIM!! If we're looking for a group that looks like ME, then we may need to resort to the Yellow Pages.
I want to applaud the above mentioned minister from California, who wrote the following to Olan (and sent me a copy of what he wrote, and who also told me that I was free to use any of it in preparation for this issue of Reflections, and that I could share any of it with my readers): "Olan, Al is right. Surely you can see it when he says we are members of the 'body of Christ' as Christians. But, to equate our movement and what little splintered elements are left of it as 'the body of Christ' is to be as arrogant as the Baptists are, who also claim such. The body of Christ is not a denomination, that is understood. But, are you purporting to say that the body of Christ IS this splintered movement, fomented in pioneer America, with the exclusive title 'Church of Christ'? Please tell me you are not saying that!" Sadly, I think that is exactly what Olan and Hugh Fulford are saying, which is precisely why they are so confused and upset by my teaching. This minister from California, in responding to the article sent out by Olan (referred to above), a copy of which he sent to me, wrote the following to Olan: "Olan, we have bigger fish to fry than splitting hairs over what you see as 'heresy.' I agree with the quote above from Al. I hope that doesn't mean you will now start marking me as a 'heretic' and thus become enemies. The world is dying without Jesus. We can't even keep our own children in the body, and we are pushing and shoving each other over things like this?! It distresses me. I am not intending to minimize your concerns, for I know they seem huge in your mind. But what can justify this kind of wasted time and behavior? I don't see Al saying Jesus included denominationalism in the plan. Surely Jesus and the apostle Paul were aware of sectarianism, which can be seen in Paul's writings. Our movement (where was the Church of Christ -- big C -- before the Campbell's came to America?), which you seem to want to keep pristine and not even closely identified with 'denominationalism,' is about as sectarian as most any movement of the past 400 years. How many sectarian splinter groups do we have in our own little movement of less than 250 years of age? You have even come out of the 'one cuppers' yourself."
NOTE: the quote this brother referred to above, which was from my previous Reflections article, and with which he agreed (although Olan cited it as proof of my heresy), is -- "MY goal, brethren, is to destroy the divisiveness of dogmatic distinctives imposed as salvific markers and promote unity among ALL God's children. This doesn't mean we can't continue to cherish our traditions and meet with like-minded disciples. What it means is that we cease castigating those who differ with us, and instead extend to them the right hand of fellowship."
The minister from California, in his letter to Olan, continued: "I don't think for a moment Al is encouraging 'hatred for people,' as you suggested above. I think that is a low blow, and you should apologize to him for such an accusation. ... Al knows what the body of Christ is. You know what it is. I know what it is. It isn't a tiny, wee, little flock exclusively with the proper name 'Church of Christ' on the sign out front." Amen, brother! This is such a simple distinction, yet some seemingly can't perceive it. Thus, they are confused, conflicted, and, frankly, angry! Rather than attacking the messenger, however, why not instead take a deep breath, find a cool, quiet place, and reexamine the message! As a perfect example of this, consider my following exchange on Facebook with a preacher from Arkansas who read my previous issue of Reflections and had some concerns and questions. This illustrates that when brethren communicate in love and respect for one another, quite often the confusion is removed.
Arkansas Minister -- When you speak of a "wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement" and a "historical group known as 'Churches of Christ,'" such a concept is larger than a local congregation, yet smaller than the universal body of Christ. Is that not a denomination by definition (or at least by the way we commonly use the term)? I struggle with the terminology myself, because we often speak of "churches of Christ" as a collective. But, as you know, no such confederation exists except it be in the loose sense of shared traditions, and even those vary greatly from one congregation to another. By lumping "us" all together as a sub-group of the whole body of believers, isn't that the denominating that Hugh Fulford is accusing you of? Or am I missing something?
My Reply -- I freely, and often, acknowledge that the historical group "designated" as "Church of Christ" is a "denominated" group of disciples with a shared religious tradition. They are thus, by any sense of the term, a "denomination." I have not made them this (as Hugh charges); it is just what they are. What Hugh Fulford accuses is: progressives are seeking to move the universal One Body toward denominational status. That is untrue (a "straw man"). Hugh's major failing, as I sought to illustrate in my article, and which can be detected time and again in his writings, is that he equates the universal One Body with the historical group, with its own particular traditions and practices, known as "Church of Christ." For this reason, he believes that when I point out the denominational nature of our own historical group, I am thereby "denominating" the One Body universal. They are not one and the same, however. That is where Hugh misses the point.
Arkansas Minister -- I'm sorry you had to explain again the main point of your article. I guess I need to read Hugh's posts to understand what he was accusing you of. I am aware of the type of faulty reasoning you're referring to: that of saying the Church of Christ (universal) is made up of the "Churches of Christ" (as a collective). I disagree with that as well. I agree that the universal body is made of all the saved of all time, wherever they may be. But I don't consider myself a member of some association of churches of Christ either (your de facto argument notwithstanding). I think I see it differently from both you and Hugh.
My Reply -- What I said in my article was that my "membership" (if I can use that term) is not in some institutionalized religious organization or association, but it is in the One Body universal (as is true of all genuine believers), although I "associate" with those disciples, in work and worship (traditions), who are of the particular faith-heritage known as "Churches of Christ." Perhaps this clears it up.
Arkansas Minister -- Yes, I think it does. This subject can be very convoluted because of the various concepts we have for "church."
I am convinced that when sincere disciples of Christ are willing to display attitudes of personal honesty with their own cherished convictions, and an attitude of respect for those fellow disciples who may differ with them on any number of perceptions and practices, they can learn to accept one another in sweet fellowship within One Body without the need to try and force their preferences upon one another. Peace and harmony can reign within the universal Family of God if His children will simply love one another, rather than seeking to lord it over one another. It is okay to be different. You don't have to be my twin to be my brother! It is also okay for disciples who share similar preferences with regard to matters such as worship style to assemble together to express the devotion of their hearts in a way that uplifts and encourages those present. However we may choose to designate or denominate such gatherings in no way suggests that these little groups themselves are exclusively that One Body universal. They are simply local gatherings of like-minded disciples. The One Body of Christ Jesus (universal) is made up of individual disciples the world over who may choose to gather in groupings of other like-minded disciples for the purpose of facilitating the work of the Lord and worship of Him and encouragement of one another. Sadly, these groups of disciples have frequently chosen to organize and institutionalize themselves to such an extent that they become distinctive religions, and when that happens they most often begin to assume for themselves an arrogance that in time proclaims their group TO BE exclusively the "one true church."
Sadly, I believe the Stone-Campbell Movement, even though that was not the original intent of its early leaders, has become just such a religious denomination. Yes, there are a number of congregations (and a great number of individual disciples) who have seen through this fallacy and are returning to simply being God's children, and I applaud them for this. Many, to make the point, are even removing the name "Church of Christ" from the sign on their buildings, and simply stating that "Christians Meet Here." That is awesome! However, this does not change the fact that "our group" has, like so many other groupings of disciples who have rallied around certain preferences and practices, become a denominated religious institution. It is THIS I have sought to call the attention of my brethren to, and to plead with them to break down these walls of exclusion (erected around party preferences and practices), so that we might extend the right hand of fellowship to our many spiritual siblings similarly sidetracked by the laws and creeds of other religious institutions. I truly long for the day when ALL of God's children, regardless of their traditional associations, can acknowledge and accept one another as FAMILY, rather than accusing and assaulting one another as FACTIONS.
From a Reader in Arizona:
Earlier this morning I forwarded to you a link to a two minute video on YouTube. It is a spoof on intentionally shallow small groups. I believe churches everywhere, up and down the alphabet of churches, should view this humorous video in order to move them toward more authentic gatherings, both small and large, where sins are confessed and life-changing prayers are offered. You could easily call attention to this video and provide its link in a future Reflections.
This is an awesome video (Click Here to View), and I urge you to check it out. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alaska:
I think I told you, when we came to worship with you and had lunch together a few months ago, that my husband and I now worship with a "community" church group known as Wasilla Bible Church. Recently, they have started recording the Sunday meetings and placing them on YouTube (Click Here for a listing of these services). I cannot recall a sermon by Larry Kroon that I could find fault with for not adhering to the Bible's teachings! I just wanted to write and give you this link to another minister who, like you, is willing to continue looking for God's Truth versus man's. I hear a lot from his preaching and teaching that reminds me of your writings. May God bless you and Shelly.
From a Minister in New York:
Now this ("Sectarian Straw Man Strategy: Fleeing from an Inconvenient Truth" -- Reflections #594) is one article that I can agree with almost in its entirety! Well-said with regard to "Aunt Sally" (straw men arguments). The one baptism of Scripture unites us to the universal Body of Christ, NOT to the Churches of Christ (as denominated).
From a Reader in Texas:
I think some of us get caught up in the idea of fellowship being like immediate family with small children. Perhaps we wouldn't think we all had to be in the same building if we thought of fellowship in terms of immediate family with grown children (who have their own households). The same would apply to extended families. We still have the same love and respect for one another; we are still family ... yet we don't feel the need to be under the same roof.
From a Reader in Florida:
AMEN!! Thank you so much, Al, for this outstanding article on "straw man" strategy!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
I agree with your analysis in "Sectarian Straw Man Strategy," as per usual. I consider local congregations that do not bear the name "Church of Christ" as also being simply a local congregation of the Lord's Church. We, where I attend, are a church of Christ; we are not the church of Christ. "Our" brethren seem to have a very unique definition of the word "denomination." MY dictionary defines it as: "a religious group with a particular religious belief." Under that definition, and others that are worded similarly, "we" are one, meeting almost every (if not all) characteristic of every definition.
From an Author in Nevada:
The "Church of Christ" is a denomination. It waddles and quacks and flies like a denomination. It has a distinctive name, doctrine, practice, and is listed along with all the other denominations in the Yellow Pages of any city phone book. It is an institution with its own authority. It has a distinctive creed, and since it is unwritten it is all the more dangerous. It has a patterned doctrinal system, distinctive vocabulary and worship liturgy. Bro. Maxey, your analysis in your Reflections is spot on. Ed Harrell wrote an excellent article 25 years ago titled, "The Emergence of the Church of Christ Denomination." His words are even more true today, to be placed alongside Lynn Anderson's earlier and similar analysis. Your able response to the "Reader from Texas" in the readers' response section of your October 17 issue of Reflections is a superb Reader's Digest style condensation of your recent article "One Large Tree, Many Little Nests" (Reflections #593) -- a great word picture, by the way. Keep up the good work in your graceful responses to legalistic sectarians. By the way, to spell "church of Christ" with a small "c," as some members do, does not camouflage a denominational domain. My wife and I will be going to The Tulsa Workshop in March, 2014 and hope to see you there!!
I would refer the readers to Reflections #520 -- "Sectarianism's C-ism Schism: Upper Case or Lower Case Church?" As for The 2014 Tulsa Workshop I am hopeful that I will be able to be there this coming March. -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Well, brother, you have outdone yourself on this one ("Sectarian Straw Man Strategy"). It is so clear; so well-said and well-written. Keep up the good work. Eyes are being opened, and they will continue to be with such teaching. The claims "we" make contradict "our" practices, and folks are beginning to see these contradictions! Again, please keep up the good work, brother. If we never meet in person here, I'll look forward to doing so in Heaven!
From an Author in Texas:
Brother Al, your Reflections article "Sectarian Straw Man Strategy" is your very best so far!! I wonder how long it took the Lord to lead you to the truths you teach here. It took Him about 40 years to get through my thick skull.
It was during my studies at the university from which I received my degrees, primarily while in graduate school, that I seriously began to question some of what I had been raised to believe with regard to the doctrines and practices of the group denominated in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ." Before that, I had simply blindly accepted "the fact" that WE were the only ones who had enough sense to correctly interpret the Scriptures, and that all others were headed straight for hell. WE were in the only "right" church, all others were in those godless "denominations." As I began to open my eyes and apply a healthy dose of common sense, along with an honest examination of the Scriptures (rather than mere regurgitation of proof-texts), I soon realized that much of what I was told was "Gospel Truth" was little more than party tradition. I tried my hand at preaching for a couple of years, but had no stomach for parroting party lines, so I quit. Four years later (I was Executive Director of a facility during that time that dealt with abused children and counseled with families in crisis) I left the States and moved my family to Germany, where I served as the minister for a military congregation there. The focus of my preaching and teaching began to shift from law to liberty, and it has grown stronger by the year. In the last 15 years or so, God has thrown open a number of doors for me to share my teaching with an ever-widening audience. I pray I will never let Him down, but will boldly seize every opportunity He places before me to push back the darkness of legalism and sectarianism. -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Thank you for your latest Reflections article! I had occasion just this week to hear a small sample of the "straw man" tactic. The dear, gentle brother who did this is, no doubt, sincere in his belief that those of us who believe the Family of God is larger than just our little branch of the Family are "dangerous" people who are bent upon the "destruction" of the "one true church." I have come to realize something of how hard it must be for people like this brother, and Hugh Fulford, who have for all their lives been convinced of their views, to reconsider and change. Their whole life, their livelihood, and indeed their identity, as well as their sense of security before God, has been bound up in their beliefs. The sad thing about this is that they do not realize that our security rests in our trust in the Person of God, and NOT in our own conclusions about the "Church of Christ." I just pray that God will be merciful toward them, as He surely continues to be toward me! On the other hand, I am greatly encouraged -- no, elated is the better word -- by the number of people, both older and younger, who are coming to realize the futility of the old traditional teachings, and who are now coming to a more grace-focused, Jesus-centered way of thinking. This past Sunday I heard an excellent sermon from our preacher exposing the weakness of legalism, and warning brethren of its danger. Just a few weeks ago I heard a preacher in his sermon repeatedly encourage brethren to "forget the old traditions," and simply get back to things that are really important, like loving one another! I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is moving among us, leading people with good and honest hearts to the light of a better understanding of what Christianity is all about. Blessings to you, my brother, for your work toward this goal.
From a Reader in Colorado:
Thanks for your wonderful article on "Sectarian Straw Man Strategy." I very much appreciate your continued fight for Truth. I look back over my life, and I have to admit that I have held those legalistic views myself, but over the years I have grown out of them. Many years ago I heard a sermon by Jimmy Allen, who said, "Never get into a puking contest with a buzzard!" I think that is good advice. However, I very much appreciate your continued efforts to help those who are caught up in legalistic thinking.
From a Minister in Oklahoma:
I have been attending services in the Churches of Christ for all of my 75 years! Oh, how I wish that Hugh Fulford would open his eyes and see that the "Church of Christ" group has already become a denomination, and that he helped it to become such by his "we four and no more, and I'm not sure about you" attitude.
From a Minister in Florida:
I have known Hugh Fulford for over forty years, and his spirit has generally been positive. However, he tries to maintain the blessings of The Spiritual Sword camp, most of whom would not look favorably on his agreement with your writings. Yet, he is probably one of the few from that side of the creek that would even dare to exchange ideas with you!
From a Reader in Georgia:
It is hard to believe that such pride and arrogance stills exists!! And what foolishness for such people to claim for themselves the title "the one true church," when, in fact, this faith-heritage of ours is splintered into dozens of separate factions which won't even associate with one another on Sunday due to disagreements over trivial issues. One need not have been a member of the Churches of Christ for very long before learning of the "antis," the "one cuppers," the "anti-kitchen" and "anti-children's home" groups that one "best not fellowship with." It is hard to believe that anyone with any sense of responsibility and expectation of peer review would ever actually say such things in public, much less distribute them in writing to others (as Hugh Fulford did). Keep up the good work, Al. You're speaking Truth, and that sometimes casts light into otherwise dark places (just be careful not to stand too close to what may crawl out!). Have a great week, my friend, and Thank You for sharing your thoughts with us once again this week!
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