I suppose I have been called just about every name in the book at one time or another, so caustic characterizations don't much bother me anymore. Frankly, I have always believed that when harsh pejoratives are employed it says more about the one using them than the one against whom they are used. It has been suggested that there is nothing unnatural about "wolves worrying lambs." That's what wolves do, after all. However, when lambs go on the attack against other lambs, something has gone horribly wrong. Nevertheless, we all know the harsh reality that even within the flock of Jesus Christ there is conflict among individual sheep and between folds. Lambs "worry" lambs and folds feud, evidence of which is often manifested, in part, in caustic characterizations against one another.
When sheep call other sheep "goats" or "wolves," you know there are feuds festering and factions forming within the flock. Labeling is merely symptomatic of something far more sinister and deadly brewing beneath the surface. Labels are indicators that relationships are stressed and unity is strained. They are warning signs, and they must be heeded if the One Body hopes to experience health and harmony.
A reader from Missouri recently wrote, "In a future Reflections would you discuss the difference in practices between the 'conservatives' and 'ultra-conservatives' in the church. I hear and read these terms, but I need to know the practices." The question illustrates the basic problem we all face: labels abound in the church of our Lord Jesus. They are common; we've all heard them .... and, frankly, we have all used them (myself included). Rarely are they used, however, in a positive, uplifting way. Generally, they are derogatory by design. It is so tempting to try and "cubby-hole" and label our fellow lambs, and, sadly, we are all guilty to some degree of succumbing to this temptation. He's "liberal." She's "conservative." That disciple is "progressive." This one is "digressive." We could go on and on. What do these terms mean? Do we even know? What is our motivation in using them against another?
Many have sought to define terms such as "conservative" and "liberal" as they are used in our characterizations of one another, but one of the best definitions of the above I have ever seen, and probably one of the most accurate, is:
In other words, whether one is deemed "liberal" or "conservative" is largely subjective. By way of personal example, I have been called both on the same day on the same issue. Thus, whether I was "liberal" or "conservative" was based solely on where I stood on the issue in relation to where they stood on the issue. In one person's sight "Al has gone too far;" in another person's sight "Al hasn't gone far enough." It's hard being a chameleon in the church!! Fortunately, we don't have to be! All we have to be is "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). I don't have to look like you, only Him. Thus, whether you are walking the pathway to heaven to the left or the right of me is immaterial. If we are both IN HIM (who is the Way), then we are both headed the same direction, both bound for the same destination. All else is just "traveler trappings;" they make the journey interesting, but they don't alter the course.
The questioner, however, wanted to know what the difference is between a "conservative" and an "ultra-conservative." One person explained it this way: "A conservative is a person who is simply opposed to what I approve. An ultra-conservative is one who is militant, and even malicious, about it." A conservative may disapprove of a particular practice of which I approve, but not condemn me to hell if I don't adopt his viewpoint. He may tell me he loves me and regards me as his brother in Christ, but simply declare that he can't engage in the practice of which I approve. The ultra-conservative, however, will insist that I can't be regarded as his brother unless I renounce my position and embrace his. Indeed, I can't even be saved unless I do so. If I continue to believe or practice something with which he differs, I am to be "marked and avoided" as a godless apostate. The same is true, of course, with those on the other end of the theological spectrum. Militant extremism is wrong, regardless of which side of an issue embraces it.
My own personal feeling is that labels are largely neutral by nature. It is the manner in which they are used, and the motivation for their use, that can cause them to be either positive or negative in actual application. When I refer to someone, or some publication, as "conservative," my intention is merely to demonstrate that the person or publication holds to convictions that differ from mine (specifically: they tend to take a stand against those things I tend to take a stand for). This doesn't mean I'm right and they're wrong. It doesn't mean I'm approved by God and they are apostates. It simply indicates where on the theological spectrum, from my own perspective in relation to ME, they are located on any given belief or practice. In most all such cases I continue to regard these persons as beloved brethren who simply have differing perspectives and practices from mine. They may be in differing folds, but we are nevertheless still in the one flock. I have no desire to militantly impose my convictions on them as divine decree or maliciously malign them if they persist in differing with me. I respect their convictions, and hope they respect mine. This is part of the key to truly being One Body IN HIM, harmonious and united.
I have some brethren who are "One Cup" disciples. This is not a harsh label, but merely describes the particular position they hold which differs from my own. It is neutral, as used by me. It is neither good nor bad. It is merely descriptive. I have many brothers and sisters in Christ who are "Non-Institutional." This is a term that again is descriptive in nature, not pejorative. No offense is intended by it; it is only used to describe that which constitutes our area of difference. We are of two folds, but still one flock.
It is when "ultra" enters the equation that problems begin to occur. When "ultra" becomes affixed to one's mindset, walls of exclusion and isolation begin to be erected. Separation occurs. The folds within the flock go to war against one another and the family of God is fragmented into feuding factions. Fellow lambs are maliciously maligned as vicious wolves. The blood-letting ensues. The carnage is appalling; the shame evident for all the world to see. The flock ceases to be edified; the lost cease to be evangelized.
I pray that all of us in the One Body of Jesus Christ, myself included, will exercise greater care in the future than we have in the past in our use of descriptive terms when speaking of our brethren. Let us examine our hearts to determine if our motivation is godly. Let us examine our words to determine if they will help or hinder the point we seek to make. Let us remember that our fight is with the forces of evil, not with our fellow lambs. If you're considering calling another a "wolf," be sure he's wearing fur, not fleece!!
From a Reader in Nevada:
Hi, brother! I am seeking permission to print and distribute your book Down, But Not Out. There are some here in Reno -- without access to the Internet -- that have asked for some biblical teaching on MDR. Since I consider yours to be the most biblical, I would like to give them a copy. Blessings on your work!
From a Preacher in California:
"Apostate Al" ... that's a good one! Having grown up among the "pest controllers," so to speak, and now living in and preaching grace, count me among the mosquitoes. Given the two, I'd never go back to legalistic orthodoxy. Be encouraged! The Spirit of Christ is in your writings, in your responses, and obviously is reigning in your heart. I've read you enough that I consider you not only a dear brother and teacher, but a cyber-friend.
From a Reader in Texas:
This comes from one in Lubbock who loves God. Thank you for the teaching I have received from your careful study. I feel lazy just sitting and soaking up the teachings that have taken hours upon hours of study through years. Thank you for doing so much study which enables me to glean so much more from God's Word. Thank you again!
From a Preacher in Mississippi:
Apostate Al, huh? ... wonder how long it took him to cook that one up? I thought your writing on the purpose of the Lord's Supper was fabulous. I will be preaching that sometime soon. One of our elders liked it and suggested I use it as sermon material as well. Anyhoo ... I disagree with you on some things (no secret there), and I'm sure you disagree with some of my conclusions. You have a great way of causing people to think, however, and you have a great way of building your case so that one will have to deal with the text if they want to disagree with you. You are certainly no apostate. I appreciate what you do and I love you much! I hope one of these days I'll make it to NM ... but so far I'm stuck in the deep south!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Brother Al, I am so saddened to see that the book by Woodson is still causing problems. I know first hand the problems that this diatribe engendered. I was attending the Hobbs Street congregation that sponsored it. We were hounded from that church because we could not in good conscience support it (we had also just visited Jubilee for the first time). The fruit of the Spirit is not manifested in that kind of venomous writing.
From a Preacher in the Ukraine:
Dear Brother Al, Greetings from Donetsk, Ukraine. I appreciate your ministry and all you do for the glory of our dear Lord. I want to say thank you for this last issue of your Reflections. You did a great job explaining the concept of One Body, and destroying the illusions many have about being the "only true" Christians in Christendom. I know many will not accept this; you are completely right saying it will be a hard lesson for them to learn. I am sure these will be surprised to see some people with our Father that they didn't expect to see, and unfortunately they won't see some others they thought would be there. The letter from one of your critics, in the previous issue, made me almost cry, not because of the words but because of the spirit that unfortunately possesses many in our brotherhood. May we indeed turn our energy away from doing the work of the wolves and be humble sheep of our Good Shepherd. God bless you, brother!
From a Reader in Siberia, Russia:
Dear Al, Your Reflections are enlightening and uplifting. Terrific! Thank God for you, brother!
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Well said, Brother Al. You have me thinking with you. Grace and faith to you!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, Another forthright piece on a controversial topic, telling the truth without regard to consequences. Keep up the good work, brother!
From a Reader in Mississippi:
A big HUGE AMEN!! for these latest Reflections. Sadly, there are some who think unity means conformity. What is worse, they will go out of their way to disrupt any attempt at unity that does not conform 100% to their own traditions. We know that a day is coming when we WILL all be unified. Jesus will separate the chaff from the wheat, and we will truly be one. "Amen. Come Lord Jesus!"
From a Reader in Florida:
In my study of the history of the Church of Christ since the restoration, plus my own experience over some 40 years, I have come to see pendulum swings. As one brother kindly pointed out, pendulums don't stop in the middle. I remember a time when the pendulum was on the side of NO sermons on grace. Preachers didn't dare for fear of being called a "Baptist." I am most happy to see the scriptural concept of grace being taught more openly. However, my fear is that the pendulum will continue its swing not only on this matter but others as well.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, You are on the right track toward unity of believers!!! All those who are reconciled to God through Christ are our brothers and sisters. It is not even a matter of debate or choice. The Shepherd knows His flock. I hope you can join me, and others, who are working to convince our brotherhood that there is only one rank among Christians ... that of servant.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
I do not believe that examples are binding, and necessary inferences are even fuzzier. Not even all commandments are binding (greet the brethren with a holy kiss). It seems to me the Bible is designed to teach us the principles of God's way. What was the foot washing episode given for? Humility? Service? Or a ritualistic item of "worship" that really has no purpose in our modern world, and is probably a poor way of showing humility and service? Does one really think God gives a rip about how many cups we use in the Lord's Supper? Or is He more concerned about what it represents and our reason for doing it? I think the latter.
I hope you have a broad back for the Contending For The Faith bunch. It is sad, and they are to be pitied. But it does show us that we have our work cut out for us. If they would just ever join us in worship and service to God, they might see an example of our love, and forget about all their petty causes. Don't be too hard on John Waddey. It was through him I found your website! God does work in mysterious ways!
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, your article on Marauding Mosquitoes was great! I had never considered myself to be a "change agent," but I guess I have been all of my years. I am 76 years old, and I remember all the "issues" I have lived through (all of them caused by editors and jealous preachers) -- Catholicism in the 30's by O. C. Lambert, Pre-mil by Foy E. Wallace, Jr., then modernism by Wallace, Cogdill, et al, Communism, Anti-ism by Cogdill, Woods, Tant, etc, Neo-Calvinism (opposers of salvation by grace), now "change agents." According to these men I suppose the old preachers were perfect and infallible. I am only interested in going all the way back to the cross and Pentecost, not to any man or movement.
I recently questioned William Woodson about an article he wrote in Spiritual Sword. He wrote me the most sarcastic letter I ever received. He spent the first page questioning my right to question him. He never did answer my questions. Few, if any, of the Spiritual Sword writers will answer any questions about their writing.
On songs --- the old songs we sang in the 30's, such as Standing On The Promises, Blessed Assurance, Amazing Grace, etc. were great, but like everything else they grow old. Then in the 40's singing school directors brought us the Stamps-Baxter songs with Bass and Alto leads. The old-timers where I lived called them "herky-jerky," and strongly opposed them. Then we moved into the Southern Gospel type songs in the 60's, new at first, but standards now. Now we have the one verse contemporary and Christian rock type songs. I have favorites, but my feeling is not to be the standard for our congregational use.
Brother, do not lose your zeal, nor let these squawkers dull your passion. There are 7000 men who have not bowed their knee to Baal. Keep up the good work. Your articles are great!
From a Preacher in Missouri:
Al, my conscience has been awakened and my senses are being exercised. My heart was stagnant because I accepted the theology that the "one true church" was our church. But, now I see! Your Reflections helped me to do that. So I appreciate this ministry of yours. Thanks for being here for me.
From an Elder in Colorado:
I think that one of the greatest problems in the church is that many people do not understand what the church is. When I use the term "Church of Christ" I mean the one that Jesus established. Anyone who has been born into Christ is a member. Although there may be our brothers attending such as the Baptist Church, we must remember that they may be accepting or condoning Baptist doctrine. However, within the congregations of the Church of Christ, many also have different perceptions concerning Scripture and traditions, so even in this situation we must be watchful. I understand why you feel it is necessary to take on so many "dragons." You are serving a useful cause at your expense.
From a Reader in Montana:
Dear Bro. Al, It is so refreshing to have men like yourself who are willing to put your life's work and service on the line for Truth. Your last two Reflections show that you are searching the Scriptures for Truth, and I will go on record as saying "AMEN."
From a Reader in Texas:
Great article! As one of our shepherds says regarding the legalists who cause dissention in the body of believers, "It is not the sheep who attack the shepherd, it is always the wolves." Thank God for Elders who do not allow the legalists to rule in a local fold/congregation/denomination. We encourage them to go to a fellowship where they can "agree" (which is impossible for them) on what is taught and practiced there. They are still my brethren, if they are truly in Christ. Only the Great Shepherd knows, but I will treat and love them as my brethren. I believe that they are among the most unhappy and joyless sheep, but they are sheep none-the-less. Some say when members/sheep choose to leave a particular congregation and worship at another congregation that they have "left the church." If they are still a believer and a worshipper of the one true God, and are in Christ, how can we justify saying this?! We cannot!
From a Reader in Texas:
Bro. Maxey, I have read your Reflections and am delighted to meet another brother in Christ. I am an 82-year-old retired teacher, long time member of the church. I studied myself out of the position you so decry (with the help of Reuel Lemmons in Firm Foundation and Integrity magazines, for whom I wrote a few pieces). Cecil Hook helped also. It is wonderful to be free in Christ, but with that comes the sad realization that the Lord's purpose is derailed so thoroughly by that excluding mindset. May God's grace cover sins of misunderstanding among us. My family worshipped with the Honolulu church while Wendell Broom was there (65-67). We also found them warm and loving and still correspond with a few. May God continue to bless you. Let's keep trying!
From an Elder in Texas:
Al, I just finished reading Rubel Shelly's and John York's book "The Jesus Proposal." They do a great job of summarizing what you are talking about in your latest Reflections. Thanks for continuing to remind us that no one sheep or small group of sheep should ever think that they have a corner on God's love and acceptance. May God open our eyes so we can see and encourage ALL of His sheep in this world. Then perhaps the world will look at Christianity more seriously as they see us loving each other like Jesus really wants us to do. Keep up your good work!
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