Issue #600 -------
December 5, 2013
It is easy to understand the progression of thought
which passed from a veneration of the waters to
the belief that such waters bestowed "blessing."
Dr. G. R. Beasley-Murray (1916-2000)
Baptism in the New Testament
Is it just me, or do some of the rest of you have a problem with the caption in the picture that appears to your left? I must admit: what is stated there bothers me on multiple levels ... and it bothers me immensely! I came across this picture on the Internet, and it immediately grabbed my attention. Although I was stunned by it, I have to admit that I was not overly surprised by it. I have confronted the sectarian sacramentalists for so many years on this issue that, frankly, not too much they say amazes me any more, although it always continues to disappoint me. This caption is just one more such heartbreak: suggesting that baptism in some way constitutes the "water of life." If this statement isn't outright sacrilege and/or blasphemy, it comes very close, in my view. Yet, sadly, far too many within my faith-heritage blindly hold to this belief (and I imagine this is true in other denominational groups within Christendom as well).
Baptism in water should never, in any way, shape or form, be confused with, or considered as constituting, "the water of life." For someone to even characterize the physical element of this rite, or, by extension, the rite itself (symbolically), as "life-giving water" is to completely fail to grasp the true purpose and spiritual significance of water baptism, and such mischaracterization only serves to perpetuate the perception that water baptism itself is a "holy sacrament" that bestows a "divine grace." It is not. The Scriptures occasionally, though not often, use the phrase "water of life" (and also "living water"), but in none of these occurrences is the rite of water baptism even remotely in view. Rev. 22:17 speaks of "the free gift of the water of life" which "flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (vs. 1) in the New Jerusalem. From this living stream the redeemed drink freely. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water" (John 4:10). A conversation then ensues about this living water, but it clearly has nothing to do with water baptism. On another occasion, "Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.' By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive" (John 7:37-38). Again, absolutely nothing is said about baptism in water, nor is it even hinted at or implied. Nevertheless, some disciples over the centuries have continued to confuse the two, and this has increasingly resulted in a confused theology with regard to the purpose and place of water baptism in our present dispensation of grace.
One of the factors that tends to contribute to this confusion is the fact that water baptism is commanded of disciples. Jesus commissioned His personal representatives to go forth into the world about them and make disciples, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). A great many were baptized in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:41), as were such people as the eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8:37-38), the jailer in Philippi (Acts 16:33), Cornelius, Lydia, Saul of Tarsus and many others. Although each of these narratives generate numerous questions, which result in considerable speculation among disciples, one thing is clear in each: baptism was commanded, and those who were genuine believers humbly submitted. Unfortunately, there is a tendency among our species to forever tie a biblical command to one's eternal salvation. "If it is commanded, then it must of necessity be essential and conditional to the acquiring of eternal life." From this assumption it is a rather small leap from "water of baptism" to "water of life" (as per the picture at the beginning of this article). In so doing, we bestow upon physical elements (as well as the rites and rituals associated with them) a power never intended. A contemplative study of the history of the elements (bread and wine) in the Lord's Supper over the past 2000 years, for example, will reveal this very dramatically (something I have done in great detail in my second book: "One Bread, One Body -- An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism").
The problem with the above thinking, however, is that the Bible contains many commands that are NOT salvific in nature, and which may even, under certain circumstances, be set aside or violated without incurring divine displeasure. David and his men "ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for them to do" (Matt. 12:4), yet Jesus declared them "innocent" (vs. 7). King Hezekiah and the people of Israel at one point "ate the Passover contrary to what was written" (2 Chron. 30:18), yet God was pleased with their observance. We need to be very careful how we perceive and proclaim biblical commands. If we regard them as inflexible and inviolate, we will soon find ourselves painted into a theological corner from which we cannot easily extricate ourselves. When dealing with biblical commands it is also very important to realize that a good many of them have cultural and ceremonial aspects that were never intended to be universal in application. Some commands are indeed intended to be universal in scope (love your neighbor, for example), but many are far more limited in scope, and have very clear cultural and ceremonial application that does not transcend those qualifiers. As an example of the latter, Acts 15:28-29 (cf. vs. 20) indicates the Holy Spirit, through James and the other Jerusalem church leaders, declared it was "essential" to abstain from eating meats offered to idols, and from meat taken from a strangled animal, and from consuming blood. Have you had a steak cooked medium rare lately? Have you ever eaten a chicken? Are you thereby in violation of a Holy Spirit directive described as "essential"? Are you guilty of "soul-damning sin"? I think most of us realize that these "essentials" given by the Holy Spirit are neither universal nor timeless; they are tied to particular cultural and religious concerns. The principle underlying these precepts IS universal and timeless, however: we are to be sensitive to each other's personal convictions and not intentionally do anything to disturb them. Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor. 8 that this really isn't about food, but about how we treat one another. Thus, specific commands with regard to the procurement and preparation of meats is secondary to the true divine concern (seen in the principle), and the former (the precepts) are only relevant and required within certain cultural contexts.
What about "foot washing"? Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and then told them, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15). Here we find both example and expectation. Jesus set the example (engaging in a specific action) and expressed His fervent desire that His disciples would do as He had done. When was the last time you washed someone's feet? Have you ever washed someone's feet? Why not?! Don't you love Jesus? Do you think you're better than Him (John 13:16)? The disciples of Christ are also commanded to practice what is known as the "holy kiss" (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). Do you do this? Do you literally kiss your brothers and sisters in Christ on a regular basis? Have you altered this to a "holy handshake" or a "holy hug"? By what authority do you impose a human innovation (substitution) on an inspired directive? Can we change the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper to "pretzels and beer"? Can we baptize someone in milk? Why do we totally disregard or alter some commands and examples in Scripture, yet practically foam at the mouth if others are treated similarly? Why this distinction? The answer is obvious, though some have trouble admitting it: not all biblical and/or divine commands carry the same weight; some are timeless, some are not; some are universal, some are not; some are tied to salvation, some are not. Wisdom lies in discerning the difference; in perceiving the principle behind the precept: the truth upon which the tradition is built. In giving undue significance to the latter, we often fail to perceive the spiritual worth of the former. It is the age-old problem we have of confusing the symbol or shadow with the substance, thus leading to veneration of the former, and too often a voiding of the latter.
So where does one place water baptism in all of this? Yes, it is clearly commanded. But is this practice intended to be timeless and universal? Is it for all people everywhere, regardless of when or where they might live? In other words, is this command in any way to be perceived as either cultural or ceremonial, and thus limited in scope and application? Or does the command to be baptized transcend all other considerations? This has puzzled biblical scholars and devoted disciples for centuries, and great debates have been waged historically over these very questions. Over the past couple of weeks I have been exchanging a number of emails with an elder in Arkansas about this very matter, and the other day we even talked at length on the telephone about it. This exchange arose as a result of a question someone raised in a class he was teaching. This elder wrote, "Someone argued that if you say that foot-washing, holy kissing, and elders anointing with oil (James 5:14) are all cultural, and thus not required today, then why can't you argue that baptism is cultural and not required today?" In other words, how does one make a distinction between a command of limited scope and one of universal scope? How can we know if a specific commanded act is for all peoples of all time periods, or if it was intended only for a select group? I believe the answer lies to a large degree in perceiving the underlying purpose and spiritual significance of the specified act. Clearly, with each of the acts mentioned above, there are both cultural and ceremonial aspects in play. When one begins to perceive and appreciate the deeper spiritual significance of each of these, however, one begins to gain an appreciation for the probable scope of these deeper truths.
For example, washing another's feet would, in some cultures, be viewed as a highly offensive act. This could devolve quickly into a confrontational event, especially if a man washed the feet of a woman (taboo on a number of levels in some cultures). If, on the other hand, one grasps the principle upon which foot-washing is based, one can see that the idea of rendering humble service to another is universal in scope. That principle can be applied in any number of ways that would be socially and culturally acceptable to the diverse peoples of our planet. Yes, in the culture where the principle of loving, self-sacrificial, humble service to another was displayed by Jesus, foot-washing was an acceptable expression of that principle. This in no way suggests such a practice must be imposed upon all cultures throughout the planet until the end of time, although the principle underlying it is certainly eternal and easily applied in various culturally acceptable ways. When we serve others, we must be sensitive to those whom we serve. That means we serve in such a way as not to offend them. The same could be said of "the holy kiss." If a hug or a handshake or a pat on the back serves to convey the same message of affection and fellowship, then we honor the principle behind the act, even though the act itself may have been changed to accommodate the culture in which we seek to apply the principle. The same for anointing the sick with oil. The practice itself may work well in some places, yet be totally offensive in others. The principle behind the act, however, can be easily adapted to the time and place in which one lives.
It should be especially noted that in each of these commands/examples the focus is on what we do in service to others. Thus, the principle deals with human-to-human interaction, which, of course, necessitates sensitivity to those one seeks to serve. If one's service is perceived as socially or culturally inappropriate, one can actually do great harm to another. This principle of being socially and culturally and even religiously aware of those with whom we interact is discussed a number of places in Scripture (1 Cor. 8 and Rom. 14, for example). In light of this, the specified practice given in Scripture may well need to be altered somewhat, or even changed dramatically, so that the principle may be applied in a more acceptable manner. Thus, kissing may be acceptably replaced with a handshake, etc. The action itself may vary, but the principle remains inviolate. Again, note that this is true when dealing with human-to-human interaction, and in the applying of divine principles to those interactions.
Baptism, on the other hand, is a human-to-divine and a divine-to-human interaction. The focus is on what He has done in service to us, and our subsequent faith-response to that act. Divine interaction with humanity transcends time and place and culture. God gave His Son as a sacrifice for man's sin, and Jesus died, was buried, and arose from the grave. Thus, a descent into a grave, and a subsequent emerging from that grave, are more than just human acts representative of a divine principle, they reflect a divine reality! Whereas a principle relative to service to others may be displayed in any number of diverse ways in our human-to-human interactions, the reality of death, burial and resurrection is more limited by its very nature. Applying a divine principle is one thing; portraying a divine reality is another. The latter requires a greater faithfulness in reproduction of the event itself so that the significance of the event in question is dramatically conveyed to the participant and observer. In this case, the medium must in some way reflect to all peoples, regardless of culture, the reality of the actual event. Scripture indicates that immersion in water, and being raised up from that "watery grave," is an apt representation. Paul, in Romans 6, discusses how baptism reflects this reality. Thus, when one is baptized, one participates in a dramatic reenactment of his/her Lord's death, burial and resurrection, and proclaims in this act of baptism his/her faith in the One who died to redeem them from death. We could make similar comparisons to the command to observe the Lord's Supper. Again, the focus of this participatory act is on what He has done for us, which transcends culture, time and place. He gave His body (the bread) over to suffering and death, shedding His blood (the wine) to atone for our sins. The elements were chosen by Him to reflect the reality of HIS service to US.
Yes, there will be times when it may not be possible to replicate exactly the elements or medium utilized in the examples of the NT writings. Some remote sites in the world may not have access to grapes, for example. Or to wheat. However, in every culture, whether primitive or modern, there are bread equivalents and wine (fruit of the vine) equivalents that would still serve to faithfully represent the reality of His service to us. Again, with foot-washing, holy kissing, anointing with oil, etc. we are looking at human-to-human service with loving consideration for others. With the Lord's Supper and baptism, however, we are engaged in highly symbolic and representative participatory recreations of an actual divine-to-human act of love: the death, burial and resurrection of God's Son. Such memorials and remembrances require more, for the elements of the rite should faithfully reproduce the event itself, whereas in the former acts one merely needs to reflect the underlying principle (which allows greater diversity in our application). Baptism and the Lord's Supper are not limited to specific cultures for the simple reason that God's divine act of grace is not limited to a specific culture. Our Lord died FOR ALL MEN, thus our remembrance of that sacrifice transcends time, place and culture.
Having said all this, notice again the question posed to the elder in Arkansas: "Someone argued that if you say that foot-washing, holy kissing, and elders anointing with oil (James 5:14) are all cultural, and thus not required today, then why can't you argue that baptism is cultural and not required today?" First, that which is cultural in the former examples is the specific application of the principle involved in human-to-human service. When humans interact with other humans, culture, time and place will always be a factor, and inflexibility and insensitivity will almost always render a poor outcome. The principle in these cases is universal and timeless (and IS required today), the application is not. Baptism is also commanded (as is the Lord's Supper), but it deals with divine-to-human service, and thus transcends, by its very nature, time, place and culture. What God did through Christ Jesus He did for ALL. What He did in service to us was also a very specific thing: He died, was buried, and arose; He gave His body up to suffering and He shed His blood. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are not really acts of service, nor are they sacraments; they are acts of remembrance. We are remembering, and proclaiming unto others, what HE did for US -- and that is quite specific. Thus, the elements of these recreations must represent and reflect as faithfully as possible the nature of His gift, which can be done in any cultural setting. Remembering God's gift to humanity is not restricted or limited to only a portion of His creation; it is for all. So also the divine principles and precepts of loving service unto our fellow man. In this sense, all these acts are the same: they are commanded, and they are to be obeyed. It is in the application that we find a necessary distinction (as explained above). In the commands dealing with human-to-human interaction (foot-washing, holy kissing, anointing with oil, etc.), the act should be faithful to the underlying principle; in the commands dealing with divine-to-human interaction (baptism and the Lord's Supper), the act should be faithful to the event itself in its reenactment, for it is truly a remembering and a memorial and a proclamation of faith in a universally relevant event. I pray these thoughts prove helpful to all who read them. I would also love to hear your thoughts on this comparative contemplation.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Al, we have not met or interacted before, however I have wanted to write to you for some time now and thank you for your writings. You have encouraged me greatly over the past couple of years. I graduated from the International Bible College in Florence, Alabama in the early 1980's, and have been a minister in the Lord's church since before graduation. I grew up in conservative congregations, and have worked with them most of my life. Over the past number of years, however, I have been challenged to grow beyond those conservative, tightly-held beliefs. I have found your writings, and others like yours (i.e., Terry Rush), to be very encouraging and challenging. I am so grateful to know that I am not the only one facing and dealing with these issues. This Thanksgiving Day I just wanted you to know how thankful I am for you. I am glad to be able to call you "brother," even though we have not met in person. Maybe one day I will have that honor!
From a Reader in Texas:
Thank you so much for all the years of Reflections you have placed on your Web Site. Thank you also for seeking what the Bible actually says and teaches, instead of proclaiming the oppressive legalism and traditionalism found in so many congregations. Your work is a breath of fresh air. I am so glad that my friend in Missouri and I can share your insights together -- we read your Reflections together and listen to your sermons together. Would you please send her a copy of your two CD set: An In-Depth Study of Galatians: The Magna Charta of Christian Liberty, and also your two CD set: Encouragement for the End Times, in which you deal with predestination, foreknowledge and free will. My check is enclosed. Thank you.
From an Elder in Alabama:
Brother Al, I am the one who put your sermon "Against Such There Is No Law" on our radio program "Day-to-Day Christianity" in Athens, Alabama. We played it at our congregation in our Bible class (Seven Mile Post Road Church of Christ where I serve as one of the Elders) and also on the radio (on Nov. 10 on WVNN at 8 a.m.) in its entirety. I hope that was okay. Your ministry blesses us so much, and we just wanted to share it with others.
That is very much okay, and I am truly honored that this brother would want to share that lesson with his congregation and the people of his community. I don't mind my work (whether it be my writings or my sermons/speeches) being shared with others, and, indeed, I encourage people to do so. They are there to be shared. By the way, that particular sermon is one that many have found beneficial, and it is included as a bonus on two of my audio CD sets: A Study of Galatians and From Law to Liberty. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in California:
I admire your ministry, Al. I also stood against the legalism and sectarianism among us during my 30+ years of preaching, only I never had the audience you have. The preacher at the Seven Mile Post Road Church of Christ in Athens, Alabama is a very dear friend of mine. He and his wife were at the bedside of my mother when she took her final breath in this life. I was in the air trying to get from California to Alabama when she died. We had been down in Mexico on a mission trip when we got the word. He is a kindred spirit and doing a very good work there. I'm glad that he knows of you. Your Bible studies are excellent, and I am grateful for your friendship, even though we've never met. In the words of Dr. Leroy Garrett: "Soldier on!"
From a Reader in Alabama:
This is coming from someone who has also been called Hymenaeus, Philetus and Alexander (and worse) by the legalists. I noticed in your most recent Reflections (Issue #599 -- "The Figureheads of Falsehood") a reference to the Seven Mile Post Road Church of Christ, and how another preacher had given a rebuttal of your aired sermon on his radio program the following week. Athens is my hometown, so I can give a little background here. The Seven Mile Post Road congregation is indeed a very good church. In the movie "Hell and Mr. Fudge" (which is about Edward Fudge and his writing of the book "The Fire That Consumes") there is a composite character, Joe Mark, who was Edward's best friend. Joey Curtis and Mark Whitt are the two real people who inspired that composite character. Joey Curtis is a member at the Seven Mile Post Road congregation and Mark Whitt is an elder there (who put your sermon on their radio program). Several members from that congregation also made appearances in the movie. It is a good congregation; one that is striving to share God's grace in this community that is very deeply infected with legalism.
I happened to be listening to WVNN radio during both of the programs that were mentioned in your Reflections. The radio programs of the Seven Mile Post Road congregation and Pat Donahue (who rebutted your sermon) are back-to-back each week, ironically [NOTE: Pat Donahue is the preacher at the little Non-Institutional ("anti") congregation of 12 members (according to the 2012 edition of the directory Churches of Christ in the United States) in nearby Huntsville, Alabama known as the North Huntsville Church of Christ -- Al Maxey]. Pat Donahue is as legalistic as anyone I know, and he unashamedly claims to be legalistic. The radio show that he hosts is actually a call-in show (although he rarely gets callers). But, that day he did. The caller asked Pat if he was "Church of Christ." As Pat was giving the typical dance around that question that legalists give as part of their feeble attempt to deny being a "denomination," the caller interrupted him, saying, "You don't have to say 'Church of Christ' any more than someone driving a Prius needs an Obama sticker. Just as I know that a Prius driver voted for Obama, I know you're 'Church of Christ' by your preaching salvation by works and saying how wrong everyone else is!" I got a kick out of that caller!
Athens, Alabama is a very difficult place to try and break the chains of legalism, so the brethren at Seven Mile Post Road Church of Christ are especially courageous! Athens is a town of about 25,000 people (2010 census data) and it has about TEN Non-Institutional Churches of Christ, and that doesn't even count the One Cup and No Bible Classes congregations, or the legalistic mainstream congregations. Of the total population, this town is over 5% legalistic "Church of Christ" members. That's staggering to me! It is crazy living here. It is indeed a unique town. Well, sorry this is so long, but you mentioned my hometown and I had a lot to say. Thank you so much for your work, Al.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Isn't it interesting that we never hear from the ultra-conservatives about how the apostle Paul, after he became a Christian, continued visiting the Jewish synagogue and Temple, and even observed some of their practices and sacrifices. Why do they not consider this to be a "condemning sin"? After all, they condemn us today if we "associate with" anyone in a "denomination." Some, in fact, will not even enter a "denominational building" even to attend a funeral. It's interesting that Paul is excused, but we are not. Such nonsense is destroying us!! By-the-way, I live in Alabama where there is a Church of Christ every few miles in every direction, and they will not have anything to do with each other. Try explaining that to those you are trying to reach!!
I actually did a study of that very question, as this inconsistency among the legalists with respect to the practice of Paul has been noted for quite some time by those disciples willing to think. That article is: Reflections #166 -- "Conforming to Jewish Custom: Did Paul Sin by Yielding to the Advice of James and the Jerusalem Elders?" I would encourage readers to examine this study. It will challenge a number of "sacred cows." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alaska:
For me, perhaps one of Paul's most important lessons is found in 1 Cor. 9:19-23 (especially the last part of vs. 22). Yet, those who fight over differing denominational traditions apparently ignore this teaching completely. In 23+ years of regular attendance at weekly Sunday meetings celebrating Jesus, I have never heard one single mention of this passage. Differences in people's understanding of the Word, and the traditions that arise as a result of these differing understandings, are addressed so well in that sentence by Paul. Thus, it seems to me that Paul would agree with me when I say: I will play a musical instrument in worship if it helps me save some! "I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:22b-23a).
From a Reader in Canada:
I just read your new Reflections (Issue #599 -- "The Figureheads of Falsehood"), and I am still shaking my head at the response you got for wishing Billy Graham a "Happy Birthday" on your Facebook page and referring to him as a "brother-in-Christ." It is amazing what lurks within the confines of Christendom. Keep up the good work you do in the name of the Lord Jesus.
From a Reader in California:
Thanks for your article "The Figureheads of Falsehood." All the hubbub over Billy Graham's birthday gave me a chuckle, although to you it was probably hurtful. I was interested to learn that "blasphemy" means hurtful speech directed against a person, and that "heresy" means a willingness to harm human relations over an issue of belief. Both, then, are crimes against people, rather than against doctrine (which is the way these terms are commonly used today). Also, I am now one of your followers on Facebook.
From a Reader in California:
You are in good company, Brother Al. The late, great preacher Marshall Keeble "took one on the chin" because he called a local Baptist minister "brother" in one of his public appearances. Keeble responded, "If I miss him in the Lord, I'll catch him in Adam." Don't let the buzzing of flies keep you from the Lord's work!
From a Minister/Author in California:
Al, you have written the truth in your latest issue of Reflections, and your assessment of the forces of factionalism is both forceful and, as I well know, factual. As you say, we must oppose "forever the fanatical face and figurehead of such factional, fratricidal fury." What can I say? Words fail me to express my appreciation for this particular Reflections. The factionists will use all their considerable, but carnal, weapons to put a stop to your "endeavoring to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." These people claim they are "saving the church," but as Homer Hailey said to me, "The church has One Savior, and it isn't them!" I love you, my brother. By the way, I really miss our years together in Hawaii.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I never cease to be amazed at all the vitriolic statements the legalists use in their effort to "save the souls" of all those THEY deem to be "apostate." Do they really think they have the authority to speak as Jesus did to the Pharisees? Or, do they have the authority to judge as Paul did the churches to which he wrote by inspiration? Are they so blind as to think that by demeaning and degrading and defaming a human being they are exhibiting the love of Christ? How idiotic! And why would they "friend" you on Facebook just to vilify you? Are they paranoid? Do they stalk you out of fear that perhaps your message might actually challenge someone to read their Bible and discover that the Churches of Christ are nothing but another denomination (more like a CULT, actually, that indoctrinates its members to swallow whatever is fed them by the leaders of this "one true church")? I was raised in this group, and as you can see, my brother, I am not shy about speaking out boldly against these abuses. It is nothing like the church which Jesus established ... Nothing. So stay strong and keep the faith, Al. And delete all of the false Facebook "friends" who are two-faced and backstabbing, and who are only on there to spy on you and undermine you. They are certainly not molded after our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
From an Elder in Wyoming:
Just a note to say AMEN to your article "The Figureheads of Falsehood." On Facebook I ran into the guy promoting the condemnation of you. He made the statement on there that he knew nothing about you, but he set out nevertheless to publicly condemn you. I told him that he was in sin for sowing discord among brothers, and all of a sudden I too knew nothing about the Bible and had rejected its teaching. How amazing! Especially when he has no idea who either one of us is. Keep up the good work, Bro. Al, but be careful about who you wish a happy birthday to -- it seems to get us into trouble! [LOL]
From a Chaplain in Arkansas:
Thanks for your response (in the Readers' section of your last issue of Reflections) to the brother in New York who left the Church of Christ tribe for another less legalistic one. God has led me, like you, to remain within the Churches of Christ, not because they are the only right church, or even the closest to right, but because I was reared in this fellowship and feel a debt of love and gratitude to them. I don't speak the theological language or have the background of those who are Baptists or Presbyterians or any other Christian group. When I'm asked about my religious preference as a health care chaplain, I simply say, "I'm a Christian, although I have a religious heritage like everybody has: a place where I learned of Christ and His ways." It has been difficult because most of my earthly family is affiliated with my "tribe," and thus regard me as "out of step with THE church." However, because of my profession to be "just a Christian," I am a free man in Christ. Thank you, Al, for your clarion call to freedom in Christ. It is refreshing to read your thoughts!
From a Reader in Georgia:
I see you really pushed the buttons of the legalists with respect to your Billy Graham comments. As we say in the South, "the hit dog hollers." Well, I will still call you "brother," and am proud to do so! Al, you must be doing something good or you would not get so much heat from these guys -- which is just Satan doing his thing. Hang in there. You know you have a zillion friends who love you. Also, like you, I reached the same conclusion about staying in the Church of Christ group. I actually attended a Christian Church for a while, but I saw problems there also, as you might expect. I decided to stay with the Church of Christ mainly because of the "comfort factor" -- i.e., I was just more comfortable in the Church of Christ group. I hope your Thanksgiving is great!
From a Reader in Texas:
I do not know how you continue to even be associated with the Churches of Christ when you are continually attacked year after year by these bonehead legalists. Who died and made them God, anyway? It is because of them, over a lifetime of their nonsense, that I had to leave the church of my heritage. I realized that Jesus' sacrifice would have been in vain if all He accomplished was the narrow-minded, dwindling group of people who think that they are the only ones going to heaven. What a travesty that they would dare be so critical of your wishing a great man "Happy Birthday." It is such a relief to be free of that mindset. Keep on keeping on, my dear Al.
From an Author in Texas:
Brother Al, I've "been there and done that" (i.e., the vicious attacks against you). Try not to be discouraged, and count it a blessing when you are given the privilege of suffering with Jesus. Not many are so blessed. As for your article on "Earning Salvation by Obedience" (Reflections #598), after more than fifty years of reflection it is my considered opinion that we are obedient because we are saved, not in order to be saved (Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5). Keep up the good work!
From a Reader in Georgia:
In your article "The Figureheads of Falsehood" you wrote, "A spirit of arrogance accompanies ignorance." Man, I like that statement ... so true ... I will be happy to accept your permission to borrow that line! Wow! I almost hate to admit this, Al, but I do understand the criticisms leveled against you. It is the totally unavoidable result of when Legalism and Grace collide! These people MUST condemn ANY deviation from the "rules" if salvation is based on one's ability to be obedient (as they claim). Ignorance is no excuse (or so they say). They condemn to hell all those who aren't "bright enough" to mine out the "essentials" of salvation from all the commands, examples and necessary inferences (essentials which, as you have pointed out many times, they never identify in enough detail to follow). Thankfully, the tide is turning away from this thinking, and in no small part due to your efforts. You give credibility to those who hate legalistic patternism and seek only to love and worship a loving heavenly Father. May all of your work, and all of your family, and you personally, be blessed beyond your ability to imagine!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
I recently was reading through one of our published papers from Oklahoma Christian University which stated their concern over the fact that about 50% of our young people are leaving the Churches of Christ. Is it any wonder why they are leaving? As you have spoken of in your last Reflections, "we" have not been displaying any of the traits of being His "Body." Thus, as they grow up and leave home it is becoming obvious that they "have had enough." In traveling around the country and attending different congregations, the lack of young couples in attendance is very conspicuous! The age gap jumps from around junior high to about age 50. It is obvious that there is not going to be anyone around in twenty years, when the old folk die off, to "turn out the lights and lock the doors."
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Several weeks ago, on a Wednesday evening at our congregation, a woman baptized a younger woman. Some became very upset over this. However, from my years working in Saudi Arabia I can testify that in many cases the missionaries who work with Muslims will have women perform the baptisms, for the men are not permitted to touch other women in such a way in that culture. By the way, it was on my way home from Saudi Arabia many years ago when I stopped in Hawaii and attended the church there in Honolulu where a rather "liberal preacher" was speaking on Grace! Anyway, women baptizing women in our culture is somewhat of a departure from our tradition, and so I think the question for our congregation is: how far do we want to push the envelope and depart from the traditions of the mainstream Church of Christ. Going too far is probably not wise.
As you have probably guessed, the "liberal preacher" in Hawaii that this brother encountered that day was yours truly. He and I have laughed about that in the years since, as he was somewhat shocked at the time by my radical message of Grace! As for the practice of women baptizing women, this is nothing new. Indeed, it goes back to the time of the early church. I did a study of this very question a few years ago, and the result of that research may be read in Reflections #239 -- "Gender Regeneration: May Women Perform Baptisms?" -- Al Maxey
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