Issue #603 -------
January 10, 2014
This overcoming of all the usual barriers between the
individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achieve-
ment. In mystic states we both become one with the
Absolute, and we become aware of our oneness.
William James (1842-1910)
I received the following email over the holidays in response to my last issue of Reflections (#602 -- "Union of Faith and Repentance"): "Brother Al, I find your perspectives to be very enlightening as they are essentially identical to those of the Fundamental Baptists with whom we are now associating. Having been raised in the Churches of Christ, I had great difficulty with their legalistic perspectives of 'favorite topics.' As to this issue of your Reflections, I find it interesting that your explanation of 'Space-Time' is much as I have come to understand it, and wonder if it might be in view by Paul in Ephesians 3:18 ('the breadth, length, depth and height'). That is definitely four-dimensional. I would like to hear what you think about that. Keep up the good work, brother!"
The term "four-dimensional" is an adjective descriptive of something typically "requiring four coordinates for its unique determination." In other words, it is something that either has, or is specified by, four dimensions, "especially the three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time: a four-dimensional continuum." This is commonly known in the field of physics as the "Space-Time Continuum." The term "four-dimensional" was first used in this manner around 1875. It is not limited in usage to the theoretical sciences, however, and is often used to describe the various aspects of other practical fields, such as the four dimensions of literature, poetry, landscaping, architecture, nursing, etc. Thus, it is to be expected that such a term might also have some relevancy in the study of theology, especially in view of finite, mortal humanity's effort to comprehend and communicate with an infinite, immortal deity, which is truly an inter-dimensional quest. By the way, there is a whole field of study and research known as Inter-dimensional Physics which seeks to find ways to travel between different universes and/or dimensions via "portals." Since our universe is perceived to be multi-dimensional, it is believed there could/should be some way for those in the various dimensions to interact in some sense (indeed, it is felt by some that extraterrestrials may already have discovered this and are seeking interaction with us on earth -- the UFO phenomenon), and a number of reputable scientists believe this could be the next great breakthrough in physics.
But, "back to the Bible." The apostle Paul is clearly speaking four-dimensionally in the above mentioned passage from his epistle to the Ephesian brethren. Paul prays "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:17-19a, King James Version). When Paul says he wants these people to "grasp how wide and long and high and deep" (New International Version) something is, he is speaking "four-dimensionally." The question that must be answered here, however, is: to what specifically does Paul refer? The original Greek text does not grammatically link this phrase to any specific object, although contextually there is much to be said for linking it with the love of the Lord. Thus, textually the door has been left open for a tremendous amount of speculation, which theologians are rarely hesitant to provide. "It has been asked, 'Of what?' Various answers have been given, but as St. Paul has obviously of set purpose omitted all definition, leaving the phrase incomplete in absolute generality, no answer can be perfectly satisfactory" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 35]. Some modern translations of the text have sought to complete the phrase by adding to the text their interpretation, and in so doing have only confused the issue more. The NIV has: "...to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ." On the other hand, the Holman Christian Standard Bible has: "...the length and width, height and depth of God's love." The Complete Jewish Bible has: "...to grasp the breadth, length, height and depth of the Messiah's love." Most versions and translations, however, leave the text as it was written (non-specific), allowing the reader to come to his/her own conclusion as to what Paul may have had in mind.
"No genitive being given, it has been a difficult point to settle to what these dimensions must be held to be applicable. Some think that the love of Christ in the following clause must be meant; but surely when that is made the subject of a separate part of the prayer, and is not in the genitive but the objective case, governed by a verb of its own, this explanation is not to be entertained" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20 -- Ephesians, p. 108]. Clearly, not all scholars are convinced the Lord's love is in view. "If a genitive must be supplied, may we not conceive the apostle to have had in his view the entire provision God has made in Christ for the good of His people, so that the dimensions would be those of the gospel storehouse, the vast reservoir out of which the church is filled? 'Breadth' might denote the manifoldness of that provision; 'length,' its eternal duration; its 'depth' might be represented by the profundity of Christ's humiliation; and its 'height' by the loftiness of the condition to which His people are to be raised" [ibid, p. 109]. Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann believes Paul "undoubtedly has in mind the church with its immense dimensions. This building extends over the entire world from north to south, from east to west, through all periods of time until the last day; it includes the believers that are now sleeping in their graves, and reaches to the heavens, where its exalted Ruler sits at the right hand of God. The church embraces the fullness of the elect, not only of Israel, but also of the Gentile world" [Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 275]. Adam Clarke suggests, "The temple at Jerusalem was that alone which he had in view" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 448], although he hastens to declare, "Imagination can scarcely frame any satisfactory answer to this question" [ibid]. A number of the Church Fathers believed this four-dimensional statement by Paul had reference to the literal wooden cross of Christ; others believed it spoke figuratively of the spiritual dimensions of the New Jerusalem (which dimensions are mentioned in Rev. 21:15f); still others saw it as a reference to the expansion of the kingdom to include Gentiles as well as Jews. "The imagination of the Fathers, such as Augustine, Gregory, Jerome and others, ran riot in the endeavour to find some distinctive, spiritual meaning in each of the four things here named; nor are the feats of interpretation less forced or fanciful which have been performed by some more modern exegetes" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 3, p. 315].
Although the apostle Paul was grammatically non-specific with respect to the object of his "four dimensions" statement, and although the speculations of biblical scholars abound, the context within which this statement is found suggests strongly that our Lord's LOVE is indeed in view and is what Paul most likely prayed that true believers would come to comprehend more completely. "What is the object in view in the mention of these dimensions? It is left unnamed. Hence the many conjectures on the subject. ... But the context naturally suggests the love of Christ, that being the supreme theme and the one which is immediately set before us in express terms" [ibid]. This is the view that has been held for centuries by the majority of scholars, and The Expositor's Bible Commentary refers to it as "sufficiently logical" [vol. 11, p. 52]. This seems to be further validated by a similar statement from the pen of Paul, also connected with divine love, in his epistle to the Romans: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39). The renowned Greek scholar Dr. A. T. Robertson, in his classic "Word Pictures in the NT," says that Paul is giving us "a four-dimensional measure of love." An equally renowned Greek scholar, Dr. Marvin Vincent, in his own "Word Studies," concurs: "The general idea of vastness is expressed in these ordinary terms for dimension. Notice that the article is attached only to the first, 'breadth,' with all the rest being included under the one article; the intention being to exhibit the love of Christ in its entire dimension, and not to fix the mind on its constituent parts."
Albert Barnes (1798-1870), in his "Notes on the Bible," wrote, "The apostle evidently meant to express the strongest sense of the greatness of the love of the Redeemer, and to show in the most emphatic manner how much he wished that they should fully understand it." John Wesley (1703-1791), who, along with his brother Charles Wesley, helped found the Methodist movement, gave the following interesting analysis of these four dimensions: "What is the breadth of the love of Christ? -- Embracing all mankind. And the length? -- From everlasting to everlasting. And the depth? -- Not to be fathomed by any creature. And the height? -- Not to be reached by any enemy" [Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) observed, "The dimensions of redeeming love are admirable. By enumerating these dimensions, the apostle designs to signify the exceeding greatness of the love of Christ, the unsearchable riches of His love, which is higher than heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, and broader than the sea (Job 11:8-9)" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Henry further observes, "Some describe the particulars thus: By the breadth of it we may understand the extent of it to all ages, nations, and ranks of men; by the length of it, its continuance from everlasting to everlasting; by the depth of it, its stooping to the lowest condition, with a design to relieve and save those who have sunk into the depths of sin and misery; by its height, its entitling and raising us up to the heavenly happiness and glory" [ibid].
"The four dimensions Paul presents ... is simply telling us that the love of Christ, exemplified in His magnanimity to the Gentiles, is too large to be confined by any geometrical measurements" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 52]. Thus, these four dimensions in themselves "have no particular significance except to give the general idea of the vastness of the love of Christ. This love is His love for us, not ours for Him, which latter interpretation is out of the question" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, Ephesians, p. 90]. Paul prays that we may all come to comprehend (a Greek word "which speaks of knowledge gained by experience," as Dr. Wuest points out), and yet the reality is we shall never fully grasp the fullness of that divine love, for we are finite creatures. "No matter how much the saint experiences of the love of Christ, yet there are oceans of love in the great heart of God that have not been touched by his experience" [ibid]. Note the inspiring words to this effect in F. M. Lehman's hymn, written in 1917, titled "The Love of God," which reads in part:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were ev'ry stalk on earth a quill,
And ev'ry man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Tho stretched from sky to sky.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints' and angels' song.
Yes, "human affection has its limits; not so the heart of Jesus!" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20 -- Ephesians, p. 120]. It is measureless; it cannot be contained. We strive to comprehend the dimensions of it, but such a task is ultimately beyond our present abilities. However, a "day" is coming, at the terminus of our bondage to the Space-Time Continuum, when that which we know only in part will be known fully, when the physical limitations will be lifted, and we shall see Him as He is! What a liberating experience that will be! At present, "such love may be darkness to the intellect, but it is sunshine to the heart; too marvelous for us to comprehend, but not too rich for us to enjoy" [ibid]. The child of the Father is "enveloped on all sides by this love, which extends itself in all directions around him beyond the limits of vision. Suspended in the very bosom of the Infinite Love, like the earth in the bosom of space, he looks before him, behind him, above him, below him, to seize the just measure of this Love which has saved him, but all ends in demonstrating the impossibility of measuring it. The breadth? On his right and on his left, immensity. The length? Before him and behind him, immensity. The depth? Under his feet, immensity. The height? Over his head, still immensity" [ibid, p. 124]. I like how this commentary summarized the thought here of Paul's four-dimensional statement: "The true science for saints is Christ's LOVE" [ibid, p. 120]. We are the center of His universe, surrounded by the vast, limitless expanse of His awesome LOVE. We may never fully comprehend it in this life, but we can bask in the warmth of it, and call others out of the cold darkness of this world to share in it. So, let us abandon our physical cathedrals and factional contentions, and let us go forth and proclaim the majesties of this measureless LOVE. We'll all be the better for it.
From Olan Hicks in Arkansas:
(an excerpt from an article that was sent to
his mailing list on January 2, 2014)
Three years ago I wrote to Al Maxey pleading with him to please stop the headlong plunge into anti-biblical concepts and consider for a moment what he is doing. I said, "God has not appointed you to upend everything He has planted through Christ and the apostles, and restructure the kingdom to suit your friends. You surely know that brethren will call on you to answer for what you say, but most importantly you will answer to God and this is for eternity. Please think about it." Instead of thinking about it, he replied the following to me: "I truly love you, brother, but there seems to be no getting through to you. Thus, I intend to cease my efforts. I have tried to reason with you, but to no avail." He continued his headlong plunge, denying Bible fact after Bible fact, and the farther it goes the weirder it gets. Now, in his latest Reflections (#602: "Union of Faith and Repentance") he has reached a point of total loss of contact with biblical reality.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Al, I really enjoyed Rick Atchley's three part series on "The Both/And Church." He is really a gifted teacher, and I thank you for posting the links to these lessons on your Facebook page. It really concerned me when Rick mentioned the hostility aimed at him after his first two lessons. WHY do people who call themselves Christians think that if they disagree with someone then they have the right to act UN-Christian? I grew up in a church that was kind of the same way. One Sunday morning in class we were reading a passage of Scripture that had to do with units of measure. My version had a different unit than the Bible teacher's did, so I asked the question, "I wonder how the translators came up with two different numbers?" The teacher asked me what translation I had. I said, "NIV." He said, "You have the wrong version" (meaning not the KJV), and then just continued on with the class. Why does such hostility exist? I am a grounded individual and feel I have a strong faith. But, what if that had been said to someone who was new to hearing the gospel? Thanks for your time, brother, and sorry for the rant. I really appreciate your Reflections articles, and thanks again for the links to Atchley's lessons.
Rick Atchley's three-lesson series on "The Both/And Church" is some of the most powerful teaching I have ever heard, and is an absolute MUST for the church today (especially our own faith-heritage, which has struggled with these very issues). This series was delivered in December, 2006 and helps explain the reasons The Hills Church of Christ (formerly: Richland Hills) added instrumental worship assemblies. Frankly, I doubt there is a legalist alive who can refute the sound reasoning Rick provided from God's Word (although many have viciously attacked him). The audio and/or video of these sermons can be ordered from The Hill's Online Bookstore. Every congregation should own a copy, and should show it to its members! The DVD containing all three lessons is only $15 (a real bargain). -- Al Maxey
From a Missionary in Peru:
Thanks for your recent article: "Union of Faith and Repentance" (Reflections #602). I agree with every word. So many preachers in your denomination (and others) behave like a group of children throwing sand in each other's faces while standing with their backs to the Ocean of God's Grace! What a travesty and tragedy it is that there are so many "Christian" snipers who spend (waste) their time and energy on trivialities and on attacks against other believers. They are truly rooted only in space and time, knowing nothing of the invasion of God's Grace into human hearts. This invasion of His Grace renews us every day, producing in us an eternal weight of Glory. When we have our eyes on the Ocean of His Grace, and His work within us, there just isn't time to spend on judging others; our desire is entirely upon walking ever deeper in the waters of His Grace, and inviting others to do the same. Being away from the shore, we no longer have to witness the children throwing sand. May the Lord continue to use you for His Glory, Al. May His every blessing be upon you!
From a Minister in Texas:
I'm an old preacher (56 years preaching, and still at it), and I always enjoy your articles. I read with interest the responses in the readers' section of your last Reflections to your article: "Aggressive Immersionism" (Reflections #601). I couldn't help but notice that you omitted a very necessary statement for Southerners and South-Westerners. In your response to the "Elder from Florida," you wrote the following about Ray Downen: "I choose to believe he means well, but that he is simply confused and misguided." You forgot to add, "Bless his heart!" That would have made it perfect! (LOL) I love your work, brother!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, your article "Union of Faith and Repentance" was really good and "heady." As I was reading it, I was thinking about some of your comments on "Berean Spirit" long ago (NOTE: this was an Internet Bible/Theology discussion group hosted by Yahoo Groups that I started while preaching in Hawaii, and which grew to include almost a thousand members; it still exists, but I turned ownership of the group over to a friend many years ago. -- Al Maxey). Behold, essentially those same concepts and comments showed up in your response to the fellow from Alabama (in the readers' section of your last Reflections). Al, you did soooo well in explaining that "heady" stuff, both in your article and in your reply to the Alabama brother!! Super stuff! What you have provided for us is the real explanation of who is truly a Christian!
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Boy, this last Reflections ("Union of Faith and Repentance") may go right over the heads of some of your readers! Great work, though! God is multi-dimensional; we are not. Good job, brother! I like the sphere idea. For God, time and space is a sphere: no forward, no backward, no up, no down, no past, no future. WE exist on a space-time continuum; HE does not. For us it is a line; for Him it is a sphere.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Wow!! I just read "Union of Faith and Repentance." I think this might have been the first time that I almost enjoyed the teaching you were giving via the readers' comments section more than the main topic! Not that the topic of your article wasn't interesting -- it always is -- but, people are really struggling with legalistic ticks and other blood-suckers! Keep up the good work, my friend. And pray for Phil Robertson. It'll be interesting to see how the world handles him. (LOL) Merry Christmas, Al & Shelly.
From a Reader in New Delhi, India:
Ahhh! "Union of Faith and Repentance" was so beautiful. Truly sublime! Thank you, Bro. Maxey. I eagerly anticipate many more such reflections and insights from you in this coming new year!
From a University Professor in Tennessee:
I don't know if you have ever come across a guy named Steven Rudd, who lives in Canada, but he has a web site (www.bible.ca) where he holds forth on Non-Institutional teachings. Recently, he has taken to teaching about the "evils" of psychiatry, saying that mental illness is really just "sin" or "sinful behaviors." I addressed some of his views on my blog site in this article "When Ignorance Becomes Sin." In my opinion, this guy is dangerous, and he may influence people not to seek the help they need to deal with mental illness. It sickens and saddens me to think a minister would lead people away from such legitimate help. His whole take on psychiatry is dangerous. Are there excesses in this field? Sure there are. But, mental illness is real, and such people need real help, not accusations and platitudes from amateurs like this guy!
From a Ph.D./Author in California:
I just ordered your 2013 Sermons CDs, and am highly recommending them to others. They are excellent sermons, and I have obtained much help from them for several years now.
From a Reader in Florida:
I just listened to (and watched) your Christmas sermon again on your congregation's web site (Click Here). It was such a blessing to me! It is obvious to me that you put a lot of thought and heart into your lessons. Thank you also for sending me the CDs of your sermons. I received them today and am going through them with great delight. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Al, you have done more to wake people up spiritually so that they may find true freedom in Christ Jesus in the past 15 years that you have been here with us than anyone I know of. It is sad, however, that there remain a handful who are still in a coma, and who can't seem to grasp the freedom that Jesus wants for us. Once a person gets off on the wrong road (legalism), it is difficult to show them the true path. What a shame not to see the light, and to instead walk a path that leads to a wasted and unsatisfactory life.
From a Reader in Texas:
Happy New Year, Al. 2013 is gone and I'm sure we will see some unique challenges in 2014, especially for those of us who dare to challenge the traditions within our fellowship that are holding us back. I have a favor to ask of you. For several months I have been emailing back and forth with Don Wiggins, who lives in Australia and is a member of the Churches of Christ. He encouraged me to place on my web site a study he had written titled "What Can Women Do in the Church?" (subtitle: "A Study into the Scriptures Concerning the Role of Women in the Church and Ministry"). This study is offered in three parts (.pdf downloads) on my web site. I believe it to be one of the best I have read, and I have encouraged him to contact several publishers. Until such time as it is published, it remains a free download on my web site. If you would, please mention its availability to your readers.
The above reader (Wiley Clarkson, a friend for many years now) is one of the leading advocates for gender equality within our faith-heritage, and I believe one should seriously consider the information he has placed on his web site: Where The Spirit Leads. He has also graciously provided links to my own work. When you get to his web site, scroll down the section on the left to the name "Don Wiggins," then click on that name. It will bring up information in the space on the right side of the page. Scroll down that section to the three part download of the above referenced work by Don. It is a free download, and I believe you will find it fascinating reading and well researched and documented. It has also proved to be rather controversial and costly for the author, as I have been informed that he has had to leave the congregation where he was previously worshipping (which was rather conservative) and that those who agree with his views are threatened with disfellowship. Sadly, few take kindly to having their "sacred cows" disturbed in the "party pastures." -- Al Maxey
From an Elder in Florida:
This issue of your Reflections (Issue #602 -- "Union of Faith and Repentance") made me think of K. C. Moser's book "The Way of Salvation," which he gave to me nearly 50 years ago when I was a very young preacher. He also presented repentance and faith as two sides of the same movement from sin into the grace of our Lord. When we recognize that faith is not merely intellectual, but that it is also volitional (i.e., involving the will) and emotional (i.e., involving commitment to the object in which we believe), we cannot help seeing that an impenitent faith is an oxymoron, and that we cannot truly believe without turning to God.
I would refer those readers who might be interested to my study of this great man several years ago in Reflections #392 -- "Kenneth Carl Moser: A Powerful Voice for Grace (1893-1976)." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Arizona:
That is an impressive listing (2014 Book & CD Offers) of spoken and written teaching! I am thankful that the Lord has used you to enlighten and help free many humble hearts through your preaching and teaching. I am still really looking forward to meeting you. During this past year an impression has increased within me. The impression is: confession of sins and prayer for each other is an enormous omission among virtually all churches (except the Catholic Church). This is not just a Church of Christ problem, but explains the pride, malice, gossip, slander and division in many places. Those who confess and pray tend to develop humility and personal honesty: a basic honesty missing in too many churches.
From a Reader in Alaska:
Having been blessed with a talent and desire to analyze just about everything, I found your article on the Space-Time Continuum (Reflections #602) very interesting. I studied physics, chemistry and math, as well as less technical subjects. I worked for years as a trouble-shooter on physical manufacturing systems. Along the way, I took an interest in systems theory, particularly as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (entropy/disorder) applies. This has all led to my own understanding of a phrase in 1 Cor. 15:52 -- "in the twinkling of an eye" (NKJV). I asked myself, "How long is the present on the time line?" As we measure time, the present is the shortest measurement of time possible: "the twinkling of an eye." I notice that some are calling it "Planck Time," which equals roughly "10 to the -43 seconds." All else is either "history" or "the future." This certainly shows me the temporary nature of time. Even if we were to say that the present is a whole second long, it still makes us think about time wasted.
From a Minister/Elder in Florida:
Someone sent me a link to the following article by Doy Moyer on instrumental music in worship (Click Here). I thought you might be interested in reading what he has to say on this. What do you think about his argument that Christians themselves are the "instruments" to be used?
I don't agree with his position at all, which probably comes as no big surprise to anyone. I have come across this man's teaching before, and wrote a critique of that teaching (on a different subject), and he was not pleased with my analysis (that critique can be read at: Reflections #596 -- "A 'This or That' Theology"). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Arizona:
I just finished listening to your two CD series: An In-Depth Study of the Epistle to the Galatians. I just wish I had heard this forty years ago!! I grew up in the Church of Christ, and you know how we were -- we were the ONLY ones right; the ONLY ones saved (and not even all of US). I also purchased and listened to your series of lessons on CD titled Law to Liberty: "Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ." HOW GREAT!! You and your wife, Shelly, are in my prayers!! Thank you for being in my journey with God. How great He works! Enclosed is my check for your two audio CDs on 1st & 2nd Peter -- Encouragement for the End Times. Thank you again!
From a Reader in Mississippi:
We would like to purchase your first book Down, But Not Out, and a check is enclosed. We are new to your Reflections, and are enjoying them and your sincere love for the Lord. We are from California and have lived in the South for almost nine years now, and are really struggling with the legalism in our church. Thank you for your words of comfort in your writings. It has caused us to study more and more!
From a Reader in Washington:
My wife follows you, and communicates with you, on Facebook. She really appreciates you, Rick Atchley, Rubel Shelly, and a host of others who are attempting to promote Jesus Christ, not the Church of Christ. Love ya, brother!
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