Issue #614 -------
April 17, 2014
Happy Birthday Today To
My Precious Wife: Shelly!!
I have hardly ever known a mathema-
tician who was capable of reasoning
Plato (c. 428 - 348 B.C.)
In an address delivered to the California Institute of Technology in 1931, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) made the following astute observation: "It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man's blessings. Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors ... in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations." The principle advocated by Einstein is equally valid among disciples of Christ, and especially among those of us called to positions of leadership. Too often we become so obsessed with details and decrees that we forget the focus should be on our fellow disciples. When law takes precedence over love, and religion over relationship, our efforts may prove to be more of a curse than a blessing, just as Einstein suggested.
Take salvation, for example. Is our salvation about law, or is it about love? Are we brought into relationship with our Father by how well we know and practice all the rules and regulations, or are we drawn close to His bosom by virtue of His love for us? As humans, we tend to think that we ourselves must somehow "measure up" to some established standard with respect to knowledge and performance before we can be accepted. The reality, however, is that God accepts us while we are still dead in our sins. The dead can do nothing to raise themselves up to a new life; it depends entirely upon the will of the Life-giver. That's where divine love and mercy and grace come in. All we are capable of doing in this matter is trusting Him who saves. It is entirely in His hands. We live or die by His doing, not ours. He has simply asked us to trust Him, and to leave it in His hands. This we do by faith. Once He has graciously bestowed upon us the gift of life, we then immediately respond, with the aid of His indwelling Spirit, by living lives consistent with His will and nature, as best we understand them. As we grow and mature in Him, we are increasingly transformed into His likeness (we love, because He is love; we are merciful, because He is merciful; etc.). We seek to do His will in all areas of life -- not in order to be saved, but because we are saved.
Sadly, however, we have taken the beauty of this relationship and turned it into religion. As such, we are no longer led by love, but by law. Indeed, we have removed our salvation from the realm of a divine gift, and have made it wages earned by our own human effort. Thus, salvation is something bestowed when WE have done all that we must DO in order to appease an indignant deity. When we know enough, and are obedient enough, and are good enough, then (and not a second before) God will save us. When salvation becomes part of a systematized religion, it will also become formulaic in nature. If we can put a check mark in all the appropriate boxes, then we can acquire the desired result. A + B + C = D. Leave any part out, or get them out of order, or make some substitution, and the formula fails.
There are many of us in my faith-heritage (as well as others), and that number is growing, who have abandoned "religion" in order to embrace relationship, for it is the latter our Lord truly seeks, not the former. Thus, we teach salvation by His love, mercy and grace, not salvation by our obedience to various rules and regulations. We bow before a Savior, not a System! We follow love, not law; faith, not formulas. For this I am frequently vilified and verbally eviscerated by those shackled to the System. Like Jesus, during His day, our greatest foes are often "the religious," for our freedom is viewed by them as a threat. As previously noted, however, more and more disciples and leaders within these legalistic, patternistic sects are awakening to God's grace, and they are shedding their shackles. They are viewing their salvation, and every aspect of their walk, with a fresh perspective born of newfound faith and freedom. It is a liberating experience, but also a frustrating one. We are free, but we look back and behold our beloved brethren still in bondage. This has motivated me, as well as others, to dedicate myself to exposing the System, so as to lead others to the joys of relationship with the Savior; sharing with them the truth of a salvation that is a free gift of grace. Simply trust/believe; forget the formulas. Love is not limited by law.
I have a dear friend who is a minister with a Church of Christ congregation in Texas. This is a very educated, insightful man, with a number of degrees from major universities, and who is struggling (as many of us have/are) with the System that has perverted our Savior's simple plan of salvation. He wrote me a long letter the other day sharing his personal struggle in trying to successfully minister within the parameters of the tedious tradition of our faith-heritage. It can be frustrating and discouraging trying to lead people to freedom, especially when all they have known is bondage, and when those they have trusted in the past vilify those seeking to free them. Notice some of what he wrote: "Modernity seems to have driven us to a definitive formulaic process of salvation. We must know that we are saved, and exactly when that occurred -- i.e., on the cross, baptism, sinner's prayer, etc. As a post-modern, I am much more comfortable accepting that God is in charge and I cannot know such things with any certainty. For me, this is the 'faith moment,' when we put our trust in an eternal, loving God, and then do the best we can afterwards. We let Him transform us, and accept that process as the mystery of life. I, like many, am sick of the continuing strife within Christianity that seems to stem from the pride of a need to be 'right.' I can know, preach and teach what I think, but truly have no right to say that another cannot have a different perspective, knowledge, or truth of God. My God is big enough to enable multiple people, groups and cultures to find and embrace Him. I am elated we serve a God who finds a way to save those of His creation that desire Him. I'm thinking that if He wants to save us, then He will. My role in that whole scenario is simply to rejoice and be happy! Frankly, my confidence in the institutions within which we work in the 21st century is waning! I accept them, but somehow think there must be more!"
I could sense the frustration in this dear brother throughout his letter to me. He has discovered grace, but is laboring within a system of law; he knows the joys of relationship, but is restricted by the parameters of religion. It can drive one mad! Part of his frustration, as detected in his first statement, is that systematic religion tends to favor "a definitive formulaic process of salvation." Whenever and wherever this happens, one can rest assured that it is only a matter of time before form takes precedence over function; process over people. We thus find ourselves right where Albert Einstein suggested we should never go! We have reduced God's love and grace and mercy to a formula, each part of which men must understand and practice to perfection if the desired result (salvation) is to be achieved. Our religious struggles with one another, as well as our many divisions, have largely come as a result of disciples debating the various particulars of this process. We are feuding and fragmenting over formulas, rather than finding unity in faith as one Family. We obsess over such matters as the precise split-second of salvation, as well as what acts must precede that point in time. We have taken symbols that reflect our Savior's love and transformed them into sacramental acts (i.e., baptism and the Lord's Supper). We formulate legislation governing and restricting both symbolic events, making more of them than was ever intended, and in the process elevating "a definitive formulaic process" as our new savior! Do this and you shall be saved. We have taken salvation from His hands, and we have placed it firmly in our own! Follow the formula and the Father will favor you with His fellowship. Fail to fulfill any part of this formula and you will find yourself flung face-first straight into the fires of hell. Brethren, we can do better than this! It is time for a new reformation -- one in which we overthrow our obsession with religion and embrace anew the loving relationship that is ours by grace through faith with the Father. Yes, we have a Savior, but the System is not it (nor any formulaic process within religious institutionalism). Jesus Christ ushered in "a time of reformation," one that was free of religious regulation (Heb. 9:10). We have lost sight of this gift. May God help us recapture it.
From a New Reader in Texas:
Brother Maxey, Please add me to your receiver list for your Reflections articles. I am a friend of someone you know here, and we have been studying some of your articles together. I have really enjoyed your insight and reflection.
From an Elder in Kentucky:
Dear Brother Al, For several years, I have learned so much from your weekly Reflections. I have served as an elder for 37 years, and have found very few who have such depth in their writings, and who use such solid logic, all based on the totality of the Scriptures, as you have! Thank you for your efforts, and may God continue to bless you as you serve Him.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Thank you so much for your study on the phrase: "The Filth of the Flesh" (Reflections #613). I too found this expression by Peter to be a reference to moral filth, but your study added much more insight than I was able to find in my research. Thanks again! If you speak next year at The Tulsa Workshop, maybe my wife and I will plan to attend so that we can meet you.
From a Reader in Georgia:
I usually don't laugh while reading your Reflections, since they are seriously prepared and quite involved. But, your remark in this last one about circumcision and a sex change operation almost made me spit out my coffee!! Too funny! Al, I think you have done a marvelous job with this issue of your Reflections (#613), along with the two previous issues pertaining to 1 Peter 3:21 (#217 and #497), in convincing any serious student of the Word that the out-of-context abuse of parts of this passage to support a sacramental view of baptism is just plain wrong. I guess some will continue to argue against facts, but those arguments die out rather quickly once the truth comes out. No matter how hard some try to build on to their spiritual "Tower of Babel" (trying to reach heaven by their own effort), we still must come back to the biblical teaching: "saved by grace through faith, and this not of yourself." I'm not sure why someone would want to take on a responsibility that only Jesus could handle!! By the way, I'm glad you made it back safely from The Tulsa Workshop. I heard it went really well.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Whew!! Your article "The Filth of the Flesh" is really going to get some responses! You make things so clear. Thank you, brother.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Your Reflections on "The Filth of the Flesh" was absolutely fantastic!! I have often studied this passage the exact same way, but never truly took it to the amazing depth that you did within this study. I really hope people will look at your writings on baptism, as they shed so much light on this topic. I once was sold on the idea that baptism itself took away sins, but when I finally saw the biblical evidence, and weighed it out, I came to the conclusion that my understanding was in error, and I'm okay admitting it.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
"The Filth of the Flesh" was another eye-opening lesson, my brother! I especially appreciated the final paragraph which referred to the blood of Christ cleansing us from our filthy fleshly nature. Your mention of a "fountain" (Zechariah 13:1) immediately brought hymn titles and phrases to my mind, such as: "There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel's veins; And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains." I remember singing this as a child, long before I gave my life to the Lord, and wondered what the author must have been thinking to write such a powerful song. I don't think I ever truly understood it back then, although I was led to believe that the song's meaning was about baptism in water. Of course, I no longer believe that at all, but am curious as to what you think of this song and its meaning.
There are a number of fabulous "fountain" hymns, and I mention several in Reflections #608: "Contacting the Blood of Christ." As for the hymn titled "There Is A Fountain," it was written by William Cowper (1731-1800) in the year 1771. It was based on Zech. 13:1 and was originally titled "Peace for the Fountain Opened." Cowper's father was an English pastor and his mother was a member of British royalty. William was a personal friend of John Newton (who wrote "Amazing Grace"), and they worked together for many years in Olney, England. The hymn has nothing to do with baptism in water, but is a reference to the washing we receive in the blood of Christ Jesus, which flowed freely from His veins as He gave His life for us on the cross. In this hymn, Cowper wrote, "Nothing can for sin, a cleansing be, but the blood at Calvary." How true! To preach and teach that we are cleansed in the water -- washed of our sins in the baptistery -- is about as false a doctrine as one can embrace. We are washed clean in His precious blood, which we "contact" by faith, thanks to His matchless grace! One of the verses of this hymn reads, "E'er since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die." And, indeed, this was Cowper's theme throughout the remainder of his life! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Thank you, Brother Al. Your interpretation of 1 Peter 3:21 in your three Reflections articles on this passage makes perfect sense! Peter was setting at rest the idea of baptismal regeneration, declaring that baptism was not for removal of sin, but rather as "the pledge of a good conscience toward God." Excellent!
For my in-depth analysis of this "pledge" of which the apostle Peter speaks, I would refer the reader to Reflections #497 -- "Critical Question on 1 Peter 3:21 -- Pondering the True Meaning of the 'Pledge' of a Good Conscience as it Relates to Baptism." Other aspects of the 1 Peter 3:21 passage, such as the purpose of Peter's reference to Noah and the flood, may be found in Reflections #217 -- "Salvation by Immersion: A Reflective Analysis of 1 Peter 3:21." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Bro. Al, Thanks So Much for your piece on the sacred cow of sacramentalism and 1 Peter 3:21 this morning! I must confess that I have been one of those who tried to have it both ways with that passage for years! Thanks for helping me out of the rut!!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
When I read your Reflections you always make me THINK. I was raised believing water baptism was very important. I still believe it is important, but I understand better now that it is more about what's in your heart, rather than what we DO, because people can say and do things and not really mean them. So, although I do believe that the act of obedience in water baptism is still very important, I think there are a lot more people out there that haven't been baptized that are probably way better off in God's eyes because of what's in their hearts.
From a Minister in New Mexico:
When one reads Matthew 28:18-19, it should be noted that Jesus instructed His apostles to immerse disciples in the NAME, as opposed to immersing them in WATER. Thank you, Al, for immersing people in the Good News of our Lord and Savior. In doing so, you are carrying out the Great Commission. May God continue to bless and guide you as you proclaim His message to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see the true meaning of the Scriptures illuminated in your weekly Reflections.
From a Reader in Ohio:
I'm so sorry I haven't kept in touch with you, my friend. Rest assured that you are continually in my thoughts and prayers as you continue to do such great Kingdom work! My wife and I are doing quite well, and we continue to live in awe of the warmth of God's amazing grace and love. I hope the same is true for you and Shelly, and for your entire family. I talked with -------- following their return from The Tulsa Workshop, and they said they had a wonderful time and a great visit with you. It sounds like great strides are being made within the Churches of Christ thanks to you, Rick Atchley, Patrick Mead, Edward Fudge, and others. I thank God often for men like you, who have been put into our lives to enlighten us on God's love and grace, and to give us such great encouragement. There are many of your Reflections that I truly love, but one that is particularly poignant to me (and I think it is one of your very best, in my humble opinion) is "A Rose By Any Other Name: Is the Scent of a Disciple Determined by Denominational Distinction?" (Reflections #420). Well, I know you are busy, but I wanted to write and let you know you are still very much in my thoughts and prayers. My dear friend, you have lifted me above the tired, old arguments of the past and into God's loving arms of grace! Soldier on, Al. We love you!
From an Author in Texas:
Al, don't ever become discouraged by all the things Ray Downen keeps writing about you. I have confronted him several times with this biblical fact: "We are not saved by any works we have done" (Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:8-9; etc.). Yet, he has yet to address these texts. Yes, the early saints did several things in common, but it is not once written in Scripture that they did them in order to gain salvation. I am trying to be patient with Ray, because for more than 40 years I espoused the same false teaching! Keep up the good work, brother!
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