by Al Maxey

Issue #616 ------- May 2, 2014
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)
The Blind Men and the Elephant

Ponderous Pachydermism
Groping To Grasp "The Gospel System"

So, what exactly is a "pachyderm," and what possible significance could it have to anything of a spiritual or religious nature? The word is actually derived from the Greek and simply means "thick skin." According to the dictionary, it refers to "any of the thick-skinned, non-ruminant ungulates, such as the elephant, hippopotamus and rhinoceros." While digestive and mobility issues of various species are specified in the terms "non-ruminant ungulates," the real focus of the term "pachyderm" is the external covering of the body. Specifically: the skin is thick. While such a condition may be abnormal, and even deadly, in many species, it is the norm in others (three of which are listed in the above definition) and is a beneficial characteristic on a number of levels. The term "pachyderm" is often used metaphorically of those who have developed "thick skin," and who are thus insensitive to such things as criticism, the feelings of others, etc. Depending upon what this "thick skin" repels, and prevents from entering our hearts and minds, this condition may be perceived as either a positive or a negative. For example, I have grown rather "pachydermish" to the harsh criticisms and attacks of the legalists; their fiery darts just bounce off my "thick skin," not piercing my heart. On the other hand, seeing others suffer at the hands of these legalists easily "pricks my heart" and moves me to act on their behalf and against their oppressors.

Religion, over the course of time, has, in many respects, taken on the characteristics of ponderous pachydermism -- i.e., it has grown larger and larger, more lumbering, and increasingly insensitive. Any effort to pierce through the skin of this beast to effect a change of heart, or any attempt to move it in a direction it does not choose to go or at a pace it does not choose to take, is extremely difficult. Getting through its outer skin to the vital organs is not easily done, as countless reformers have discovered over the centuries. Indeed, if the massive beast ever turns on you, it can prove deadly. One of the greatest disservices man has ever done to the restoration of relationship God accomplished through the gift of His Son is to turn this restored relationship into a rigid religion. In so doing, man created a monstrosity. The simple message of love and grace has been buried underneath the bulk of this brute. Simple spirituality has been smothered by The System. The Good News is no longer a Person, but a Pattern; it is no longer Love, but Law. Salvation is no longer what God has done for you, but what you must do for Him. "For God so loved the world that He sent forth a list of deeds that must be accomplished precisely according to the pattern, that whosoever checks every box might be saved." Hogwash!!

I can just hear the critics now: "Okay, Al, you're just being ridiculous. Nobody teaches that the Gospel of our Lord is a 'system' to which one must submit in obedience in order to be saved." Really? May I refer you to the web site of Apologetics Press, which is run by those within the ultra-conservative, legalistic, patternistic wing of the Churches of Christ. Notice #8 in the list of What We Believe, which states clearly: "Salvation is by means of obedience to the Gospel system." So, the Good News is now a "system"? I thought it was a SAVIOR!! In what possible sense is a legalistic system of required acts that must be done precisely according to the pattern or you will burn in hell "good news"?! The reason it is characterized a "system," is because these religionists have a whole list of things they have ADDED to the simple truth: "you are saved by grace through faith." Notice the full text of #8 -- "Salvation is by means of obedience to the Gospel system, involving faith in God and Christ, repentance from sin, confession of faith, immersion in water for remission of past sins, coupled with a life of growing consecration and dedication." Yup! Sounds like a "system" to me -- PLUS, throw in various additional "essentials" of this "gospel system" and you find precepts pertaining to number of cups, fellowship halls, Sunday Schools, children's homes, versions of the Bible, instrumental music in worship, and on and on and on! Yup. A "system." Ponderous pachydermism -- lumbering legalism -- and just try piercing the protective shell of this system; the beast will turn and trample you!

The Pharisees of Jesus' day had virtually perfected a religious system as the means of approaching God, and of being accepted by Him. And our Lord took them on head-to-head, face-to-face almost daily in His effort to redirect their hearts (hidden behind their thick skins) to the simplicity of what the Father truly sought. Our Father wanted a relationship with His children, not a religion; thus, He sent a Savior (His Son), not a system. We took what was simple, and we "super-sized" it. Thinking "bigger must be better" and "the more the merrier," we piled all of our party pluses (___ + ___ + ___ + ___ etc.) on to the simplicity of the Gospel until the Gift could no longer be seen. Brethren, the Pharisees are alive and well today, and they are still promoting a "gospel system" where salvation is "by means of" and "involving" and "coupled with" a long list of humanly devised acts (the particulars of which they refuse to provide), rather than, as Scripture teaches, "by grace through faith." In the above referenced item #8 from the Apologetics Press list of "What We Believe," the word "salvation" appears as a hot link, which when clicked takes one to a 30 page article by Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt titled "Receiving the Gift of Salvation." In this document they clearly inform the reader that the "gift" of God requires a great deal of human effort to receive. For example, they write: "When it comes to the spiritual Promised Land that God has freely offered to anyone who will 'take' it, some have a difficult time accepting the idea that man must put forth effort in order to receive it" [p. 4 -- the emphasis is theirs]. They further write, "Christ made it clear that there are works that humans must do to receive eternal life" [p. 13]. And you can probably guess which work tops the list. That's right -- if you don't make it to the water, you don't make it to heaven!

When we proclaim a "gospel system" that consists of a host of human works that must be performed precisely "according to the pattern," we have subverted the purity of the Gospel, and we teach a salvation "by means of" and "involving" and "coupled with" the various religious and traditional acts cherished by our particular party within Christendom. Such a system is, by its very nature, ponderous, and it quickly develops a thick, protective skin about it lest the beast be brought down by sound biblical exegesis. It is the elephant in the room that will not leave, and which will trample any who try to grapple with it. I heard from a reader while preparing this article (and he did not know what article I was working on) who wrote, "I resent God's love being forced into a recipe, formula or equation. The 'system' can weigh on us indeed." He stated life is a spiritual journey, and that it is about relationship with our Father -- "Growth, not an equation." He quoted his favorite faith phrase from author Thomas Kelley: "the simplicity that lies beyond complexity." We have taken the simplicity of a Savior (and what He did for us), and have exchanged it for the complexity of a System (which emphasizes what we must do for Him). He said to me, "I appreciate the profound salvation realization that you have found and have written about. It is indeed a life changing, eternity changing, awakening that I share."

Another reader, who resides in Texas, also wrote me this week (indeed, he is the one who initially informed me of the statement on the web site of Apologetics Press). He noted, "I find it interesting that of the nine belief points listed in the 'What We Believe' statement, I didn't see a single one that specifically stated the basis of our remission of sins is what Jesus did for us at the cross and in the shedding of His blood." If our focus is on a Savior, then we will lift up what HE did as the basis of our salvation; if our focus is on a System, then we will lift up what WE do as the basis of our salvation. The list left out Jesus altogether, except to say we must OBEY Him in order to be saved. Again, it's about what we do, with little or no mention of what He did. That is what happens when we preach a "gospel system" rather than the simple Gospel itself. Friend, if you want to trust what you DO in a system for your salvation, then go for it. As for me and my household, however, we will trust what He has already DONE in sending forth His Son as SAVIOR. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works" (Eph. 2:8-9). You can keep your system; I want no part of such ponderous pachydermism. My faith and hope lie elsewhere, and if you care to hear about HIM, I would be happy to share with you His Gospel, minus your system.

Specials for Readers
2014 Book & CD Offers
Click on the link above for a listing of the
books and topical studies and audio sermons
and new Bible classes by Al Maxey, and for
information on how to order these items.

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Alabama:

I would like to purchase the following items from you which are advertised on your web site: your two CD set on Encounters With Jesus, your CD on Law To Liberty, and a signed copy of your book titled One Bread, One Body. My check is enclosed. My husband and I have really enjoyed reading your Reflections articles, and we have learned so much! Please keep writing! Blessings to you ... and Thanks!

From a Minister in Mississippi:

I have been meaning to write and tell you how thankful I am that I finally got to meet you face-to-face at the 2014 Tulsa Workshop. Also, thank you so much for coming to the class session that I taught there. It was an honor!

From a Reader in Texas:

I love your web site! What a great resource, with a lot to take in. I found it through a link on another web site when I was trying to research the Churches of Christ and the Restoration Movement. What a quagmire: so many different factions and beliefs in your movement! On the other hand, I LOVE your teachings on Grace! That teaching has been a very important part of my life, and I applaud you for sticking inside the Church of Christ denomination and seeking to reform it from within! It doesn't surprise me that you're frequently attacked! After all, doesn't every true GRACE teacher come under attack?! Thank You for your work!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Recently, I did an Internet search on Demas; your site was one of the first that came up. I read your in-depth study of his life in Reflections #229, and it was an excellent article! I then continued to explore your web site further, reading about your books on MDR, the Lord's Supper, and Baptism, plus your many studies on instruments and women in the church. I was truly surprised to stumble upon a Church of Christ site with such rational teaching!! My father and mother were both Church of Christ, and so were their parents; my children also attended Lubbock Christian University. I have a love and appreciation for my heritage, and thank God for all He has done through this denomination, however it is truly a broken paradigm. It is so senseless for those within it to keep splitting hairs over every aspect of their Tradition. Yes, God's people have a sure foundation, but most of what has been built upon it by various sects and factions is nothing but straw: nothing but fossilized customs that have no life. Such will not last, as you so powerfully warn your readers.

From a Minister in California:

Thank you for your article on William Cowper: "The Depressed Hymnist" (Reflections #615). We, in the Body of Christ, have a penchant for castigating and dismissing such "failings" as depression among believers as nothing more than "a lack of faith." We would be much wiser, especially as church leaders, to both recognize the legitimacy of such conditions and seek to gain more knowledge about them, particularly in the field of chemical imbalance (which has no little impact on this condition). Thank You, Al, for being one of the boldest and best thinkers in our Movement in recent years! Your Reflections are true gold -- a must read!

From a Reader in Missouri:

Your thoughts on the life of William Cowper were very interesting. I'm always touched when I read about people from the past who suffered from depression, for good treatment was very limited back then. Yet, from great pain also comes a deeper understanding of God and a greater compassion for others. I have dealt with clinical depression for half of my life. I am also an artist. For some reason, these two often go hand-in-hand. I'm very grateful that I live in a time where treatments make it so much easier to function (unlike what William Cowper faced). Thanks for sharing his story with us!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Thank you so much for this article on William Cowper! To learn about this troubled brother, and yet know how much good he has brought into the lives of Christians down through the ages, is quite a blessing this morning. God's peace to you, my friend.

From a Reader in Alaska:

There is an opportunity to offer Edward Fudge some encouraging affirmation about the impact of his life's work on others as part of an upcoming conference that happens to coincide with his 70th birthday. While I plan to attend the conference, and have great respect for Edward's work and the immeasurable support his wife Sara Faye has provided to him, I don't know how to spread the word about this. That's where you might come in, if you concur that Edward deserves some recognition.

If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: