by Al Maxey

Issue #644 ------- January 15, 2015
I find the great thing in this world is not so much
where we stand, as in what direction we are moving:
To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes
with the wind and sometimes against it -- but we
must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894)
The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table

Lordship of Membership Aboard Ship
Graceless Guardianship of Sectarian Fellowship

A good many years ago I was privileged and honored to be able to serve our nation for six years (1968-1974) as a proud member of the U.S. Navy. I was in the air wing of this branch of the armed forces, thus did not spend much time around ships or at sea (I discuss this in more depth, for those who might be interested, in Reflections #232: "Christians Bearing Arms"). However, I did do nine months aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), an aircraft carrier with a crew of almost 5000 men, on a WestPac mission off the coast of North Vietnam (and we also got to visit a number of foreign ports, including Hong Kong, Japan, and the Philippines). I was a member of an A-6 Intruder squadron (VA-52) based on Whidbey Island, WA, but which was deployed, along with a number of other squadrons from other bases, to this carrier for this specific nine months mission. Thus, I was part of the air wing rather than a part of the "ship's company" (which was the actual crew of the ship itself). There was a good amount of rivalry between the various squadrons, as well as between the air wing and the crew of the ship (and also a good deal of interdepartmental rivalry among the Kitty Hawk's crew), yet we all served aboard a single vessel and under one Commander-in-Chief and were tasked with the same ultimate mission during this nine months deployment, although we each had our unique jobs to perform. Even though there was great diversity in many areas aboard ship, and some degree of what might be called prideful partisanship, there was also a basic unity of purpose that bound us together as a fully functioning and effective fighting force. At the end of the deployment, our mission had been accomplished without the loss of a single man or aircraft, for all aboard had served together as one team with one purpose, and therein lay a central key to our success. There was unity in diversity!

There are those in Christendom, and a good many within my own denomination (Churches of Christ), who have become such hardened legalistic patternists that they regard the concept of "unity in diversity" as heresy. One individual wrote me this past week saying, "Bro. Maxey, 'unity in diversity' has been shown to be a very foolish endeavor, and it is not the way through which unity in the faith comes." For those of this mindset, the only "unity in the faith" they will acknowledge or accept is the "unity" that comes as the result of uniformity with their personal and party preferences, perceptions, precepts and practices. Look like me, think like me, act like me, worship like me, agree with me ... and we'll have unity: we'll let you be part of our "crew;" we'll allow you to sail on our ship (which, of course, is the ONLY ship bound for the heavenly port; all others are headed straight down to "Davy Jones' Locker"). Jesus had little use for such party proselytizing and sectarian cloning, and He chastised these rigid religionists, saying, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves" (Matt. 23:15, ESV). I like the way this is rendered in The Message: "You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned. You're hopeless! What arrogant stupidity!"

Those who have embraced what is often characterized as "legalistic patternism" (about which I have written extensively in my Reflections, and about which I have even had a published debate: The Maxey-Broking Debate) firmly believe that there is only one true church established by Jesus Christ -- and they, and they alone, ARE IT. If you are with them, then you are with Him. If you differ with them in any way, you are damned. Period! The Commander-in-Chief has only ONE ship in His navy, and it is theirs. If you are on that ship, then you are bound for the eternal safe harbor at the end of life's voyage. If you are a part of this ship's company, you are the correct crew. Those who sail aboard this ship are an exclusive company: i.e., they exclude all who dare to differ with them. This is religious and sectarian exclusivism of the most radical sort, and our Lord's most scathing rebukes were reserved for these religionists: these legalists and patternists who were more intent on promoting and preserving a party than they were in proclaiming the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. These "Pharisees" still exist today, and they are still in the business of cloning fellow "sons of hell" to serve as sectarian sailors on their "one true ship."

I happen to be of the conviction that our eternal Commander-in-Chief has only one navy, but it is made up of many ships (of many sizes and shapes and functions). To employ another metaphor, one used in the Bible, there is only one Shepherd, who has only one flock, but there are several folds (John 10:16; see my study of this passage in Reflections #57: "One Flock, Many Folds"). We, the Shepherd's sheep and lambs, are all part of one flock, but we may not all be within the same fold. This was a lesson John, and his fellow disciples, also had to learn, for he came to Jesus saying, "Master, we saw a man driving out demons in Your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us" (Luke 9:49; cf. Mark 9:38). Jesus gently rebuked John, informing him that these "others" didn't have to be in their little group; what mattered was: they were with Him. Yes, different folds, but still one flock; different ships, but one navy. I would urge you to read my analysis of this exchange between John and Jesus, and its significance for us today, in Reflections #560: "Prideful Partisan Narrowness" and Reflections #502: "What Is Jesus Looking For? A Comparative Assessment of Followers."

As previously noted, however, there are those today who still exhibit the prideful partisan narrowness rebuked by Jesus. The above mentioned individual who emailed me a few days ago also wrote: "Bro. Maxey, you seem to be advocating two bodies. Eph. 4:4 tells us 'there is one body,' however you seem to have developed two bodies: one with which you are in Christ, and then the other which is your 'faith-heritage.' You say that you do not confuse the two, which tells me that you are speaking of two distinct bodies. Bro. Maxey, when we read in Acts that people were saved and, as a result, added to the church (Acts 2:47), to which body were they added? You mention that there are groups that embrace different worship styles and traditions, and that they may even differ on 'various points of theological discernment and practice,' yet you imply these are all in the one universal Body of Christ. Brother, this sounds very much like the position Dr. Rubel Shelly took a number of years ago in his book 'I Just Want To Be A Christian,' in which he wrote, 'There are sincere, knowledgeable, and devout Christians scattered among the different denominations.' Do I err in my discernment that this is also your position?"

No, my friend, you do not err in that discernment. That is indeed my position. It was also the conviction, just as a point of reference to our shared "heritage," of Alexander Campbell, among a great many others in our "movement." I would encourage this individual, and others like him, to carefully and prayerfully read Reflections #115: "The Lunenburg Letter: Campbell's Controversial Correspondence with a Sister over Saints in the Sects," in which I document Alexander's response to a challenge similar to the one received by me a few days ago. It might also do this person some good to examine my review of Thomas Campbell's "Declaration and Address" in Reflections #417. There are important insights contained in the works of this father and son that we today dare not overlook in our similar quest to seek unity in the face of our many diversities.

The problem of the person who wrote to me, and those like him, is that they typically tend to equate those "in their group" with the universal One Body of Jesus Christ. To their way of thinking, there is only One Church ... and they are IT. If you don't worship in a building that has "Church of Christ" on the sign out front, then you are "in the wrong church." You are in a "denomination," and all denominations are "of the devil." WE, of course, are NOT in a denomination; WE are simply in HIS church: the one true church. That, of course, is the "Church of Christ," which is found right there in Romans 16:16 (we can't use "Church of God," which is found about a dozen times more often in the NT, because "a denomination got to it first," as I was once informed by an old preacher! Good Grief!!). Yes, this reader is correct when he stated that I do not confuse the two (i.e., I do not equate the two). There is indeed One Body, and it belongs to the Head: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ALL who are IN HIM are thereby IN IT. When we are added to Him (the Lord, the Head), we are numbered together with them (the other members of His universal One Body). If God is your Father, and if Jesus is your Lord and Savior, then you are my brother or sister in the One Family. And, no, you don't have to be my twin in order to be my brother or sister; we are in the same Family by virtue of paternity, not by virtue of pattern.

Let me clear up another common fallacy that was voiced in the above comment by this reader who wrote to me last week. He declared, "...we read in Acts that people were saved and, as a result, added to the church (Acts 2:47)..." This is a rather common misunderstanding based on the King James Version's mistranslation of this verse, which error I exposed in an early issue of my Reflections (Issue #9: "Added to the LORD"). The phrase "to the church" is actually an addition to the text by the KJV translators; it does not appear in the original Greek. Those being saved are actually added to the Lord (as is made clear in Acts 5:14), and all those added to Him are, as a result, united in One Body (i.e., numbered together with ALL others who are saved). I would urge this reader to carefully examine this verse again as it was originally written.

This reader further posed this question: "Rubel Shelly advocated 'Big F' and 'little f' fellowship. Do you advocate the same?" I might not use the same terminology as Rubel, but I very likely concur with his thoughts on this (although I haven't read them in many years, thus do not remember them clearly enough to give unequivocal concurrence). I would imagine what Rubel was trying to convey in his illustration is very much the same principle I sought to convey in Reflections #520 -- "Sectarianism's C-ism Schism: Upper Case or Lower Case Church?" I would also encourage the reader to examine the very next article, in which I develop this thought further: Reflections #521 -- "Drawing Lines of Fellowship." Rigid religionists seek to draw ever decreasing circles of fellowship, presuming themselves, I suppose, to be God's guardians of who may and may not set foot aboard ship, and who may and may not serve as members of the crew.

Yes, I am a part of the One Body of Christ Jesus: His One Church. Because I was saved by grace through faith, I have been "added to the Lord." Thus, I am in union with and fellowship with Him, and because of that fact I am also in union and fellowship with ALL others who have experienced the same. As Paul correctly observed, "God has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9), although too often we want to limit this fellowship to only those few who agree with our personal preferences, perceptions and practices (which was the threat facing the brethren in Corinth at that time, thus Paul's reminder). Sadly, we have those in the Family of God who seek to fragment our fellowship once again along partisan lines, excluding those who differ with them from the blessings of the Father. I have dealt with those of this mindset in Reflections #542 -- "Following the Fourth Faction: Examining the 'I am of Christ' Party Within the Universal One Body." I fear this is precisely what those who EQUATE their particular group (faith-heritage, denomination) with the universal One Body are doing. Thus, their church IS the Church, and they get very upset if you challenge this conviction. For example, this reader wrote: "I am a member of the Lord's church. The Lord's church is NOT a movement, but rather a people summoned out of the world, added to the Lord's church as a result of their obedience to the Gospel, and that church of which I am a member dates back well beyond the Stone-Campbell Movement to the first century. Any person whose 'faith-heritage' is founded upon a 'movement' which had its birth in the 19th century cannot be a part of that called out Body which has its beginning in Jerusalem in the first century."

You can see the problem here (at least, I hope you can). The group of believers with which this brother assembles, and with which he works and worships, is being equated with the One Body established in the first century. In his mind, they are one and the same. THAT is the problem; THAT is the fallacy. And it is THIS that motivates these people to boldly declare to all around them that unless they come out of their "denominations," and become members of "the one true church" (the Church of Christ church), they will all go straight to hell. They will turn red in the face if you point out that they assemble with a group that historically evolved (or devolved) from the Stone-Campbell Movement. They will almost have a seizure at such a suggestion. "We are NOT 'denominationalists;' WE are the one true church! WE are the only ones who are saved; the only ones who worship correctly; the only ones going to heaven." Of course, you then must press them to narrow this down even further, for there are literally scores of factions within the group denominated in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ." WHICH faction is THE "one true church"? Is it the one cup faction? The faction that doesn't eat in the building? The one that doesn't have Sunday School? The one that is non-instrumental? The one that is non-institutional? Etc. Etc. Pretty soon the One Body universal has been narrowed down to the six families that meet at the "right" Church of Christ over on 2nd Street and Elm. This would almost be hilarious, if it were not so heartbreaking!

Yes, I am a member of the One Body of Christ, and that universal Family dates back to when it was established by the Lord Himself. It has never disappeared from history, and those united with Him have existed in every period of time and in every culture. And, there is only ONE such church; it is HIS church. However, there has always been, and always will be, great diversity in how disciples in various times and places show their faith and express their worship. Paul discussed this diversity on a number of vital issues in Romans 14. There were those who felt some days had more spiritual significance than others, and those who felt that way likely tended to associate with those who felt the same; there were others who were convicted that no special days should be observed, and those who agreed with this view also likely associated more with one another than with those who held to a different conviction. There were also differences with regard to what one could eat or drink, and a host of other issues and practices. Paul did not say that one group had to compromise their convictions, or one group had to give in to the other. BOTH groups, Paul pointed out, were accepted by the Father. The challenge, then, was for both groups to learn to love and accept one another ... in spite of their differences. They were to practice unity in diversity. As Paul would point out: the Body is not all feet or hands or eyes or ears; the Body is made up of many diverse parts, each working together in harmony to build itself up in love (Eph. 4:11-16; cf. 1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12). Yes, I am a member of that universal One Body, but like every other disciple of Jesus I have chosen to associate with a group of fellow disciples who share many of my personal convictions and perceptions, and who even have similar traditions and practices. This latter association or affiliation in no way negates nor diminishes the fact of my membership in that universal One Body. I may be a resident of New Mexico, but I am a citizen of the USA; I may have been attached to an A-6 squadron, but I served aboard the USS Kitty Hawk. The former in no way negates the latter.

My parents both attended within that group whose name ("Church of Christ") can be found in the Yellow Pages of any phone book. My wife's parents did also. This was our heritage; it was a religious tradition of which we became a part by physical birth. My parents gave birth to me, and this is the group to which they took me. Same with my wife. Thus, when we married it was where we stayed. I was taught through my early years by "the powers that be" within this group that NO other group was acceptable to God, and if I dared to enter one of their buildings then my soul was in danger of the fires of hell. It wasn't until much later, and with much prayer and study, that I came to realize that NO such group, denomination, sect or movement, or any faction thereof, WAS the "one true church universal to the exclusion of all others" (as I had been told MY group was). Yes, there is only One Body, but it is made up of individuals, not institutions; it is made up of saints, not sects; it is made up of people, not parties. I may choose to work and worship with others of similar traditions and perspectives, but that in no way is determinative of, or even detrimental to, my membership in that great universal One Body. I am in that Body because I accepted His gift of grace by faith. I was thus added to the Lord and numbered with ALL others worldwide who also accepted His grace by faith. I have chosen to work and worship and affiliate myself with that branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement known collectively as "Churches of Christ," for this is my heritage and I am comfortable with some of their traditions. Could I work and worship with some other group? YES, I could ... and often DO. My spiritual family is not restricted to the confines of any one denomination; I have brethren in all of them. Am I comfortable with all of the traditions in these other groups? I am with some; I'm not with others. The same can be said of my own denomination. So, I have chosen to stay and "blossom where planted," hoping to help those in my heritage to find greater harmony with their brothers and sisters in other heritages (Reflections #20). After all, we are all ONE in Christ Jesus our Lord, and I believe it is time to start acting like it!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in California:

Al, I really appreciate all of the excellent Bible lessons you produce! I would like to order the CD of the slide presentations of your 2014 PowerPoint Sermons. Also, please send me the two CD set of your Study of Revelation. My check is enclosed. Thanks, Al, from your friend and fellow "hairy-tick."

From a New Reader in New Mexico:

I would like to be added to your mailing list for your weekly Reflections articles. I go to a Church of Christ here in Albuquerque and am wanting to get a deeper understanding of the Word, and not just the same old traditions I have been taught my whole life! Thank you.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Al, can you please explain to me what Col. 3:17 means? I don't think that I understand what my Church of Christ friends mean when they quote that verse as a response to my comments.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

The church established by Christ is the Body of Christ, cleansed and made perfect by the shedding of His blood to atone for our sins. In this we are glued to the perfection of our Savior -- our Tupos -- even though we fall short of the glory of God. None of the local churches cited in the Scriptures conformed perfectly with the "Tupos" (Pattern) of Christ because those local churches were comprised of imperfect disciples like you and me. The apostles taught them about THE "Tupos," but all of them fell short of the glory of God, just as the apostles themselves fell short of THE "Tupos." Every letter addressed to all of those local churches pointed out their failures to follow the perfect "Tupos" of Jesus. If we choose to follow the imperfect patterns established by any of those local churches, then we too have failed to follow the perfect "Tupos" of Jesus Christ Himself. Our Lord founded one, and only one, Body of Christ (THE church), and His Body is flawless, cleansed by His blood. Thank God that we imperfect and still sinful disciples are glued to His perfect Body by our faith! We are made perfect, completely bound to His Body by our faith/belief that He alone is the Son of the living God, who died to glue us to that perfect Body in spite of our many imperfections. Bro. Al, too many of our brothers and sisters are still blinded by a lack of any real understanding of THE "Tupos." They think it is some compendium of doctrines and practices that they must search for in and discern from their study of the Scriptures. But, it is NOT. That "pattern" is simply JESUS. I pray that God will remove the scales from their eyes as He removed the scales from the eyes of His apostle after He met him on the road to Damascus. May God guide your every thought, word and action as you continue proclaiming the Good News found in your Reflections.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, the local congregation here in our town appears to be cut off from civilization, for they are still preaching and worshipping as if they were living in the 1950's. I had decided to begin worshipping with them again, since I am no longer able to drive to the more progressive Church of Christ in the next town (some 40 miles away), however the sermon this week, titled "Trendy or Truthful?," at the church that is closer, was sooo depressing! There is a Baptist church within a half mile of me, but my 61 years of indoctrination in the Church of Christ is holding me back.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Finally! The first Reflections ("Begotten Through the Gospel" -- Reflections #643) came in for the new year! I guess you don't need to be told that Peter and Paul did NOT take Christmas and New Year's Day off from their writings! (LOL) I hope 2015 brings you many blessings, my friend. What you wrote in this first study of the new year now brings much greater clarity to my understanding of why Paul was not so much concerned about the administration of obedience as he was about simply delivering the Good News about Jesus. Much like the apostles didn't want to stop and have to set out tables of food for the poor (so they appointed seven servants/deacons), but rather wanted to focus on their mission of sharing the Word. This, of course, didn't make feeding the poor unimportant, just less important than telling the world about Jesus! I've heard a lot of excuses for why Paul "wasn't sent to baptize," but it seems clear to me now that Paul knew what saved people: and the what was a WHO. To be born again by the Spirit based on our faith was, in Paul's mind, sufficient to get us on our spiritual journey. He knew there would be teachers and instructors to help guide people in the proper direction, but no journey could be completed until it was started, and it was begun by FAITH. Wow! Great article for the new year! Thanks for sharing! Coffee + Maxey = Life is Good!! Brother, you encourage SO MANY!! I have increased my appreciation for what the Scriptures actually say through studying your Reflections. I'm not sure there is anything that could be more meaningful to me than that (it even beats chocolate!).

From a Reader in Hawaii:

We just began a study here of Hebrews, and our minister stated that Heb. 1:1-2 is a passage very rich in the Greek. So, I translated those two verses, which led me to wonder: at the end of verse 2, many translations use the word "world." Is that a good translation of the Greek word "aion"? Do you have any comment on that?

From a Minister in Texas:

Happy New Year, Al. Thanks again for your sincere search for understanding in our postmodern world. I am continually amazed at those among "us" who seem to think they already know everything about everything! At the Abilene Christian University lectureships recently, I heard a speaker who categorized theologians into three groups: those who thought they knew everything, those who wanted to know everything, and those who understood they did not know everything (and were okay with that). Her point was that the folks in the first category were the ones who do the most damage to others in this world. They continue to advocate their individual point of view without any conception that they might be wrong on one, two, or infinite points. Their narrow perspectives create disunity and strife throughout Christendom. The second group are the folks that are never happy with their understanding or relationship with God. They continually seek a higher understanding without ever being able to have peace in their lives, for they want perfect knowledge in an imperfect world. Their search is doomed to failure as they will never fully have all the answers.

The last group comprehends they will never have a perfect understanding of God's will because we clay pots have a hard time understanding the Potter. We pray for wisdom, but never reach a point where we announce that only we have in our possession the secret truths of God. Instead of Christians fighting over who has all the right answers, shouldn't we simply put our faith in an eternal Father who gives us both His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our pride and hubris and His Spirit to guide us and keep us humble? As the Oklahoman professor points out in your last readers' section: many in our world run from Christianity because of "Christians." My prayer is that we can all keep in mind that we may never fully know the mind or plan of God for our lives, yet I pray we can support His Kingdom in our designated area without resorting to metaphorical burning of heretics who do not see truth as "we" do. The lost of the world need a strong, unified Body of Christ speaking out as Jesus did. Again, thanks for the thought-provoking articles that ensure all are on track to grow and mature in our faith, all the while understanding that we may not know everything!

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