by Al Maxey

Issue #654 ------- April 10, 2015
When a man's religion becomes really
frantic, then I think it high time to take that
individual aside and argue the point with him.

Herman Melville (1819-1891)
Moby Dick

Knocked Breathless by Jesus
Reflecting on Our Redeemer's
Response to Ruffled Religionists

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher, in his "Pensées," opined, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction" [no. 894]. We could add to this astute assertion the additional observation that much of what constitutes such "religious conviction" has far more to do with human tradition than divine Truth. The German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), in his work "Human, All Too Human," declared, "Every tradition grows ever more venerable: the more remote is its origin, the more confused that origin is. The reverence due to it increases from generation to generation. The tradition finally becomes holy and inspires awe." When this occurs, and it occurs far too frequently, those awed by their tradition will become quite irate at any suggestion that their tradition may, in reality, fall short of ultimate Truth. To criticize or challenge a tradition that has come to be perceived as holy, or as constituting divine Truth itself, is to risk experiencing a full outpouring of wrath from these religionists. Yet, in the words of T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), in his work "After Strange Gods," we must understand that "tradition by itself is not enough; it must be perpetually criticized and brought up to date under the supervision of what I call orthodoxy."

Perhaps we today, as disciples of Jesus Christ and children of the Father, could rightly characterize that "orthodoxy" as God's Word, which has been revealed to us through the inspired writers, through the life and teaching of Jesus, and through the indwelling and enlightening of the Holy Spirit. All things, and especially our venerated traditions, must continually come under the constant scrutiny of ultimate Truth itself, otherwise the focus of our mission, as well as our ministries, will slowly but surely shift from Truth to tradition, and therein lies trouble! Jesus did not water down His words when He told the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, "you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition. ... You worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:6, 9). In Matthew 23 Jesus tore into them again, and far more harshly! Our Lord had absolutely no use whatsoever for those who elevated tradition over Truth, and He never missed an opportunity to make His displeasure known to these legalistic traditionalists. Indeed, during His years of public ministry, Jesus went out of His way to visibly and publicly transgress as many of their cherished traditions as He possibly could! Jesus was an "in your face" rebel in this respect, and the rigidly religious absolutely hated Him for it. They were constantly offended by His teachings and actions, and in time succeeded in murdering Him.

We are far from surprised, therefore, to find some of the disciples of Jesus coming to Him after His above mentioned rebuke of the religious and informing Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?!" (Matthew 15:12). That would probably be stating it mildly. Some translations read, "angry," "upset," "insulted," "indignant," but I couldn't help but chuckle a bit when I read the wording of "The New Testament in the Language of the People" by Charles Williams: "Do You know that the Pharisees were knocked breathless to hear what You have just said?" A couple of versions use the word "scandalized" [the "Douay-Rheims, 1899 American edition" and the "New American Bible, St. Joseph edition"), which makes some sense, for the Greek word used here is "skandalizo," which literally means "to cause to stumble; or metaphorically: to offend, shock, vex; excite feelings of repugnance" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon of the NT, p. 368]. "Young's Literal Translation" (as well as a footnote in the "New American Standard Bible") states that these Pharisees and their cohorts were "caused to stumble." Yes, what Jesus said and did caused these people to stumble with respect to their religious convictions. It tripped up their theology, and, frankly, that is not always a bad thing! Some hard-headed types need to be knocked for a loop and knocked breathless ... for their own spiritual good ... and Jesus did not hesitate to deliver that blow when needed.

Further, Jesus did not chase after these offended, insulted, upset, angry, indignant individuals. He didn't back down from His pronouncements that Truth must always trump tradition, nor did He back off from His proclamations of divine Truth; He did not apologize to them, nor did He seek to compromise with them. When they walked away ... He let them. On another occasion, where He was delivering equally difficult Truth, John writes, "On hearing it, many of His disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?' Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, 'Does this offend you?' ... The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life'" (John 6:60-63). Nevertheless, "From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him" (vs. 66). Jesus, by the way, used the same Greek word for "offend" that Matthew did (as discussed above). Yes, when divine Truth is proclaimed, especially when that Truth tends to "take on" time-honored traditions of men, there will always be those who are greatly upset, for you are not validating that which they are venerating. When such people turn against you, or turn away from you; when they are scandalized and horrified and mortified; when they are knocked breathless by your preaching and practice ... what should you do? We have the answer in Matthew 15:14. What is the advice of our Lord Jesus? -- "Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit" (English Standard Version). "Let them alone" is how most translations render the Greek phrase in this text. Other less used renderings are: "Let them be" ... "Leave them alone" ... "Stay away from them" ... "Depart from them" ... "Ignore them" ... "Don't worry about them" ... "Forget about them" ... "Let them go their way." Clearly there comes a time when we must "shake the dust from our feet" and move on.

At this point it behooves us to add a very important note of caution: the above in no way suggests there are never times when it isn't important and even advisable to approach a troubled or offended individual and seek reconciliation. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs His disciples to go to those who feel you have wounded them in some way "and be reconciled to your brother" (Matt. 5:23-24). Our relationships with our brethren are vital to the proper functioning, and to the fulfilling of the mission, of the Body of Christ. Thus, misunderstandings among spiritual siblings should be worked out, if possible, to the benefit of all, without compromising the liberties and/or convictions of any (which is a fundamental focus of the teaching of Paul in Romans 14). "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love" (Rom. 12:10). "Live in harmony with one another" (vs. 16). "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (vs. 18). Many situations can be successfully resolved when differing disciples are willing to communicate with one another in a spirit of love. Our current study in this issue of Reflections, however, is not dealing with such situations. Rather, our Lord's seemingly inflexible insensitivity is reserved for those so rigid and calcified in their sectarian dogmas that they refuse to engage in any rational and reasoned discussion of differences. Like those who could not refute the teaching of Stephen (Acts 7:54, 57), such people flee with their fingers in their ears, or they viciously attack the source of their discomfort. Those who will not listen, who will not study, who will not give you a chance to resolve the situation with a view to a positive outcome, must, ultimately, be abandoned to their own stubborn will. To pursue them with pleadings only infuriates them and frustrates us! The father of the prodigal son, for example, did not plead with the son, nor did he pursue him. He let him go! Yet, he never stopped praying for his return, and when his son came to his senses and headed for home, the father was there to welcome him into his loving embrace. In like manner, Christian husbands and wives, when abandoned by their unbelieving spouses, are advised by the apostle Paul to "let them go" (1 Cor. 7:15). There is little peace for anyone involved when one spouse continually fights for a reconciliation the other spouse has no desire for whatsoever.

Yes, work for healing when healing is possible; seek reconciliation when reconciliation is possible; but be willing to recognize, as well, that at times such is NOT possible, and in such cases the wisest course is to "let them go." God may open a door of opportunity for you at some point in the future, but for the present it is best to move on. The Pharisees and the teachers of Law were offended, scandalized, knocked breathless by the teaching and actions of Jesus. They were so furious they actually plotted to kill Him. Jesus was aware that they were so entrenched in their traditions that nothing was going to turn them from those traditions to Truth. Thus, when He was informed that they were offended, He simply instructed His followers to "let them go their own way." They were not going to listen and they were not going to change; so, let them go! The troubling thing about this, though, is that these spiritually blind people had influence with others, and they would inevitably lead them, as well as themselves, into "the pit." This, in part, is what Jesus meant in Matt. 23:15 when He said of these blind guides, "You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are." Harsh words, but honest truth! Jesus knew that He and His disciples had little hope of turning these hardened leaders from their legalisms, so they sought instead to turn the followers of these legalists to a liberty from law found in the teachings and tenets of that New Covenant which was now being introduced by the Messiah to mankind. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) observed, "It was not strange that the Pharisees should be offended at this plain truth, for they were men made up of error and enmity, mistakes and malice. Sore eyes cannot bear clear light; and nothing is more provoking to proud imposers than the undeceiving of those whom they have first blindfolded, and then enslaved" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

When men and women purposefully choose human tradition over divine Truth, and when they become offended by any attempt to expose this fallacy and walk away from those who simply seek to share this Good News with them, then at some point we must acknowledge their choice and "let them alone." Matthew Henry noted, "They are wedded to their own fancies, and will have everything their own way; let them alone. Seek not to please a generation of men that please not God (1 Thess. 2:15), and will be pleased with nothing less than absolute dominion over your consciences. ... The case of those sinners is sad indeed, whom Christ orders His ministers to let alone" [ibid]. What a chilling thought: Jesus instructs us to essentially abandon those persons so devoted to human doctrine and practice that they viciously attack anyone who dares to try and share with them the Truth of the New Covenant. "Leave them alone" ... "let them go." Move on to those with hearts willing to listen and minds willing to learn. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) wrote, "These offended Pharisees were so zealous of their traditions that they could not endure that their absurdities should be exposed" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. It was with such persons in mind that Jesus taught, in His Sermon on the Mount, "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces" (Matt. 7:6).

Yes, the Pharisees "drew back in holy horror at the boldness with which the new Teacher set Himself not only above their traditions, but also above laws which they looked on as divine, and therefore permanent" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 92]. When we dare to challenge cherished traditions, seeking instead to elevate above them the simple truths of God's Word, we will offend some people. It is inevitable, and we are not to be surprised when it happens. Jesus warns us it is coming, and He tells us it will not be a pleasant experience, for these men and women can, and will, unleash a flood of fury against those they perceive as a threat to their personal and party preferences, perceptions, and practices. "Their traditions are so deeply interwoven with their whole lives" that the teaching coming from Christ that promotes grace, love and liberty is perceived as "in direct opposition to all that they esteem most sacred, and thus is seen by them to be dangerous and heretical" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, pt. 2, p. 106]. Unless their hearts soften and their minds open, they will be virtually unreachable. Some will attack you; some will just walk away from you. In either case, our Lord tells us, "Let them alone." This is truly one of the most difficult things we are called to do, for some of these people we must "let go" are people we dearly love. Yet, this is also something, difficult though it may be, we are called by our Lord to do. May He give us the courage of conviction to do so, and to stand by Truth, rather than bow before tradition.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Wyoming:

Al, I'm enclosing a check for an autographed copy of your book on baptism (Immersed By One Spirit). Also, have you ever considered writing on the case for Christians being involved in war? And what about Christians being involved in government? Maybe you have done studies of these topics and I am just unaware of them. God bless you!

From a Reader in Washington:

Brother Maxey, I would like to order all of your Sermon CDs (the MP3 audio sermons as well as the accompanying PowerPoint presentations) for the years of 2010 through 2014 inclusive. In addition, I would also like to order your MP3 audio class study (the two CD set) titled Revelation: A Reflective Study. Enclosed is my personal check for the amount. Thank you in advance for sharing this information with me. I know that in many cases it takes many hours to prepare for a 30 or 45 minute lesson. I look forward to receiving the benefit of your study time! May God's grace and peace be with you.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Maxey, thanks so much for your ministry!! What a blessing your Scripture-based lessons have been to my spirit. God bless you.

From a Minister in Alabama:

Al, Thank You for your ministry and work! I have been encouraged by your Reflections for several years and would be grateful to get your work on CD (The First Decade Collection). Best regards, brother.

From a Senior Minister in Tennessee:

Al, Thank you for this article on "Philip's Prophetess Daughters" (Reflections #653). Very well done. I have sent it to my staff and shepherds, all of whom are 100% in agreement with you and with each other. Due to snarky, sarcastic attacks that have come our way from some critics, it makes reminders like this all the more welcome! You are a good man and true friend!

From a Reader in South Africa:

If I may say, your Reflections on the topic of "Philip's Prophetess Daughters" is, as usual, well researched and deals well with the times in which these women are mentioned by Luke. My wife and I must affirm that our salvation in Christ came through the evangelistic work in South Africa of Churches of Christ about 50+ years ago. As the decades have rolled by, however, we have had reason to become concerned about this group. Your articles have often exposed weaknesses in this tradition, and we here have gravitated to meeting in smaller groups where women become, as they should be, a vital part of the Lord's Body. We may not be many in number, but in our lounge men, women and children are enthusiastic participants in our fellowshipping. Hebrews 10:24-25 comes to life!! May more of God's people go beyond mere reflection, and begin to ACT to really restore true Christianity. Addendum: My wife studied at Pepperdine years ago, and Dr. Howard White (Dean of Graduate Students) and Dr. J. P. Sanders (Dean of Students) were impressed with a programme she compiled for training more effective Sunday School teachers. They saw the potential for her to use her skills to contribute to the growth of South African Churches of Christ. Their idea was that she spend several months with a congregation developing a strong core of teachers and setting up a solid curriculum, then move on to help another congregation do the same. However, when these men contacted the local American preacher in this area, he strongly opposed their request, saying that it would be totally inappropriate for a young woman to operate in this way! His suggestion was that she should rather seek to get married and be a good wife and mother. The two Deans were extremely disappointed in such an attitude, but felt obliged to drop the venture.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

For those "conservative" Christians, and I count myself as one, who value Scriptural authority, in historical context, over "our" traditions, your latest article ("Philip's Prophetess Daughters") is a pretty important read! Thanks, Al. Well done!! Also, thanks for your 70 A.D. observation at the very end of the "Readers' Reflections" section. I too have seen many more folks in our heritage going there.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

"Philip's Prophetess Daughters" is a fantastic article, brother! I hope it stimulates some open-minded discussion and reasoning, instead of the narrow-minded legalistic rhetoric "we" are used to!! God's peace be upon you and your family.

From a Reader in Scotland:

I'm going to be honest with you, Al, in that, as a woman, I just can't move forward with the "woman" issue, and I so wish that I could, since it has always made me feel that God views women as second class to men. I will read this latest Reflections on Philip's daughters and hope to find some answers. Thank you for your on-going in-depth studies. I much appreciate them!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I think your article ("Philip's Prophetess Daughters") points out that God has ALWAYS used women in some of the highest offices, which also included speaking what He wanted to have spoken to men and women. It is also very enlightening to see that the promise of the New Covenant (as per Joel 2) was to INCLUDE women, not exclude them!! It's difficult to appreciate the gyrations that one has to go through in order to exclude what God Himself has so willingly included. However, I am becoming hopeful, as I see more and more walls being torn down by Truth! Blessings to you!

From a Reader in Arizona:

Al, thank you so much for writing about Philip's daughters and the implications for churches everywhere! If I could hug you through the screen, I would!! Where we meet in Phoenix there is at least one sister who prays more meaningfully in a Sunday night small group than the majority of the prayers spoken by the men in the building on Sunday mornings!

From a Reader in Canada:

Brother, "Philip's Prophetess Daughters" is a wonderful article! Clear, Scriptural, and concise enough for anyone to get the real gist of what you're teaching. BUT, get ready to duck, Al, for here come the haters!! Change is perhaps the hardest thing in this life for many to accept.

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