Issue #662 -------
June 5, 2015
You can fool some of the people all of the time,
and all of the people some of the time, but
you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
William James (1842-1910), an American physician, philosopher and psychologist, characterized by many as the "Father of American Psychology," made the following astute observation, "The nation blessed above all nations is she in whom ... the people know true men when they see them, and prefer them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks." Perhaps we could say much the same of the church of our Lord Jesus. We, the people of God, are truly blessed when we discover genuine spiritual leadership beyond all the rabid partisanship and empty quackery of delusional dogmatism. Jesus had little use for those who professed one thing and practiced another. The Pharisees were masters at doing this, and Jesus repeatedly exposed them for who and what they truly were. They were pretenders; hypocrites. There was a huge disconnect between what they claimed to be and what they came to be. They said one thing and did another. Jesus declared, "They do not practice what they preach" (Matt. 23:3b). The Lord didn't mince words with these leaders of the Jews, calling them "snakes," "a brood of vipers," "sons of hell," and "blind guides" (Matt. 23). They saw themselves as the children of Abraham, yet Jesus informed them, "You belong to your father, the devil" (John 8:44). In other words, actions speak louder than words. You can profess to be one thing all day long (and you may actually fool some people into believing your claims), but it's what you actually practice that identifies you in the sight of the spiritually perceptive. A poet from the state of Indiana, James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916), may very well have coined one of our best known proverbs, writing: "When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck."
Junius (the pseudonym of an unknown author who penned a series of letters to, and which were published in, the London Public Advertiser during the years 1669-1771) wisely wrote, "There is a moment of difficulty and danger at which flattery and falsehood can no longer deceive, and simplicity itself can no longer be misled." In that same article Junius spoke of how the common people "detest the supercilious hypocrisy of a bishop." Yes, one can fool some of the people some of the time, but in time the discerning see through the deception, and in so doing perceive the underlying religious hypocrisy. It's not so much what you say, as what you do, that determines how others perceive you. As Jesus pointed out to the religionists of His day: if your practice doesn't match your preaching, the effectiveness of the latter will be diminished by the former. The apostle Paul decried the doctrines formulated by hypocritical deceivers, who, in fact, may even have been deceived themselves (1 Tim. 4:2). When we teach one thing, while practicing something contrary, we will not long fool those we seek to teach; in time they see through the pretense of our hollow profession.
Hypocrisy is not an uncommon trait. We have all seen it, and most of us, if we're honest, have been guilty of it. But when one consistently, over a long period of time, boldly and publicly proclaims one thing, while at the same time practicing something else entirely, it soon becomes evident that we are witnessing a hypocrite in action. The apostle Paul spoke of those who "preach Christ out of envy and rivalry" (Philp. 1:15). Yes, they probably fooled some, but when one looks beyond the proclamation itself, perceiving the heart of the proclaimer (as evidenced by the fruit he or she bears, or fails to bear), it is hard not to notice that such persons, as Jesus pointed out, are simply not practicing what they preach. What is often truly tragic in such cases, and this happens a lot, is that the person who is evidencing a disconnect between profession and practice, something quite visible to others, may not himself/herself be cognizant of that disconnect, which often results in said pretender pouncing upon those who dare to point this disconnect out to him/her. Part of religious self-delusion is impairment of perception. Paul speaks of those under "a powerful delusion," and points out that they cannot discern truth from falsehood (2 Thess. 2:11).
Let me give you an example. There are some in my faith-heritage (that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as Churches of Christ) who have embraced the delusion that there is only ONE church of our Lord Jesus Christ ... and WE ARE IT. Nobody else ... nobody ... has perceived, and subsequently practiced, the divine will better than we have. WE are "the one true church;" all others are "denominations." WE are not a denomination; THEY are! I had this pounded into me by good-intentioned, well-meaning brethren for years, and for a time actually believed it. I now bow my head in shame that I ever bought into such nonsense. Yet, one of the hardest things I have experienced in almost 40 years of ministry is trying to get others to turn away from this delusion. One such brother in Christ is Hugh Fulford, with whom I have exchanged emails for a number of years. He is a good man; a great servant of the Lord. I would not even begin to question his integrity. I honor his years of service to the Lord. However, he is "old school" in some matters, while at the same time being very "cutting edge" in those same areas. His thinking on the church, for example, is quite insightful, and I agree with him on about 90% of everything he says about the nature and identity of the church. However, if you follow his teaching carefully, as I have done, it becomes very obvious in a very short time that he has trouble practicing what he preaches. This was made obvious (at least to some of us who are familiar with his work) in his most recent issue of "Hugh's News & Views" (which was sent out to his mailing list on Tuesday, June 2, 2015) in an article titled "What Kind of Preacher Am I?" (I saved this article to my computer and would be happy to send a copy to anyone who requests it; or you can request it directly from Hugh himself at email@example.com. I'm sure he wouldn't mind sending you one).
Just a few hours after Hugh Fulford mailed out this article, I got an email from Olan Hicks who sent out a one paragraph statement to his own mailing list. Olan began, "I want to commend Hugh Fulford's article on this subject. I agree with it. But, I would offer a word of caution on how we apply it." Olan then briefly discusses the nature of his "word of caution." I wrote Olan back (with a copy to Hugh), stating at the beginning of that email, "Olan, I too thought Hugh did a very good job with his most recent article. However, I too believe he has been somewhat disingenuous with his readers, as his practice is clearly inconsistent with his profession. ... I fully agree with what he is preaching, but disagree totally with what he is practicing. They don't match." The next morning (Wednesday, June 3, 2015), Hugh wrote me the following (with a copy sent to Olan), "Brother Al, I always know when one of my 'News & Views' has struck a sensitive nerve with you." He put a "smiley face" after this statement, and then he shared with me something he had posted to his Facebook page the day before (more about that later). I informed Hugh that I intended to comment on his most recent article, as well as the Facebook comment, in my next Reflections, and he wrote back, "Al, feel free to use anything in it in your upcoming exposť." For this gracious permission I thank my brother in Christ.
First, let me strongly urge you to get a copy of Hugh's article (either from me or from him) and read it carefully. I always urge my readers to check the source materials upon which I have based my reviews, and then determine for themselves whether or not I have fairly treated that material. Any review of another's work is going to be somewhat subjective, that is a given, so having others review one's review is a sound principle to follow. I have always tried to do this, although those who negatively review my work will rarely give their readers a link to my specific teaching in question so they can read it for themselves. Nevertheless, I won't stoop to that level. So again, I urge you to get a copy of Hugh's article and examine it carefully, and then consider my critique.
In his article, Hugh wrote, "We need to think seriously about our concept of the church and the concept of the church we are conveying by our speech. We need to study our Bibles and get a clear, biblical view of the church." I agree whole-heartedly with this statement. Indeed, I am being very proactive in this. A couple of months ago I began a Sunday morning class on the church, and have been seeking to convey who and what "the church" actually is. I still have several weeks to go, but several in the class have informed me that it has opened their eyes and caused them to rethink their previous notions about the identity and purpose/mission of "the church." I feel confident Hugh would agree with 99% of everything I have presented in my class, just as I agree with his perceptions regarding the church. Hugh and I both believe very strongly that there is only ONE church of our Lord Jesus, the one He established, and that this body of believers is not a "denomination." Hugh stated, "I am a member of Christ's church, the church of the Lord, the church that Christ established, the church of which we read in the New Testament, God's church. But I am not a member of any denomination. ... I am simply a Christian, a disciple of Christ, a member of the spiritual body of Christ. I profess to be nothing other than a plain, simple gospel preacher. ... I represent no religious party, no sectarian group, no denominational body." I completely agree with what Hugh wrote! He is exactly right, and I have taught this same truth for decades! There is only one universal Body of Christ Jesus, and ALL those who are in Him, having been saved by grace through faith, are also in that Body (church). Wherever God has a child, I have a brother or sister. We may differ on any number of "issues" pertaining to our work and worship, but we are united as one in our love and devotion to HIM.
Too often one's evangelistic efforts are focused on trying to get someone into their religious group, and converting them to a pattern of worship cherished by that group. This is simply sectarianism at its worst. The correct focus is simply to help others "get into Christ Jesus." It is a relationship with HIM to which we seek to bring others, not a relationship with any particular denominated (named) sect of Christendom. I applaud Hugh for promoting this perspective; I am doing the same. Hugh correctly stated, "I represent no religious party, no sectarian group, no denominational body. ... I am not a member of any denomination -- not one called the Church of Christ, the Church of God, or any other designation intended to have a denominational connotation." I couldn't agree more. I could have written this statement word for word about my own convictions. He has accurately expressed my own view, and the view of a growing number of disciples of Christ who are tired of the warring going on among denominated sects. It is time to lay aside such foolishness and simply rally around the Son as one people, united in the Spirit.
"Further, I am not a preacher of 'our brotherhood,' 'our fellowship,' 'our heritage,' 'our tradition,' 'our tributary,' or 'our tribe!' All of these are decidedly sectarian and denominational ways of viewing those of us who are committed to being Christians only without denominational affiliation, simply members of the body of Christ." AMEN, brother! I couldn't have stated it better. I have long taught that when the Lord Jesus returns to claim His bride (the church), He won't call forth any one "group," but will instead call forth individuals throughout the world who are "in Him." Jesus won't call forth any denominated group, although the individual saints He does call forth may have worked and worshipped within such groups. When we think of "the church" as ALL those "called out ones" past, present and future, we have a truer concept of "the church." When we think of "the church" as all those within a particular sect, who embrace certain traditions and teachings proclaimed and practiced by that sect, then we are thinking denominationally, just as Hugh has correctly noted in his article.
Up to this point I am in complete agreement with Hugh, and I have told him this time and again. So, you might be wondering, "What is it in his article that concerns you?" Well, if that article existed in a vacuum, and the readers had no knowledge of Hugh and his other writings and teachings and practices over the decades, then one might come away from that article saying, "Hugh Fulford and Al Maxey are in complete agreement on this matter." And, up to a point, we are! The problem is not Hugh's view of the One Body universal (we agree on that), the problem is Hugh's view of the group known as "Churches of Christ." Notice what Hugh wrote in this article: "To those who can only think in sectarian and denominational terms, I am a 'Church of Christ' preacher. Thus, it may come as a shock to a number of my readers to learn that I disavow being a 'Church of Christ' preacher. Further, I disavow being 'Church of Christ' in my religious affiliation." Okay. Sounds good. But, is Hugh's profession here consistent with his practice? The answer, of course, is NO. Whether he likes it or not, and in spite of his lofty (and correct) view of the One Body universal, the reality is that Hugh has spent his life in one particular group: that group of disciples, with their cherished traditions, denominated "Church of Christ" in the Yellow Pages. He has preached for 62 years, and, unless I am mistaken (please correct me if I am, Hugh), all of those years have been spent in affiliation with this specific denominated group, and no other. He writes articles for "Church of Christ" periodicals (such as "The Spiritual Sword"), when you look at the list of his past, present and future speaking engagements, they have been, are, and will be in "Church of Christ" buildings. If Hugh were to go to a city with which he was unfamiliar, and desire to assemble with a group of Christians that Sunday morning, how would he go about finding that assembly? I can almost guarantee you that he would pick up the Yellow Pages and go to the listings for "Church of Christ." He would most likely then try to narrow the search down more: weeding out the "anti" and "progressive" congregations. He might even get on the phone with one or two of them, asking, "Do you have a piano in your building?" "Do you use women in the Sunday assembly?"
Hugh says, "I disavow being 'Church of Christ' in my religious affiliation." BUT, if this group is the one he preaches for, and worships with, and seeks out when abroad, and whose traditions he prefers, then he can "disavow" affiliation with the group all he likes, yet his practice negates his profession. If it walks like a duck, if it talks like a duck, if it looks like a duck ... well, you get the idea! Hugh has come a LONG way in his understanding of the nature of the One Body (church) of our Lord Jesus. His teaching on this is "spot on," as they say. But, when one does not publicly practice what one publicly preaches, is that not a form of hypocrisy? My problem with Hugh, and I have told him this over and over, is that he cannot bring himself to acknowledge that the group denominated in the Yellow Pages "Church of Christ" is just as much a denomination as the Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc. And, YES, Hugh IS affiliated with this group, and has been for decades! What Hugh cannot grasp, and I have tried repeatedly to get him to see this, is that one can be a member of that great universal One Body of Jesus Christ (along with all others who are united with Him), yet still choose to work and worship within a local gathering of believers (affiliation) who have similar preferences in how to express their devotion to and worship of the Lord. There is nothing wrong with such affiliations, unless they seek to elevate themselves to being, exclusively, that one, true church universal. Frankly, that has been a problem for those of us raised in the "Churches of Christ" -- we have equated this group with the One Body. WE are the church; all others are "denominations."
Hugh wrote, "There are those among us who take great delight in speaking of the church as a denomination because they are committed to an agenda of bringing the autonomous churches of Christ to denominational status, and are brazen in their effort to do so. Such will never happen, however, except in their own twisted and unbiblical thinking!" Although Hugh has not named me here (or a number of others), he has informed me privately on a number of occasions that I am perceived by him to be among this brazen lot with an agenda. My "agenda" is not to turn the One Body of Christ into a denomination. What would be the point of that? That universal body of believers is made up of ALL who are in Christ, and such can never be brought down to the level of one particular group with its cherished traditions. Yet, many groups have sought to do just that, and "our" group is one of them. Yes, Hugh, my membership is in that One Body; my affiliation is with that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as "Church of Christ" (the one listed in the Yellow Pages). I do not equate the two, which is precisely where Hugh and I differ!! In Hugh's view, the autonomous congregations denominated "Church of Christ" are NOT denominations -- BUT, if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, etc. Hugh says he is NOT a "Church of Christ" preacher, yet in all your years of preaching (62 years), Hugh, what was on the sign out front of each of the buildings in which you preached? Hugh says he is NOT "affiliated" with the group known as "Church of Christ," but with whom do you affiliate yourself in your weekly work and worship, Hugh? Hmmm. If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then...!
In closing, let me share with you (and he gave me written permission to share this) what Hugh wrote on his Facebook page. I think it illustrates my above concern. He wrote: "For centuries denominationalism has been defended on the theory that the different denominations are just branches of the universal body (church) of Christ. Thus, according to the theory, there is the Lutheran church of Christ, the Presbyterian church of Christ, the Episcopal church of Christ, the Baptist church of Christ, etc., etc. I have been waiting for some of our liberal/progressive brethren who see the church as just another denomination to adopt this same line of argumentation and speak of the Church of Christ church of Christ. To be consistent with their concept of the church they would be forced to this. Well, today a friend shared with me correspondence with one of our progressive preachers (doing so because my name was mentioned in the correspondence), and the progressive preacher said of the congregation he preaches for: 'We are a "Church of Christ" by tradition, heritage and choice as well as a church of Christ.' His reference to 'a "Church of Christ" by tradition, heritage and choice' means that in his and the congregation's thinking they are a part of what to them is the 'Church of Christ' denomination, but then they also see themselves as being part of the universal church (body) of Christ. So, there you have it -- a Church of Christ church of Christ! When one gets away from the Scriptures there is absolutely no end to the error (to say nothing of the foolishness) that results. This is why this week's edition of 'Hugh's News & Views' is so important to comprehend."
That "liberal/progressive" preacher and congregation of believers have it right: by faith they are in that great universal Body of Christ (as are all others who are in Him), yet they have chosen, for various reasons, to affiliate themselves with local believers who share similar worship styles, and methodologies for evangelism and benevolence, that identify them as part of an historical heritage. There is nothing wrong with being affiliated with the latter, as long as one does not confuse this group with the universal One Body. When we do so, we no longer think of our little group as a gathering of disciples with similar preferences, but we regard ourselves AS BEING, to the exclusion of all others, "the one true church." Therefore, WE are not a denomination (even though we quack and waddle like one), but all other groups are! Brethren, this is a dangerous delusion, and it is this that I oppose in the teaching of Hugh Fulford. I can only hope and pray that God will open the eyes of this beloved brother, and I ask you, the readers, to pray for the same.
From an Elder in Florida:
Brother Al, I am sending you an article I wrote which discusses "eis" under the meaning "in view of." The phrase in Acts 2:38 is exactly the same phrase used by Jesus when He said of the cup of wine at the Last Supper, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many eis the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:28). If the cup of wine is just a symbol of the cleansing we have through Jesus' shed blood, then why can't water baptism also just be a symbol of that cleansing through His shed blood?
From a Reader in Alaska:
Dear Bro. Maxey, Thank You for placing me on your mailing list to receive your Reflections. I am 75 and grew up in an "anti" Church of Christ. I have struggled for years with the legalism I grew up with. I am just now learning to live in the Spirit of Christ, and am realizing that the burden of trying to live perfectly within the legalistic traditions of the Church of Christ was extremely burdensome. I am really enjoying the insights you share in your writings. I am sending you a check, and would like to order the following items listed below. You have certainly been an answer to my prayers as I study and search the Word of God. I pray that God will bless you in your work.
From a Reader in California:
Considering all things, those who love to cling to their traditions are not changing very rapidly, and they have also caused a lot of pain in the lives of others. So, here's to those of you who help others understand that in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female, bond nor free. We are ALL set free in Him!
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Just read your article "Daring Dialogue with a Dame" (Reflections #661). The times, they are a changing! The church has always adapted. And it always will, in spite of the fearful, who cling to the old ways. Good job, Al. Bless you!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, thank you so much for this great study ("Daring Dialogue with a Dame").
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, as always: well done! What caught my attention in your article "Daring Dialogue with a Dame" was the remark about the Jewish rabbis who had said in their canons that communicating with a woman was a violation of the Law, and that those who violated this were headed for Gehenna. Well, it appears their "interpretation" was false, for Jesus would not have willfully violated a clear teaching of the Law of God, although He often violated the traditions of men! We give way too much power to our traditions and preferences when we equate them with the Scriptures. Apparently, "the ole slippery slope" was being used way back then too! (LOL) If I were an Elder, I would not want to have to give an account to God one day for restricting the participation of women, especially since Jesus went about lifting them up!! Blessings, my friend.
From a Reader in New Zealand:
Al, Thank You for your latest article ("Daring Dialogue with a Dame"). It reminded me of Acts 17:26, "He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth." If only more people believed this and its implications (i.e. we are all related to one another somewhere along the line), the world would be a much happier place! I am currently doing research on the topic of women's place in the church today. Two articles particularly by David Fees and Linda Belleville have been really illuminating and interesting. It appears that in 1 Tim. 2:9-15 Paul was writing against a backdrop of Jewish Gnosticism and pagan idolatry (cf. Acts 19:24ff). Of particular significance is the Greek word "authenteo" (1 Tim. 2:12). Its origin and history can mean, amongst other things, "to domineer, to seduce." Hence, there were in the church some who were "hetaera" (i.e. "high class prostitutes"), who taught by day and had a secondary occupation by night (cf. Rev. 2:20, 14). It is important that this is realized, as this in no way precludes women in normal situations teaching in the church. May the Lord bless all your Reflections articles and your ministry in Jesus' name!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
A recent Facebook post said, "I'll never be alone with another woman unless she is my wife." I don't know what the writer had in mind, but it literally was too broad of a statement, in my opinion. Sadly, we live in an era when women are still thought of as second class citizens by some, and Victorian standards are still adhered to in some places.
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: