Issue #667 -------
July 9, 2015
To do things today exactly the way you
did them yesterday saves thinking.
Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)
"To hold the same views at forty as we held at twenty is to have been stupefied for a score of years and to take rank, not as a prophet, but as an unteachable brat, well birched and none the wiser." So stated Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), the Scottish poet and novelist who brought us such immortal classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is nothing wrong with having strong convictions; indeed, that is a good thing. It is wrong, and even dangerous, however, to shelter these convictions from any and/or all legitimate challenges, and to become quarrelsome when questioned about them. NO belief or practice we embrace should ever be held aloof from honest inquiry and investigation, and no genuine truth should ever fear being exposed to intense evaluation. It is only dogma that needs to fear such scrutiny. There is an old saying: "The truth has nothing to fear from alternative views. But dogma requires active suppression of those views in order to keep the dogma alive."
If our convictions are indeed Truth, they will survive as constants of faith; if they are merely dogma, then such will inevitably be exposed by honest investigation, and honest hearts will evolve away from those prior cherished convictions, rather than hold tenaciously to them. One of the problems with legalism and traditionalism is that one's convictions have become calcified, rendering any change unthinkable to such persons, and any challenge intolerable. Those more noble-minded, however, will welcome any and all investigation of their beliefs and practices, for genuine Truth can only benefit from such. Indeed, they themselves will continually be subjecting their own convictions to such scrutiny, for there is no great benefit in perpetuating delusional dogmatism. Those in Thessalonica are an example of the first group; those in Berea are an example of those in the second group: "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true, and many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men" (Acts 17:11-12). Those of noble character were willing to grow in their understandings and practices, even if it required significant change; those of lesser character merely went on the attack, seeking to destroy anyone who dared to question their views.
I freely admit that over the years my own views and convictions have changed on a number of biblical and spiritual matters pertaining to ultimate Truth. It would be strange if this did NOT occur. If all of my views were unchanged over the past half a century (from age 16 to 66), one would wonder if I had ever done any study of or reflection upon God's inspired Word! We are expected to grow and develop intellectually and spiritually: such is natural (and the reverse is most definitely unnatural). A sixty-year-old man in a diaper, in a crib, drinking milk from a bottle is a cause of some concern! Yet, we see such spiritual infants propped up in pews every week in the church! There has been no growth, no development, no change!! Are we concerned? We should be! The apostle Paul was. He wrote to the church in Corinth, "I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly: mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready" (1 Cor. 3:1-2). They had become "stuck" in a state of spiritual infancy; they were not growing and developing and maturing beyond the basics. The author of Hebrews had the same problem with his readers: "By this time you ought to be teachers, but you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food. ... Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity" (Heb. 5:12, 6:1). Listed among those foundational, basic doctrines and principles which we need to "leave" are "instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment" (Heb. 6:2). These are all important doctrines, don't misunderstand, but we don't become so obsessed with any of them that we halt all forward progress in our deeper perceptions of Truth. We must grow and develop and mature beyond these doctrines, although they will, of course, always be foundations upon which we build our ever evolving beliefs.
None of us has ever "arrived" at perfect perception of all Truth (although some apparently think they have). Since the reality of ultimate, eternal Truth will always be far above our own faulty perception of it, the challenge ever before us is to grow in our understanding and appreciation and application of Truth: a growth that will always be ongoing and, frankly, incomplete. We will never actually "arrive" at the point of perfect understanding of all Truth. Thus, not one of us can ever lay claim to being 100% correct in our grasp of God's will, His grace, His love, His Truth, His Word, etc. As Paul pointed out, our knowledge is at best partial (1 Cor. 13:9, 12), therefore we grow, we evolve, we progress at differing rates in our understanding of divine matters. Paul prayed that those in Colossae might continually be "increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). It is a journey of discovery for which he prayed. Even the apostle Peter spoke of various Christian qualities, saying, "If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8). He then encouraged his readers, in the final verse of this epistle, to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). It's interesting to note that these writers speak not of disciples "arriving" at full knowledge or understanding, but rather speak of growth and development. It is an ongoing process, and as such is never fully completed or realized.
What does this mean for me personally? It means that what I believed or understood twenty years ago, I may no longer believe today. Does that suggest I have taken a step backward spiritually? Not necessarily. It may actually mean I have taken a step forward spiritually. What some may view as "digression" in my understanding of Truth, may in fact be "progression" in my understanding of Truth. It depends on one's perspective. From the perspective of those calcified in their convictions (who have, in their view, "arrived" at perfect perception and practice of all Truth), any deviation is digression. From the perspective of the Throne, however, movement forward, even when it involves great change, if it is movement toward the Lord, is progress! Over the past four decades, during my years in ministry, I have evolved significantly in my understanding of God's Word, as well as in my perception of the nature of the church and its work, worship and purpose. I have no doubt that in the years to come, however many God may allow, I will evolve even more in my understanding. It's called "growth." And, yes, it always necessitates change. Needless to say, this tends to draw people's attention (sometimes in a positive way, sometimes not). This was illustrated well in a recent email (July 2, 2015) from a Pulpit Minister at a Church of Christ in Alabama, who sent me the following very respectful inquiry:
"Brother Al, you might remember that you and I have emailed a few times before, and typically we have been in agreement on whatever issue was being discussed. I confess that I have not read all the way through all of your many articles, but I have certainly enjoyed and appreciated a good number of them. I write now to ask if there was a particular time or event which brought about what I assume to be a change in your position on baptism? While I agree that we are saved by grace through faith (and that we really do need to talk a lot more about God's part in our salvation than our part), it is still my understanding that it is at the time of our baptism that God does all the wonderful things He does in putting to death our lost sinful man, clothing us with Christ, filling us with His Spirit, etc. And while I don't wish to argue or belabor that point at this time, I just wonder if indeed you did once believe differently about this issue than you do now. You may have covered this extensively in previous Reflections articles that I may have missed. Regardless, I'm just curious if there was in fact something in particular that may have led to a change in your viewpoint. As always, thank you for the many good things you share with us in your teaching."
This brother-in-Christ asks, "did you once believe differently about this issue (baptism) than you do now?" The answer is yes. In my youth I had pretty much accepted the traditional doctrines and practices of my faith-heritage (Churches of Christ), and, frankly, didn't give any of them much thought. Teens typically have other things on their minds, and I was no different. It wasn't until after I got out of the military and entered into my years of study at the university and then graduate school that I began to do some critical reevaluation and reflection on my beliefs. Even then, however, as I finished my degrees and entered the ministry, I continued for a number of years to "preach the party particulars," although I was growing somewhat uncomfortable in doing so. It wasn't until about 1990 that I reached the point where I realized I could no longer, in all good conscience, continue proclaiming what I had come to believe was more tradition than Truth. In the years since, I have revisited each of my convictions and examined them in-depth in the light of the Scriptures, as did the Bereans with their own convictions. In some cases, I found the teachings to which I had been exposed in my youth were indeed consistent with the teaching of Scripture. I also found that some were not. These I studied again, and even more intensely. I finally came to a place in my spiritual journey that I had to make a decision: I would either keep proclaiming the traditional understandings and practices of my denomination, or I would begin proclaiming, in a responsible and respectful way, my newfound convictions as to what I believed the Scriptures were really teaching. I chose the latter course, and I have not regretted doing so (although, sadly, it has resulted in a good number of friends and loved ones in my faith-heritage regarding me as an apostate). I have accepted this as the price one must pay for daring to step out of a religious rut and daring to grow and develop beyond the traditional doctrines and practices of one's heritage.
The minister in Alabama asks, "Was there a particular time or event which brought about what I assume to be a change in your position on baptism? ... Was there in fact something in particular that may have led to a change in your viewpoint." I have heard similar questions asked of people before, and the unspoken assumption often is that the person who has changed must have experienced some dramatic, even traumatic, event in his/her life that led them to "abandon truth." No, there was no such event, nor any particular point in time that caused me to "snap" spiritually. My growth was simply the result of years of study of and prayerful reflection upon God's Word. It was a slow, but steady, evolution of understanding, something that each of us, hopefully, is experiencing in our journey through life. In my four published books I have documented this growth with respect to a specific doctrine. In my first book (Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace) I challenged the traditional teaching of my heritage with regard to this very sensitive topic. In my second book (One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism) I sought to document how our practice of the Lord's Supper has evolved over the past 2000 years, and not always for the better. In my third book (Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice) I dealt with baptism, and provide the reader with insight on how my own thinking has evolved on this topic. This would be a good book for the minister in Alabama to read, for it addresses the very questions he asked about how I came to my current convictions. In my fourth book (From Ruin To Resurrection: The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny) I show how my views have changed over the years on the topic of man's nature and his eternal destiny after physical death. My thinking has evolved dramatically on this, and I think you will find the study fascinating. My understanding about the nature and purpose of the church of our Lord Jesus has also undergone tremendous change over the years, and I just finished teaching an adult class on this. I recorded the class (in MP3 format) and have placed all 14 of my 50 minute classes on a CD so that others, who were not present, might benefit from this in-depth study (Click Here for information on how to order a copy of this CD).
As Stevenson noted at the beginning of this article, "To hold the same views at forty as we held at twenty is to have been stupefied for a score of years." For many, it seems, their convictions have calcified, and they refuse to even consider any information that might lead to any change in those beliefs or practices. My views are always open to challenge and review, and I have no fear whatsoever of changing them, if by doing so they become more consistent with God's revealed Truth. I have not "arrived" at perfect perception of all that the Scriptures present to our view. Indeed, I never will. I will, however, continue to grow and mature and develop, as I continue to study and reflect on His Word. It is a daily journey of discovery, and as I grow I change. I am not where I was 20 years ago in my walk with the Lord, and I doubt that 20 years from now I will be where I am today. It's called growth. I am a work in progress: I am evolving to what He would have me to know, and who He would have me to be. May we each be willing to say the same.
From a Minister in India:
Beloved Brother, Your article on "Satan's Sunday Morning Sermon" (Reflections #666) is an insightful truth and a great reflection. I always think in this way. But our people don't understand. May I have your permission to translate this article into our native language and distribute it among my people?
From a Reader in Delaware:
I would like to order a copy of your Sunday morning adult Bible class on The New Covenant Church, for which my check is enclosed. This will afford me a learning experience as I listen to it on my drive to and from work. Thank you!
From a Minister in Virginia:
Your writings are truly a study in Satanic Sunday morning sermonizing, for they are devilish declarations of different doctrine. Your doctrine of "inclusion" being the most devilish doctrine of them all. I never cease to be amazed at how far people like you, who once knew the Truth, can sink into apostasy. You are definitely in the hog pen feeding/eating with the hogs (Luke 15:11-32). What is next for you? Are you going to include the teachings of Islam: a doctrine that denies the deity of Christ and puts Mohammed above Jesus? Where are you going to stop? I dare say, with heavy heart, that Hell is the end for false teachers like yourself. I am praying for you!
From a Reader in California:
Your Reflections article "Satan's Sunday Morning Sermon: Devilish Declaration of Different Doctrine" was really good, but I'll bet you are going to get some very nasty responses! Good luck!
From a Reader in Nevada:
It is sad that people can't post their beliefs without the chance of becoming a target of the "sound" men of the "church." Al, you have served as a constant source of hope for our family. Friends I grew up with will have nothing to do with me anymore because of the "sin" of bringing up some of the points you have made in your teachings over the years. I still read your Reflections, but I gave up reading commentaries and articles by other people, preferring to read and reread the Word, asking diligently for understanding from the One who gives it. This belief alone is anathema to most of those I grew up with. Thank you, Al, for your ministry, and please keep up the good work.
From a Reader in Singapore:
I too have had bitter experiences with a group I worshipped with for over 20 years. These people are more concerned with their religion than their relationship with God and His people. Sad indeed.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
I thank God for you, Al, and for your ability to write, preach, teach and bring the truth of Christ to all who will listen. I wish everyone would get these Reflections and read them and take them to heart!
From a Reader in Barbados:
I just read "Satan's Sunday Morning Sermon" -- well said, brother! I really wish many in "our" churches would read your work. I observe and applaud your balanced presentation in this article, for you did not make light of the ritual of baptism, but rather put it in its right relationship with our salvation. Baptism in reality is a rite performed by the saved, not a rite performed by the sinner to secure salvation. For many believers, sadly, trusting in Christ for salvation and then walking out that transformation in our daily lives is not enough. Some still believe that they must repay the debt that Jesus paid in full on the cross of Calvary for their sins. For them, simple child-like faith in God's provision of salvation through Christ, and enabled by the Holy Spirit, is not enough. Like you, I will not hold my breath waiting for some of these brethren to see the light; I don't expect any change in them any time soon ... if ever!
From an Author in Arizona:
In your article titled "Satan's Sunday Morning Sermon" you made the following statement: "Satan loves having Christians study the Scriptures, as long as they are seeking proof-texts in support of their party preferences. As long as you read the written Word without paying any attention to the 'Word become flesh' revealed therein, Satan has no objection to your schedule of daily Bible reading. Indeed, he encourages it, for it only serves to further the elevation of human tradition over divine Truth." AMEN, brother!!
From a Reader in Texas:
Thank you for this deep and good study, brother.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Wow! I just read "Satan's Sunday Morning Sermon." What a slap upside the head of the Memphis School of Preaching crowd! Good for you! "Ole Satan Claws" is still in the pulpit. "My people perish for lack of knowledge."
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, you are, in my humble opinion, one of the best teachers of our day, helping to break down the walls of exclusion and legalism in the Body of Christ. Thank you!
From a Missionary in Peru:
I can't see how anybody can be saved who believes that they are saved through baptism. In my estimation it is as serious as that! Such teaching is not a secondary issue, rather: it rips the heart out of the Gospel, and it is a complete rejection of the Holy Spirit's power in regeneration. It is a false gospel of the worst kind, and, as you said, the devil is sadly in most pulpits today preaching the "gospel" of salvation by immersion. The belief that one is saved by a human act (baptism) is a false gospel of works, no matter how dressed up as "biblical" they try to make it. The devil is so subtle in blinding the eyes of men to the work of God. Those who trust in a sacrament have truly had no saving experience before the act of baptism. May you continue to sound the alarm against this teaching that denies the work of God, Christ and the Spirit. By the way, it was lovely seeing that video on Facebook of your oldest son and his daughter. May the Lord love him and keep him, and may He make him a testimony to the wonderful grace of Jesus. I also read on Facebook that you recently preached at Grace Baptist Church. May the walls of division throughout the one universal church scattered abroad come tumbling down to the glory of God.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, do you have a Facebook page? I would love to be able to share many of your Reflections with my Facebook friends.
Yes, I have had a Facebook page for several years now (with about 2657 "friends" at last count). I always put the link to my Reflections articles each week on my page, and I know that several share those links with their own friends and family on their own Facebook pages, which I'm always happy to see them do. I also use this site as a place to share personal pictures and events, as well as a venue for getting to know some of my readers better. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in New Zealand:
I was pondering the other day a thought that came out of the book "Renewing God's People," which is co-authored by Doug Foster. He makes the interesting observation that in the 1800s many people had been subjected to Calvinistic predestination preaching and a state of hopelessness. Along came the idea of "four steps to salvation," which was passionately proclaimed by many resulting in many baptisms. No longer were people in a state of hopelessness, for they could actually guarantee their salvation by four or five simple steps. Thus, in the thinking of some, God now actually owed them salvation. This reveals a human weakness and tendency that any of us can be susceptible to: i.e. we go from one end of the spectrum to the other. Like a lot of things in life, Truth can sometimes be found in the middle. If Jesus is in the middle, then that is where I want to be! God bless you, Al.
From a Reader in Washington:
Well done, as usual, Al (i.e. your article "Satan's Sunday Morning Sermon"). While reading in the book of Isaiah this morning, Isaiah 29:13 seemed to pretty much sum up your thoughts, at least in my view: "These people come near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up only of rules taught by men." Things haven't changed much from then 'till now, have they?! Men get so wrapped up in their traditional rituals, because "that's the way we've always done them," that they forget about God and what HE desires from them: i.e. their hearts! Bless you, Al, for your work. The battle continues, doesn't it?!
From an Author in Texas:
"Satan's Sunday Morning Sermon" was yet another excellent post. Keep up the good work! It is those same preachers who continue to "bewitch" gullible folks into thinking they can achieve salvation by their own efforts, despite the fact that Jesus said it was an impossibility on the part of man (Matt. 19:26).
From a Reader in Louisiana:
I attend a large Church of Christ here that brings in about 1400 on a Sunday morning, and most would consider us "progressive," as we allow certain activities in worship that others in "our fellowship" frown upon. We've been written up as "bound for hell" by the traditionalists, just as I'm sure you have. We've come a long way in the last twenty years or so, and nobody here is ever heard to proclaim that others must become "just like US" or they are lost. We also teach and preach against legalism. But, some beliefs die hard, and we too often allow them to stick around. Baptism in water is seen here as a sacrament, and this bothers me more and more as time goes on! The leadership here views baptism in water as THE POINT where one's salvation takes place. I can't tell you how many times I have witnessed a baptizer say to the one he's baptizing, "Look out over this crowd. These people are about to become your brothers and sisters: your forever family." This both saddens and angers me! Baptism in water is a beautiful act, and it should be celebrated, but not because the act itself is what saves us! Rather, it should be seen as a sign of what has already been done. It is not a declaration of what I am doing for Him, but a reflection of what He has already done for me! I have struggled to think of a way to help change this perception here, but am unsure how to go about it. Thank you, Al, for all you are doing!
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