Issue #669 -------
July 24, 2015
Ignorance never settles a question.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
One of the aspects of being a public speaker and a published author that I truly appreciate is the opportunity these endeavors provide me for interaction with those who hear and/or read my teachings (which I pray are only and always reflective of God's revealed Truth). There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that something you may have said or written has helped a fellow life-traveler in their spiritual journey. At the same time, there are a number of individuals who will inevitably and invariably differ with what I teach. This is only natural, for none of us are at exactly the same place in our evolution of understanding (Reflections #667 -- "Growing in Grace and Knowledge: Reflecting on the Reality of an Ever Evolving Understanding of the Truths of God's Word"). There are times when those who differ with me will do so lovingly and respectfully, yet with concern for what is being taught and how it might be impacting others. I truly love hearing from them! There are other times, however, when those who differ with me show a much different spirit, which Jesus Himself (as well as His disciples) often experienced at the hands of the scribes and Pharisees. The former are more reflective in their approach, the latter more reactive; the former seek dialogue, the latter merely debate. I will not hesitate to communicate with the former, but rarely waste my time on the latter these days.
On Saturday, July 4, 2015, I received a lengthy email from a reader in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He had some concerns about my recent article "Satan's Sunday Morning Sermon: Devilish Declaration of Different Doctrine" (Reflections #666), especially as it pertained to my position on the doctrine and practice of baptism in water. To this reader's credit, and I applaud him for this, he was very gracious, loving and respectful in the voicing of his concerns, yet very firm in his conviction that perhaps my teaching was not consistent with God's revealed Truth as he understood it. This is certainly possible, for none of us (myself included) have "arrived" at a perfect perception of Ultimate Truth. We are growing in knowledge and increasing in understanding daily as we walk with the Lord (or we should be), but we are all a long way from perfection in that journey. Thus, we are all "in error" on a great many things, many of which we may not even be cognizant of (which is why it is so important to challenge our convictions, and those of our fellow disciples, carefully and prayerfully in light of the truths God has revealed in His written Word and by the living example of the Word made flesh: Jesus). This brother-in-Christ from Oklahoma has done just that, and therefore I want to devote this issue of my weekly Reflections to offering a respectful and hopefully reasoned response to his email. I pray this exchange will help facilitate greater understanding between us on these important doctrines and practices.
Dear Al, I have been reading your Reflections articles for several years and I really appreciate your efforts to unshackle the bonds of legalism, especially for those of us within the "Churches of Christ." As of late, however, I have been somewhat confused about the conclusions that I am supposed to reach after reading some of your articles on water baptism. To begin with, I don't think that anyone from any "denomination" would actually say that baptism is unimportant, even if they don't believe that it is necessary for salvation. It is a subject that must be given careful consideration, given the abundance of passages about it in the New Testament. ... I just don't see the point in downplaying the importance of baptism when the New Testament has so much to say about it.
First, let me thank this brother for his kind words about my ongoing efforts to enlighten those in the bonds of legalism to the freedom in Christ available to them by virtue of God's wondrous grace! The number of men and women seeking to accomplish this among the members of the Body of Christ is increasing daily, as are the numbers of those being liberated from the shackles of their former sectarianism. Witnessing this change, and helping to bring it about, is truly a blessing from above. Second, let me say just a word about this person's confusion about conclusions he is "supposed to reach" after reading my work. My Reflections are just that: my own thoughts and reflections on God's Word and His will for our lives, and how that might be applied in a way that brings glory to Him, and edifies, encourages and enlightens those around us (both saved and unsaved). Although I myself have indeed reached certain conclusions as a result of my study and reflection, I do not demand (as some critics have accused) that those who read my work always agree with those conclusions. My goal in sharing the fruit of my study is simply to challenge people to THINK. If they reach the same conclusions as I have, that's great; if they do not, that is fine also. Since I myself haven't "arrived" at perfect perception of Ultimate Truth, I can hardly arrogantly "mark" all who dare to differ with me as "digressives" and "apostates." We are all on a journey of spiritual discovery, and we are each one evolving in our spiritual enlightenment (or we should be). "Come, let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18) as we journey together, so that we may truly bond together as one united, functional body of believers in our Lord. Yes, I have strong convictions; so do others. When God clearly declares something to be wrong, so shall I. Where He has said nothing, I feel no need to "make law." Yes, my teachings (both oral and written) reflect convictions arrived at over the course of decades of in-depth and prayerful study of His Word. I ask only that people consider this material, giving it a fair hearing and testing it by the standard of Truth not tradition. My goal is to help us reason and reflect together rationally and respectfully so that we may grow in our understanding not only of Jesus and His teachings, but also of one another. This can be beneficial to the Body of Christ if genuinely approached with love!
I don't know that there are any Christian denominated (named) groups that target baptism in water for ridicule and condemnation, although among the hundreds and hundreds of such groups and sub-groups it would not surprise me to discover some do exist. Individually, I know for a fact that there are professed disciples of Christ who do indeed discount the importance of immersion in water, and who mock those who practice it. I even had some correspondence with one such person years ago in the Houston, Texas area (and, yes, he was a member of one of the factions within our own faith-heritage). So, yes, brother, there are "those who say baptism is unimportant." I am not one of them!! It is not a question of importance, therefore, but rather of purpose. Baptism is commanded; it is important; it has purpose. Where many disciples differ is in their understanding of that purpose, and therein lies the source of much of our sibling squabbling in the Family of God, for each one regards their own conviction as "cast in concrete," which leads to the condemnation and castigation of any and all who dare to differ.
I guess I don't understand what good can possibly be accomplished by teaching that a person is saved through faith before they are baptized. What is the point of teaching that? Yes, it is faith that saves, and not works of merit, but what is faith without obedience? Does faith only exist in a person's heart? If so, we have to say that a person is saved before repenting of sin and confessing Jesus as Lord. If a person is saved before baptism, then baptism is not necessary for salvation. So again, just exactly what is the point of baptism? Is the person somehow a better Christian because they have been baptized? Are they more pleasing to God? Are they more sanctified? I am really confused about baptism and its relative importance if it is just "a nice thing to do."
With respect to the first part of this brother's second paragraph in his email, I can't help but think of the teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 4 with respect to the faith of Abraham and his later circumcision. "We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. ... Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring -- not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all" (Rom. 4:9-11a, 16). We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), just as Abraham was, but we show (manifest, demonstrate) this redemptive reality by our subsequent compliance with an outward, visible act prescribed by the Lord as reflective of that accomplished redemptive reality. In Abraham's case it was circumcision; in our case today it is baptism in water. One might well ask Paul the same question this reader asked me: "What is the point of teaching that? What good can be accomplished by teaching that one is saved before engaging in this evidentiary act?" The point is: we must place the spiritual emphasis where it properly belongs. We are saved by grace through faith, NOT by an act (no matter how important) that we may subsequently perform. Many of the early disciples failed to perceive this point, and thus they elevated circumcision to a condition of salvation (Acts 15:1), which led to the famed Jerusalem Council. Many disciples make the same mistake today, elevating baptism in water, which is admittedly important, to the status of a saving sacrament. Yes, baptism in water is an important symbol, one that is commanded of those who have been spiritually united with Him by grace through faith, but it is not the precise split-second of salvation. Thus, it is important to emphasize this distinction, just as Paul did; to distinguish between a symbol and a sacrament, something with which some still struggle today. As a side note, an even stranger belief by a few in my own faith-heritage today is discussed in Reflections #503, which is titled "The 'Belief After Baptism' Doctrine: Sectarian Sacramentalism and the Philippian Jailer." The questions about "before" and/or "after" truly miss the point altogether, as I have sought to explain in a number of previous Reflections articles (a listing of which may be found on my Topical Index page under the heading "Baptism").
[NOTE: If this brother who wrote me has not yet done so, I would encourage him to carefully read my book Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice. Dr. Barry Perryman, an author and university professor, who wrote the Foreword for this book, declared: "Al Maxey has honestly offered a progression of his thoughts on baptism that have been formed, revised, and expanded over the last decade. This work is a shining example of a disciple of Christ who openly, honestly, and bravely reviews what he believes, and is not afraid to ask himself if he has perhaps embraced error. Seldom do we have a written record that chronologically records one's progression of thought on a single subject that is so core to Christendom. To Al's credit, the scholarship within the individual chapters of this book is impeccable." I believe the reader will find this book quite helpful in answering many of his questions pertaining to my convictions on this important topic.]
Baptism is more than just "a nice thing to do." Far more! It is a commanded evidentiary act of faith; a reenactment of the redemptive act of our Lord Jesus Himself: a symbolic act on our part in which we show forth the reality of the blessing we have received by faith in His accomplished act of redemption (as He died, was buried, and arose, so we reflect the personal spiritual reality of that atoning event by our own participatory reenactment -- Romans 6). We will not hesitate to reflect the reality of our redemption ("Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!" -- Psalm 107:2), and we'll do this both verbally and visually (baptism in water falls into the latter category -- see: Reflections #617 -- "Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality: Significant Symbol vs. Salvific Sacrament"). Yes, when the Lord Himself commands, we are expected to obey. Refusing to obey a command of the Lord will most certainly jeopardize one's standing with Him, and such willful obstinacy and disobedience is additionally reflective of a flawed faith. Yes, faith is an inner quality of a person's heart. God sees it clearly, but those around us only see the reality of that faith through evidentiary acts. Thus the need, for their benefit (as well as ours), to manifest the genuineness of that which we profess to have within our hearts (James 2). This is also true of repentance, which likewise is an inner reality manifested in visible attitudes and actions ("bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" -- Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8), which is precisely why Paul preached that people should "prove their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20). One's immersion in water is one of many equally important manifestations (proofs, if you will) of the genuineness of our faith. These acts don't secure one's salvation, but rather show the reality of it. On the other hand, an obstinate, willful, rebellious refusal to comply with the command to demonstrate faith in this manner (or any other commanded act) brings into question the genuineness of one's professed faith (and brings into question whether one has genuinely accepted Christ Jesus and the salvation proffered in Him by grace through faith). For a more in-depth study of this concept, I would refer the interested reader to Reflections #602 -- "Union of Faith and Repentance: Defining Duo of Demonstrative Discipleship."
Would God have declared Abraham righteous if he had refused to be circumcised? The obvious answer is "No." But, God knows the end from the beginning, and "calls things that are not as though they were" (Rom. 4:17). God knew everything that Abraham would do from his birth to his death. Abraham's faith in God's promise was not complete until he offered Isaac, yet God knew ahead of time what Abraham would do, and so He declared Abraham as righteous. I would even go so far as to say that God declared us (the elect) as righteous before we were even born!
Brother, I believe you have just helped make my point, and in the process have partially answered your own question! "For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7, KJV). God knew, and even foreknew, the heart (faith) of Abraham. The command given to Abraham was not for God's benefit, but for the benefit of Abraham and those witnessing his outward actions, so that they each (Abraham included) might behold the validation of that inner faith in a dramatic, life-impacting manner. Had Abraham refused to obey God's command (and that is the operative word here!), this would have been a manifestation of his lack of faith in the Lord God and His promises; his obedience, however, was a manifestation of the genuineness of that professed faith, thus providing a visible testimony of its validity to all. It wasn't the act of offering his son that secured the blessing of being proclaimed righteous, rather it was this act that evidenced the reality of the faith that secured that blessing. Please note (and this is something many fail to grasp): in actual fact, Abraham did NOT comply completely with the command, for he never actually killed Isaac. If the ACT is what secures the blessing (the sacramental view), then the blessing would be withheld until the act itself was fully performed "according to the pattern." There was no need to complete the act, however, for -- and this is key -- the act was already fully completed in the heart of this man of faith (please see: Hebrews 11:17-19)!! Refuse to obey God in this matter? NEVER! It never crossed his mind. Nor does such a consideration cross the minds of those today who have genuine faith. When God calls His chosen ones (His elect) to SHOW their faith in any number of ways in our daily lives, we readily OBEY. These evidentiary acts of faith are not performed in order that we might BE saved, they are willingly performed because we ARE saved!
Let me pose a hypothetical question to you: What if a person hears the gospel, has a good understanding of it, and has a desire to follow Jesus. The preacher then tells the individual to "repent and be baptized," but for one reason or another he or she refuses to be baptized. Are you willing to say that the person is saved? I don't think you would. I think what you would say is: the person's faith was not genuine. This hypothetical situation is impossible, for genuine faith and repentance does not exist apart from obedience. Let me pose another hypothetical question: What if a person hears the gospel, has a good understanding of it, and has a desire to follow Jesus. The preacher in this situation tells the person to repent of sin, but does not tell the person to be baptized because the preacher doesn't think it is necessary. The person joyfully accepts the message, and does his best to repent of sin and live a life pleasing to God, although this person has no knowledge of baptism. Is that person saved? In this case I would have to say "Maybe!" This is a case where the person has acted obediently to that level of knowledge and understanding which he has of the Bible. This, therefore, in my opinion, qualifies as "saving faith."
I find little with which to differ in this brother's assessments, except that I would replace his "Maybe!" with a far more confident "Certainly!" (based entirely on God's grace, rather than man's merit). Our certainty is not in ourselves, but in Him! Again, and it bears repeating, the operative word in the first illustration is "refuse." In both illustrations it comes down to the heart of the person! Men tend to place emphasis on the visible actions (which is only natural, since we can't "read" hearts), yet our Lord searches the inner man (the heart). Our deeds reflect the nature of our heart, but it is the heart that affects our standing with the Lord, one way or the other -- our deeds merely reflect or manifest that standing. It is from a failure to grasp this distinction (whether intentional or otherwise) that most of our dogmas arise. It is also extremely important to note that as our God examines the hearts of men and women, His assessment is based on the "level of light" available to them, which goes to the very heart of the questions posed by this reader in Oklahoma. I would strongly urge him, and others, to examine this concept carefully and prayerfully (which I have sought to do in Reflections #158 -- "God's Plan for the Unenlightened: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light").
The reader had additional comments in his lengthy email that I did not address above, such as his assertion that "baptism is portrayed in the NT as the point at which the believer is clothed with Christ, buried with Christ, and raised with Christ." I have spent a great deal of time and energy on this very teaching, which I firmly believe to be incorrect, and those studies of mine are all available on my web site. However, with regard to baptism in water being THE POINT at which God imparts His blessings, I would suggest the brother at least give a fair hearing to the following: Reflections #348 -- "The Split-Second of Salvation: Is it Imperative for Us to Perceive the Precise Moment of God's Acceptance?" He also brought up the use of the Greek preposition "eis" in Acts 2:38, and with respect to that argument I would encourage reflection upon Reflections #515 -- "Peter's Problem Preposition: Reflecting on 'EIS' in Acts 2:38." With respect to his conviction that baptism in water is the precise point at which we are joined together with Christ, and clothed with Him, may I suggest a reasoned alternative view to those passages (i.e., that baptism in water may very well not even be in view by the apostle Paul in the context of those statements):  Reflections #353 -- "Immersed by One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:13" and  Reflections #362 -- "Putting On Jesus Christ: An Examination of Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27."
The brother from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma concluded his email to me with this very gracious comment: "I, like you, am a seeker of the Truth. I was 'born' in the Churches of Christ, but have come to see the truth that 'we' are NOT the 'only true church.' That being said, we must always keep a humble spirit and realize that we too are 'in error' about many things, and we will continue to be until Jesus comes again! Please keep me on your mailing list as I enjoy your articles." May God richly bless this brother-in-Christ, and may he be an inspiring example, to both me and others, of how to disagree agreeably. I appreciate his gracious spirit and the strength of his spiritual convictions. I pray my response will be received by him (and others who read it) in a similar spirit. May it be an exchange of insights and concerns that cause renewed reflection upon God's Word by both of us, for truly "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17).
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I really enjoyed your last article on baptism (Reflections #666: "Satan's Sunday Morning Sermon"). It squares Scripturally with the heart and intent of what the apostles were trying to teach us. On another topic, I just read through a bunch of ultra-legalistic, unscriptural, sectarian Church of Christ diatribe in the May/June, 2015 issue of Contending for the Faith magazine. Why I am on their mailing list is beyond me! This publication would actually be hilarious if these guys weren't so serious about their misinformation. Al, I think you should be personally offended (LOL) over being left out of Gary Summers' list of Church of Christ heretics (in his article "Toe-Fue Fellowship and Ignorance"), although I'm sure you were included in the phrase "other well-known heretics" (and I know they've "written you up" a number of times in past issues). The point of his article is that Christians should not fellowship anyone who has attended or spoken at (which you have) the Tulsa Workshop, the Pepperdine Lectures, the OCU Lectures, or who have listened to the singing group Acappella. Nor should anyone fellowship anyone who has ever associated with anyone who has ever associated with anyone who has ever associated with anyone, etc., etc. who has ever done so! Man, these guys must be exhausted from all the background checks they have to do before they dare fellowship with another believer!! Can you just imagine the questionnaire one must fill out to be approved by this bunch?:
Gary Summers, in his article, indicates that a big problem with these various Church of Christ lectureships is the singing group Acappella, because "they make musical instrument sounds with their mouths." Is this guy for real?!! Unfortunately, he is for real. "God bless his heart" (something we say in the south just before we skewer someone). How legalistic, ignorant and biblically uninformed can he be?! (bless his heart). Thank you so much, Al, for being one of the leaders in the Churches of Christ proclaiming God's grace and freedom in Christ (especially freedom to fellowship with other believers). I have been biblically instructed, challenged and blessed by your teaching. Keep up the good work, my brother!
From a Reader in New Zealand:
Reading your recent Reflections (#667: "Growing in Grace and Knowledge" and #668: "Letter to a Homosexual Couple") provoked me to think of how easy it is for any of us to fall victim to a Gnostic type heresy and practice. The Pharisees and others claimed to have "knowledge," and yet at the same time found it totally incompatible to associate with sinners, as in the passages you cited in the most recent of these two articles. On the one hand, Gnosticism led people to asceticism (denial of all pleasure), and on the other hand to antinomianism (the embracing of all pleasures in opposition to law). There was also Docetism, where Christ only seemed to inhabit the physical body of Jesus. It never ceases to amaze me how false heresies keep reinventing themselves. A man by the name of Schaff, in a study of Gnosticism in 1997, summed it up very succinctly: "It endeavors to harmonize the creation of the material world and the existence of evil with the idea of an absolute God, who is immaterial and perfectly good. This problem can only be solved by the Christian doctrine of redemption." Also, I want to thank you for your Reflections article (referenced above) regarding the issue of homosexuality. It was quite timely as some of our young adults are currently studying the subject. I have forwarded that article to one of our younger ministers, as I thought it would be helpful. God bless you, brother.
From a Reader in Kentucky:
Reflections #668 ("Letter to a Homosexual Couple") was a great article. I shared it on my Facebook page because it seems that -------, Kentucky (where I live) is ground zero on this issue at the moment. I know people on both sides of this debate. Again, great job, Al!
From a Reader in Florida:
Your latest Reflections was excellent, and we would all be wise to heed the advice given therein! Also, your letter to the gay couple who contacted your church was perfect. Thank you!
From a Reader in Arizona:
Al, I don't see how anyone could have written a reply to that homosexual couple any more clearly, completely, or compassionately than you did! Thanks for sharing it with us in your last Reflections ("Letter to a Homosexual Couple"). Your words have "raised the bar" in both clarity and in reflecting God's love. I am really looking forward to meeting you one day!
From a Reader in Florida:
Great article! Without love none of us are anything. We will never bring others to Christ without love. Appreciate you!
From an Author in Arizona:
Excellent letter to the homosexual couple, Al. As you said in your article, there are some homosexuals out there who are "baiting" churches in order to file law suits against them. That is their purpose! I'm glad you covered that base, and all the other bases as well. Well done, brother, well done!! God bless you.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
You know you're going to get a lot of criticism, Bro. Al, for that moving letter you wrote in the true spirit of Jesus to the homosexual couple who contacted your congregation. Our Lord never went on a rant against sinners who were among the weak and outcasts of society; He loved them and drew them close to Himself, and after they realized how much He loved them then He corrected them (and He treats us the same way today). Yes, Jesus ranted alright, but it was against the powerful, never against the marginalized. Which brings up a broader issue for me: We (meaning Christendom in general) expend so much energy defending tradition and worrying over "right doctrine" and the "here-after" (as well as trying to stretch Paul's cultural comments out of shape to make them fit our own times) that we fail to focus on living in the "here-and-now" in accordance with the example and teaching of the One (and the only one) who has the authority to say, "Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord' and don't do what I say?!" Al, I thank God for your love and courage in the name of Jesus!! Afterthought -- That person who contacted your congregation may not even have been a gay person at all, but one of your critics trying to "catch you" (like they tried with Jesus) saying something "liberal" that they could then use against you! But, it doesn't really matter, because your answer was totally in the spirit of Jesus. I'm praying, however, that they really were two gay men who are sincerely looking for a church family, and that they are able to link up with you and your people there who can show them the love and teaching of the Lord.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, while I agree with the spirit of your letter to the homosexual man who contacted your church, I nevertheless find it impossible to believe this "couple" has it in mind to change their disgusting behavior. With the ruling by the so-called "Supreme" Court, which allows them to "marry," these people now feel justified in their godless actions. I would have a very difficult time worshipping where they were allowed in our midst while openly living in the sin of homosexuality. Maybe my 80 years of belief that marriage is between a man and woman, and not two of the same kind, is influencing this emotion. Yet, it is only a matter of time before you will be asked to "marry" them, and then you and the congregation will be sued if you refuse. Even if a congregation wins such a law suit, the government may still choose to take away its tax exempt status (although the government is pushing to do this anyway with all churches).
From a Reader in South Dakota:
Have you seen this article -- "Pedophiles Want Same Rights As Homosexuals" -- which appeared in the Northern Colorado Gazette on July 3, 2015? First there were the three people who all wanted to be married (polygamy) in Montana, and now pedophilia is being "mainstreamed." People predicted this would happen, but the speed at which it is happening may be surprising to many. Plural marriages, "youth-attracted" marriages, getting married to animals, are all now being promoted and gaining acceptance. American civilization is rapidly collapsing, and the politicians and courts, and those who support them, are doing nothing except maybe accelerating the process. Although there are many who are still faithful to God and obedient to His Word, they are largely silent, while the vast majority of Americans (including most who claim to be His followers) have turned their backs on Him, paying (at best) mere lip service. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord.'" God does not need to punish America by ending our 239-years-old union and destroying our civilization, taking away our wealth and making us lose our liberties -- we are doing all of that by ourselves just fine without His help! He has no need to send conquering armies to destroy our cities and take our people captive -- we are doing those deeds ourselves! I fear the end is near for us!
From an Elder in Missouri:
Brother Al, I found your article ("Letter to a Homosexual Couple") to be a reasonable and balanced approach. Very clear on the teachings of Scripture and God's condemnation of the behaviors described so plainly, yet at the same time very clear on the focus of God's love for and desire for all to move into a righteous relationship with Him. I have read (and heard) so much hatred and harsh judgment on both sides of this issue. I, like you, am not even sure of all the questions that are sure to arise from this decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, much less the answers. And the ink is barely dry on their pronouncement.
From an Author in Mississippi:
Al, your "Letter to a Homosexual Couple" should be regarded throughout Christendom as The Standard by which Christians interact with any sinner!! It is so unfortunate that so many go so far to either extreme. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope all is well with you and your family. Blessings to you!
From a College Professor in Texas:
Thanks for your thoughts on how to approach the homosexual issue. For more than 40 years I have expressed essentially what is in your letter to that couple. Many years ago, a homosexual confronted me (holding a cocked gun to his head), saying, "I heard you preach this morning. Now, can you give me one good reason I should not pull this trigger?!" We talked for hours that day, and the result was he gave his heart and life to Jesus Christ, and I was able to baptize him as soon as we could get to the church building. Before this man graduated from college, he had led over 20 of his fellow students to the Lord! When I moved to California some time later, he replaced me as the teacher of my college age class of more than 40 students at the church. Regrettably, other homosexuals who professed faith in Jesus to me over the years eventually returned to that lifestyle.
From a Reader in Georgia:
That was a very gracious response to the homosexual man's question, Al. I can see where the idea of the church doors always being open to sinners is the right concept. To whom would they be open if that concept was not adopted?! Only the "perfect"? Yet, I also wonder to myself what was going on in the Corinthian church with that man who was involved with his father's wife (1 Corinthians 5). Paul told them to remove him from the assembly. So, I wonder at what point that admonition would hold true for any of us today? Willful disregard for the Truth? Is that the standard? It seems that opening our doors isn't the same as keeping them open! I don't have my mind around this totally -- still thinking it through -- but I do agree 100% that any response not clothed in LOVE is the wrong response! My best to you and the Mrs.
This reader raises a critical concern for Christians seeking to show the love of Christ to others. Although the doors to our assemblies should always be open to all who sincerely seek spiritual guidance and fellowship with disciples of Christ, yet there are also times when God's people must stand firmly for Truth and "show the door" to those who willfully and obstinately refuse to live according to that revealed Truth. Even then, such must be done in LOVE, with the ultimate redemption and/or restoration of the person in view. Paul's instruction to the saints in Corinth about just such a case (1 Cor. 5, and the possible follow-up to that matter in 2 Cor. 2:5f) is a good guide for us, for it mandates a strong stand for what is right, yet an equally strong love for those in the wrong (and sometimes that love is best shown in disciplinary action). There is a very fine line, and often one that is rather difficult in actual practice to discern and implement, between showing acceptance of a sinful person into our midst (and, yes, we are ALL sinners) and toleration of sinful behaviors within our midst. This certainly takes considerable wisdom, and we probably don't always "get it right," but if we're guided by the Scriptures and motivated by love, we are on the right track. I have dealt with this very challenge in a number of Reflections articles over the years, and would refer the reader to the following (see below) for further study of this admittedly difficult matter. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alaska:
Thanks again for helping me reflect upon the mirror (pun intended) of God's Word (James 1:23-26): to look at myself rather than use the Bible as a window to view others. In our judgmental culture it's difficult for me, as James instructs, to "keep a tight rein on my tongue," as well as to keep my heart right before God, since the tongue and heart are connected (e.g. Matt. 12:34; 15:18-19; etc.). It's so much easier for me to focus on others who need conversion or correction than to undertake the life-long challenge of bringing my own carnal self more in line with Scripture's explicit traits of spiritual maturity (e.g. Gal. 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:5-12; etc.). Still, those who shepherd God's flock need to be ready to engage in faith-based intervention when unavoidably appropriate (e.g. 1 Cor. 5:9-13; James 5:19-20; etc.). Further, spiritual siblings need to look after one another (e.g. James 5:16; etc.) because of our common faith that should shape all our attitudes and actions. But, the unbelieving world doesn't share Christ-like values and never will. The Greatest Commandants (love toward God and toward others) should influence our interaction with unbelievers. Based on the Hebrew Scriptures, but affirmed and emphasized by the Son of Man in each gospel account as well as illustrated by the parable of the "Good Samaritan," these form the core of our ongoing responsiveness to God as expressed to others.
If everyone who calls Jesus "Prophet, Priest, and King" were to spend their life prioritizing agape-love to glorify God, the world would notice and just might ask (e.g. 1 Peter 3:15; Col. 4:5-6) about the hope we have that transforms our lives to be more like Christ. If all church-goers were recognized by the world as Christ-like, we wouldn't have to call ourselves "Christians," they would (e.g. Acts 11:26). Godly attitudes and actions concerned with "doing good" (e.g. Gal. 6:10), with no strings attached, could only be considered helpful by society in general. Who would take issue with those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, showed hospitality to strangers, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, or visited those in prison (e.g. Matt. 25:31-46)? Ditto: "visiting" widows and orphans (James 1:27), and keeping oneself unspotted by the world. Blessings in your ministry to better inform those who claim the name of Jesus.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Wow!! I'm sitting here in the quiet and going through old emails I had missed in the past few busy weeks. I just finished reading your article "Growing in Grace and Knowledge" (Reflections #667) and I want to get up and DANCE! You have articulated in this article what I have never been able to articulate! I have had numerous unsatisfactory conversations with my husband, trying to defend myself against his complaints about the fact that I've changed in my spiritual understandings. I have felt these changes are things to be celebrated because Truth brings freedom. It is that, however, for which he condemns me, taking pride in the fact that in almost three decades he "has never changed" (which is true). Yet, I am refreshed in the Lord's love, grace and presence as I continue to grow in grace and knowledge of Him. I am so thankful for your writings!!
From a Minister/Author in Tennessee:
(A regular writer for the publication: "The Spiritual Sword")
Al, I continue to be utterly amazed at your arrogance and "know-it-all" attitude, to say nothing of your impoverished and unscriptural view of the church (what you insist on labeling as "our denomination"). With reference to the use of instrumental music in worship, not only do you go against the known facts of church history, the stances of leading denominational scholars, including Baptists, Presbyterians, et al (many of the early Protestant groups opposed instrumental music in worship every bit as strongly as loyal Churches of Christ still oppose it today), the stances of the scholars of the Restoration Movement, but you also ignore the plain teaching of the New Testament regarding acceptable worship. Though you may feel that you have little to learn about the question of instrumental music in worship (or, indeed, anything else), you might still consider the content of the July issue of "The Spiritual Sword." I doubt, however, that it will lead you to change your views about the matter. I probably would be wise to recognize that "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone" (Hosea 4:17).
The very next statement in the passage is: "Their liquor is gone!" (Hosea 4:18a, NASB). I think I know where it went!! -- Al Maxey
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