Issue #678 -------
October 9, 2015
The consequences of a lost chance rarely close
the doors to future choice. But they narrow them
to alternatives that are all relatively unfavorable
in comparison with earlier possibilities.
Sidney Hook (1902-1989)
Paul and Barnabas had just completed their first missionary journey. When they arrived back in Antioch of Syria, "where they had been entrusted to the grace of God for the work they had completed" (Acts 14:26), "they gathered the church together and reported everything God had done with them" (vs. 27a). It has long been the norm for those engaged in mission work to report back periodically to the brethren within their sending and supporting congregations. Their commissioning by the Holy Spirit, and validation by the church at Antioch, can be found in Acts 13:2-4. This was to be a very productive first missionary journey (with other journeys to follow during the next several years), and this duo (Paul and Barnabas) was excited about what they had to share with the saints in Antioch, just as the latter were looking forward to this report of God's gracious work through these two Spirit-led men (the details of which may be read in Acts 13-14). I like the way J. W. McGarvey described this: "It is doubtful whether the church in Antioch had heard from Paul and Barnabas since they first left. When, therefore, they appeared unheralded on the streets of the city, after an absence of three or four years, we may well suppose that they were met with hearty greetings and much questioning. They had gone on the first mission ever sent out to the heathen world, and they were as eager to tell their story as the disciples were to hear it. He who returns from a hard fought field bearing good tidings, pants beneath the burden of his untold story" [New Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, vol. 2, p. 52]. We can only imagine "the eagerness with which the Christians of Antioch would gather to listen to their report" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 93].
In addition to reporting to these brethren the many details of their mission effort during the time they had been gone, Paul and Barnabas also sought to convey to these brethren a vital truth that had become quite evident to them during this time: God had very clearly "opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27b). Indeed, this is the central truth (according to the wording of Luke in this passage) they wanted to impress upon their hearers in Antioch. During their account of this first missionary journey, "one thing appeared to them to be of peculiar interest: God had manifestly 'opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.' The expression is a sufficiently striking one to be made the subject of earnest meditation" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 456]. This expression is indeed a powerful one, yet it is often overlooked or not given any real consideration, and this is a mistake, for in this statement we find a powerful truth: the entrance into a saving relationship with the Father is through the "door of faith" which God Himself has opened to all men.
Many of the Jews failed to grasp this gift of grace, and sought to attach to faith various religious acts as being necessary to one's entrance into relationship with the Lord. One of the main ones, at that particular time, was circumcision. In fact, a delegation from the church in Jerusalem came to Antioch at this time "and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'" (Acts 15:1). The very next verse tells us that "Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them" (vs. 2), and this led very quickly to what we know as The Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15), where there continued to be "much debate" (vs. 7). This was an important meeting, for the very core of the gospel was in danger of being undermined by those still devoted to law and custom/tradition. The primacy of faith had to be established, and Peter jumped in early to bring that point home to the brethren. Reminding the assembled saints of his own mission to Cornelius and his household, he declared, "God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are" (Acts 15:8-11). God's grace was made evident in the fact that these believers had their hearts cleansed by faith, and NOT by any outward action on their part. Yes, the door opened to the Gentiles was a God-given "door of faith" (Acts 14:27b). "God had manifestly made faith, not circumcision, the ground of admission to His kingdom" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 456].
Many today also seek to add conditions to this grace-given door of faith, seeking to make baptism in water the gateway unto salvation. In so doing, they change the "door" provided by God, just as the legalists of the first century sought to do the same with circumcision. Both are wrong, and both diminish the Gospel by their teaching. "Faith is the only door into the kingdom; there is no entrance save by this door. The gospel message is still: 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved' (Acts 16:31). Thus, the condition of entrance into the new gospel standing and gospel privileges was one which the Gentiles could meet, since faith is common to human nature, and in no sense special to any one race" [ibid, p. 457]. The renowned Greek scholar, Dr. A. T. Robertson, stated, "The Gentiles now, it was plain, could enter the kingdom of God through the door of faith, not by law or by circumcision or by heathen philosophy or mythology" [Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. "There is no entering into the kingdom of Christ but by the door of faith" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. "The door of the Father's house was now opened wider than it had ever been before, and no man may shut it" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 93]. And yet, men continue to restrict that access through this door by imposing various legalistic and traditional conditions upon it. We are saved by grace through faith; it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Thus, it is this wondrous "door of faith" that I shall continue to preach and teach, just as Paul and Barnabas did. And, like them, I am also ever ready to boldly engage any and all who seek to add conditions to that "door of faith" (yes, even to the point of "great dissension and debate with them"), for they are tampering with God's chosen gateway to His gracious acceptance of men: the "door of faith."
From a Reader in Texas:
Bro. Al, I just can't help mentioning Bro. Leroy Garrett, who passed away a few days ago. After learning of his death I reread his book "What Must the Church of Christ Do to be Saved?" If only that book could somehow be required reading for every Church of Christ member!! He is a hero of mine!
Dr. Leroy Garrett was a giant of faith and one of the major proponents of God's grace from our Stone-Campbell Movement. I was blessed to know him for a number of years, and he would often encourage me in my writing ministry, for which I shall be forever grateful. On one occasion he wrote me: "Al, I want to join others in commending you for taking Biblical exposition seriously, and for believing in your readers that they are willing to think and to consider a different point of view. You consistently show both resourcefulness and responsibility in your essays. Soldier on!" I did a tribute to this brother in one of my early issues of Reflections (Issue #107). He will be genuinely missed, but I thank God for the inspiring example he set for so many of us! So also did the father of the dear Christian woman who wrote the above email to me. She is the daughter of Bro. K. C. Moser, about whom I also wrote in the following tribute (Reflections #392). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Scotland:
Dear Al, Thank You for kindly gifting me your CDs containing your classes and writings on The Book of Revelation. I am very grateful and have already listened to them all. I have enclosed a wee gift of a DVD for you. It is congregational singing from the annual Bible Fest which is held in England. I opted for this one because it has Scottish scenery and I thought you might enjoy the views. Hope you like it. Many thanks, Al, again, for the gift of your CDs.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Dear Brother Al, It's been some passing of time, and I am much behind in my readings of your Reflections, but today I was able to grab a chunk of time early and I read your article "Idiots and Wild Donkeys" (Reflections #677). This was wonderful, as they all always are! God bless you, brother. I appreciate you. Your wisdom makes me wiser bit-by-bit.
From a Reader in Alaska:
Thanks once again, Al, for including some of my thoughts in the readers' section of your Reflections. I especially like the nuances you add in your adjoining reply to flesh out a more complete consideration of the topic so that my comments don't stand alone, but have the additional validation of your on-point commentary. New Testament content, especially Christ's words and teachings, communicates on so many levels that it's really difficult for an average reader to squeeze all the meanings out which is helpful when actually putting them into practice via one's attitudes and actions. Further, such complexity makes proof-texting even more questionable by implicit assertions that any particular text isn't complemented and supplemented by others that should be brought to bear on a particular subject. All of us should share a little more epistemological humility when hanging major doctrines on a single verse. The book, chapter, verse locator systems shouldn't be thought of as a counterpart to legal statutes or regulations, but more as a Bible-help, which is how I think they were originally intended back in the day. Thanks for the depth you employ when pursuing topics!
From a Reader in Texas:
"I now baptize Joe into Christ." This is what the preacher at our Church of Christ said on Sunday. What does being baptized into Christ mean? Does a preacher (or anyone else baptizing someone in water) actually place that person into Christ? Isn't that the work of the Holy Spirit? And does the Holy Spirit place one "into Christ" only through the water of the baptistery? Have you dealt with this in your Reflections? Also, is Galatians 3:27 referring to water baptism?
In one of my early Reflections articles (May 23, 2003), titled "Getting 'Into' Christ Jesus: Ponderings on Prepositions" (Reflections #42), I dealt with the significance of a believer being placed "into" the Lord Jesus Christ. That study was written over a dozen years ago, and thus my understanding has evolved somewhat since then, but that study should prove helpful to this reader nevertheless. With respect to the evolution of my thinking on the topic of baptism, I would suggest a careful reading of my 300 page book "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice." To answer this reader's question: Yes, I believe that our "plunging into" a union with the Lord is "performed" by the Holy Spirit, not by any man, and that this action is separate and apart from one's baptism in water. I believe this is taught powerfully in 1 Corinthians 12:13, and also in Galatians 3:27, among other places in the NT writings, which I deal with extensively in the following two articles: "Immersed By One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:13" (Reflections #353) and "Putting On Jesus Christ: An Examination of Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27" (Reflections #362). -- Al Maxey
From an Elder in North Carolina:
Al, you made the following statement in your most recent Reflections: "Ignorance can be remedied by the acquisition of knowledge, but there is no cure for stupid." For many years I used the tag line in my emails that was quite similar: "Ignorance is curable; stupidity is forever." Albert Einstein had this to say about it: "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits." We are all ignorant of something, and many are ignorant of many things, but it is when a person thinks he knows everything perfectly, and thus has no desire to learn, that a person is truly STUPID. I suppose the one incident that started my own move away from the Churches of Christ was a statement by the preacher in class one Wednesday night: he said that he knew and understood perfectly everything in the NT. I can only feel pity for such people, as my study of the Scriptures has convinced me that God is not pleased with such persons.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
It is impossible to teach someone who is so certain they already know everything, and who are unwilling to listen to any differing point of view. Any position other than their own "sacred cow(s)" is written off as "false teaching," with the teacher and the teaching avoided like the plague.
From a Reader in Ohio:
You are a false teacher!
From a Minister in New Mexico:
One of the things one should learn in grad school is to accept views that don't coincide with one's own understanding. I truly love the zeal of our dear brother Ray Downen, but do wish he would learn there are differing views of baptism (e.g. his letter to you in the readers' section of your last Reflections). Jesus instructed His apostles to immerse disciples, but didn't specify water. Peter even corrected disciples who failed to understand that fact. Immersing people in Good News by telling them of God's love and grace may well lead them to water, but it's the Spirit who writes names in the Lamb's book of life. The ink is undiluted red; Tide not required.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Just read your article "Idiots and Wild Donkeys." Boy, can most of us relate to this! I've been around a few wise asses, and even more dumb asses (all the same herd to me). I guess you're right about change: a person would have to wake up one morning and realize they were stupid. Probably not going to happen. Your statement that they "do more braying than praying" is classic. Love ya, brother. Keep stomping out ignorance!
From a Reader in Kansas:
The word "idiot" comes from the Latin word "idiota" (ignorant person), according to Webster's ninth edition of the New Collegiate Dictionary. "Ignorant," defined from the same source, means: lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing; or, lack of intelligence. Thus, acting without intelligence and being without intelligence are perhaps two different things. I presume the Bible is talking about the former. Keep up the good work, brother.
I'm sure we have all known both types: (1) those who act/speak without sufficient knowledge [ignorant], and (2) those who act/speak without any intelligence [ignoramus]. And, yes, there is a difference between being ignorant of something and being an ignoramus! -- Al Maxey
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