by Al Maxey

Issue #683 ------- December 11, 2015
All salvation is through Christ
Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682)

One Plus Nothing Equals Everything
Readers Reflect on Legalistic Salvation Dogma

"Salvation is attained not by subscription to metaphysical dogmas, but solely by love of God that fulfills itself in action." So stated the Jewish philosopher Chasdai Crescas (1340-1412). By definition, dogma is "a theological opinion to which some strictly adhere." To be dogmatic is to arrogantly assert one's opinion as fact. Dogmatists often become hostile in the face of any challenge to their dogma, and will most often attack their opponents rather than affirm their opinions. Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) wrote, "Dogmatism is the anti-Christ of learning." The hardened dogmatist will rarely welcome in-depth examination and discussion of his views. John Dewey (1859-1952) stated it well, saying, "Any theory and set of practices is dogmatic which is not based upon critical examination of its own underlying principles." Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) defined dogma this way: "A hard substance which forms in a soft brain," and Sir William Osler (1849-1914) seems to concur, writing, "The greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism." Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975), in his celebrated work "Change and Habit: The Challenge of Our Time," made this insightful observation: "Thinking for oneself is always arduous and is sometimes painful. The temptation to stop thinking and to take dogma on faith is strong. Yet, since the intellect does possess the capacity to think for itself, it also has the impulse and feels the obligation. We may therefore feel sure that the intellect will always refuse, sooner or later, to take traditional doctrines on trust."

I was raised within a religious group that did not always look favorably upon those who thought for themselves, for such critical thinking quite often led the thinker to the conclusion and conviction that much of what was taught as divine truth was nothing other than human tradition (which, over time, had been elevated to the level and status of ultimate, infallible truth). To question our religious dogma was to invite sure and swift retribution from the self-appointed defenders of and contenders for the faith (or their version of it, more accurately). Like Toynbee suggested, there came a point in my own spiritual growth and development that I refused to take traditional doctrines on trust. I dared to dig deeper; I dared to doubt; I dared to question. And so did many of you, which is one of the reasons these Reflections have become so popular both here and abroad. They strike a chord in the hearts and minds of the readers, letting them know they are not alone in their doubts about dogma and in their quest for greater insight into God's revealed Truth. It has greatly encouraged me over the years to hear from disciples of Christ around the world who are at last shedding the shackles of sectarianism, with its legalisms and dogmas, and daring to stand boldly as defenders of the gospel of God's grace! In this issue of my weekly Reflections, for your personal encouragement, I would like to share the insights of a few of my readers. What they say will irritate some of you (yes, there are some who read my writings and listen to my lessons to "keep an eye on the apostate" and report back to the "powers that be" the growing list of my "digressions"), but a great many more of you will rejoice at the growing understanding and appreciation of God's children with respect to what the Father has actually done and is doing for us.

Before I share with you the thoughts of a couple of my readers, I would like to make just a few comments about the quote by the Jewish philosopher at the beginning of this article: "Salvation is attained not by subscription to metaphysical dogmas, but solely by love of God that fulfills itself in action." By the time of Christ, the Jews had a systematic religion that was infused into every aspect of daily living, and some among these Jews (such as the sect of the Pharisees) had become somewhat radicalized in their promotion of dogma and in their persecution of those who dared to differ with them. This was why the freedom presented by Jesus, who taught that we should simply live righteously rather than religiously, guided by love not law, was so refreshing to the multitudes (and why it so infuriated the legalistic dogmatists). Crescas, in his statement, suggested this great truth to his contemporaries: one's salvation is not attained and maintained by embracing the "correct" list of laws. Rather, it was attained and maintained by virtue of being in relationship with the Lord God (a gift of grace He bestows through His Son upon all who believe). Crescas then makes a statement that can be taken one of two ways: "Salvation is attained ... solely by love of God that fulfills itself in action." This can mean either: (1) salvation is for those who love God and show it daily in their actions, or (2) salvation is bestowed because of God's love which was ultimately fulfilled and demonstrated in the action of giving His Son to atone for sin and remove the certificate of debt that stood against us. The latter certainly expresses the truth of the Scriptures, and nowhere as beautifully as John 3:16-18a -- "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned." We are saved by grace through faith, and the deeds we do thereafter are reflections of that faith that embraced His gift. Our deeds do not save us, but our deeds do testify to the fact of our salvation. Salvation is due to the fact that God loves us and was/is willing to show it. Thus, HIS act on our behalf, apart from anything WE could ever offer, results in eternal blessings we can barely comprehend, but which we gratefully receive by faith. As the title of this article suggests: One + Nothing = Everything!! For further study of this concept I would refer the reader to Reflections #152 ("Paying the Debt for Our Sin: Was the Crucifixion of Christ on the Cross Total or Token Payment for Sin?").

Sadly, there are many disciples, and denominated groups of disciples (Churches of Christ included), who cannot abide the thought that you and I can do nothing to secure our salvation. They are convinced that we must engage in certain acts (baptism in water being chief among them) in order to qualify for God's grace and mercy. They teach that by embracing certain religious dogmas and performing certain rituals and obeying certain commandments we fill the "gap in grace" and complete the salvation process. Brethren, I'll be blunt: this is nothing short of heresy. I have been exposing and opposing this dogma for many years, and so have many of you, and it is certainly encouraging to witness more and more disciples turning away from bondage to dogma in order to embrace their blood-bought freedom in Christ Jesus. It is also thrilling to see a growing number of these men and women boldly speaking out against legalistic, sectarian dogmatism and speaking out for our liberty to love without religious restraint. In this current issue of my weekly Reflections I want to share with you the thoughts of two of my readers. One I will identify, the other I will not; both gave their permission for me to share what they had sent me, for which I thank them.

The first comes from an active duty Army Lt.Col. (which is why I have chosen not to reveal his identity and location, for his own protection). His thoughts will be shared below. Let me give a little background. On Monday, December 7, I received an email from another Army officer (also a Lt.Col.) in which he stated: "Al, this is the second time I've written you. The first time I was serving in Iraq and someone turned me on to your teachings (i.e.: your Reflections). I am so thankful for this connection. One of my co-workers is studying to prepare himself for the ministry (after he retires from the Army), and he is taking some online classes at -------- University. His encounter with one of his professors has left him baffled. With his permission, I've enclosed a letter he wrote following the back-and-forth he experienced when dealing with this instructor who 'had it ALL figured out.' I think his letter is absolutely beautiful, and I thought you would appreciate it. Also, I spoke with my buddy and he doesn't mind at all if you share his letter with your readers. In addition, I want to thank you for what you do and the rocks you overturn! Very respectfully yours, -------." Just for the record, I should point out that the university (which I also chose not to identify) to which this reader referred is a Christian university in the South that is affiliated with Churches of Christ. I want to thank both of these Army officers for their service to our great nation! I also applaud their love for the Lord and their willingness to stand boldly in the trenches as they lead the fight against legalism. May God bless them both. Below is the letter of this Lt.Col. which he titled "An Open Letter to the Pharisees."

I am greatly encouraged by the spirit and insight of this brother-in-Christ, and appreciate his willingness to courageously, firmly, and yet lovingly, expose the fallacy of those who embrace and proclaim law over love, religion over relationship. I truly pray that when this Lt.Col. retires he will indeed devote himself to active service as a spiritual leader within the Lord's army. We need good men and women like this. The second letter comes from a longtime reader of my Reflections by the name of Neal Griffin, an author who lives in Texas. Neal is an excellent writer and I have long enjoyed his studies. He and I communicate quite often, and I am encouraged by his devotion to sharing the grace of God to those still in bondage to legalism. He is a powerful voice for freedom in Christ Jesus. The day before Thanksgiving, Neal sent me an article he had just written, saying, "Al, dear brother, I value your opinions highly and I would appreciate your take, pro or con, on this one." Well, I loved it, and asked if he would mind if I shared it with my readers. He agreed, and so I include it below. His article is titled "Salvation -- In Order To vs. Because Of."

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Canada:

Al, if you have a moment could you tell me why the Lord tried to kill Moses (Exodus 4:24)? It seems harsh. I struggle with verses like this in the Bible. I no longer have access to my old study books, so I am taking the "easy way," at least for me, by asking you. If you are busy, though, just pass this request by. I will understand. My love to you and Shelly.

From a Reader in Zambia, Africa:

Brother Al, please help! We had an argument at our Bible study about whether or not Bible believing Christians should celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, since no one really knows the exact date He was born. What is your take, please?

From a Minister in Kansas:

I know that you produce adult Bible class materials utilizing PowerPoint and various lesson notes and audio recordings. But, do you have anything that would be good for youth? I teach a high school class. I don't use handouts or visuals, yet I really think I need to. Please let me know, as I'm ready to buy something.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Greetings Brother Al. I am preparing to teach a class on Biblical Anthropology. I have your CD set on The Nature of Man, and I also have read with great interest some of your Reflections on this topic, such as Issue #32: "What Is Man? Body - Spirit - Soul," as I was forming my thought processes. What other materials do you have that will help me as I prepare?

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Thank You, brother, for your wonderful article "He Canceled It and Nailed It" (Reflections #682). I only wish all of our brethren would accept what Paul wrote to the Colossians in that great passage upon which your article focused (Col. 2:14). Thank God it is true. He did pay the debt I owed; the debt I could not pay! Also, Ellis J. Crum's song, which you referenced at the beginning of your article, is one of my favorites also. God bless you, brother.

From an Author in Arizona:

I remember brother Crum, having read many of his articles in various publications. I had not heard that he had passed, so thanks for letting us know. You did an excellent job on this article today ("He Canceled It and Nailed It"). Keep the fires burning!

From a Minister in California:

I knew Ellis Crum personally, and I even got to sing with him a few times! Grand old man! His hymn book was the "anti's" hymnal, as I recall (having grown up in the midst of the now so-called Non-Institutional branch of the Churches of Christ). Shiver me timbers!

From an Author in Nevada:

Your essay on Colossians 2:14 was spot on in emphasizing that it was the debt which the law created that was nailed to Christ's cross. Legalism would say, ironically, that it was the Law of Moses that was nailed to the cross. But, it was rather the bond: the curse it had placed upon the righteous among the Jews. As you state: it is the "damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads" [Phillips Translation]. Christ has paid this debt brought about by sin, and He paid it for everyone; it was nailed there with Him. A parallel passage, Gal. 3:13, declares that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law," not from the Law itself.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Jesus taught what it meant to really give of oneself, and He did just that when He did indeed pay the price. What I wish He had taught us more about, though, is how to receive. He gave us the free gift of redemption, and all we have to do is believe in Him to receive it, and yet we just can't seem to do it. We want to be a participant in the giving of the gift, yet we have not earned that right to participate in the giving of redemption (either for ourselves or for others). We have such a hard time with this, as you say, and we make up rules and traditions and theology so as to include ourselves in the giving of God's Grace, as if we were somehow operating on His side of the equation! In reality this is actually a refusal to receive. Al, I'm not sure what I'm gonna do with all this coffee (which I drink while reading your articles) while you take a well-deserved vacation from your writing ministry. Hope I survive it!! Be blessed my friend.

From a Reader in Texas:

"He Canceled It and Nailed It" is a great and wonderful lesson, brother! It is sometimes hard to remember. In my former life, like so many, I lived a hypocritical, sinful, despicable existence. Satan keeps reminding me of this. It requires quiet reflection, visiting with the Father, to bring my mind back into the present: back into the realization that Jesus paid the whole price, not just part of it. Thanks, Al. I will be passing this issue of Reflections on to many other people!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Thanks, Al, for an excellent article, especially this concluding statement: "Therefore, in his epistle to the Colossian brethren, the apostle Paul informs us all of the Good News that Jesus took our 'certificate of debt,' the indictment of our guilt, the document of our digressions, the transcript of our transgressions, and He bore it to the cross." As I understand it, Al, the Romans nailed a "certificate of debt," a statement of the accusations, on the crosses of those whom they crucified. That's what they did in accusing Jesus of being "King of the Jews," which was written in multiple languages on the placard nailed to His cross. It is only in our own union with Him that we are thereby crucified with Him and our sins/debt is retrospectively "nailed to the cross" with Him. This truth is often lost in the common understanding that the Law was nailed to the cross. It was the penalty for transgression of law, the guilt, rather than the old covenant, that was taken away.

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Great article on Colossians 2:14. Our brethren just don't want to give up this "proof text" for NT authority. Keep up the fine work!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

I'm just getting around to reading this article ("He Canceled It and Nailed It") and it is fantastic! "He Paid A Debt" is one of my favorite hymns too, and the line "And now I sing a brand new song 'Amazing Grace'" always brings a lump to my throat. I wonder what song we would be singing if Jesus had NOT paid our debt of sin? Certainly it would have been a dirge of sorrow and misery. God bless you, brother!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

In your latest issue, in which you discussed Colossians 2:14, you indicate, with regard to the Law of Moses, that men were incapable of keeping it completely and perfectly. Why do you say this?! What precept of it were men incapable of keeping? Did God give a law men could not obey, then hold them guilty for not obeying it? This cannot be, for in Deuteronomy 32:11 God Himself said it wasn't too difficult nor beyond man's reach. My view is that man could keep the Law fully and perfectly, he just didn't. The fault was not the Law (i.e., that it was too hard), but that man just didn't want to obey it. I do, however, agree with the overall thrust of the article: that it wasn't the Law itself that was nailed to the cross, but the record of man's violations of the Law, despite the fact that I personally misused this very verse for many years in debating Sabbatarians.

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