Issue #689 -------
February 18, 2016
It is not opinions that man needs; it is Truth. It is
not theology; it is God. It is not religion; it is Christ.
It is not literature and science; it is the knowledge of
the free love of God in the gift of His only-begotten Son.
Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
Gaius Valerius Catullus, a Roman poet who lived in the century prior to the birth of Jesus, made the following observation, "Let us value at a penny all the talk of crabbed old men." There may well be some sage advice given here, for it is not uncommon to find aged men and women, who have over the years become petrified in their party precepts and practices, pontificating passionately about their cherished convictions. Sadly, those who have become calcified in their views will quite often also be cantankerous and contentious in their voicing of them. Therefore, the value we place on such opinings of the opinionated should be considered carefully. Sadly, many who feel called to preach have answered that divine call only to proclaim their own narrow religious prejudices, perceptions, preferences and practices as Law, which can only result in great harm to those among whom they preach. I think Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), one of England's best-known preachers, summed it up nicely: "There are brethren in the ministry whose speech is intolerable; either they rouse you to wrath, or else they send you to sleep. No chloral can ever equal some discourses in sleep-giving properties; no human being, unless gifted with infinite patience, could long endure to listen to them, and nature does well to give the victim deliverance through sleep. I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment this was a slander on the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close. If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons, it would be a righteous judgment upon them, and they would soon cry out with Cain, 'My punishment is greater than I can bear'."
Let me hasten to affirm that over the past two millennia there have been many devout and devoted proclaimers of the Good News of God's Grace, and I have nothing but the highest regard for these individuals and their ministries. Were these men and women perfect in their understanding and application of Truth? Were they infallible in their convictions derived from honest study of God's written revelation? Of course not, and neither are any of us today. The reality is: "We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist" (1 Cor. 13:12, The Message. The Contemporary English Version reads: "Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror"). Our limitations when seeking to grasp eternal realities are in no way an indictment on our integrity or love for the Lord or His Word, but simply an admission that we are mere mortals (flesh and blood) seeking to the best of our abilities to grasp eternal truths. Even the best among us will fall far short of perfect perception of these eternal realities. Yet, our love for the Lord and His Word and His Kingdom compels us to keep on seeking to acquire a greater grasp of our God and His grace, and to be more gracious toward our fellow seekers when they, like we, fall short in their understanding (a challenge the apostle Paul issues to the church in Romans 14).
It is because we are all less than perfect in our comprehension of spiritual truths that we must lovingly challenge one another with regard to our convictions, and that those being challenged should welcome this interaction (just as Apollos did when he was approached by Priscilla and Aquila: Acts 18:24f). We all "see in a mirror dimly" (1 Cor. 13:12, English Standard Version), thus we all have need of a healthy humility when declaring our conclusions to others. I love studying the lives of those disciples of Christ who have lived and ministered before me, and there is much I can learn from them. At the same time, however, I must be cautious, for they are mere mortals, as am I, and thus far from infallible in their insights, as am I. There is a tendency among some brethren, though, to place the convictions of some of our spiritual predecessors on a lofty level, virtually implying their insights trump ours. This is especially done with the first century disciples, causing some today to preach that we must "restore" the practices of men and women who lived in the first century and in cultures vastly different from our own. Their insights and applications, therefore, become a standard by which all future disciples are judged. If they practiced something a certain way, then that becomes LAW; if they didn't practice something, then for us to engage in that act is UNLAWFUL (i.e., SIN). In a sense, we have allowed tradition to trump Truth, and this will inevitably lead to division among the disciples of Jesus. "HE the great example is, and pattern for me" (from the hymn by William A. Ogden titled "Where He Leads I'll Follow"), not any group of disciples predating our own walk with Him.
One of the grave errors some Christians have made over the centuries, and this is especially true in the ultra-conservative wing of my own faith-heritage, is that they have abandoned Jesus as The Pattern, and have instead elevated the practices of first century disciples to the level of divine LAW, with faithfulness to said patterns determining one's standing in the sight of God. Legalistic patternism has infiltrated and infested the Body of Christ over the centuries, and, frankly, is one of Satan's greatest strategies for subverting Truth. By taking our eyes off Jesus as our Pattern, and focusing instead upon the practices of early disciples as our pattern, we have buried Truth under an ever increasing mound of tradition, and in the process have effectively replaced Christianity with churchianity. Brethren, it is not faithfulness to the pattern of early church practices we need to restore, it is faithfulness to JESUS and HIS example we need to restore. Seeking to look like HIM is my goal, not seeking to look like THEM (mere mortals, just as flawed as I, who lived millennia ago in vastly different cultures, who sought to express their faith and love in ways relevant to their own time and place). I have written extensively against the curse of legalistic patternism (see the list of studies on my Topical Index page), and have also engaged in a published debate on this topic, to which I would refer the reader: The Maxey-Broking Debate.
Tragically, there are preachers today who continue to proclaim legalistic patternism, and they appeal to prior preachers who did the same (as though such an appeal in some way validates their own practice and preaching). A good example of this is found in the February 1, 2016 edition of Hugh Fulford's publication "Hugh's News & Views" titled "Two Sermons Out Of The Past." I would encourage you to write Hugh (Click Here) for a copy of this article. In this article Hugh quotes from sermons by two past leaders in the group known as the "Church of Christ" (one of three major divisions of the Stone-Campbell Movement). These two men are Bill Humble and Harold Hazelip, both highly respected men and devoted disciples of Christ Jesus. Both of these men, at least according to Hugh Fulford, were strong advocates of the view that "the Bible is a blueprint or pattern for the church in every age," and that "we have a duty to follow it." Again, I have dealt extensively with the fallacies of legalistic patternism, and have also asked these patternists repeatedly over the past several decades to simply provide me with the specifics of this "pattern." If such a pattern exists, and if we have a "duty to follow it," then one would think they could provide us with a list of specifics which we must follow. Yet, I have never had a single patternist provide me with this list. NEVER! In fact, they get furious with me for even asking. I have documented this quest, and their refusal, in several pointed articles that you may wish to examine (they are listed on my Topical Index page under the heading "Requesting Legalism's List").
These men were also convinced, as is Hugh, that congregations of the group denominated "Church of Christ" constitute "the one, true church" of our Lord Jesus and are NOT in any way, shape or form a "denomination." Thus, there is only ONE church established by Jesus ... and WE are it! ALL others are "denominations" ... WE are not! I agree 100% with these men that the Lord has called all believers into fellowship with Him, and that this universal One Body of believers in union and fellowship with Him constitutes His "church" (if we may use that term). Where I do NOT agree with these men is in the conviction that the group found in the Yellow Pages which is denominated (named) "Church of Christ" IS, to the exclusion of all others, that One Body. Baptists are in a denomination; Methodists are in a denomination; etc. ... BUT, those in the group named "Church of Christ" are NOT in a denomination. Thus, if all those in these other groups want to be saved, they need to leave their group and come to our group, for WE are the "one, true church" established by Christ. This is such foolishness that it amazes me that otherwise intelligent men and woman can proclaim it with a straight face! I am pained, just as much as these good men are, by the fact that Christendom has become terribly fragmented into various sects and factions, each of which seek to distinguish themselves from their fellow believers in countless ways, including the name on the sign in front of their buildings. I too believe there is only ONE church, but I do not identify it with ANY of the countless named groups. The ONE BODY of Jesus Christ is not contained in any one group, or in any one building; the ONE BODY is simply made up of ALL who are united with Him by faith. Thus, I have brethren who may have traditions that differ from mine, and I have brethren who may assemble in buildings whose "sign out front" differs from mine. Our individual associations may differ, as do our traditions and understandings of various matters, but we are all within that one universal church (i.e., the called out ones). I may choose to work and worship within the group denominated "Church of Christ," and another may choose to work and worship within a group denominated something different, but neither of our choices with regard to association alter the fact of our mutual membership in the ONE CHURCH (which transcends any one group). You may be a Texan, for example, and I may be a New Mexican, but we are both Americans!! You may be Baptist and I may be Church of Christ, but we are both part of that great universal ONE BODY if we are both IN HIM. Jesus made it clear to John that a person doesn't have to walk in OUR little band of disciples in order to walk with HIM (Mark 9:38f; Luke 9:49f -- Reflections #560: "Prideful Partisan Narrowness").
Hugh Fulford, in his above referenced article, asks, "Have some among us now abandoned the biblical concept of the church?" I would love to hear how Hugh would define the word "us" in this sentence, although I know quite well what he means: "us" refers to those in the group known as "Churches of Christ." Some of US have "abandoned the biblical concept of the church," he believes. I would differ with that assessment. In truth, some of US (in this denominated group) have actually come to embrace the biblical concept of the church -- i.e., that it is made up of ALL who are IN HIM, not all who are IN US. Near the end of his article Hugh asked, "Would the world lose anything if the churches of Christ ceased to exist?" If Hugh means by "churches of Christ" the ONE BODY of our Lord Jesus, which is made up of ALL who are IN HIM, then YES, the world would lose a great deal. But, brethren, that is not what Hugh means. Hugh is speaking of "US" (OUR group), which in the Yellow Pages is denominated "Church of Christ." Would the world lose anything if this group ceased to exist? Would the world lose anything if Baptists ceased to exist? Would the world lose anything if ALL such named groups ceased to exist? Well, the world would lose the factional fussing and fighting, but the ONE BODY would continue to exist, for it is not limited to any one named group ... not even OURS. Hugh also asked, "If one left the church for a denomination ... would that person still be alright in the sight of God?" Here again we see the factional thinking of Hugh: WE are "the church," all others are "denominations." If someone left US for THEM, would they be alright in the sight of God? Hmmm. Seems to me that they are in a denominated group either way, and just traded one set of traditions for another. I long for the day when we can set aside this schismatic silliness and factional foolishness and can simply regard ourselves and one another as fellow heirs of the blessings of our Father. My goal is not to get people into the "Church of Christ" church, or any other denominated group, but rather to help people get into Christ Jesus Himself. Our subsequent associations with other disciples, with whom we may share certain preferences with regard to worship styles, etc., has nothing to do with our membership in the universal ONE BODY. May God help us to open our eyes, and the eyes of our brethren, to this great reality!
You have undoubtedly noticed that my Reflections articles have been rather few and far between of late. There are reasons for that. Foremost is: my beloved mother, Mary Maxey, was becoming increasingly ill these past few weeks, and her condition seemed to be deteriorating almost daily. She was finally taken to the hospital by ambulance on Sunday, January 31. Tests showed some swelling in the brain, and she was immediately airlifted to a hospital in El Paso, Texas. The next morning my dad and I were informed by the neurosurgeon that additional tests showed she had massive cancerous tumors throughout the brain, and especially surrounding the stem of the brain. They were too advanced, and her health was not good enough, for surgery. The doctor said her condition was terminal and that she only had a brief time left. She was brought back here to their home in Alamogordo the next day (Tuesday, February 2), made comfortable in her own bed, and Hospice was brought in. She died just three days later (the afternoon of Friday, February 5), and I preached her funeral the following Friday (February 12). It has been a difficult few weeks for my family, but we are also blessed and comforted with the knowledge that my mom was a lady who loved the Lord, and who had spent her life, as best she could, seeking to show the beauty of Jesus in her daily attitudes and actions. She is now at rest, and we are at peace in that awareness and assurance. My mom was born in Arkansas on March 28, 1928 and was 87 at the time of her death. She and my dad would have been married 68 years on June 6. Theirs was truly a story of devotion and love, not only to one another, but to the Lord and their family. She will be dearly missed, but never forgotten, for precious memories live on in our hearts. Another factor which is having an impact on my writing ministry at this time is the fact that I was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I am now undergoing daily radiation treatments. There will be 43 treatments in all, and I have only had 11 at the time of this writing. The good news is: it was caught very early, and the physicians feel confident it can be dealt with successfully. The bad news is: the radiation does have a few side effects, one of which is fatigue (which I am experiencing). Thus, I hope you will be patient with me as I undergo these treatments, for they may impact somewhat the frequency of these Reflections. I also ask that you keep me in your prayers for healing, and that you especially keep my dad in your thoughts and prayers as he adjusts to the loss of his wife and best friend. Thank you, and may God bless each of you.
From a Minister in New Zealand:
We have Bobby Deason here in Tauranga at the moment, and he has informed me that your mother has just recently passed away. I would like to express my condolences to you at this time. God bless you! On another note, as you state in your articles, faith is the only possible response to grace (Romans 4:16). This needs to be taught everywhere, as people have been duped for too long with a false gospel that leads to bondage and a self-imposed restrictive religious lifestyle that is of no use to anyone. Again, why would Paul spend a whole chapter in Romans about Abraham being justified by faith apart from his act of faith (circumcision) unless it was relevant to us? It is my prayer that the eyes of many might be opened to the fullness of the grace of God and live accordingly. Again, God bless you!
From a Reader in Texas:
I attended the "one cup, non-exception" church until I was 16 years old. Making my break away from this group ended many close relationships. After so many years of living in legalism, my family has now found a new church home; one moving in the right direction! I still struggle with this group using individual cups in the Lord's Supper, however, and will be purchasing your book "One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism" to help me with this. I have concluded that some folks are so focused on being "right" that they miss the purpose of the Gospel. I do not want to be one of those people.
From a Reader in Washington:
Al, I am so glad that I found your Reflections. We, along with many others, have walked away from the Church of Christ here in -----, Washington. My husband was an elder there, but was serving with two other elders who were very rigid and legalistic. They had somehow figured out that they were more righteous than anyone else. Grace, at least to them, was just something you said at dinner it seemed. They were very good at pointing out the sins of others, but not their own. Our minister has also quit because they were insisting that he give the old "hellfire and brimstone" sermons. This group had been our church family for 25+ years, but those two men have destroyed this congregation. I finally feel free to worship without the feeling that I'm "going to hell" if I don't fall in line with their thinking. I am finally becoming more and more aware of Grace! Thank you so much for what you do, Al. It has truly been a blessing to read your weekly Reflections!
From a Reader in Georgia:
I just read Dr. Barry Perryman's article, which appeared as a guest article in your last Reflections, titled "Legalists Leaping the Pacific" (Reflections #688). The analogy of jumping across the Pacific Ocean is something that I don't think I will soon forget. Barry nailed it!!
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Dr. Perryman's article is "spot on." I have found that the more I want to be holy the more sin I find within me. The very best I can do I easily see misses the mark of God's standard of righteousness by light years. Oh, how I praise Him for His matchless grace and mercy toward a sinner like me! I now trust Him happily, having no merit of my own to offer. Jesus saves, I don't.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Dear Brothers Maxey and Perryman, I want to thank you both for sharing your insights and wisdom. I'm grateful, Brother Al, that you are a humble man and one who gladly shares your space with guest writers, because this particular article today was clearly ordained for me! Thank you, Brother Perryman, for this reflection containing full measure of both the convicting Truth and the refreshing springs of the Spirit. I have been on my own journey of growth in grace, self-discovery, and revelation of my secure standing in Christ, and yet with notable realization of my ongoing need for personal growth in grace for the progressive abandonment of the areas of legalism to which I have been enslaved. Brother Al, you have been a true friend in this journey and a personal "freedom fighter" on my behalf (to an extent you cannot fully know, but I believe is documented in the heavenly realm). Today's article is yet one more confirmed "notch-win" on my Sword of the Spirit and girding for my Belt of Truth by which I am being set free. Thank you both for being repairers of the breach (Isaiah 58:12). I appreciate you both.
From a Minister in Arkansas:
I am trying to do some research into the origin of the CENI hermeneutic. All I keep getting is info from the Church of Christ about the "Restoration Movement." I know this hermeneutic is older than this, and was wondering if you had a site I could dig into. Thanks.
I shared with this Arkansas preacher a series of articles on this deeply flawed hermeneutic that appeared on the Wineskins site (Click Here). I also have done a number of articles on this CENI approach to biblical interpretation, and the serious theological misunderstandings that are a result of adopting this approach, and I would invite the reader to peruse my Reflections Archives and carefully examine these studies. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, you are being disingenuous ... You know the baptism stories in the NT, but you are forcing your own personal view of how faith works into those stories. Please give me an example of someone who was already saved who was then immersed.
Cornelius. See Reflections #472 ("Cornelius and Balaam's Ass: Was this Godly Centurion as Damned as a Donkey prior to his Baptism?") and Reflections #587 ("Simon's Sect Silencing Speech: A Reflective Study of Peter's Proclamation to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:7-11"). I believe we could also suggest others -- Apollos, for example. -- Al Maxey
From Bobby Valentine in Arizona:
Al, I just read your piece on Sister Silena Moore Holman (Reflections #371). It is very good. I too have done an article on her (Click Here). Her actual writings are very good. "The Scriptural Status of Women" is quite a lengthy piece, in fact. I never cease to be amazed that David Lipscomb actually published her stuff, and over the years published dozens of her essays. That is one of the major differences in the Gospel Advocate then and the Gospel Advocate today! Today she would not be published at all. Thank you for your kind words about my article; I appreciate your work for the kingdom as well. Blessings to you from the desert!
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