Issue #691 -------
March 28, 2016
I never dared to be radical when young for
fear it would make me conservative when old.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Some may be wondering about the terms used in the title of this article. What is "conservatism"?, one might well ask. One online dictionary provided the following definition: "Conservatism (or: conservativism) is any political philosophy that favors tradition (in the sense of various religious, cultural, or nationally-defined beliefs and customs) in the face of external forces for change, and is critical of proposals for radical social change." Religiously, such a one would be highly skeptical of any change that affected cherished traditions. Some who feel this way even become quite militant, even radical, in their opposition to any person or perception that dares to challenge or question their personal or party preferences, precepts and practices. On the other hand, those challenging religious comfort zones may also, at times, be rightly seen and characterized as somewhat "radical" in their desire to promote responsible change among their fellow believers. Probably most would view as "radical" anyone either to the far right or far left of their own convictions (one being radically liberal, the other being radically conservative). As you can quickly see, such terms as radical, conservative, liberal, and the like are highly subjective in nature. I remember while preaching in Hawaii (from 1992 to 1998) being called both "liberal" and "conservative" on the very same issue on the very same day, but by two different disciples (one of whom I was to the right of, while to the left of the other). Yes, it can all become rather confusing at times.
Somewhat along these lines of thought, I recently received an email from a Reflections reader in Mississippi who wanted to make me aware of an article that had recently been written on baptism which was being widely circulated on the internet. This article is titled "What Does Baptism Have To Do With Salvation?" (Click Here to read). It was written by Wes McAdams on March 2, 2016, and it appears on his web site, which he has named: Radically Christian, with the subtitle being: "1st Century Christianity in a 21st Century World." One may also follow Wes McAdams on his "Radically Christian" Facebook site, if one is so inclined. On his web site, Wes identifies himself thusly: "My name is Wes McAdams and I am simply a Christian. I do not belong to a man-made religious or denominational body; I was added by God to the blood purchased church. If that was good enough for Paul, Peter, and Philip, it is certainly good enough for me! I do not have a creed; I simply follow the Bible -- the inspired Word of God. I make absolutely no claims to perfection (or even goodness). All that I am and have is due to the grace of God! Because of God's rich grace, I am husband to a beautiful wife, Hollee, and the father to two wonderful boys, Malachi and Noah. I am the preaching minister for the Baker Heights church of Christ in Abilene, Texas." According to the 2012 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States, the membership of this congregation, which numbers around 300, is primarily military. I know nothing further about this congregation, or its leaders or members, but by all appearances it seems to be a great group of disciples devoted to glorifying and serving their God in their community, for which I applaud them and pray God's continued blessings upon them. My thoughts on the article by Wes, therefore, should in no way be considered a negative assessment either of Wes or the congregation he serves. Indeed, I pray my following comments will not be considered "negative" at all. I merely seek to share a few thoughts that came to mind as I read this article (an article I was asked to review by one of my readers in Mississippi).
The above mentioned sister-in-Christ from Mississippi wrote the following to me in an email dated March 2 (which is my birthday, by the way): "Dear Brother Al, First of all, I hope you are feeling as well as possible and can soon start regaining your strength. Seems cancer is at epidemic proportions in America. There are so many people struggling with it; so sorry you're one of them. When you are able and have the time, would you respond to this article (link provided)? Its teaching is the way I/we were raised, and it's hard to argue with some of it. I know many of your Reflections have directly addressed what is being said here, but please go over these points again, particularly 'eis' NEVER meaning 'because of,' and the paragraph about Paul being in his sins until they were washed away at his baptism. I've read the article you wrote about this many times, but still struggle with it. Why was Paul still in his sins at that point? This article is being circulated through social media, and of course the tone is always that if you don't 'get it right' (baptism) then you are lost. I was taught this from my childhood on, but I now no longer attend a church that teaches such, and, in fact, it teaches that you are saved and then you are baptized. This all continues to burden me, but dealing with the legalism where I went for much of my life burdened me more! Thank you!"
First, as somewhat of an aside, but one that might interest a few readers, I couldn't help but notice something that is very common within my faith-heritage: the use of the lower case "c" when writing "church of Christ." In my 40 years of fulltime preaching I have been questioned about this practice time and again. For those who may be wondering why some do this (I do not, by the way), I would suggest a reading of my following issue of Reflections: "Sectarianism's C-ism Schism: Upper Case or Lower Case Church?" (Reflections #520). Also, as an additional aside, let me take just a moment to respond to this reader's comments on my cancer. As most readers probably know (since I made mention of the fact in Reflections #690: "Pausing for Personal Reflection"), I was diagnosed last fall with prostate cancer. It was caught very early, however, and is non-aggressive and contained, therefore the prognosis for dealing with it in a successful manner is excellent. With the advice of the various doctors involved, I opted for radiation treatments. There would be 43 daily treatments (weekends off), which I have now almost completed (the final one is April 4), and I am blessed in that I'm experiencing only mild side effects (primarily fatigue). I won't know just how successful these treatments have been until about a month after the last one, at which time they will do the tests needed to determine what effect the radiation treatments had. However, all those involved seem very confident that my cancer was caught in time, so I am not overly concerned. Also, I sincerely thank all who have been praying during these past few months. You have been a huge encouragement to me, and also to my family. Again, Thank You!
Turning to the article by Wes McAdams, I must admit that, in my view, he has correctly conveyed some great biblical truths regarding God's eternal plan for sinful man. In the very first paragraph he states, "The Bible clearly teaches that man is saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8)." Wes correctly points out that such a biblical truth, which focuses on God's grace and man's faith, will inevitably lead discerning disciples to ask, "So what, if anything, does baptism have to do with salvation?" It is probably important to note that when Wes speaks of "baptism," he is talking about the practice of immersion in water. IF, in fact, our salvation is accomplished "by grace through faith," then in what way does this act of being immersed in water contribute to, if at all, one's salvation? As we all know from our study not only of Scripture, but also of church history down through the ages, this is a question that has been discussed, debated and divided over for centuries. Is God's grace and man's faith sufficient unto salvation, or are there additional human acts that must be "performed according to the pattern" in order to "seal the deal" of our eternal salvation? Such concerns actually led to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), for some disciples, who had come out of Judaism, were insisting that no one could be saved by grace and faith alone, but the penitent believer must add something else to the equation. "And some came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'" (Acts 15:1). This advocates the formula: Grace + Faith + _____ = Salvation. For centuries disciples have sought to "fill in the blank" with various human acts that they fervently proclaim to be absolutely essential to securing our acceptance by God.
Wes, in his article, does indeed seem to grasp that NO human act or practice could ever merit or earn God's gift of salvation. A gift is just that -- a gift. One doesn't earn it; it is freely given. Notice a few of his comments from the article: "Baptism is not something we do in addition to having faith in Christ." "None of what the New Testament teaches about baptism contradicts what is said in passages like Ephesians 2:8, 'For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.' What the Bible says about baptism is in perfect harmony with what it says about grace and faith. We are baptized because we have faith that God really does save sinners 'by grace.'" I agree completely with what he wrote here. Our baptism, in other words, is our visible expression of our faith and trust in the fact that our loving Father saves us as a gift of His grace. Wes correctly states, "Baptism is an expression of faith in Christ." Amen! Wes continues: "The New Testament teaches we are not saved 'by works.' Many people in the First Century taught that in order to be saved, you had to keep the Law of Moses. They were teaching a salvation by works of Law. They did not have faith in God's willingness to save by grace. The books of Romans and Galatians were written to combat this false teaching." I could not agree more, and would suggest a careful reading of my following articles: "Epistle to the Galatians: The Magna Charta of Christian Liberty" (Reflections #202) and "Embracing Another Gospel: Analyzing Apostolic Authorial Intent in the Admonition of Galatians 1:6-9" (Reflections #215).
I also appreciate these statements by Wes: "We cannot save ourselves by being good people and doing good deeds. If we could, then we would boast that we had saved ourselves, rather than praising God for saving us. ... We can only be saved by trusting in Jesus' power and willingness to save by grace. This faith is expressed by repenting of our sins and being baptized." Notice that Wes has repeatedly characterized baptism in water as an expression of faith. There are a number of ways we may express our faith in the saving grace of our Lord God as extended to mankind through the atoning act of His Son on the cross. Turning from our pursuit of self and sin (repentance), and the bearing of visible fruit consistent with this inner resolve, are also outward expressions of inner realities. As James said in his epistle, anyone can say they have faith, but if that faith is genuine it will show, manifest, express itself (James 2). These visible expressions of our faith are not human acts that procure salvation, but human acts that profess the reality that we have been saved by grace through faith. As Wes himself stated: "We can only be saved by trusting in Jesus' power and willingness to save by grace." He then immediately states that "this faith is expressed." And this expression of faith is a part of our daily walk with Him in the light, and it finds expression in a host of attitudes and actions on the part of those saved by grace through faith (baptism in water being just one of many such visible expressions of faith and trust in Him and His gift).
If Wes McAdams had stopped there, this would have been a powerful testimony of God's grace to bestow the gift of salvation upon those who believe (have faith, trust). However, I could not help but feel that Wes evidenced in his article his own confusion and confliction with regard to baptism in water and its purpose. He stresses the truth that baptism in water is an "expression of faith," but then falls back into the tenets of traditional misunderstandings by strongly suggesting a sacramental perception of the purpose of this act of being immersed in water. Having been raised in the same faith-heritage as Wes, I know the struggle one has as he or she seeks to reconcile in their own minds the tension between Truth and tradition. It took me many years to shake off the shackles of the traditional, sacramental view of baptism in water, and to come to the conviction that baptism in no way saves us, but is rather an important, and even commanded, expression of the truth that we stand having received the blessing of salvation by His grace and our faith. Baptism, then, does not secure the gift; it shows it. I get the strong impression, however, that Wes may not have fully arrived at that conviction yet, and thus some of his statements seem both confused and contradictory.
To illustrate the above, notice the following quotes from the article by Wes: "Baptism is the biblical way for a lost person to express faith in Christ in order to be saved by God's grace." I would take exception to a couple of statements given here. First, he states baptism is something done by a "lost person," which seemingly suggests that no one is ever truly saved until after this act is performed by a penitent believer. You are LOST until such time as you "get to a baptistery" and "secure salvation" by the act of being immersed in water. This impression is made even stronger by his use of the phrase "in order to be." The "lost person" must "express faith" (this implies faith is present) "in order to be saved by God's grace." Thus, His grace and our faith are NOT sufficient unto salvation; God's grace can only be acquired by this act of being baptized in water. This makes baptism in water itself a redemptive act, thus declaring the act as sacramental in nature. Wes wrote, "Baptism is the biblical way for a lost person to express belief in Jesus. Until they do so, they remain condemned." Read that last sentence again!! You are damned until dunked! That means Cornelius was as damned as a donkey until he got to the water, even though the Holy Spirit had been poured out on him and he was praising God with all his heart. Right?! Yet, notice what Peter said to those assembled at the Jerusalem Council: "And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and 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 they also are" (Acts 15:8-11). I would urge Wes to carefully read my analysis of this in the following articles: "Simon's Sect Silencing Speech: Reflective Study of Peter's Proclamation to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:7-11" (Reflections #587) and "Cornelius and Balaam's Ass: Was this Godly Centurion as Damned as a Donkey prior to his Baptism?" (Reflections #472).
Is baptism in water an important act? Yes. Is it commanded? Yes. And yet a proper understanding of the true place and purpose of this evidentiary act of faith will allow us to say along with the apostle Paul, "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17). The glorious good news is that our God so loved the entire world that He freely gave His Son in order that all those who believe (have faith, trust) in Him might thereby avoid eternal destruction and have eternal life. Thus, we are saved by grace through faith. And God, who knows our hearts, the apostle Peter declared, will acknowledge this faith by cleansing our hearts, and we will also acknowledge this faith, and the gift of His grace that it appropriated, by evidencing that faith in a number of visible acts, a couple of which are baptism in water and the Lord's Supper. Both are commanded; neither, in and of itself, is salvific or redemptive in nature and purpose. In both participatory acts we have symbolic representations and recreations of that central act of our Lord's sacrifice and its meaning for our lives. To elevate a symbol to the level of a sacrament is to completely miss the purpose of the symbol. In my faith-heritage we shake our heads at the Catholics who have made a sacrament of the Eucharist, and then we turn around and do the very same thing with baptism in water. I understand how hard it is to cast aside tradition for Truth. It's not easy. Even when we think we have grasped God's grace, as Wes certainly seemed to have done in a few of his statements, we too often fall right back into the trap of seeking to justify and impose as law our traditional misconceptions, which doctrines and practices are in direct conflict with the very truths we previously proclaimed. It takes time for "the light to come on" in the hearts and minds of sincere, but unenlightened, disciples, yet if they are willing to continue thinking and reflecting upon the Word, that light will one day come on!
Part of the problem we, who were indoctrinated in the traditional understandings of our faith-heritage, face in our journey of spiritual discovery is the arsenal of proof-texts we have been led to believe validate our view of baptism in water as a sacrament (an act that, by its proper performance, secures God's gift). We preach salvation by grace through faith, but in our practice we show that this is not our true conviction. We then drag out the verses that "prove" we are right in adding a condition to God's grace/faith plan. I have dealt extensively with each of the texts that Wes listed, and have shown in numerous in-depth biblical studies that the traditional interpretation is false and completely inconsistent with the divine grace/faith paradigm. I would urge Wes, and those readers of this article who might agree with him, to check out each of those proof-texts he provided (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:1-11; Galatians 3:27) by going to my Textual Index page on my web site, clicking on the link to "New Testament References," and then reading the studies I've listed next to each reference. I believe you will find it eye-opening and spiritually liberating. You might also benefit from my 300 page book on baptism (which may also be obtained on Kindle, as are my other three books): Immersed By One Spirit (which is subtitled: "Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice"). Although I have a great many studies on the passages referenced above on the above mentioned "Textual Index," let me provide just a few for each text that might prove particularly helpful (if the reader is not inclined to wade through extensive, in-depth biblical material):
1 Peter 3:21 -- "Salvation by Immersion: Reflective Analysis of 1 Pet. 3:21" (Issue #217), "Critical Question on 1 Peter 3:21: Pondering the True Meaning of the 'Pledge' of a Good Conscience as it Relates to Baptism" (Issue #497), and "The Filth of the Flesh: Pondering a Petrine Phrase" (Issue #613).
Galatians 3:27 -- "Immersed by One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:13" (Issue #353), "Putting On Jesus Christ: An Examination of Romans 13:14" (Issue #362), and "I Just Don't See The Point: My Reflective Response to a Reader" (Issue #669).
Romans 6:1-11 -- "Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality: Significant Symbol vs. Salvific Sacrament" (Issue #617), and "The Paradox of Dying to Live: Considering the Intent of Romans 6:7" (Issue #676).
Acts 2:38 -- "Peter's Problem Preposition: Reflecting on 'EIS' in Acts 2:38" (Issue #515), "John's Baptism of Repentance: Does Mark 1:4 Suggest John the Baptist Taught a Sacramental View of Baptism" (Issue #627), and "One Plus Nothing Equals Everything: Readers Reflect on Legalistic Salvation Dogma" (Issue #683).
Acts 22:16 -- "Wash Away Your Sins: A Reflective Study of Acts 22:16" (Issue #507), "Contacting the Blood of Christ: Examination of an Expedient Expression" (Issue #608), "Holy Spirit Home Remodeling: The Washing of Renovation and Renewal by the Holy Spirit - A Study of Titus 3:5" (Issue #609), and "Set Free By His Blood: Reflecting on Revelation 1:5" (Issue #618).
Let me close this review (although much more could be said with regard to the article by Wes) by commenting on his following statement (one about which the person in Mississippi specifically asked): "Occasionally, the argument is made about the Greek word 'eis' in Acts 2:38, that it means 'because of.' But this is simply not true. The Greek word 'eis' occurs over 1700 times in the New Testament and it never means 'because of.'" Is this true? No, it is not. I would urge Wes to take a look at Matthew 3:11 where we find the same construction grammatically as Acts 2:38. It reads, "I baptize you with water for repentance." The word "for" (just as in Acts 2:38) is the Greek preposition "eis." Is John the Baptist saying that baptism in water accomplishes or secures repentance? Or, is one baptized in water to show the reality of an inner turning away from one thing to another? Does repentance come before baptism, or does it come after? Are we baptized in water to evidence a repentance that has already occurred in our hearts, or do we submit to baptism in order to bring about repentance? It is because of repentance that one seeks to "bring forth the fruits of repentance," and one such evidentiary act is baptism. Please read my examination of this truth, which Wes seems to have missed, in my article: "Peter's Problem Preposition: Reflecting on 'EIS' in Acts 2:38" (Reflections #515). I would also suggest to Wes a careful and prayerful reading of Reflections #650 ("Repentance Unto Forgiveness: A Reflective Examination of Luke 24:47") where we find yet another similar construction using "eis."
I realize this review has been rather brief in some respects, and yet probably, to some people's thinking, far too wordy! However, I tried to be thorough as well as thoughtful (the latter by providing links to more in-depth studies for those who may want to really dig more deeply into some of these matters). Again, let me stress that I have no ill-will toward Wes or his fellow believers, and only the highest regard for their devotion to the cause of Christ. I was asked by one of my own readers to provide a review of an article that Wes has placed in the public domain, and to give my reflections on this piece that many are apparently sharing on social media. I hope I have been fair to him, and it is for this reason that I provided a link to the study itself, so that others may go and read his own words and come to their own conclusions. Should Wes like to discuss my review with me, I am more than willing to enter into a respectful dialogue with this fellow servant of our God. May God bless him, and all who seek to understand His Word more perfectly and to walk according to His Will more fully.
From a Reader in Scotland:
Al, I just read Reflections #690 ("Pausing for Personal Reflection") and feel sad that you felt the need to explain yourself. I admit that I sorely miss your weekly Reflections, but given what has been happening in your life (the death of your mother, your treatments for cancer, etc.) I didn't think for one minute that you would be producing them again for at least six months to a year. On another note, as I read the hateful letter from the minister in Michigan and the one from Hugh Fulford (in the "Readers' Reflections" section of your last mailout), it really vexed me. It is bad enough receiving such bile during the best of times, but at this particular point in your life it is downright horrid! I'm so sorry you had to read that; and poor Max Lucado (who was on the receiving end of that attack also). Sigh! Brother, I am praying constantly for you and your family!
From an Elder in Oklahoma:
Al, I have to agree with the minister in Michigan who said, "Mr. Maxey, you are extremely dangerous!" Yes, you remind me of another "extremely dangerous" character from the Bible. He upset so many people that they killed Him. The Pharisees, Sadducees and money changers really hated Him. May God bless you, brother, and all disciples of Christ Jesus, so that we may all have "eyes to see," minds to think, and hearts that seek after only the Truth of God's Word and His will for us.
From a Reader in Oregon:
Take care of yourself, Al. As always, we continue to lift you up in prayer. I do miss your words of wisdom in your Reflections; I rely so heavily on them! But, during this pause I have gone back in your Archives to some of those I had read in years past. Hugs from us, and may the comfort of God always be with you!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, you are truly an instrument of God, and through your wise and scholarly words many have been liberated by the truth of Jesus. Our best wishes and prayers to you in your recovery, and also our sincere love and sympathy in the passing of your mother. God bless you and hold you close!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, I just want to encourage you to take time to refresh yourself. Even Jesus had to do that. You do such an exhaustive job with your Reflections, and also have to endure lots of criticism. I recently found myself very tired, and it wasn't until I evaluated all that I was doing that I decided to pull back on some things for a time. Remember: "A change is as good as a rest." God bless you, brother.
From a Reader in Georgia:
As you know, my wife and I are heavily involved with coaching people back to better health. Most folks know how important hydration, nutrition and exercise are to achieving and maintaining proper health. However, fewer appreciate the value of rest and recovery. The body really needs rest as an ingredient to excellent health. Physically and mentally, the body responds in tremendous ways to proper rest and relaxation. I admire your tenacious work ethic, but I also applaud your willingness to acknowledge the need to back off occasionally and give yourself some much needed rest. Love ya, brother!
From a Reader in Arizona:
I rejoice that the Lord has given you ample wisdom to know when it is time to give yourself a break from your busy schedule. Take all the time you need; your readers will wait with anticipation for your return. You are easy to love, brother, and I do love you!
From a Reader in California:
Having gone through several health challenges, as well as having lost loved ones, I can certainly understand your desire to take a short break. For those of us who need our regular dose of Reflections, there is a treasure trove of past issues in your Archives that can be mined for inspiration and spiritual thought. Take care of yourself, Al. I believe the Lord has many more years of service before you! Best wishes to you from California.
From an Elder in Texas:
You have my understanding and my prayers for complete healing. Your Reflections have been very encouraging in my own spiritual journey of faith. I love St. Augustine's definition of theology: "Faith seeking understanding." I look forward to seeing the ink from your pen flow again!
From a Reader in Washington:
Thanks again for another great article about pausing for personal reflection. As Christians, we should always be ready to examine ourselves, our faith, and our relationships. Thank you for all your great work, and thank you for encouraging deep thinking on what can be tough issues. May God continue to bless you and your family.
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Just wanted you to know, dear brother, that I am so very saddened to hear the news about the loss of your dear mother! At the same time, however, I also know that you must be comforted to know that she is now in the care of The One who loves her even more than any of us can imagine. Brother Al, I am also so sorry to hear of your bout with prostate cancer. Please know that you will certainly be in my prayers that our Father will be merciful and bring you through this so that you can get back to the great work you have been doing for so many years in His gospel of grace. I'm sure you are keenly aware that there are so very many saints out there who are also praying for you! Love you, brother!
From a Minister in West Virginia:
I have not littered your mailbox in a while, but I wanted to take time now to let you know of my concern for you at this time of loss and personal trial. I know many are praying for you. I also know that you know that God cares; just be assured that I and many others care as well. Keep the faith, brother, and let your works slide for a while until you're through the treatments. By the way, I am starting an adult class this week and am teaching it from your series on the identity, history and mission of the church (Click Here). You are blessed and a blessing!
From a Reader in Alabama:
God bless you for your loving service to Him and us. Your sharing of your thoughts, experiences and insights has meant so much to me, and to so many of my brothers and sisters in Alabama. Thank you for all you do -- even when it is not easy! Also, I loved the quote you gave from Percy Bysshe Shelley in your last Reflections.
From a Reader in Canada:
Dear Brother, I was just about to write to you and register a complaint, as I hadn't received any of your Reflections for a while. Then this new article arrived ("Pausing for Personal Reflection") explaining what the situation was. My reason for the "complaint" was: I have been feeling "starved," since I wasn't receiving any spiritual food from you for some days now. I so long for each of your weekly articles. Your material is truly the spiritual food that gives me hope, encourages me to continue trying, gives me faith, and lets me know that when I fail, at least God does not fail, and He loves me no matter what. When I pray every night and morning, I thank God for you, your mission, and your family. If I could make a word picture, I would say that you are the hub that keeps this old wheel turning. You have shown me more of the Truth than any other person alive. I have always been a big, tough, strong guy; never needing anybody's help. But, you have changed that. The love of God, shown to me by you, has melted all that foolish, self-destroying behavior. Now I enjoy being in the light and letting that light shine through me to others. I love you, brother, and when I get to see God, I will thank Him for you, and He will know that I only found the salvation given through Jesus as a result of your diligent writings.
From a Reader in Texas:
I send my sympathy in the death of your mother. To deal with that, as well as your own prostate cancer, must be doubly difficult. Please know that you and your family are in my prayers. Although I miss reading your Reflections right now, I certainly understand your need to take some time off. May you feel the comfort and strength that only a loving God can provide. And may this new journey in life provide insights that you never imagined. God bless you for all the insights you have given to us in the past years! You brought me through some spiritual crises when no one else could have. I admire you for always seeking the truth, and for stating it, even though you know you will be harshly criticized for it by our Pharisees of today!
From a Reader in Michigan:
Al, thanks for the work you have been blessed to do. You are a light in the darkness of the Churches of Christ. Your weekly Reflections over the years are what have helped so many people, people who just knew that there had to be something better than the constant fighting among "churches" over the belief that "WE are the ONLY Christians."
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Maxey, I just read Reflections #690 ("Pausing for Personal Reflection") and learned of your mother's passing, as well as your current battle with prostate cancer. Please know that my prayers are with you! You have been a comfort to me for a long time now, as I still endure the awkwardness of the "elephant in the room" with my parents and siblings over my departure from the Church of Christ church for "the denominations" four years ago. Now, nearly any mention of God or faith is simply taboo, as these loved ones are obligated by their legalistic leaders to shun me spiritually. I know that obligation all too well, and I renounced it when I finally had the courage to do so! Brother, your ministry has been, and continues to be, instrumental in the development of my courage to stand in Jesus alone! Thank you, and may God bring about swift and complete healing for you!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
I have quietly followed your work from a distance for many years. Without being condescending, I wish to express that I am proud of you! I believe you are truly fearless as you pursue Truth. Let me share with you a quote from Adlai Stevenson in a speech he gave at the University of Wisconsin on October 8, 1952 -- "If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is no barking dog, to be tethered on a ten-foot chain."
From a Reader in Missouri:
I wanted to take just a moment to reach out to you personally, as you are on my heart (I was just informed by a brother in California of your health concerns). I want you to know how much you mean to me, and how much I really love you for what you have done for us here. I told this brother in California that you really don't even need to do another Reflection, because you have covered the Bible so thoroughly in the hundreds and hundreds of studies you have written (and the classes you have recorded on CDs). You have given us so much, and in so doing provided opportunities to grow and to think for ourselves. So, for the past 14-15 years, we have grown. I look forward to talking with you on the phone soon. May God bless you, and may His grace be upon you!
From a Reader in California:
I recently remembered a childhood event that I had forgotten, but now realize had a much bigger impact on me than I thought. About 40 years ago, the song "My God and I" was added to the Church of Christ "canon" of acceptable songs. I remember when it was introduced to our congregation, and I recall, as a young person of about 10-11 years of age, thinking that the song was very beautiful, especially when the different parts (bass solo, alto solo, etc.) were showcased. What also kind of intrigued me was the lyric, "My God and I go in the field together. We walk and talk and jest as good friends do." The idea of me walking with God and having Him "crack jokes" with me was a really attractive thought. I remember contemplating: what would be a good joke to tell God? Such a thought really expanded my view of God. I then remember that a very proper, very conservative, member of the congregation commented that these lyrics were very inappropriate: "jesting with God" was not an acceptable thing for a Christian to do, according to this man. Christians, he said, were to approach God with reverence, and "jesting" was no part of that. I now see that these lyrics have been changed in many of the song books, and they now read, "We walk and talk as good friends should and do." While this is certainly fine, I feel that something was taken from me as a child: the simple joy and pleasure of walking with God, and even laughing together over something funny. I don't know if you remember this happening, but I'd love to know your thoughts. I know that Jesus definitely had a sense of humor, as well as a well-developed sense of irony. God surely has a sense of humor; after all: He made us!!
This hymn was written in 1935 by Austris A. Wihtol (1889-1974), who was born and raised in Riga, Latvia, but who immigrated to the United States in 1909 when he was only 20 years of age. It is true that after the release of this hymn some Christians struggled with the thought that we would "jest" with God. They just couldn't imagine such "irreverence," so the wording was modified in various ways over the years. One of the early modifications was: "We walk and talk just as good friends do." Thus, "jest" was replaced with "just." Later changes were: "We walk and talk as good friends often do" and "We walk and talk as good friends should and do." Personally, I like the idea that in the new heavens and earth, as we walk with our God, we can be so completely relaxed and confident in His presence, as His beloved children, that we can laugh and even joke with our Father. Such portrays an intimacy and innocence that is certainly appealing, and in my view is in no way disrespectful or irreverent. -- Al Maxey
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