Issue #692 -------
April 7, 2016
We are most likely to get angry and excited in
our opposition to some idea when we ourselves
are not quite certain of our own position, and
are inwardly tempted to take the other side.
Thomas Mann (1875-1955)
As the written testimony of Luke in Acts 6 comes to a close we find Stephen, one of the seven chosen servants of the church in Jerusalem, being dragged before the Sanhedrin by a handful of vicious religionists who, with the help of a number of malicious malcontents, sought to destroy the influence of Stephen before the people of the city. In Acts 7 Luke provides us with the powerful defense of Stephen before the Sanhedrin, which would ultimately so inflame his hearers that they rushed upon him and took his life in a violent act of stoning. In one of my early issues of Reflections (Issue #61: "Why Was Stephen Stoned?") I presented "A Study of Seven Factors Leading to a Good Man's Death," showing how many of those factors are still present today as devoted disciples share the truth of God's grace in the face of hardened legalistic dogma that would rob His people of their freedom in Christ Jesus. Stephen was a bold proclaimer of grace, and in his speech, much of which was a review of the history of his people under the old covenant, he made some very pointed statements to these Jewish leaders that were not well-received, to put it mildly. He ended his speech with these words: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered" (Acts 7:51-52, English Standard Version).
In the course of his oral defense before the Council members, and those who may have been looking on and listening to his words, he spoke time and again of several of their great past leaders, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David and Solomon. The leader mentioned most by Stephen, however, was Moses, about whom a number of important insights are provided, each of which would certainly make a good study in and of itself. The one which I would like to examine more fully in this issue of Reflections, though, is found in Acts 7:23-29a. It is here that we find the events that heralded the transition from the first 40 years of the life of Moses (being raised in the household of Pharaoh) to the second period of 40 years (his time in the land of Midian). Notice the account of Stephen as reported by Luke: "When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, 'Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?' But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?' At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian" (English Standard Version).
Stephen was recounting a well-known bit of history, for the two events he mentions are presented within the pages of the Pentateuch. It was also mentioned by the author of Hebrews as a time when Moses made a life changing decision: "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward" (Hebrews 11:24-26, English Standard Version). For a fuller treatment of certain aspects of this passage, I would urge the reader to consider my study in Reflections #296 ("The Reproach of Christ: Examining the Choice of Moses as Characterized in Hebrews 11:24-27"). The actual account itself, of course, is found in Exodus 2:11-15 -- "One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, 'Why do you strike your companion?' He answered, 'Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?' Then Moses was afraid, and thought, 'Surely the thing is known.' When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian" (English Standard Version).
Both Stephen, in his defense before the Sanhedrin, and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews (possibly Apollos; see: Reflections #128 -- "The Authorship of Hebrews"), provide additional inspired perspective on the facts of this event (as recorded in the Pentateuch). It is Stephen's perspective that we particularly want to examine more fully at this time, for he provides some interesting insight into the thinking and motivation of Moses on those two critical days in Egypt. Both the events enumerated came about because of a prior determination on the part of Moses. Stephen says, "It came into his heart" (Acts 7:23, ESV) to go visit his Hebrew brethren, most likely for the purpose of better understanding the conditions under which they were forced to live at that time. Other versions read, "It entered his mind" (NASB), "It occurred to him" (NEB), "He decided" (HCSB), and other similar renderings. The wording here seems to suggest, at least to many biblical scholars, that this decision to check on the people of Israel was more than just something Moses himself decided to do on the spur of the moment; rather, it is supposed that this decision was placed into his mind and/or heart by the Lord God Himself. The British Methodist theologian Adam Clarke (1760-1832) stated, "He was excited to it by a Divine inspiration" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 1, p. 299]. The heart of Moses, therefore, "was heaving with the consciousness of a divine vocation" to set the people of Israel free [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1089]. John Wesley (1703-1791), the noted Anglican theologian who would later help found Methodism, declared the actions of Moses were "by special warrant from heaven" [Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].
Perhaps the best summation of this, and quite likely the most balanced, is found in the following: "The education of Moses at the Egyptian court could not extinguish the feeling that he belonged to the people of Israel. Our history does not inform us how this feeling, which was inherited from his parents and nourished in him when an infant by his mother's milk, was fostered still further after he had been handed over to Pharaoh's daughter, and grew into a firm, decided consciousness of will. All that is related is how this consciousness broke forth at length in the full-grown man, in the slaying of the Egyptian who had injured a Hebrew, and in the attempt to reconcile two Hebrew men who were quarrelling" [Drs. Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1, p. 430]. As most scholars agree, Moses, during the first 40 years of his life, was raised to be aware that he was a Hebrew, even though he had been raised in many other ways outwardly as an Egyptian prince. As he grew older something began to take root in his heart and mind (whether directly and recently implanted there by God, or more slowly over the years by his Hebrew mother, or some combination of elements of both) that led him to the point where he was faced with making a dramatic life-choice. That choice, as the author of Hebrews clearly states, was to side with the Israelites and not the rulers and people of Egypt, even though such a choice would prove to be a very costly one for Moses from a worldly point of view, yet certainly the right choice from a godly point of view.
Regardless of the specifics of who or what motivated him, we find Moses going forth to check on the people of Israel, and in the course of that inspection two separate events occur that will alter the course of his life from that time forward. The first was when "he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors" (Exodus 2:11). "The Israelites were his brethren, as the text emphasizes by the repetition of the word, and the enforced labor under which they were groaning hurt him deeply. He restrained himself, however, until he saw an Egyptian overseer strike down a Hebrew workman" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 114]. Luke tells us, in Acts 7:24, that this Hebrew slave was being "treated unjustly" ("being wronged"). Nothing is said about what the slave had done, but the text makes it clear that he did not deserve the harsh treatment he was receiving. A grave injustice was taking place, and it infuriated Moses. Some scholars even believe the wording of the text in the original implies that the Egyptian overseer may have actually beaten the Hebrew slave to death. The overseer beat the slave "in so cruel a manner that he seems to have died under the barbarous treatment, for the conditions of the sacred story imply such a fatal issue" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 55]. "Probably the Egyptian killed the Hebrew, and therefore on the Noahic precept Moses was justified in killing him" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 1, p. 299]. For those not familiar with the Noahide Laws, I would recommend a reading of Reflections #286 -- "The Seven Noahide Laws: A Universal Moral Code Given Through Adam & Noah." The third of these moral imperatives dealt with murder (as did the 6th of the Ten Commandments), but not killings that were deemed justifiable (which Moses may have felt his killing of the Egyptian overseer was). Also, in an effort to cast Moses and his act in a somewhat more positive light, the Jewish tradition is that Moses "did not slay him with any weapon, but as Peter slew Ananias and Sapphira, he slew him with the word of his mouth," which brings God into the picture as the Slayer who simply acted through Moses [John Wesley, Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].
"This act of Moses may seem, and indeed by some has been condemned as, rash and unjustifiable -- in plain terms: a deed of assassination. But we must not judge of his action in such a country and age by the standard of law and the notions of right which prevail in our Christian land; and, besides, not only is it not spoken of as a crime in Scripture or as distressing the perpetrator with remorse, but according to existing customs among nomadic tribes, he was bound to avenge the blood of a brother" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 55]. Nevertheless, killing an Egyptian official, even though that official may have been ranked very low, was sure to become quite problematic for Moses, so "he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand" (Exodus 2:12). Luke makes no mention of this, choosing rather to focus on the supposition of Moses at this time: "And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand" (Acts 7:25). The implication of Luke in this passage is that Moses, perhaps at the point of his going out to see for himself the condition of his Hebrew brethren (due to some form of divine summons being placed within his heart and mind), had already decided to some degree to seek to deliver these people who had become enslaved. Moses apparently supposed and assumed that the people of Israel would see in his act of avenging the brutalized Hebrew slave a sign that God had raised up for them a deliverer. Sadly, the people did not understand this, as Acts 7:25 declares. Yet, as Hebrews 11:24-26 indicates, Moses had, at this point in his life, made a choice to renounce his life of privilege and to join with his oppressed people. "The act in question was a deliberate committal of himself to his brethren's side -- the crossing of the Rubicon, which necessitated thereafter a casting-in of his lot with theirs" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, part 2: Exodus, p. 38]. "Stephen here rightly interprets Moses' slaying of the Egyptian as a signal for his countrymen to rise and strike for liberty under his leadership. Yet, it was sad to think of their want of appreciation of such heroism" [J. W. McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts of Apostles, vol. 1, p. 123].
On the following day (Acts 7:26; Exodus 2:13), as Moses continues his inspection of the condition of the Israelites, he comes across two of the Hebrew workers fighting with each other. The day before it was an Egyptian abusing a slave; on this day it was a Hebrew contending with a fellow Hebrew. We are informed by Luke (as he reports the defense of Stephen) that Moses "tried to reconcile them in peace" (Acts 7:26, NASB). The KJV states that he sought to "set them at one again." Their oneness, unity and harmony was being damaged by this strife. It was bad enough the Egyptians were injuring the Hebrews, but now, adding insult to injury, these brethren were harming one another! "The fact of their brotherhood aggravated their offence; it was no longer a matter between an Egyptian and a Hebrew, as on the previous day, but between brother and brother -- community of suffering should have cemented and not destroyed their sense of brotherhood" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 189]. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) observed, "It was certainly very unseasonable for Hebrews to strive with one another when they were all oppressed and ruled with rigour by the Egyptians. Had they not beating enough from the Egyptians, but they must beat one another?" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Albert Barnes concurs: "One of the most melancholy scenes in the world is: where those who are poor and afflicted and oppressed add to all their other calamities: altercations and strifes among themselves" [Barne's Notes on the Bible, e-Sword].
To these two combatants Moses says, "Why are you striking your companion?" (Exodus 2:13), or, according to Acts 7:26, "Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?" Brethren need to be united (at one with each other), not fighting and dividing. Abraham understood this quite well, which motivated him to say to Lot, "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we be brethren" (Genesis 13:8, KJV). The plea of Moses to his fighting brethren, however, was not received well. Indeed, "Moses was thoroughly rebuffed and his motives impugned by the one who ought to have been practicing neighborly love. He thoroughly disarmed Moses by announcing that he knew what Moses had done on the previous day -- he was a murderer, and now he was meddling in someone else's business! Moses surmised that it must have become public information, and he wisely decided to leave Egypt as quickly as possible" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 311]. Exodus 2:14-15 and Acts 7:27-29 inform us that the effort of Moses to be a peacemaker between fighting Hebrews, as well as a deliverer of these people from Egyptian bondage, was simply NOT going to happen at this time. Indeed, the Pharaoh sought to kill Moses. Thus, he fled. It would be 40 more years before that time of deliverance would occur. But, that's another story for another time.
As I reflect on this account, which marks a great transition in the life of Moses, and as I ponder the perspective of Stephen, as well as the view of the author of Hebrews, I find these passages speaking to me personally in a very powerful way (as I imagine they speak to many of you as well, especially those of you who are called to leadership in the Body of Christ). There have been times during my 40 years of ministry for the Lord that I felt very strongly that God was calling me to engage in a specific action, or to present a specific teaching, or to effect a particular change, and so I acted, assuming and supposing that others around me who would be affected by that act or teaching or change would fully agree with and support and embrace what was happening. Although in many cases they did, there were notable and memorable exceptions, and these became painful reminders that perhaps my timing isn't always His timing. "The supposition that his brethren will understand proves to be a great mistake: 'they understood not.' Moses did that which we are all too ready to do: he took it for granted that other people would look at things from his standpoint. ... What we should do is to take pains to place ourselves at the standpoint of other people, and before assuming that they see what we see, make sure that at any rate we see what they see!" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, part 2, p. 44]. Moses perhaps "saw himself only in the light of an instrument in the hand of God, and took for granted that his brethren would see him and all else in the same light" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 239]. However, they did not. And they often do not today as well, when you and I seek to bring freedom in Christ to those enslaved by legalistic overseers. As noble and right and godly as our intentions may be, if the people we seek to free don't grasp our vision of grace, we may find ourselves facing the same fate as Moses, whose leadership was rebuffed and scorned. Moses learned this lesson the hard way; so have I, and my guess is: so have many of you. "Far from rising under his leadership and striking for liberty, his countrymen rejected all his offers with vehemence" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: the NT, vol. 1, p. 565]. May God grant us the courage and conviction to lead His people to freedom and a better grasp of grace, and may He also grant us the wisdom to know when and how to do so most effectively.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
"'Radically Christian' Conservatism" (Reflections #691) is a fantastic article, my brother! I'm sending it to several friends with this advice: "Check out the link above for a challenging article on baptism. I know that not all of you will agree with it, but I hope you will at least read it and prayerfully consider what it teaches!"
From a Reader in California:
Nice work on your latest ("'Radically Christian' Conservatism"). Your God-given scholarship and intellect is very much appreciated! May the blessings and mercies of God abound in your life.
From a Reader in Australia:
Thank you for all your work with your Reflections ministry. They continue to challenge my thinking. You are a very special brother to me, and I love you and often reflect on our times together in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the Tulsa Workshop where you were one of the speakers and teachers. I pray that you and Shelly will have a very blessed day.
From a Reader in Barbados:
Bro. Al, I take courage from the confident way in which you are approaching the fact of your cancer. This is a condition that often brings terrifying fears to its victim, and it is often seen as a death sentence even among Christians. So I truly appreciate the grace of Christ that you have demonstrated as you face this difficult journey of treatments. Your positive reflections on this personal battle, which you have shared with us, is truly encouraging and comforting. Thank you! Let me also say that I appreciate your biblical stance on the meaning and significance of baptism in water. One of the challenges that Satan throws at believers is the notion that there must be something more that we must do in order to be saved, thus implying the work of the Lord is somehow insufficient. Thank God that this is not your position; and thank God this is not the teaching of the Bible, for if it were I know that I would never "qualify" for salvation. Keep your great work going, Al. I know there must be a great many who are benefiting from it.
From a Minister in New Zealand:
I just want to thank you for your latest issue of Reflections ("'Radically Christian' Conservatism"). You are an inspiration to many! I just wish more people had an investigative approach to the Bible. It is sad that a lot of Christians seem to think that we must marry the grace of God with some sort of legal requirement or the proper performance of some act in order to secure our salvation. Here's another thought on this never-ending subject: W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of NT Words, points out that the word "baptism" can be used in various different ways, as I'm sure you already know! For example, Isaiah 21:4 reads, "lawlessness overwhelms (baptizo) me." Also, Plato speaks metaphorically of being "overwhelmed with questions." We also talk of immersing ourselves into the lives of other people when serving them. How did Paul crucify himself with Christ? Was it not by aligning and identifying himself with Christ in his mind and from his heart, thus immersing himself into the death and life of Jesus. As W.E. Vine clearly points out, the word "baptizo" is often used in a spiritual, figurative or metaphorical way. Hence, to be baptized into Christ, as per Galatians 3:27, is to put our faith in Christ, thus becoming a son of God (Gal. 3:26). I know that you have dealt with these verses extensively, yet I think it is important to keep reminding ourselves that it is critical to a proper interpretation of various biblical texts that we differentiate between water baptism and what may NOT be baptism in water!
As this reader knows, I concur completely with his analysis. Too many of my brethren in my own faith-heritage (and many in others as well) seem to believe (based on their teaching and practice) that every time the word "baptizo" appears in the Scriptures it always signifies an immersion in water. That is simply not true. In 1 Cor. 12:13, for example, the apostle Paul is not even remotely using this term with water in view. I have dealt with this in quite some depth (as well as the Gal. 3:27 text, which also has no reference whatsoever to water) in my studies titled "Immersed By One Spirit" (Reflections #353) and "Putting On Jesus Christ" (Reflections #362). It is my hope that people who cling to the traditional, sacramental view of baptism will seriously reevaluate their position in light of these studies of God's Word. -- Al Maxey
(NOTE: A few days later the above reader sent me the following email) -- Al, while reflecting further on the article by Wes McAdams, which you reviewed in your last Reflections, it dawned on me again how indicative this is of a failure to distinguish between the obedience of faith and the folly of putting faith in our obedience! It is a subtle but significant difference! (NOTE: I would urge a careful reading of Reflections #612 ["Opportunity for Obedience: Legalistic Redefining of God's Grace"], and the several related Reflections articles listed therein, for an in-depth study of this important concept mentioned by this brother in New Zealand.) The book of Romans clearly tells us that both Jew and Gentile are justified by faith in the gospel ("good news"), and even if Romans 6 was talking about water baptism, which it may well not be, there is still a necessary choice and decision on our part in our hearts to die to sin and live for God. Water baptism, in and of itself, cannot do this. There has to be a genuine and authentic desire and decision from the inner man (the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God: Romans 8:16). Even James does not contradict this, but because some in their daily lives were subscribing to a purely mental and intellectual belief, like the demons, it was pointed out that in their daily lives faith would evidentially be realized in acts of service and trust in God as with the examples of Abraham and Rahab (James 2:14-25). I hope these thoughts might help someone as we walk in faith and freedom in Jesus Christ. God bless, Al, and have a great week.
From a New Reader in Washington:
I worship with Christians in -----, Washington. In our adult class on Sunday mornings we are studying "Why We Do What We Do," and our current topic is singing a cappella. Our teacher handed out copies of your Reflections on this issue of the use of instruments. Thank you for taking the time to assemble this material. I have struggled for years to articulate my changing beliefs regarding accompanying instruments, and now I finally have material that makes sense!! Because this is always such a lightning-charged and tightly held belief (i.e., that using instruments is a "sin"), I am careful with whom I share my ideas. Do you have a web site where I can find more of your writings and observations? Thank you.
Almost every week I receive emails from people who say they have learned of my materials (books and Reflections articles and audio CDs of classes I've taught) from preachers and professors who are using my work in their teaching. I really appreciate these men and women who are sharing these studies with others, and pray that their use will touch hearts and lives in a very positive way. When contacted, I always let people know about my Web Site and also my Reflections site (Click Here) where all my articles over the past dozen years are stored for use by anyone who desires to study them and/or share them. I pray that my work will always be a source of blessing to others who are seeking relief from legalism. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Ohio:
I wanted to let you know that I've been praying for and thinking about you lately. I was so sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. I know you have solace in that she is with the Lord, but it nevertheless is a deep sorrow in the loss of one's mother, and I pray the Lord will comfort you and your family. You can also be assured that I, and I'm sure thousands of others, are praying for your healing from your cancer and regained strength. You, my friend, are a true servant of the Lord and a breath of truth and love to many in His Body, and therefore you will certainly have many, many thoughts and prayers coming your way! You have given us all so many blessings through your Reflections on His Truth, His love, His grace, and His Son. I believe you will reap many blessings from what you've sown! I'm looking for a chance to get out your way again soon so I can take one of my favorite shepherds out to lunch again!! In the meantime, may God richly bless you, Al.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Your last article, "'Radically Christian' Conservatism," may be your best summation of a lifetime of work on this subject (baptism)!! I could not agree more! It puzzles me why some of the folks out there get so distressed over baptism. It seems some have more faith in water than they do the cross. Anyone who has received sufficient biblical training will of course be baptized. It would be difficult to imagine a person with a saving faith in Jesus refusing to do so. I'm not sure why people want to complicate the issue and create such disunity over how God's grace is dispensed. For heaven's sake -- it is GRACE! I think perhaps the point that I noticed more this time was your suggestion that lost people don't get baptized, saved people do! EXACTLY. Why would a person who didn't believe in Jesus jump in over his/her head in water? Only a person who was willingly responding in faith to a command by Jesus as the Lord of their life would do that. Also, I may have to send you a bill for fixing my computer after spitting coffee on the screen! "Damned as a donkey," huh?! (LOL)
From a Minister in Florida:
I just finished reading your latest Reflections on "'Radically Christian' Conservatism." God has blessed you with talents, and you are using them! Thank you! I have found after sporadically reading your Reflections over the past several years, and using them as sermon seeds and for teaching ideas, that I agree with most of your positions. It has given me comfort knowing that my own "radical" positions are shared by other ministers. I know that I am regarded by some in central Florida as "liberal," yet I feel I know the Bible well and base my positions on truth and not tradition. I confess I have had trouble with your position on baptism, but after reading this latest article I am coming to believe that our thoughts more align together than I previously thought from previous articles.
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Thanks again for another excellent article ("'Radically Christian' Conservatism"). I have a challenge for your readers: look up every passage in the New Testament writings that mentions baptism. For each passage, write down whether the immersion was in water or some other "medium." Then do a simple count of how many passages cite the various "media" in which those immersed were dunked. Anyone who takes the time to do this is very likely to be surprised. Christians to whom Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3 were obviously confused about the role of immersion in water. He had to explain its meaning to them. Washing in water when entering God's presence is a wonderful tradition passed to us from the time of Moses. Treasure the tradition, but don't let anyone turn it into Law!
From a Reader in Indiana:
Al, you wrote in your last Reflections, "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." Al, I "grasp" this too. But you still want to deceive others by suggesting that brethren like myself who have not accepted your "non-salvific" concept of baptism believe that in this act we EARN our forgiveness. We believe the same thing you apparently believed many years ago when you wrote about an analogy of being given a million dollars. Were you wrong then or now?"
I have known this individual in Indiana, who is a member of the Non-Institutional ("anti") wing of the Churches of Christ, for over twenty years, and he has been very vocally critical of my teaching and of me that entire time. I'm not sure his views have changed on anything during that time. Mine have, however. Our journey of faith in life is an ever-evolving and ever-expanding journey of discovery and increased understanding, which will necessitate responsible change in our perceptions and practices as we gain increasing insight into God's will for our lives. Yes, there are understandings that I held many years ago that I no longer hold, for my understanding has grown as I prayerfully examine all my beliefs and practices in light of in-depth study of His inspired writings, and as I allow the Spirit to guide me in my understanding. Decades ago, largely because I was indoctrinated in the traditional understandings of my denomination (Church of Christ), I did indeed believe that baptism was an act that appropriated God's gift of forgiveness and salvation. Without bothering to question this tenet, I blindly accepted that a penitent believer was condemned to hell until such time as he was baptized in water. I taught this and preached it. But in the past 40 years, as I served as a minister and elder, and as I began studying daily and diligently, I came to realize that much of what I believed and practiced and preached was more tradition than truth. Thus, painful though it was in some ways (because my fellow religionists were not happy with my increasing inquiry into "our" precepts and practices, and they soon began "marking" and maligning me), I determined to change my views to be more in tune with my evolving understanding. I believe "we" (and others in other denominations) have turned a beautiful symbol into a binding sacrament, and in so doing have completely missed the true purpose of this evidentiary act of faith. Was I mistaken in the past about baptism? Yes, I was. Am I mistaken now? That certainly is possible, and if further study and reflection reveals that I am, then I will change again. I have not "arrived" at perfect perception of ultimate Truth (and probably never will), thus our journey with Him is one in which we are ever-evolving in our perceptions and practices. The alternative is theological calcification and stagnation. I choose to grow, and in so doing choose responsible change. This will not please some people, but I believe it will please my Lord, and it is His approval I truly seek during this journey in life. -- Al Maxey
From an Author in Texas:
Al, your article "'Radically Christian' Conservatism" is excellent, as usual. I really hope Wes picks up on it. Don't forget that we were once at the point where he now is! However, I sense the hand of the Lord is at work in him.
From a Reader in Washington:
Thank you, Al, for another amazing, thought-provoking, and inspiring article. I am continuing to read your prior articles from your Reflections Archives. It is refreshing to be challenged to think harder and deeper about issues such as the true role and purpose of baptism, the expansive and enduring grace and love of God, and many other concerns regarding common tradition (especially those within the Churches of Christ). I am thrilled to be encouraged to ponder the freedom we have in Christ! Even as a teen I questioned/challenged a lot of the teachings of the congregation I grew up in here in Washington, which filtered in through various extremely conservative transplants from Alabama and Tennessee. I learned early on to keep my questions to myself, and still today, when I meet up with hardcore legalists, I really have to control the urge to walk out the door. I often wonder if some of these ultra-conservative ministers feel a sort of sadistic pleasure in their continual preaching about such things as immodest dress and all our other "failings," rather than love, joy, grace, etc. They harp on instrumental music in worship, and are always condemning other groups. I heard one such sermon just two weeks ago by a young missionary who looked about 30 years old (he was a Lipscomb graduate). I have been doing my own private, personal studies on several topics of personal interest and relevance to me, and have been referring to your articles to help in these studies. Thank you!! You cannot realize what a wonderful work you are doing!! Keep asking questions that make others think and study. God's blessings to you every day!!
From a Minister in Texas:
Thank you, Al, for continuing to help us understand how we may successfully implement God's will into our lives today. I think your latest Reflections ("'Radically Christian' Conservatism") is a good example of the tension in ministry with regards to traditional ways of looking at issues in our churches compared to how maturing Christians begin to understand differences in meanings. I'm sure Wes is as conflicted as many become when they see the undeniable truth of salvation by grace through faith compared to their own upbringing of point-of-salvation baptism theology. The tension exists, in my view, because people are looking for the "right answer" so as to be pleasing to God in form and function as opposed to heart. Some seem to want to have that ultimate seal of salvation (done for the right reason in the right church) in their pocket on Judgment Day. We cannot continue to suggest to people that the point of salvation is their baptism. The point of their salvation is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and our lives of obedience follow in various stages. It seems to me that Wes is still sorting through what it really means to be saved by grace through faith without our works being a part of that salvation. At the same time, Wes is dealing with people who are convinced they are right and everyone else is wrong with regard to baptism. When he decides that God's grace is really the only thing that is critical to our salvation, he typically will be looking for another job. Thus, the tension. He knows what the unwritten doctrine of the Churches of Christ is, so once he deviates from that line, he becomes an "apostate" who cannot be trusted. While we want to say we all have the moral courage to speak truth to power, walking on the thin ice of questioning traditional dogma is never easy, especially when your job is on the line.
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