by Al Maxey

Issue #699 ------- July 19, 2016
If I must build a church, though I
do not really want one, let it be in the
wilderness out of nothing but nail holes.

Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006)

The Dogma of One True Churchism
The "Lord's Church" and the Patternists'
Perceived Threat of Transreligionism

Martin Luther (1483-1546), in his wonderful work titled Table Talk, observed, "Where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel. Thus is the Devil ever God's ape." Over the centuries this thought penned by Luther became quite common, and it was oft copied. Robert Burton (1577-1640), an English scholar at Oxford University, stated in his classic work The Anatomy of Melancholy, "Where God hath a temple, the Devil will have a chapel." The Welsh poet and Anglican clergyman George Herbert (1593-1633), in like manner, wrote, "No sooner is a temple built to God but the Devil builds a chapel hard by." My favorite version of this insight, however, is by Daniel Defoe (1661-1731), who is perhaps best known for his novel Robinson Crusoe. In his work The True-Born Englishman he declared poetically, "Wherever God erects a house of prayer, the Devil always builds a chapel there; and 'twill be found, upon examination, the latter has the largest congregation."

I firmly believe, and am in full agreement with Luther, that the Lord did indeed "build a church." In fact, Jesus declared, "I will build My church" (Matt. 16:18). Thus, we know that there is indeed such an entity as "the Lord's church," a phrase we have all heard and used repeatedly. Where many have gone astray in their thinking and theology over the centuries, however, is in believing that this church of our Lord is housed fully within the confines of a particular religious group or people or place. In some ways we are like the woman of Samaria who questioned Jesus at Jacob's well (John 4): do we worship God in this place or that place? Just where exactly is the location of "the church" of God? Jesus made it clear to that woman that day, and by extension to us as well, that His church is neither "here nor there," but is rather everywhere men and women of faith are found living lives in submission to God's will, as best they understand that divine will, which will always be imperfectly, for we are all less than perfect in our grasp of eternal truths. The Lord's church, therefore, is not made up of those in a particular building, with a particular name on a "sign out front," with a particular set of traditions governing a particular set of religious rites and rituals. God's children are not found exclusively in one little sect or faction or denomination (although each claim to be, to the exclusion of all others, that "one true church" of the Lord). Our Lord's church is much vaster than any one group, for it is made up of ALL people who have simply committed their lives to the Lord in simple trusting faith, regardless of various associations and affiliations these saints may have with groups employing a distinctive set of traditions. There is nothing wrong with the latter, until such groups begin declaring that THEY, and they ALONE, are "the Lord's church," and that all others (who differ with their perceptions, preferences and practices) are NOT. Such a stance is nothing short of absurd and abominable arrogance!

Yes, I have brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus who have some traditions that differ from mine, and who may associate themselves with gatherings of disciples in buildings other than the one I choose to assemble in, but if they have accepted God's grace by faith, then we be brethren. I have beloved brethren who assemble in Baptist buildings, in Methodist buildings, and in various other buildings -- I even have beloved brethren who assemble in Church of Christ buildings. Yet, all of these devoted men and women are a part of "the Lord's church" by faith. The church of our Lord is universal in scope, for it is made up of ALL who are IN HIM. No single religious group houses in its entirety "the Lord's church," although many such groups claim such a distinction. Frankly, one of the worst is my own faith-heritage: the Church of Christ church, which has declared for generations that it, and it alone, is, in its entirety, "the Lord's church," and that all other saints in all other buildings are apostates bound straight for hell. Such arrogance is truly stomach-turning! Thankfully, most within my denomination (Churches of Christ) are rapidly abandoning this obnoxious isolationism and exclusivism, and are finally coming to realize that "the Lord's church" does not equate to US (and to us alone). Yet, tragically, not all my fellow "Church of Christers" grasp this gracious truth, and thus they continue to perpetuate the pernicious perception that they alone are "the Lord's church."

This was seen anew in Hugh Fulford's little periodical titled "Hugh's News & Views." In the July 12, 2016 issue, which he sends out by email, he spoke of a "problem we are increasingly facing in our pluralistic society: what I call transreligionism -- the practice of leaving the Lord's church for a denomination." Hugh refers to such persons as "wandering stars." He further states, "There was a time when one hardly ever heard of a person leaving the church for a denomination. But in recent decades there has been a dearth of preaching and teaching on the one church of the Bible and its distinguishing traits. As a consequence, many members now see the church as 'just another denomination,' and have no compunction of conscience about leaving it and joining a denomination. ... We have even had preachers and Bible professors in some of our Christian universities to leave the church for the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Methodists, the Episcopalians, the Catholics, the Disciples of Christ, various so-called Community churches, as well as others. In their view, the church of Christ (which some of them mockingly refer to as 'the CoC') is simply 'our tribe,' 'our tributary' or 'our tradition' in the 'larger Christian community.' How far some have drifted in their view of the New Testament church!" Hugh Fulford closes his article by declaring that all who leave the Churches of Christ to assemble and work and worship with ANY other group "have wandered from the truth." In other words, if one is part of OUR group, he is saved; if one is part of any other group, he is eternally damned. Why? Because WE, and we ALONE, are "the Lord's church," and no other group on the planet is!! Frankly, brethren, this mindset is disgusting and shameful; it is godless and graceless; it needs to be exposed and opposed at every turn!

Even a casual reading of Hugh's words above is enough for the reader to perceive an "US - THEM" mindset on the part of people like Hugh Fulford. There is "the Lord's church" (which is US: the group denominated in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ") and there are "denominations" (i.e., everybody else on the planet). Evangelism, when tainted by such a perspective, is "saving" the lost by bringing them out of the denominations and into "the one true church" ("the Lord's church"), which of course is the "Church of Christ" church. The battle doesn't end here, though, for the Church of Christ wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement has further divided dozens of times into warring factions formed around differing traditions, with each of these dozens of factions claiming THEY, and they ALONE, are "the Lord's church," and that all other congregations within the "Churches of Christ" are damned digressives and apostates. It is truly painful to watch such Satanic slicing and dicing of the universal One Body of Christ Jesus (which is simply made up of people, not parties; saints, not sects).

I vowed early on in my ministry (and I have been preaching fulltime for 40 years now) that I would not play such religious games, but would instead devote my energies and talents to the cause of bringing God's children together in spiritual unity and harmony based on being IN HIM, rather than a contrived and compelled uniformity based on personal and/or party perceptions, preferences, precepts and practices. I will not promote any pattern, but will instead promote a Person. I have no use for "brand name" church loyalties; my loyalty is to HIS name: I wear it proudly, and welcome as brethren all others who do the same! Although my personal affiliation at present is with the group denominated "Church of Christ," my membership is with the universal One Body of Christ Jesus. I do not equate the two, which is Hugh's fatal flaw, and which, sadly, he is seemingly incapable of perceiving, even though many of us have tried for years to bring him to this awareness. My appeal to my brethren in the Church of Christ church, and in other named groups as well, is to abandon the spirit of arrogance and exclusivism that has separated us too long from our spiritual siblings who have differing traditions. We have divided too long over "issues" that have nothing whatsoever to do with one's relationship with the Father. We have made things tests of fellowship and conditions of salvation that God never has! With the world falling apart around us, it is time for Christians to come together and stand united against the encroaching darkness. We have been a house divided; it is time to be a Family reunited.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Canada:

Brother, you simply amaze me! To write with such deep love and conviction, and to provide such convincing instruction in your studies, is so rare among scholars. God will bless you, Al, for the kindness and firmness you show to those with opposing views, as you did to the One Cup preacher in Reflections #698 ("Communion Container Conflict"). Every time I receive another issue of your Reflections my heart jumps with excitement. Love ya, brother.

From a Minister in Georgia:

"Communion Container Conflict: Response to a Christian Chronicle Article" was a nice article, Al. Our focus, as you pointed out in your response, should be on Jesus/God, rather than on the utensils used to partake of the Lord's Supper. Keep up the good work!

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Al, thank you so much for giving a voice to my frustration with our particular body of believers (Churches of Christ). Having just recently discovered your body of work on the Internet, and the work of others like you, I am like a kid in a candy shop. Please add me to your mailing list for these Reflections of yours, and I urge you to keep up this excellent work.

From an Elder in Indiana:

It's been a while since I've written, but I continue to enjoy your articles, and I often share them with others. I thought you might enjoy the following story. My mother was raised in a congregation in Nashville, Tennessee a few years after David Lipscomb and others helped to establish it there. At some point around 1910, the leadership wanted to switch to multiple cups. As you can imagine, there were some that were very upset over this. The group decided to "solve" the problem by having a large cup in the center of the tray, surrounded by a number of individual smaller cups. Amazingly, this worked, and it allowed the congregation to remain united until that generation passed away. I'm not sure this would suit some of the "one-cuppers" today, but it maintained the unity of the Spirit back then! I love such stories of brethren who do everything they can to hold things together. Another story is about one of the Non-Institutional congregations that didn't allow money "from the treasury" to go to non-Christians for benevolent purposes. One day a member of the congregation informed the church leaders of a neighbor who needed help. This brother was reminded that they couldn't take it out of the treasury, and they couldn't even collect money for that person "inside the building." So, this enterprising man gathered a group of the members outside and away from the building and took up a collection for the needy neighbor! To the non-Church of Christ person, these stories will certainly seem foolish, but to me it shows how some can still find ways to meet needs in spite of all the traditional rules. Thanks again for your ministry, Al.

From a Minister in Brussels, Belgium:

Thanks for this article ("Communion Container Conflict"). It is truly sad, as you stated, that some of God's children are sitting there "at the table fighting one another over the utensils, while the meal grows cold." Personally, I have spent much time of late carefully studying the Hebraic roots of our Christian faith. Everything Jesus did was done within the Jewish context of His day. When Jesus partook of the Passover meal with His disciples, which is where the Lord's Supper has its roots, there were four cups of wine utilized at that time in the Passover. It was the third cup, the "Cup of Redemption," that Jesus used to emphasize the upcoming pouring out of His blood to redeem us. If we today are to follow the strict "pattern" our One Cup brethren mandate, then they need to realize that each person at the table had their own set of four cups. As I understand it, that was the practice of that day. So, the Jewish context in which Jesus partook of this meal would clearly show that everyone had their own set of cups, and when Jesus spoke of "this cup," He was referring to the third cup that each participant would have had in front of them, and not just one cup for all at the table. As a side note, one should consider that God gave the Israelites very clear and explicit instructions in Exodus on exactly how to conduct the Passover meal. God leaves no doubt as to what, when and how it is to be eaten. The food was specified, and we also know it was to be eaten standing up. However, we should also note that NO mention is made in the OT writings about "cups of wine" used in the Passover. The Scriptures are silent on the use of cups of wine. That practice was added by Rabbis and Sages in later centuries. Yet, Jesus and His disciples partook of that Passover meal in a reclining position (not standing), and they all drank from cups of wine (never authorized in Scripture). So, if Jesus was a perfect Torah-keeping Jew, how could He go against God's explicit instructions in the Torah about how to partake of the Passover?! How could He even have taken up a cup to drink from it, when such an action was not sanctioned in Exodus? Clearly, the legalistic patternism hermeneutic has some serious problems!!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

I trust you are well in Jesus. Just read your latest Reflections. I wonder if "one cuppers" have ever considered that the Lord's Supper was instituted in the context and environment of the Jewish Passover?! Surely legalism would not permit this today. Also, why did the Lord begin the church, pour out the Holy Spirit, and have people baptized in the name of Jesus Christ on a Jewish festival day? The point I'm making is: God really doesn't mind capitalizing on existing situations. The patternist must find this very perplexing having New Covenant practices mixed in with Jewish culture and heritage!! God bless you, Al.

From an Author in California:

Brother Al, your recounting of what Brett Hickey said in his interview [The Christian Chronicle, July 2016] really made me laugh, as his statements were so pathetic! God forgive me! Where I assemble, we have always used one cup and have no Sunday School. This wasn't enough to keep us in the One Cup sect's church directory, though. One Cup brethren were further excluded because of so-called errors in their teaching about grace. There is no end to what sectarian legalists will assert as tests of fellowship. The inevitable end is that fellow who reduces his fellowship to himself and his wife, and then has to exclude her also because of her "contrary ways." (LOL)

From a Reader in Indiana:

Since you oppose "patternism," then if you were consistent (which you won't be) you would not oppose substituting fried chicken and chocolate milk for the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper. Or, maybe you would be consistent, given all the things to which you have recently admitted. If so, then try plainly teaching that, and then see how that flies! You like to pick on those you consider to be extreme in their patternism, but if you were to become consistent and apply your "no patternism" to allowing anything someone wants to substitute for the bread and wine, then your readers might see you for the extremist you are.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

The question was asked on an Internet group, "How do you know when a church is 'sound'?" A brother by the name of Jim Miller posted in response: "Well, if they are part of the 20% that have no elders ... if they are focused on pushing the idol 'acappella' on others ... if they preach how everyone else but them is lost ... if they argue about cup sizes and grape juice ... then you know that church is NOT 'sound'."

From a Reader in Texas:

Great Truth (with respect to what you wrote in "Communion Container Conflict"). I too had read that article in "The Christian Chronicle," and have long appreciated that this paper seeks to present information without taking sides. I pray for ALL brothers and sisters to unite in Christ, our Savior and King, rather than in a pattern which men have decided is "the only true way." Thank you for these studies, brother!

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Simple solution to the cup/cups issue: Each congregation buys one BIG cup/chalice -- Pour fruit of the vine into that one cup -- Afterward, pour the contents of that one cup into individual Communion cups. Seriously: my brethren are just being stupid by arguing over such things. Wake Up, Church!!

From an Author in Texas:

Al, I may have missed it in your excellent article ("Communion Container Conflict"), but W. Carl Ketcherside once wrote about the sect within the Churches of Christ that insisted on using cups instead of glasses. Those in this group assert that when Jesus introduced the Lord's Supper, He drank from a "cup," and not from a "glass" (and, as everyone knows, cups have handles). Ketcherside referred to this sect as the "Cups with Handles" Church of Christ.

From a Minister in Georgia:

Al, another aspect of legalistic patternism is the "upper room" doctrine. I saw a small church building in Abilene some years ago that was literally built up on poles to make an "upper room." No first floor; just bare ground with a stairway leading up. My father told of an incident in a small church where they liked to ask visitors to help with the service, as they had so few men. It was a one cup church. The visitor took the cup and started with an old gentleman sitting on the front pew, who then proceeded to drink all the contents of that cup. After refilling it, they went ahead and served the rest of the congregation. After the service they apologized to the visitor, telling him they always save the old gentleman until the last, because he took very literally the Lord's command: "drink ye ALL of it." Thus, he drank it ALL. There is also the "one loaf" view: each person must pinch off a portion of the one loaf as that whole loaf is passed. On one occasion, a visitor broke the loaf into many little pieces before passing the trap on. When this tray got to one sister, she was so incensed that the loaf had already been broken that she tossed the whole thing out the window. And so it goes!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Thanks for your article on the "Communion Container Conflict." The brotherhood's insistent desire to discern "a pattern" to follow even reaches to and impacts the Lord's Supper. Unfortunately for those wanting to set up a pattern to follow, the Communion debate just illustrates and provides a perfect example of the inconsistent application of the CENI hermeneutic. While many strain to follow "the pattern" of one cup, the proper day to observe, the unbroken loaf, etc., I am not aware of any who worry about where to observe the Lord's Supper, even though the example is repeatedly given. When Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper He was in an upper room. When Paul was in Troas, they observed the Lord's Supper in an upper room. NO other floor level is ever given for where the Lord's Supper was/is to be observed. Based on these examples, does it not become apparent that we need to "infer" that the ONLY proper place to take Communion is upstairs somewhere?! After all, has not "the pattern" been established regarding this? Crazy!! Of course, discerning disciples know that the location where we share in this Communion is of NO concern to our Father, but it does show just how unevenly CENI has been, and is being, applied. Consistency: thou art a jewel! Thanks for all your tireless efforts to expose this nonsense! May God continue to bless you. You have taught me much!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Bro. Maxey, I haven't written in ages, but continue to benefit from your postings! This one ("Communion Container Conflict") is particularly great! I won't go into the beliefs of Brett Hickey (which you exposed in that article), but I did shake my head the entire time I was reading his statements! Your responses to his teaching were right on! I also appreciated you listing all your articles re: the Lord's Supper. Thanks for continuing your battle! Your words are changing people's minds!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Back in my youthful life, the largest One Cup congregation was located near Ada, Oklahoma. They had about 125 in attendance. One of their deacons, for some reason, bought a new Communion set and displayed it on the Table the following Sunday morning. The elders saw it and removed it before services began, and then they admonished him. He ended up giving it to the local "apostate" church. The local pharmacist was a member of that "apostate" church, and I heard the story from him. When I became a member of the church, I had several high school friends who were members of the "Anti-Bible Class" church. When they heard about my conversion, they attempted to lead me to the "truth" on that subject. When I heard that I really wasn't saved because I had not received their "circumcision," I almost threw up my hands in despair, and even came very close to becoming a skeptic. I noticed several readers remarked that it was all about following Jesus. A very simple truth, but one easily rejected by the CENI followers.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

When I hear of this Communion "container" controversy, I wonder if those who argue for "single cup" Communion realize that the cup itself isn't the center of Communion. Jesus' broken body and His shed blood, and what this accomplished, are the central focus. How those emblems (bread and wine, which represent His body and blood) are delivered to those assembled is not the focus. And yet, for these "one cup" congregations all the focus is on the "how" rather than the "what." The cups are incidental. The object of Communion is not the cup itself, but what is represented by the fruit of the vine within the cup(s): i.e., the blood of Jesus.

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