Issue #700 -------
August 8, 2016
Once a doctrine, however irrational, has
gained power in a society, millions of people will
believe in it rather than feel ostracized and isolated.
Erich Fromm (1900-1980)
Psychoanalysis and Religion
Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), a British mathematician and philosopher, and a pioneer in the approach to metaphysics known to us today as "Process Philosophy," made the following observation in his work titled "Adventures of Ideas" (which was published in 1933): "Wherever there is a creed, there is a heretic round the corner or in his grave." In that same work he opined, "Creeds are at once the outcome of speculation and efforts to curb speculation." Whitehead makes some astute observations here, and they have great relevance to our efforts to better understand the power of sectarianism on the hearts and minds of its adherents. Sectarian creeds are largely subjective and speculative in nature, which is why very few sectarians can agree with one another (even within their own sects) and why they are so factious and fratricidal. Their party preferences and practices are perceived as divine precepts, and these creedal professions quickly take on a force that feeds their zealousness for their faith-community (which is perceived by them as the one-and-only true manifestation of Truth on earth). As an inevitable result, all who differ with them will come to be viewed as devil-loving digressives and godless heretics. Lurking around every corner are these "false teachers" proclaiming their "false doctrines." As history shows, such religious zealousness soon leads to the marginalization and persecution of all persons who oppose them, as well as attempted suppression of all views with which they themselves disagree. When one perceives himself and his group as the only ones "sound" in the sight of God, then all others are ipso facto "unsound."
As often as one hears such defining terms as "sound" and "unsound" applied to teachers and their teaching, one would almost think these words were scattered abundantly throughout the NT writings. In reality, they are not. Yet, how often have you heard someone characterize a brother or sister in Christ as "unsound in the faith," "unsound in their teaching," or even "unsound in their practices"? It is very common, with the term "unsound" being used almost as much as "false" (false teacher, false doctrine, etc.). The oft damned "denominations" are filled with nothing but "uncertain soundism" (i.e., unsound or false teachers, teaching and traditions), yet WE, who are in the "one, true church," are "sound" in our faith, doctrine and practice. I think many disciples of Christ might be rather surprised to find that all such descriptives are very rare in Scripture. The phrase "false teacher," for example, appears only one time in the NT, and the word "unsound" doesn't appear at all. I have dealt with this in some depth in Reflections #123 ("Focusing on False Teachers: Scriptural Fact vs. Sectarian Fallacy"), which I would urge the reader to review. As for the oft used phrase "sound doctrine," which it seems we hear almost daily from those legalistic patternists who insist that they alone are the true possessors and proclaimers of "sound doctrine," while all others are "unsound" -- this phrase ("sound doctrine") only appears four times in the NT writings, and all come from the pen of Paul, and all are found in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). The word "sound" is used by Paul five additional times in the Pastoral Epistles to describe "sound words" (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13), "sound speech" (Titus 2:8), and "sound in faith" (Titus 1:13; 2:2 -- note: in some translations this phrase is rendered "sound in the faith"; Greek scholars are somewhat split over whether or not the definite article in the phrase should be translated; a number of translations, such as the KJV and the NIV, will include it in their rendering of 1:13, but not include it in 2:2, even though it is present in both verses in the Greek text, which, as one can imagine, has led to significant debate, for whether the definite article is included or not in translating the phrase has impact upon the meaning: is it one's personal faith, or the faith [Jude 3] which was once for all delivered to us, which we then receive by faith, and for which the faithful then earnestly contend?).
The Greek words that we typically translate with the term "sound" are (1) "hugies" [used once by Paul in Titus 2:8] and (2) "hugiaino" [the verbal form; used in the remainder of the occurrences in the Pastoral Epistles]. The word is actually a medical term indicating wellness and healthiness (our word "hygiene" comes from this word). We might say a person is "sound of body and mind," thus indicating they are in good health physically and mentally (wellness of body and mind). This word is used in this sense in Luke 15:27, for example, when the father of the prodigal son told the elder brother that he had received the prodigal back "safe and sound." There are a few other times in the Gospel accounts where this literal meaning of "healthy; bodily soundness" is seen: In Matthew 12:13, when Jesus healed a withered hand, it was restored to a state of wellness: of healthy wholeness. When Jesus healed someone physically, the healed person was restored to wholeness and wellness in body. Only the apostle Paul opts for a figurative use of this term, indicating that the "wellness, wholeness" in view here is more spiritual than physical. Thus, in the Pastorals we find Paul speaking of healthy, wholesome words, speech, faith and teaching. Paul is drawing our attention to the inner man, rather than the outer man. Paul alone in the NT writings moves this word beyond the physical to a spiritual application.
Words and speech that are "sound" are those healthy, wholesome statements that flow from a healthy soul, and which do much to heal those wounded in spirit, and who are in need of encouragement. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29). "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person" (Col. 4:6). This will help build healthy relationships among fellow believers, and it will also help attract those still outside a healthy relationship with the Father through His Son. We also need a healthy faith in the Lord, who has provided us with a body of teaching that, if followed, leads to a spiritually healthy lifestyle. When we take His teachings and share them with others, we promote teaching that is both wholesome and conducive to spiritual wellness in our daily lives. This is the "sound doctrine" (i.e., teaching that is healthy) which, when shared and believed, brings one into that state of grace characterized by spiritual wellness in all we say and do.
In the advice he gives in his epistles to Timothy and Titus (known collectively as "the Pastorals") the apostle Paul is showing that his concern is for the continued spiritual health of these two men, as well as the spiritual health of all God's children. Timothy and Titus, therefore, must provide a healthy diet of doctrine whose end result is wholesome living. Nowhere in the context of Paul's use of this term does he have traditional practices associated with a "worship service" in mind, nor is he interested in imposing rules and regulations upon the disciples' expressions of faith and devotion. Our teaching is "sound" when it promotes healthy spiritual living. "Sound doctrine" has nothing whatsoever to do with "cups and classes," or with how one sings praises, or what may be done with funds placed in the "treasury," or when/if a woman may open her mouth in the assembly. Rather we are "healthy" (sound) when our daily lives are simply expressions of divine truths designed to heal and make whole. Notice the context in these Pastorals as Paul speaks of "soundness." In each place and in each case he is talking about what leads to healthy spiritual living. In none of these passages is he even remotely talking about the particulars of some pattern regulating a "worship service." Notice the four passages in which the phrase "sound doctrine" occurs, and note especially the context:
In 1 Tim. 1:10 he speaks about things "contrary to sound doctrine" (the word "doctrine," by the way, which is the Greek word "didaskalia," simply means "teaching"). So, what exactly is "contrary to sound doctrine," as perceived in this context? Paul lists: those who commit murder, the immoral, homosexuals, perjurers, liars, those who are unholy and profane. It is not about some religious tradition differing from my own that is contrary to sound doctrine; it is not about cups or classes or clapping; rather, it is about life choices and actions that do NOT reflect and/or promote healthy, wholesome, spiritual, godly living.
In 2 Tim. 4:3 he says that some "will not endure sound doctrine." Instead, they want their "ears tickled." They want to be entertained; they want to be validated in their less than godly lifestyles. They want someone to tell them "all is well," even though spiritually speaking they are not "well" (healthy).
In Titus 1:9 he tells Titus that pastors must be able "to exhort in sound doctrine," for (as noted in #2) there are teachers willing to tickle the ears of those who don't want to hear about healthy, wholesome, godly living, but who want to be validated in their moral excesses. The true spiritual leader will reflect spiritual wellness on a daily basis, in both what he practices and in what he teaches. He is not self-willed, not a drunkard, not a cheat, not a brawler, but a living example of good spiritual health, the principles of which he will share in his teaching.
In Titus 2:1 Paul says to "speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine." And what are those things? Again, he goes on to list them: older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible; they are to love and persevere; older women are to be reverent in their behavior, not gossips, not enslaved to wine; younger women are to be sensible, pure, kind; young men are to be sensible, examples to others of those engaged in doing good. He even exhorts the slave class to evidence godliness in their lives (and elsewhere says much the same to masters). In all of this there is no mention of how to regulate a worship service, or make use of funds in a church treasury, or how to sing, or how to give, or whether one can eat in the church building, or if fellowship halls are authorized, etc., etc. Rather, he urges us to godly living "as is fitting for sound doctrine," which is the teaching that points us to this spiritual wellness and wholeness evidenced in our daily lives.
Sound doctrine/teaching, in both example and word, is "teaching that is healthful, promoting spiritual health, in contrast to the unhealthy false teaching" which only promotes carnal living [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 431]. If our teaching promotes godly living, then our teaching is "sound;" if it only promotes godless living, then our teaching is "unsound." One's doctrine can be characterized as "sound" (healthy, wholesome) "if it necessitates a holy life" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 2: II Timothy, p. 65]. There is no apostolic injunction given here by Paul that would require these two pastors (Timothy and Titus), in keeping with "sound doctrine," to take special care in their administration of "sacraments" and regulation of "worship services." They are called to reflect, in both their lives and their teaching, the nature of wholesome, holy living so that through such "sound teaching" others may be "sound" in their living as well. Our teaching must show forth to others the absolute holiness of our Father, and then call them to "look like Him" in their lives. David Lipscomb feels, and I agree, that Paul was making the case that the false teachers rampant at that time were, "by their example and lives, fatally lowering the standard of the Christian life." Thus, "it was to the evil moral influence of these teachers that the attention of Titus was especially directed" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 5, p. 270].
Sound doctrine is "teaching that promotes spiritual health, requiring conduct consistent with the teaching professed. Correct doctrine must result in good behavior ... revealing a Christian healthiness of heart and mind" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 435-436]. The Greek scholar Dr. Marvin Vincent stated, "The content of this sound teaching which is according to godliness is not theoretical or dogmatic truth, but Christian ethics, with faith and love" [Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 209]. I have a feeling, and this is bolstered by my observations over the past 40 years of fulltime ministry, that too often we who teach confuse "sound" teaching with "correct" teaching. Especially among fundamentalists, legalists, and patternists, the emphasis is law rather than love. Teaching soundly isn't about "laying down the law" to others, but about "living lovingly" before others. It isn't about being right, but being righteous. It is about changed lives, not about customs chiseled in stone. It's about soft hearts, not hard heads! Teaching that is healthy promotes healthy living! "The people must not only be well-instructed, but they must be holy in their lives. Principle and practice must go hand in hand" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 657]. Brethren, Christianity isn't about precepts, it's about principles; it's not about a legal pattern, but about a loving Person. It's not about rules, it's about relationship. How healthy is our teaching? Are we enslaving people, or are we freeing them? If our doctrines and practices are not resulting in changed lives, but only serve to protect changeless religious traditions, then we had better take a long, hard look at just how healthy/sound our teaching is ... or isn't. Healthy doctrine makes healthy disciples, not diseased disciples. It's time for some "health food" to be served to the Body of Christ, for too many have been fed a steady diet of junk food for far too long.
From a Minister in Texas:
Ah, the folly of arrogance! Thanks so much, Al, for your last Reflections on "the one true church" ("The Dogma of One True Churchism: The 'Lord's Church' and the Patternists' Perceived Threat of Transreligionism" - Reflections #699). We, in Churches of Christ, have been taught about it, people want to believe it, and this prideful, arrogant stance continues to propagate itself in "our" churches. "WE are not a denomination." "WE have no creed or by-laws." "WE are exactly what the 1st century church was." All of these statements are false and misleading. WE are a denomination. WE have no real conception of what the 1st century church(es) looked like, aside from snippets from about ten groups throughout the Roman empire. But, people still continue to propagate what they think is right, and denounce everyone else who disagrees with them. I really struggle with the modern religious landscape. How do we unify followers of Christ who frankly do not seem to want to be unified? From the "one cuppers" to the "one true churchers" I cannot believe that those who espouse divisive rhetoric and dogmatic creeds ever want to be joined with those of us who, frankly, could not care less about such "issues" as instrumental music or how the Lord's Supper is served or what the name on the sign in front of the building is. I have to wonder: how do these people ever reconcile the idea that love is the greatest command, the royal law, the epitome of all of God's law and teaching with their daily denouncing and defaming of fellow Christians? Perhaps our way forward with the prideful, arrogant, and sacramentally idolatrous in our religious communities is to simply forgive them for making all these disputable issues (ala Romans 14) into mountains that separate God's people, and then let God deal with their eternal fates. I want to believe that every believer is trying to be the best example of Jesus to the world. I know I fail in this mission on a daily basis. Perhaps we can offer grace to those we disagree with and continually remind ourselves of the thesis of Kathryn Schulz's book Being Wrong: we are all wrong more often than not in this life. Surely, therefore, we can be humble enough to admit that and to forgive others for being wrong too. Of course, those who are so arrogant as to think they are never wrong do not need this element of humility!! Thank you, brother, for your continuing work, and for listening.
From a Reader in California:
I recently defended you in a Facebook forum. Someone said that you are considered "left-wing" by many in the mainline Churches of Christ. I promptly asked who it is that makes these decisions. I also said that I found it disturbing that they would use manmade terms like "left-wing" and "right-wing" to discuss an individual and brother-in-Christ. They countered with the statement that being on the "left" or "right" was a biblical concept. My response was, "Are you placing Al Maxey on the left with the goats and thereby condemning him to eternal destruction?" That kind of ended it right there. They were a bit hesitant to make a judgment regarding your eternal state! Thank you, Al, for all you do ... from your fellow goat.
From a Reader in Kentucky:
I would appreciate your perspective on a trend in many modern churches. Sometimes a church, for example the "Gladville Church of Christ," will change its name to the "Gladville Church," or "Grass Creek Christian Church" will become simply "Grass Creek Church." It also happens with Baptists, Methodists, and other churches. Any thoughts on this matter?
This is happening in a great many places, even here where I live. I think this trend reflects, at least in part, an effort to respond favorably to the growing mindset of more recent generations in our society that largely reject the notion of "brand name" Christianity. There is a very noticeably increasing segment of the population, and I personally think this is good, desirous of breaking down walls of sectarian exclusion and isolation so that we may all simply be ONE FAMILY of God in Christ Jesus. There is nothing wrong with believers having differing traditions and ways of expressing their faith and showing their devotion. What IS wrong, though, is the shameful dividing of the universal One Body into countless warring camps over various party preferences, perceptions and practices. Thus, more and more, disciples of Christ Jesus are shedding the sectarian identifiers and opting to be known simply as the called out ones in a particular area. Frankly, I think the dropping of denominational distinctives is a good practice, and I believe it can send a very positive message to those around us: we are rejecting "one true churchism" and are instead promoting the unity of all believers based on relationship with HIM rather than a forced uniformity with US. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
I just had the opportunity to read this issue of your Reflections ("The Dogma of One True Churchism"), and I am amazed that there are people still around who can't see the truth of what you are teaching! I remember being told that the "denominations" were intentionally teaching "false doctrine" -- doing it "on purpose" -- because all they had to do was just "open their eyes and read the Bible" and they would SEE that they were wrong and WE were right. ABSURD! Why is it that some people think that they are in charge of admitting people into God's Family?! I told someone the other day that I have no problem having fellowship with anyone who simply loves God and wants to do good. Such people are probably more likely part of the Family of God than those legalists who refuse to fellowship others because they don't "think like us."
From a Reader in Kentucky:
In southeast Kentucky the lines have been drawn, and if one even questions the mainstream Church of Christ on issues such as "the one true church," baptism, the Lord's Supper, instrumental music in worship, forsaking the assembly, CENI and the "law of silence," etc., they are classified as a heretic. These subjects, and more, ARE a test of fellowship; they ARE "salvation issues" according to the mainstream Church of Christ church. This is not an attitude that is formed overnight, but over years of conditioning from pulpits and classrooms designed to defend and set apart the "Church of Christ" church as THE "one true church." If only these people would compare what they have been taught with what is actually written in the Scriptures they might find there is not enough evidence to make such judgments about themselves and others.
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Two scriptures came to mind as I read your article on "The Dogma of One True Churchism." The first is Jesus praying that we become ONE, just as He and the Father are one (John 17). How have Christians missed that teaching for so long?! The other is when Jesus said, "A house divided against itself will fall" (Matthew 12:25). I know what He was referring to, but we Christians have also been divided, and we certainly haven't been standing tall and together over the centuries. But, I believe the Church is coming together at last. We're in a life group with a few members of the Churches of Christ here in Albuquerque (your wife's sister and her husband are in this group with us), and I have seen these people moving closer to a spiritual unity with other Christians. It's hard for most in Churches of Christ to "think outside the box," for they have been raised in this denomination most of their lives, but we are seeing more and more doing so! I believe the Spirit of God is moving everywhere, and He is especially moving here! We love all the differences we see in each denomination represented in our small group; we love them all; we don't divide over them. As Christians, we are to live out the Gospel everywhere we go: inside church buildings, at the grocery store, at Starbuck's ... wherever we are! Thank you so much, Al, for telling it "like it is" in life in the Spirit!
From a Minister in Tennessee:
I just read your article on "The Dogma of One True Churchism." Very thoughtful, as usual. I was discussing the subject of the Communion with a member the other day. We were discussing some of the strange doctrines that have been created by the CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) hermeneutic. There are some brethren, by way of example, who no longer serve the Lord's Supper on Sunday evenings because there is "no authority" for a "second serving." There are also brethren who will not partake on Sunday morning because Acts 20:7 puts this event at night. There are others who won't take Communion to shut-ins, because it must only be served when "the whole church is come together in one place." There are hundreds more such "laws" formed by CENI. Such is the cloud that hangs heavily over CENI.
I deal with these and many, many other such absurdities that have arisen over the centuries in connection with the Lord's Supper in my book "One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism," which is available through several outlets, and also on Kindle (as are all my other books). I think the reader will find this study quite enlightening. -- Al Maxey
From a University Professor in Nevada:
Not only is the traditional Church of Christ viewpoint the very heresy condemned by Paul in his Galatian letter, it also creates an environment of hate and arrogance directed at everyone who is not of the "Jesus Party" that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians. It leads to the demeaning of all those who are not identified with that party: in effect, it is a demonstrative sin of castigating individuals who are made in the image of God and who have dedicated their hearts to Jesus; viewing them as being of less value than the party members. Its legalistic core creates an atmosphere of arrogance and hate (as per all the negative comments regularly posted against you and your Reflections).
I did an in-depth study of this "Jesus Party" mentioned by Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians. It may be found in Reflections #542 ("Following the Fourth Faction: Examining the 'I am of Christ' Party Within the Universal One Body"). With regard to the particulars of the heresy condemned by Paul in his epistle to the Galatians, may I suggest a reading of Reflections #202 ("Epistle to the Galatians: Magna Charta of Christian Liberty") and Reflections #215 ("Embracing Another Gospel: Analyzing Apostolic Authorial Intent in the Admonition of Galatians 1:6-9"). I would also highly recommend my two CD set of audio recordings (MP3 format) of my class Galatians: The Message of Freedom, which also contains all the handouts used during that adult Bible class, as well as audio recordings (and accompanying PowerPoint slides) of four sermons presented during that period of time relating to the information presented in class. Many have informed me that they have found this material very helpful to them spiritually. By the way, a very special word of thanks to this university professor, who wrote the foreword to my book "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice," as well as penning (as a guest writer) two Reflections articles: (1) Issue #495 and (2) Issue #648. Love you, brother! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
This "one true church" dogma caused my parents and me to leave the Church of Christ church. The Bible makes it very clear how one is saved: through faith in Christ alone. Sadly, I have family members who think I am lost because I am no longer in their denomination.
From a Reader in New Mexico:
I worship near your city of Alamogordo (we are in Las Cruces) at a "Church of Christ." We use instruments to worship God in our second service. I was never told by anyone that I was a "heretic" until we made this change. How sad that some in our fellowship produce disciples of Pharisees instead of disciples of the Lord!
From a Minister/Author/PhD in California:
Al, thank you for your reasoned exegesis of Scripture. I am constantly reminded of what my friend Homer Hailey said to me, "Don, I think the brethren have gotten into a routine and a rut and think they have come to 100% knowledge and have arrived at 100% correctness. As an old man I have come to the conclusion we are stuck in a rut. We need to be more motivated by the Spirit of God." Homer Hailey was my college professor, we worked together in many meetings, studied together and grew in understanding of Scripture together. I learned so much from him, and was amazed that he always asked me what I thought about various Scriptures! He wrote the foreword to my book "Organize & Emphasize" (on the art and science of sermon preparation). He was my lifelong friend, and I talked with him just before he died, and he was truly hurt by all the slander directed toward him for some of his studied conclusions on some controversial brotherhood topics. I miss him so much.
This dear brother and I have been close friends for nearly three decades, and we worked together for several years in the Hawaiian islands. I never had the pleasure of meeting Homer Hailey, but I was the minister for six years at the very same congregation in Honolulu where Homer preached -- although many years afterward (yet there were still members worshipping there who were converted to Christ by this man). I have a number of Homer's books, and am impressed that he was willing to think about, question, and to challenge his personal convictions on a number of topics, and, yes, even to change his views at a time when it was certainly not popular to do so (for which he paid a price). He is a great example and inspiration to me, as is my dear friend who now serves in California. Love you, brother! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Mississippi:
I am in the "Churches of Christ" because I agree greatly with the traditional theology espoused by Restoration leaders. While I am not dogmatic on a number of our practices, particularly those established by "example" and "necessary inference," both of which are nothing more than man's studied (and I sometimes wonder about that) opinion, I believe we generally are correct in our theology; yet I know, again, that no individual or group of individuals, no matter how righteous, no matter how much time they spend in meditative prayer seeking out the Holy Spirit, no matter how humble, etc., can produce the perfect, for the imperfect can not create the perfect. If I believed another faith-heritage was closer than ours, I would go to that heritage. I can explain why I believe we baptize, why we have Communion every Sunday, etc. But I can not condemn those who believe otherwise than my beliefs, because it is God who decides whose worship to accept. And the Bible indicates that God is more concerned with the heart than He is the form. I will stop with this quote by Carl Ketcherside, whom I met when I was a student in St. Louis: "I shall continue to oppose everything that I believe to be out of harmony with God's plan, but I shall not allow these things to interfere with my love or regard for any of my brothers who sincerely and conscientiously disagree with me about the implementation of that plan. In short, I shall make nothing a test of fellowship which God has not made a condition of salvation. I shall not seek to establish brotherhood by definition of a human document, nor by conformity in matters of opinion. I shall be a brother to all who have been begotten by my Father. Brotherhood based upon Fatherhood, fraternity based upon Paternity, this shall be my standard because it is Scriptural. ... The unity of the Spirit is one of community, not conformity; of diversity, not uniformity. It is rooted in mutual love, not dogmatism; in freedom, not in slavery. Our peace is a Person, not a plan or a program!" Ketcherside also said something along these lines: "Wherever God has a son or a daughter, there I have a brother or a sister." My having a brother or sister does not depend on our agreement, but on having the same Father. I wish those who see the "Church of Christ" group as being exclusively and entirely "The One True Church" could realize this simple Truth!!
From Hugh Fulford in Tennessee:
Al, I have read your "response" ("The Dogma of One True Churchism") to my article, which response is just your tedious and to-be-expected "reaction" to anything having to do with undenominational Christianity and the very viable possibility of having such today (being simply the Lord's church, without denominational affiliation). You always "react" through the lenses of your denominational spectacles and demonstrate no ability whatsoever to even conceive of the possibility of there being congregations of Christ without denominational affiliation. I marvel. You have nothing new to offer, Al.
Hugh and I are in complete agreement -- let me repeat that: we agree 100% -- that there is not only the "possibility," but actually the reality, of a universal ONE BODY of believers who are simply living and serving the Lord in love to the best of their abilities and opportunities, and who have no desire to perpetuate the traditional dogmas of men. Is it "possible" that such individual disciples find one another and come together for times of encouragement, edification, and even corporate expressions of devotion? Of course it is. Indeed, I'm certain of it. Such disciples have always existed, and I believe always will. Where Hugh and I differ dramatically is in the view that such disciples ONLY gather in the group known today as "Churches of Christ" (and which are so named/denominated on the signs out front and in the Yellow Pages of our phone books). This named group, within which I was raised (and which is a segment of the larger historical entity known as the Stone-Campbell Movement - aka: the Restoration Movement), has its own developed traditions with respect to work, worship and organization, just as other such named groups do. We have our own colleges and universities, our own preaching schools, our own benevolent organizations, our own national and international workshops and seminars and lectureships, and on and on we could go. Every single known and accepted "marker" denoting "denominational" identity is just as present in "our" group as in other named groups. Does this make us evil or bad or godless or "unapproved" by God? Of course not. "We" are simply a gathering of like-minded disciples who happen to share certain traditional perceptions and preferences and practices, and we assemble together, as do other children of God with different traditional perceptions and preferences and practices, simply to encourage one another and stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Our affiliation and our association is with the named group "Church of Christ," but our greater reality, as individual disciples, is that we are part of that universal ONE BODY (the One Family) of the Lord, which is made up of ALL who are IN HIM, regardless of the various named groups, with their varying traditions, with whom we/they may individually choose to associate and affiliate for the purpose of encouragement, edification and the corporate expressing of our devotion. The latter does not invalidate the former. Yes, Hugh, the universal ONE BODY transcends any and all such named groups, but one may find members of the former within the latter. Where Hugh and I differ is with regard to his assertion that the ONLY place the members of that universal ONE BODY of Christ assemble together is in the group known as "Church of Christ." That is nothing short of arrogant sectarianism, and, yes, I oppose it. Wherever my Father has a child, I have a brother or sister, regardless of our varied personal perceptions, preferences and practices. I, like Hugh, will continue to preach the reality of the universal ONE BODY of Christ Jesus; I just won't, like Hugh, equate it exclusively with the named group "Church of Christ." If this makes me a "heretic" in Hugh's eyes, and unworthy of his acceptance, and the focus of his vilification, then so be it. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
It always causes me to think of Adolph Hitler when I hear folks proclaiming that they alone are the One True Church, or "The Lord's Church" as opposed to "the denominations." Hitler convinced more than just a few people that they, and they alone, were the one, true, pure "master race." Today there are many who seem to think that their color is the only one that "matters." Some believe that no good idea can come from a political point of view different from their own. All of these perspectives are ultimately doomed to failure. I used to try and debate this with people, but it is almost impossible. They have been so brain-washed that for them to even admit that they might need to rethink their view, or maybe consider another point of view, would place them on the "slippery slope to hell." I ran into a lady the other day who had dug her heels in all the way up to her kneecaps on this issue of Churches of Christ being "the one true church." I asked her why there were so many divisions within this ONE true church?! At last count, I told her, there were several dozen. She explained that all those other Churches of Christ (those who differed with her) were really just "false churches." I told her that this was what they said about her. Then she made some other wild claim about them, and I repeated, "That's exactly what they say about you." She finally hushed. I probably owe an apology to her poor husband who undoubtedly had to listen to her ranting about me that evening while he tried to watch the news on TV.
From a New Reader in Tennessee:
Al, I really appreciate your articles. I'm a minister, for now, with the -------- Church of Christ in ---------, Tennessee. I will be resigning soon, though, I'm afraid. The Pharisaic nature and secrecy in the eldership and, sadly, the racism in our church family is where I must draw the line (the "nail in the coffin" for me was when the elders segregated the children's ministry into black classes and white classes; it broke my heart). Over the last ten and a half years God has torn down many walls in this town between Christians. I've preached at more than ten different churches and held a revival each year at a Methodist church. Over the next two weeks I'll be speaking at two more churches in town. Of course, some of our people think that is an "abomination" because I don't tell these "reprobates" all the things they are doing wrong. We've had more than 55 new people over the last year become part of our church family. But, it's just more than the "old guard" can take. Most of these new people would be considered the "least of these." I'm not sure yet what the future holds for my ministry, or what God will do, but it is His Kingdom. Please add me to your mailing list for Reflections. God bless you and your writings! By the way, I am using your series "The Essence of Authentic Christianity: 27 Practical Steps to Becoming Grace Affirming Saints" in my Wednesday night class. I've given you credit, of course, and the people are really enjoying it. Again, may God bless you in your work and protect you from Satan's arrows, many of which are shot from well-intentioned brethren.
I wrote the following to this brother in Tennessee: "I was just thinking about what you had shared in your email to me (dated July 19), and was praying for you, and a passage came to my mind (which I used in my adult class yesterday morning) that I felt might give you some encouragement and guidance: 1 Cor. 16:9. Paul, as he was talking about the city of Ephesus, told the brethren in Corinth, '...for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.' It seems to me that a 'wide door for effective service' has certainly opened for you in your city, yet clearly there is opposition. I would suggest that perhaps God has opened this door for you, and the opposition is coming in an effort to thwart this good work to which He has called you. Just a thought, brother. May God bless you, and may He help you persevere and not become discouraged. You are in my prayers." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Brother Al, I hope this email finds you well. Thanks for all you do for the Lord through your Reflections. I have been asked to teach a class on Biblical Anthropology. I have read several sources already in preparation, but I would like to ask if you would recommend additional sources, especially in your writings! Thank you.
There are a good many great works and web sites available on this topic (the study of the nature of man as perceived in Scripture) which any Internet search will quickly reveal. As for my own published studies on this topic, I suggested to this individual the following two: (1) my new book "From Ruin to Resurrection," which is available through several outlets and also on Kindle, and (2) my two CD series of audio and written materials titled: "The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny." -- Al Maxey
From a New Reader in [Unknown]:
Brother Maxey, I stumbled upon (divine providence?) one of your Reflections articles recently: "Five Golden Emerods: A Tale of Rodents and 'Rhoids" (Reflections #135). I've passed over that particular word in the KJV ("emerod") until today when I read your study. I had always mistakenly read it as "emerald." I look forward to reading more from your Reflections Archives. Thank you for placing me on your mailing list. May God continue to bless you and your whole family.
From Don Sublett in Florida:
I received an email from Don Sublett, a Reflections reader who lives in Niceville, Florida (his email address is: Sublettd1@cox.net). He wrote, in part, "Brother Al, I know you are a busy man with sermon preparation, writing your Reflections messages, book publications, family, being an elder at your congregation, and whatever else you are involved in. However, I am going to make a request of you: Would you please - when you have time - read my book [note: he provided me with a copy - Al Maxey]. I expect you have seen me shamelessly plugging it on Facebook. The response has been pretty good for it having been available less than a week: all the reviews so far are 5-star. In order for this book to gain some momentum, I think I need someone of influence to review and recommend it. I know that you have a very large following with your Reflections, which I very much appreciate and enjoy. This is also the audience I am primarily appealing to: people of faith who understand God's importance and power in their lives. If you think the book and its message are worthwhile, I would appreciate you recommending it to those within your circle of influence whom you believe would benefit from reading it. I am alive today in spite of, and am relatively unscathed by, one of the nastiest cancers a person can have, only because of God's grace and answered prayer. Please pray this book will touch the lives of many to see God's grace! Wishing you God's richest blessings as you continue in your service to Him!" Don has certainly done a great service to the Family of God (and also to those who may not yet know the Lord) by showing how God's grace to heal and comfort during one of life's great challenges (cancer) is an ever present reality. I believe you will find this work encouraging and inspiring, and I highly recommend it. It is available through Amazon (Click Here), and is also available on Kindle.
From a Reader in Texas:
I finally got around to reading Reflections #698 ("Communion Container Conflict: Response to a Christian Chronicle Article"). I had previously read the article in Christian Chronicle (the article you reviewed, which was an interview with Brett Hickey, a "one cup" preacher), but then just pushed the whole periodical into the "round file" where it belongs. You gave a very good answer to Brett's assertions, by the way. Like you, I have had many discussions with this particular faction of our fellowship over the last 25 years, and one thing has always stood out to me in all those discussions: there is a very real lack of knowledge regarding 1st century Jewish customs, culture, religious practice, and the nuances of all of that, put together with the understanding that Jesus was Jewish and followed those practices. Combine that lack of historical knowledge with the proof-texting and the reading of Scripture through 21st century spectacles, which is very common among the followers of these factions, and it breeds legalism and judgmental attitudes toward other brothers and sisters in Christ who do not agree with their particular interpretations. This all really shows up in the way they understand the "one cup" proof-texts, the "singing without instruments" proof-texts, the "women be silent" proof-texts, the "no Sunday School" proof-texts, and all the other legalisms they teach.
If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: