by Al Maxey
Issue #704 -------
September 21, 2016
O small dust of the earth
that walks so arrogantly
Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
In Distrust of Merits
I must be painfully honest with you: I struggle with my own emotions whenever I come across posters like the one above. There is a part of me that feels very, very frustrated that some of my spiritual siblings can be so ignorant; there is another part of me that is actually angry that they are additionally arrogant in that ignorance; then there is a part of me that is truly saddened by such blindness and is desirous of helping to open their eyes to that Truth which can set them free from their religious bondage. Having been "raised in" the group denominated in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ," I am very familiar with the convictions conveyed by such posters, for I too had this mindset hammered into me from "our" leaders in the "one true church." Thankfully, late in my university and graduate school studies, and then early in my ministry years, I began to ask questions and challenge "our" practices and perceptions. It didn't take long to come to the conviction that much of what I had been taught was more tradition than Truth. When I opted to place the latter above the former, and when I dared to proclaim such publicly, I experienced the full wrath of those who formerly embraced me as "friend and brother." I was no longer worthy of being in their presence, and some to this day will not even speak to me. It is a shameful shunning of a spiritual sibling that is, sadly, quite common among hardened sectarians. I know only too well how David felt when he wrote the following: "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God" (Psalm 55:12-14, NIV). Yes, it hurts to see people you love dearly look at you with disgust, as though you had "the smell of hell" emanating from the very core of your being.
There have been times, I must confess, when coming upon such thoughts as conveyed in the poster above, that I just shook my head and walked away. "It won't do any good to say anything; it'll just infuriate them." However, when I see good people enslaved to such nonsense, some of whom I know and love dearly, I just can't be silent for long. I still hold to the hope that some, even if only a few, might be set free. And so I keep exposing such dogma in the light of the Good News, and keep chipping away at the walls that imprison my fellow believers, in the hope that our God will eventually, through such efforts, provide an opening for those who long for freedom. That is why I devoted the previous issue of Reflections (Issue #703) to a similar poster, and why I am devoting this article to yet another misguided declaration. Yes, what I write will cause some to practically foam at the mouth, and I'll get a flurry of foul emails condemning me to hell; yet, at the same time, what I write may "turn on a light" in the hearts and minds of a few of those precious souls dissatisfied with what they are hearing/reading from the pulpits and pens of their sect's "scribes and Pharisees." It is for them I keep on keeping on.
Consider the above poster. It is wrong on so many levels. It is also dangerous, for it seeks to instill within the hearts of people a hope of eternal salvation in something other than the Lord. Our salvation is a gift given by grace, received by faith. The reality of our salvation is then evidenced in our attitudes and actions as we journey with Him throughout our lives. Our hope of salvation is not to be found in any particular religious movement or sect or faction of Christendom, nor is it even found in Christendom itself. It is not found, or based upon, any place or pattern; it is found in a Person. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, ESV). Even during the days of the Old Covenant, those who were spiritually perceptive understood that their hope was not to be found in sacrifices or rituals or the temple, but was rather to be found in the Lord. "How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God" (Psalm 146:5). "And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in Thee" (Psalm 39:7). "For Thou art my hope, O Lord God, my confidence from my youth" (Psalm 71:5). The apostle Paul declared that his calling to spread the Good News, and even his suffering for being faithful to that call, was "for the sake of the hope of Israel" (Acts 28:20). Paul wrote that "the hope of glory is Christ in you," and it is for this reason "we proclaim Him" (Colossians 1:27-28). Our hope of salvation is not that we are in the Church of Christ, but rather that Christ is in us! Paul declared that he was "an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope" (1 Timothy 1:1). The apostle Peter agreed, stating that our "faith and hope are in God" (1 Peter 1:21), rather than in any place or practice or perception; our hope is in a Person, and what that divine Person (Father, Son, Spirit) has done for us. For men to find their hope in something, rather than in Someone, is a misplaced hope; indeed, it is no hope at all.
In the above poster we find a perfect example of this misplaced hope. Rather than stating our hope is in Christ, the poster declares that the world's ONLY hope of salvation is in the church (specifically: the denominated group "Church of Christ," to which the people in the poster are pointing -- a building with the "correct" name above the door). Even if this is supposed to represent the universal One Body -- His church -- we still must not point to this body of believers as "the world's only hope of salvation." Our hope of salvation is not to be found in this One Body, but rather in the Lord of that One Body. It is IN HIM that we have hope. Yes, we who are IN HIM, and who thus have the assurance of salvation by that union, are then numbered together with all others who have that same hope IN HIM. Yet, our hope is NOT that we have been numbered together with all others of like precious faith, but rather that we, by grace through faith, are each IN HIM. And one's hope of salvation is most assuredly NOT to be found in any one particular denominated group of believers (not even those denominated "Church of Christ").
Where this poster fails the test of Truth is that the emphasis for one's salvation is placed on one's group rather than on one's God. We too often proclaim Churchianity instead of Christianity, and that leads to a deadly misplaced hope. I find it interesting, and even disturbing, that the people in the poster are pointing to the building with the sign above the door as though that was "the church." That building is not the church, nor is that particular denomination the church; the people themselves are the church of our Lord God and His Son. And it is in union with deity (by grace through faith) that we have the hope of salvation, NOT that we are part of any one particular religious movement, or any faction thereof; nor even that we are numbered together in the universal One Body, as wonderful as that association is!! Our HOPE is HIM. Period. Yes, we can confidently say that if we are numbered together in the One Flock, then we are saved sheep of the Good Shepherd; but our hope is not in the One Flock -- it is in the One Shepherd who placed us there. It is in HIM we trust, not the flock, or the fold, or our fellow sheep. "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
HE is our hope of salvation, not the church. Yes, when He saves us, we are then numbered together with all others who are saved, but the hope of our salvation is in Him by grace through faith. This opens the door for the children of God to embrace one another in loving fellowship, regardless of what their various associations may be. This is anathema, however, to those who have bought into "one true churchism," believing there is no hope of heaven outside the parameters of their named group and its particular traditions and tenets. To acknowledge that the hope and reality of our salvation is in a Person, rather than a party or pattern or perception, is also to acknowledge that we have brethren in a host of differing denominated groups. The rigid isolationists and exclusionists cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this truth, therefore they must, for the sake of the survival of their sect, proclaim the world's hope is in them rather than in Him. This is truly a tragedy, for it offers to the world a misplaced hope. Indeed, it diminishes hope. I can't help but think of the strong words spoken by Jesus to the legalistic religionists of His own day: "Woe to you, teachers of law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are!" (Matthew 23:15). These partyists were converting people to themselves and their own preferences, perceptions, precepts and practices. Their hope was in their party, and thus they proclaimed a very narrow path to salvation. It was a misplaced hope, however, and their converts were being placed on a path leading away from salvation. Sadly, this is also happening today when men proclaim that the "Church of Christ" is the world's only hope of salvation. By so doing, they bypass "the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Paul wrote, "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19). I would take that a step further: If we have hoped in anything or anyone else in this life, then we are even more to be pitied! May God open the eyes of those who ignorantly profess the heresy that the world's only hope of salvation is the Church of Christ. Such teaching is a false hope; indeed, it is no hope at all.
From a Pastor/Professor in Guam:
Thank you, Al, for that wonderful article you wrote: "Reflecting on Belonging: Is it to a 'What' or a 'Whom'?" (Reflections #703). A friend of mine (a former Church of Christ member) emailed it to me. As a pastor, missionary, author and Bible college professor for 36 years, I have often argued the very same message as you expressed. In my pastorate I have had the opportunity to serve in four different denominations. They all held to the same evangelical statement of faith while differing on minor issues. As brothers and sisters in Christ who belong to Him by His grace and for His glory, we should focus on the things which bind us together in Him instead of the differences (usually just preferences) which drive a wedge between brethren. I have found Philippians 2:1-10 to be a great passage for proclaiming that message (and also Philippians 4:1-4). Again, thank you for the clarity and courage to make such a strong case for the biblical truth: it is to Whom we belong that matters, NOT to what we belong. Your brother in Christ -- though we have never met!
From a Reader in Nova Scotia:
I'm sending you an ad put out by a Church of Christ in my area. I find it hard to attend this congregation because of their strong belief (which they state) that they alone have the Truth. I have talked to them about these statements in their ad, but they don't see them as a problem. If they are the ones who are "simple Bible believers," and if they are the only ones practicing "pure and undefiled religion," then what does this say, by implication, about all the other Christians in the area?! This group now has a new minister, who had been an educator, so I'm wondering if things will change, or if this group will just become even more entrenched. Oh how I wish the Church of Christ people here had your clear sense of who we are, and the ability to declare it without isolating themselves and excluding everyone else. Like you, I favor certain traditions, but they are NOT the pillars that support my Faith! Thus, I can have fellowship with ALL believers, inside or outside of a building, regardless of the name that may be over the door or on the lawn. I love you, Al, and give thanks to God for every study from your pen. Again, thanks for this latest article: "Reflecting on Belonging." It is a simple, but profound, article! God bless you!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Thanks for your latest issue of Reflections ("Reflecting on Belonging: Is it to a 'What' or a 'Whom'?"). It was very timely, as just yesterday I requested at our gathering that we sing the hymn "I Know Whom I Have Believed" (based on what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:12 ... Whom, not what). God bless!
From a Reader in California:
Brother Al, you touched on some points in your most recent article on "belonging" that I think are worth highlighting. When you look at the OT you see that the basic unit of organization was the family, with the father being the spiritual center of that family. The next level up was that of their tribe. In Israel, they were able to conjoin the idea of their family and tribe with the greater affiliation of being "Children of Israel." I think where we today have gone wrong is that we are focused on our "tribe," while forgetting the reality of loyalty to "Israel at large." I don't think there is anything wrong with someone being proud of their family or their "church family" (or "tribe"). Where things go wrong, however, is when we start "inter-tribal" warfare. I think we are getting better as Christ's Body in understanding that our little corner of God's Kingdom may be a great place to be, but it is not the only place to be! Thank you again for your Reflections ministry. May God continue to give you insight and strength!
From a Reader in Arizona:
I have just forwarded your latest Reflections ("Reflecting on Belonging") to twenty brothers. Your message in that article repudiates the "idolatry of ourselves." You dealt with this so very well. I am so glad I have come to know you and your work.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Brother Al, in your article "Reflecting on Belonging" you have put into words exactly how I feel. You have certainly encouraged me today. Thank you!! Your sister in Christ, ------.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, you have nailed it once again! I pray that some of your wisdom and insight will rub off on those brethren who believe themselves to be in "the one true church." Blessings to you, Al.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, I have read every Reflections you have written, and have been following your work for ten years or so. I must say that this article ("Reflecting on Belonging") is the very best one of all. The message is on target for members of the Churches of Christ. My father did exactly what you described in that article: he loved the Church of Christ group better than anything. He was on the boards of Lipscomb, Freed-Hardeman, and Pepperdine, and he was also an elder in the church he attended. The mindset you described was so true and typical of so many members of the Churches of Christ. I myself was even that way until I saw that something was wrong and began to change my beliefs. When I was an elder in this group it was not uncommon for us to legislate behavior rather than teach love. For this reason I resigned as an elder. I want to love and show my love for people rather than legislating everything regarding behavior. I found that when I showed my love, I had many more opportunities to help people come to Jesus and to guide them in the ways God directs. I do not believe we will be saved based on our membership in a certain church, but rather by how we live our lives in faith and love. Al, I hope you will continue to guide us in how to be better children of God. We need you and your wisdom!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, you mentioned how we are all longing to belong, and my immediate thought was of God longing for us to quit being so stubborn so we could enjoy the rest of the Family. I guess it is not an accident to find siblings fighting each other in our "earthly" families since we have such a tendency to be quarrelsome in His Family!
From a Reader in Georgia:
As I recall, the Judaizers wished to impose rules, regulations and restrictions on those who had been covered by Grace, and Paul referred to this as a return to a form of slavery. I'm not sure it really matters which group wishes to impose its form of religion on the others, for the legalistic approach was and remains a form of slavery. Good words, brother, in this latest Reflections!! Also, I saw this definition of legalism on Jay Guin's blog. It came from John Piper. You are undoubtedly familiar with it, but it really hit home with me: "Legalism means treating biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God's favor."
I have known Jay and followed his blog for a number of years, and he has had some kind things to say about my own efforts through Reflections as well. Jay is an elder, and also an attorney, and as such offers an often unique perspective. One such insight, offered tongue-in-cheek, is "The Franchise Agreement" (Click Here to Read), which is a document written in "lawyer talk" that shows the lunacy of sectarianism. It is a must read, and I would urge everyone to check it out! -- Al Maxey
From an Author/Publisher in Nevada:
Al, I notice you mentioned Homer Hailey in some of your recent studies. I have been taking over the publishing of the Homer Hailey line of books. You specifically mentioned his book on the Minor Prophets (which I reprinted a few years ago). That book sells for $24.95, but I will give a 20% discount to any of your readers. In all, I have a catalog of 16 Homer Hailey books, and I am offering them at a 20% discount to your readers. Just have them contact me (Stanley Paher) at this email address for the catalog and more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From an Elder in Oklahoma:
After reading in this latest Reflections (#703) the readers' responses to your prior tribute to Fred Gray (Reflections #702: "Black, White and Gray"), I was reminded of what my father did. My father, George M. Ford, was one of the founders of, and one of the driving forces behind establishing, what is now known as Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Michigan. When he and a few others created the original board of directors in the early 1950's, he made sure that a black brother was on the board so that the college would be integrated from the start. He wanted this new college to welcome everyone, regardless of the color of their skin. Blacks and whites shared dorm rooms, meals, classes and everything else. I am obviously very proud of his enlightened thinking. At his funeral, the preacher asked me if there was anything I remembered about him that would help others know him better. I mentioned, among other things, that he used an American Standard Bible so he could have a better understanding of the Scriptures. That preacher's congregation had apparently become a KJV only group, for he said that he didn't think he would mention that fact about my father's preference as it might "upset some people." What a pity! By the way, I can't believe anyone would actually use a banner like the one you displayed at the beginning of your last article: a banner which declared their group (the Church of Christ) to be "The One True Church." I know people who think that way, but I didn't know anyone would actually put it into writing for public display!
From a Reader in Texas:
Way to go, Al. I was so uplifted to hear that you "swapped pulpits" with the preacher from the Baptist Church there (Reflections #696: "Preachers Swapping Pulpits"). Can't you just see Heaven rejoicing at that great sight?! As for Austin McGary (Reflections #697: "'The Texas Heresy' of Austin McGary: The Gun-Slingin' Sheriff of Madison County who Impacted Church of Christ Doctrine on Baptism"), I regret to say that I have indeed heard his name: it was spoken of often in my family as I was growing up [NOTE: This dear Christian woman is the daughter of one of the main leaders in and writers for the "Contending for the Faith" publication and faction within the ultra-conservative Churches of Christ; thankfully, she has found freedom in Christ -- Al Maxey]. Visiting preachers would spend Sunday afternoons at our house, and our family "patriarch" and the visitor would extol at great length the "virtues" of Austin McGary, Foy Wallace, Jr., and the like, in mournful tones and expressions like, "Those were the good ol' days in the church!" Well, I'm here to say: Thank God that those days are finally, finally passing away, and the Churches of Christ are finally waking up to loving and living like Jesus! Keep up your good work in bringing this about!! Love you, my friend.
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