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by Al Maxey

Issue #707 ------- November 4, 2016
You should be pioneers in presenting a living
faith to the world, and not the dry bones of a
traditional faith which the world will not grasp.

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1709-1784)

Pondering 42nd Cousin Theology
May Brothers Differ Without Being Demoted?

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the famed Irish dramatist, once observed, "There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it." Although some may be reluctant to acknowledge it, Shaw does indeed have a point. Diversity of religious perspective and practice among sincere believers in no way negates the reality of the Ultimate Truth to which they all strive to submit. God has imparted His Truth to His creation, and that Truth remains constant even though men may express their devotion to that Truth, and their love for and worship of the One who gave it, in countless, and even differing, ways consistent with their own culture and understanding. The beauty of the Christian experience is that devotion to Deity is not limited to any one cultural or traditional expression, but may be acceptably displayed in the lives of people from vastly different times and places. How I evidence my faith and express my devotion may vary greatly from how another evidences that same faith and devotion. Yet, my "version" is no better or worse than another's; it is merely different. We both are children of the One Lord, and are thus equally part of the One Family of the Father, even though our perceptions and practices may dramatically differ. Jesus informs us that although there is just one Shepherd and one flock, there are nevertheless a number of folds or sheep pens (John 10:16; see: Reflections #57: "One Flock, Many Folds").

Some would argue that recognizing a diversity of "folds" in some way negates the reality of one "flock." They would further suggest rather strongly that the existence of "folds" endorses "denominationalism," and somehow diminishes the beauty of the One True Church. Such thinking misses the point, however. There always has been, and always will be, ONE BODY of believers: One Family, One Flock, One Church. Yet, He who is the Head of this Body, the Shepherd of this Flock, the Founder of this Church, clearly states that One Flock may nevertheless have many folds, one Body may have many diverse parts, and certainly one Church may have countless local congregations of true believers who may differ dramatically from one another in a number of ways based on culture, tradition, practice, perception, preference, etc. None of the latter realities in any way negates that greater reality of a unified whole. Unity in diversity is not a heresy, but rather a reality formed by divine intent. The sheep of the Shepherd, who make up that One Flock, may congregate in countless folds (sheep pens), each of which may differ from one another in a number of ways. None of these differences, however, in any way detract from the greater reality of One Flock under One Shepherd. From the beginning, disciples of Jesus have struggled with this "flock/folds" dynamic. The apostle John (Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50), for example, was ready to castigate and condemn, and even hinder the ministry of, another disciple of Christ because "he was not following us" (in other words, he was not in their fold). Jesus had to inform John that this other disciple may not have been in their "fold," but he was very much within His "flock," and the latter was the more spiritually significant (i.e., salvific) reality (Reflections #502: "What Is Jesus Looking For? A Comparative Assessment of Followers").

Over the 40+ years I have been in fulltime ministry, I have found that one of the most difficult truths to convey to those entrenched in sectarianism is that their fold is NOT, in its entirety, the One Flock. Some, sadly, equate the two. Their fold IS the One Flock; their little group of disciples, with their particular preferences, perceptions and practices, IS "the one true church," and all other gatherings of believers are simply "damned denominations." Thus, if one wants to be saved, one must "leave their denomination for the church." That "one true church," of course, is their little group, which IS, to the exclusion of ALL other groups of believers on the planet, THE one true church of our Lord Jesus. And don't ever make the mistake of characterizing their little fold as a "denomination," for these lambs will become "attack sheep" quicker than you can say "Little Bo Peep." Brethren, this is an arrogance that is hard to stomach, and it is an egregious exclusivity that the New Covenant writers condemn time and again, as did Jesus Himself.

Within my own faith-heritage, although such a mindset is not exclusive to this named wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement, one of the leaders who has promoted this false perspective is Hugh Fulford. For many, many years I have been frustrated over this seeming inability of his, and of others like him, to grasp the truth of this godly "flock/folds" paradigm. I am further frustrated, and greatly saddened, when this mindset then leads to its inevitable result: one particular fold within the flock perceiving itself as being that one flock exclusively, with all other folds characterized as filled with goats rather than sheep, setting the scene for a vicious sectarianism that is truly shameful to behold. In my previous issue of Reflections (#706: "Squeaky Wheels & Bible Grease"), I sought once again to reason with Hugh on this matter. As I feared, it was to no avail. Indeed, he wrote me on Wednesday, October 12, saying, "Al, your view of the undenominational nature of the church and my view of the undenominational nature of the church are not 42nd cousins to each other." I assume by this statement he is suggesting that our views are not even remotely related to one another! Yet, I have time and again stressed to Hugh that I agree with him 100% that there is indeed only ONE church/body/flock of the Lord, and it can/must never be reduced to any particular religious institution established by men. His universal One Body is most definitely non-denominational in the sense that NO such named group that has come along over the past two millennia can lay claim to BEING, exclusively, that One Body. His One Body transcends them all. At the same time, it would be foolish for anyone to argue against the truth that there is great diversity of perception, preference and practice within this One Family of the Father, and that it is acceptable and even practical for brothers and sisters with similar perspectives to associate together for work and worship. This in no way negates or diminishes the reality of only One Flock; it merely recognizes the truth that within that One Flock the One Shepherd has many folds. Just because two sheep differ does not make one a goat; just because they may be in different folds does not mean one is not a part of the flock.

Hugh, in the above mentioned email to me on October 12, further stated (after saying our views "are not 42nd cousins to each other"), "I believe we can have the NT church without denominations, and you think we can have the undenominational church with all the denominations. What fantastic irony! Undenominational Christianity that is denominational. Now that is something over which a person could laugh himself silly." For those incapable of perceiving or appreciating "unity in diversity," this may indeed appear "silly" and "laughable," as it will to those who believe ALL disciples of Christ the world over must look, act, think, talk, behave exactly the same. This is not only impossible, it is not even desirable. Life "in Him" transcends culture, race, traditions, etc. One can live like Jesus any where and at any time, and not every divine principle (love, mercy, compassion, etc.) will evidence itself the same. Indeed, even the way disciples express their devotion to God in worship may vary greatly. Worship, benevolence, evangelism, just to name a few, are NOT forever frozen in the style of any one culture or time or place. ALL believers are part of that universal One Family. That's the beauty of Christianity!!

There is also absolutely nothing wrong, by way of example, with those who share a preference for a particular worship style assembling themselves together for mutual edification. These are still a part of that universal One Family, even though they may associate and affiliate with a smaller segment of the whole due to similar preferences and practices. The only time such would be wrong is if any such gathering or group began promoting itself as constituting the entirety of the One Family, and then condemning all others for "not walking along with us." Sadly, it is this Hugh is doing, and what is even sadder: he can't see it. I have brothers and sisters who are part of that universal One Family, yet who also affiliate with children of God who share a certain worship style. They may even identify themselves by some name that informs others that they hold to certain understandings and practices. There is nothing wrong with this. We do the same in my faith-heritage. When one looks in the Yellow Pages, one will find a great many descriptives whereby disciples of Christ seek to let others know the styles of worship and understandings of Scripture they embrace. I'm sure that when Hugh enters a city where he doesn't know anyone, he will do what we all do: look for that "name" that points to a particular set of traditions and convictions, and he will then gravitate toward those people. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. What IS wrong is when any one of these named groups (my own included) regards itself, and ONLY itself, AS BEING "the one true church." It is this arrogance that I deplore, for it is divisive and contrary to the spirit of Christ. For some reason, Hugh can't seem to grasp this, although more and more who read our exchanges are beginning to, and for that growing enlightenment I rejoice.

During the several weeks that I have been on vacation, and following the publication of my last Reflections in which I challenged Hugh Fulford's misguided teaching, he has sent out several more issues of "Hugh's News & Views" in which he continues to promote this arrogant dogma. On October 10 he mailed an article titled "Why Do People Leave The Church For A Denomination?" Then he followed it on October 18 with "Why Do People Leave A Denomination For The Church?" Of course, in both cases, by the phrase "the church" he meant the group known in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ." I have to wonder: which of the dozens of factions of this group is THE "one true church"? Is it the One Cup faction? The Non-Instrumental faction? The No Sunday School faction? The No Fellowship Hall faction? Etc. Etc. On October 24 he sent out yet another article; this one was titled "The Only Ones Going To Heaven." Hmmm. Where have I heard that expression?! In each of these articles Hugh lifts up the traditions of his faith-heritage and promotes them as markers of THE "one true church," and makes it clear that any group NOT "walking with US" is an apostate "denomination." People within these various "denominations" must leave them and come to THE CHURCH to be saved. Frankly, it breaks my heart to see such sectarian exclusiveness and exclusion of other believers proclaimed as "the Gospel of Christ." It isn't even close!! I can't help but think of what Jesus said about the religious elitists of His own day: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one convert, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves!" (Matthew 23:15). Strong words, but true! May God open the eyes and soften the hearts of these religious factionists, and may He help them perceive that "the church" is simply made up of individuals who rally around a Person rather than around personal or party preferences, perceptions, precepts and patterns!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Washington:

I hope this email finds you well, and that your vacation was awesome. I am very interested in purchasing your two CD set of lessons on "The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny." Do you have a PayPal account? If so, I would love to send you the money for this study via this method. Thank you.

From a Reader in Georgia:

As I read Hugh Fulford's writings, the thing that really strikes me is the total loathing and abhorrence that he apparently has for those who do not see things as he does. I find it difficult to support that attitude from Scripture. It seems he has some of the same instincts as those politicians today who call their detractors "deplorable" and "irredeemable." I pray that he will come to a better understanding of the type of putrid aroma this brings to the church. The "fruit" of Mr. Fulford's approach has always been division and discord within the "Church of Christ" faith-heritage to such a point that it is unlikely anyone outside of its borders knows what we stand for -- they just know what we do not stand for. Keep at it, brother. Resistance builds strength! As for Mr. Fulford's #1 "squeaky wheel," a friend of mine sent this excerpt from Alexander Campbell: "Whenever the history of this effort at reformation shall have been faithfully written, it will appear, we think, bright as the sun, that our career has been marked with a spirit of forbearance, moderation, and love of union with an unequivocal desire for preserving the integrity, harmony, and co-operation of all who teach one faith, one Lord, and one immersion. In confirmation of this fact, I am happy to add that no Baptist of good character for piety and morality, has ever been, because of a diverse theory or opinion, excluded from our communion or communities. ... We, as a denomination, are as desirous as ever to unite and co-operate with all Christians on the broad and vital principles of the new and everlasting Covenant" [The Editor's Response to Mr. Broaddus, The Millennial Harbinger, December, 1840].

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Well, I see you're "back in the saddle" and riding with the Good News again. I appreciate your writings and the work you've done in the cause of Christ! I receive "Hugh's News & Views," and recently I wrote to him about the two women speaking at Abilene Christian and Pepperdine. Hugh replied to my questions with the longest email yet, but mainly just to tell me what fatigues him and that he wasn't going to get bogged down in any long discussions with me! On another note, most conservative members of the Church of Christ, as you know, see obedience as essential to their salvation both BEFORE baptism as well as AFTER it. They don't see it as a meritorious work (paying for their salvation), but rather as an exercise in accepting what is freely given. In other words, someone offers them a $100 bill. They stick their hand out to receive it, rather than leaving their hands in their pockets. They consider the "sticking out" of their hand as faith in action (with James 2:23-26 thrown in as proof). Of course, the Giver of the gift could simply stick it in their shirt pocket without any assistance from the receiver! -- which is what I believe God does! You may have already covered this in your writings, but, just in case, I thought I would mention it. Just my ramblings on a nice sunny day in Tennessee! Keep up the good work. Stay well.

From a Reader in Maine:

It's been a while since I've corresponded, but you and your family have been in my thoughts and prayers. I hope the Lord has sustained you, and that you and yours are staying well. In this hyper-political season, surrogates from both sides are pervasive on "talking-head" shows. Questions and arguments fly everywhere, but deflection and "pivoting" are constants. Nothing is more applicable than the adage, "Never argue with a person whose salary depends on his not being convinced." For retired folks my age, you can substitute for "salary" such factors as: reputation, prestige, being "sound" enough to write for certain journals or speak at certain lectureships, investments in decades-long preaching careers, confidence in possessing "the truth," etc. Many of us have tried to reason with ultra-conservatives, only to meet with deflection, refusal to address specific questions, and/or responses like "I will not be dissuaded," or arguments passed off as "not persuasive." Oftentimes, responses to emails are as if what had been written was never even read at all. Don't give up, brother! Others benefit from your exchanges with these brethren. Blessings!!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Thank you, Al, for your ministry. Please keep up the good work. Oh yes, most of us in ministry are members of the "Fraternity of the Frustrated" from time to time! So, I want to encourage you not to grow weary in doing good. God is using you to bless many, many people ... including me!! Grace and peace, brother, and blessings for a wonderful vacation.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, I just read your latest Reflections (#706: "Squeaky Wheels & Bible Grease"). Very insightful. I have been thinking about the saving grace of God and the connection with righteous living. If one accepts the grace of God, it will be logical that he will no longer want to live the lifestyle of which he repented. This is Paul's exact argument in Romans 6 (unfortunately, a water baptism interpretation of this passage can lead to a sacramental misunderstanding of same). But, Paul says, "Likewise, you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vs. 11). And also, in Titus 2:11-12, he says, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age." The point Hugh Fulford and many others would do well to realize is that grace both saves and motivates us unto righteous living; thus, no need for any prescribed laws and regulations. God bless, brother!

From a Publisher in Nevada:

I read your "squeaky wheel" Reflections, and the final score is: The Maxey Marauders = 38, The Fulford Fangless Falcons = 0. May the Marauders continue to prevail over legalism, patternism, sectarian interpretations of Scripture, and all other man-devised arguments by which some think they can promote the view that the "Church of Christ" church is the exclusive location of the saved. By the way, I appreciate your mention of the Homer Hailey books (which my company is publishing). Even some 15 years after his death, there is still a small, but discernible, demand for his books. Keeping them in print is a true labor of love.

From a Reader in Barbados:

Thanks again, Al, for your Reflections. It just shows that squeakiness is not all bad. I have a squeaky garage gate that informs me when my family arrives home ... especially at night! It's a most beautiful sound to me. The six instances of squeakiness must never be greased. They are all apt reminders that Jesus paid the debt for our sin in full, and that we can do nothing to merit God's gift of salvation. If there is something that we must do other than accept God's proffered hand of grace, then salvation is no longer a "gift." At best it would be a reward, and at worst a wage. In fact, it should not even be confused with an award. God bless you, Al. I encourage you to keep on squeaking in the name of Jesus!

From a Reader in Texas:

Whew!! Great article, brother! How glad I am for your denomination to have you as one of their speakers/writers of Truth. Clearly, God has equipped and called you to this ministry! How wearisome it must be for you at times, though! You must know firsthand the groanings of the prophets, me thinks! May God's grace continue to abide in and abound to you!

From a Minister in Montana:

Greetings, Sir, and thanks for another wonderful Reflections. I empathized with you when you remarked how you had once preached many a sermon on US being "the one true church," and had condemned those "unrighteous" persons "in the denominations." Like you, Al ... NEVER AGAIN!! My dad also lamented many a sermon he preached those first years after leaving Freed-Hardeman. Of course, he fit right in the mold in Lubbock, until his views on exclusivity changed and he began sharing those new convictions. Lubbock then ran him out of town. What a shame! Anyway, back to the reason I'm writing. You mentioned the late, and great, Dr. Leroy Garrett, and I was looking for his website just the other day and could not find it. It may have been pulled down after his death. Do you know, or could you suggest, how to access his writings? I was actually, more specifically, looking for his infamous "Available Light" study, which I think is one of his best! Many thanks.

From a Reader in Texas:

Last night at my prison ministry we were discussing Adam and Eve, and their sons Cain and Abel. One of the inmates asked what exactly was wrong with Cain's sacrifice. He said, "Cain toiled in the field and produced a crop, and that is what he offered to God, while Abel was a keeper of animals, and that is what he offered in sacrifice to God." He continued, "So, why did God accept Abel's sacrifice, but not Cain's?" I told him I thought it was because Cain did not offer his very best, as God had instructed. His thought was that we could not know this for sure. I have since read that it was because Cain had a lack of faith. Could you please help me with this? I would like to go back next week with a better explanation for him. I now realize that I have always just accepted the traditional explanation at "face value." The Bible says God did not accept that offering, and so that's that! Yet, I know there has to be some good reason why God did not accept the offering of Cain, but I never gave it much thought. He just didn't. Period. I think I have dwelt more on Cain's attitude after the fact: letting his jealousy and anger get the best of him, which then caused him to commit the first murder. I look forward to your response. Thanks.

From a Reader in Texas:

I just finished reading your article "Squeaky Wheels and Bible Grease," and I came away scratching my head with respect to Hugh. I can remember the most hurtful thing ever said to me: it was when I was a senior in high school; one of my favorite teachers said, "You are so ignorant you don't even know how ignorant you are!" Frankly, the more I study the Scriptures, and the more I try to learn about God, the more I grasp just how ignorant I am in my knowledge of God. What people like Hugh struggle with, and what they must perceive as "dangerous," is this realization that they may not know something with respect to God and His Word. In their way of thinking, their very salvation depends on knowing correctly and doing things right. Oh what a miserable existence we would have if our salvation is truly based on knowing and doing correctly, rather than on God's grace and the faithfulness of Jesus in going to the cross to deal with sin once for all. Hugh, and people like him, fear accepting the possibility that they could ever be wrong, for if they are then it suggests to them that they are eternally lost (since, for them, salvation is perceived to be primarily knowledge-based and performance-based). Al, I love the work you do. Thank you.

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