by Al Maxey
Issue #720 -------
May 25, 2017
The Puritans nobly fled from a land of
despotism to a land of freedom, where they
could not only enjoy their own religion, but
could prevent everyone else from enjoying his.
Charles Farrar Browne (1834-1867)
In keeping with the spirit of the quote I shared above from Charles Farrar Browne, consider the following very similar thought from the pen of Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), an American attorney and abolitionist, who, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, opined, "The Puritan's idea of Hell is a place where everybody has to mind his own business." One of the sad facts of history is that religious fundamentalists have a tendency toward militancy when it comes to their own cherished convictions. It is not enough that they be free to live according to their own beliefs, they soon insist that others live by them as well. In the end, the liberty they demand for themselves, they simply are not willing to grant unto others. In their view, they (and they alone) are right in the sight of God, and all others are wrong (i.e., "godless apostates"). Therefore, it is their "calling from God" (or so they believe) to be "jihadists for Jesus." Such attitudes have always existed, and not just within Christendom. Every world religion has its radicals and extremists: men and women (and even youth) who are willing to kill and/or be killed to impose their convictions upon others. As we all know only too well, such rarely if ever turns out well.
I have no doubt that almost all of you reading this can think of times when you have encountered someone who fits the description of those mentioned above. Sadly, almost every congregation of believers will have a few who are convinced their preferences and perceptions are equal to the very precepts of God Himself, and anyone who differs with them differs with God. If you have encountered such a person, you know only too well that they can make life miserable for those who dare to differ with them. God help the poor preacher who runs afoul of such persons, for his days in that congregation are truly numbered! And God help the poor congregation who has a preacher or an elder or two like this, for that too can be a most unpleasant and toxic environment. Let me hasten to note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having strong convictions. Indeed, I wish more people did. Problems arise, however, when those with strong convictions seek to impose them on others against their will, demanding others bow to their personal perceptions and practices. The apostle Paul confronted such thinking time and again in his ministry and writings, and perhaps nowhere as convincingly as in Romans 14. You and I can differ dramatically from one another in our understandings and expressions of devotion without one of us being "wrong." In the sight of our God, we are both accepted, even though we may be completely dissimilar in countless ways in our preferences, perceptions and practices. This is very hard for religious dogmatists to grasp or accept. It drives them crazy. As Browne suggested, having to mind their own business, and allowing others the freedom to worship God according to their own convictions, and regarding and accepting these differing disciples as beloved brethren in Christ, is truly a "living hell" for them!
Those who are militant in their fundamentalism tend to select a few items as the primary factors determining whether those around them are saved or damned. Those who agree with their positions and practices will be welcomed into fellowship with them; those who disagree with them, however, will be hounded to the ends of the earth and harassed without mercy. Paul experienced harsh persecutions, motivated by this militant ignorance, from a band of Thessalonican thugs (Acts 17), who not only ran him out of their own city, but pursued him to other cities as well, causing trouble for him wherever and whenever they could. I have contrasted these radicals and extremists with the far more benevolent disciples from the city of Berea in Reflections #163 ("A Berean Spirit: Thugs vs. Thinkers"). Over the 41 years I have been in fulltime ministry, I have encountered a good number of thugs and thinkers. It is a true joy to be with the latter; it is quite the opposite, however, to face the fury of the former!
One of my personal "pursuing puritans," who rarely misses a chance to express his disdain for my teaching (although he rather consistently refuses to mention my name to his readers, and will not provide links to those teachings/writings of mine he is condemning so that his readers may determine for themselves if he is fairly representing my views), is Hugh Fulford. Over the years I have reviewed the works of a great many people, and one thing I always do is provide the name of the person and where their work may be found, so that my readers may determine for themselves if my perceptions are correct. On the other hand, very few of my critics will do the same, which leaves one to wonder why (though I think we all know the answer to that). One of Hugh's "big issues" concerns the nature and identify of "the church." Although Hugh is very adept at side-stepping the matter, it is nevertheless quite obvious to those who take the time to examine his teaching and practice that he firmly believes "The Lord's Church" IS the group denominated in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ." Again, he's as slippery as a wet eel or greased pig when you try to pin him down on this, but his maneuverings don't fool most people.
I agree 100% with Hugh Fulford that the One Body of Christ (the church universal) is NOT, and never has been, denominational in nature. Our Lord's church has nothing to do with the countless denominational groups, and no such group (or faction thereof) can ever be equated with that One Body universal to the exclusion of all other groups. Hugh agrees with me on this until I say, "And that includes the group denominated 'Church of Christ'." Now, Hugh does not agree with me. Why? Because he equates the two, although he is an expert at making you think he does not. I have dealt with this in several previous issues of Reflections, so this is nothing new. Many of you have written to tell me you have had the same experience when trying to reason with him on this topic. Yet, the attempts to misrepresent my own teaching have certainly not lessened. For example, in the May 2, 2017 edition of "Hugh's News & Views" he quotes Cecil R. May, Jr. (from this individual's periodical "Preacher Talk," which I also receive), "I am not a 'Campbellite.' We managed to get past that pejorative epithet for the most part several decades ago. I am no more content with the current tag: 'Stone-Campbell adherent.' I have been added by God to Christ's church. I am not, however, 'a Church of Christer.' I am a Christian." After providing this quote (which, by the way, I agree with 100%), Hugh wrote, "In spite of the biblical clarity of the preceding, there are those (even some who like to view themselves as scholars) who do not know how to speak and write of the church or of their relationship to the Lord except in the most pronounced denominational terms. I marvel!"
Those who know me, and know my teachings, know that I have never spoken of nor written of the church in such terms. Indeed, just the opposite! The church of our Lord is not an organization or institution, it is simply people. ALL those individuals (past, present and future) who are IN HIM make up that called out group of disciples (the church). This has nothing to do with traditions, or buildings, or programs; it has to do with people in relationship with the Person of our Lord and Savior. These people may have differing ways of expressing their devotion and worship (much of which may be influenced by culture), they may have differing understandings of certain doctrines and practices, but if they are saved by grace through faith, then they are in that One Body just as I am. We be brethren. I challenge Hugh to find anything "denominational" about what I just wrote (which has been my teaching for years). Hugh's problem, as we all know, is that what I have done over the years is point out that my faith-heritage is that branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as the "Church of Christ." My religious association is with this denominated (named) group, and some of my practices are based on the traditions embraced by this group. I don't equate these traditions with Truth, however; nor do I equate this named group, with their cherished traditions, with the church universal. The fact that Hugh does equate the two is the very basis for his charge that I "speak and write of the church ... in the most pronounced denominational terms." Yes, I speak of my group in such terms, but I have never spoken of the church in such terms. I too marvel: that Hugh seems incapable of grasping this distinction.
But, Hugh continues to be "baffled." In fact, in the May 16, 2017 issue of "Hugh's News & Views" (by the way, I urge the reader to please write to Hugh and request copies of this and the previous article; he will be happy to send them to you; check them out for yourself to see if I have fairly represented him; his email is: firstname.lastname@example.org) he has titled his article: "Baffling Things." He then proceeds to list about twenty things that truly baffle him. Some are rather humorous. He wonders, for example, why "Buick" does not rhyme with "quick." I've wondered that too!! Here are a few others: "Why sick people have to walk all the way to the back of the drugstore to get their prescriptions filled, while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front of the store" ... "Why those going to the 'Y' to walk and workout will wait for a vehicle to vacate a parking place close to the front door so they won't have so far to walk" ... "Why we pay more for a new car than we used to pay for a house." Yes, I agree: some of these are indeed baffling! But, the humor soon ends. He rather quickly moves on to those things that truly baffle him. I won't address them all, but let me select a few and comment on them (once again, please write for his article if you would like to see the full list).
Baffling Thing #1
Members of the Lord's church who will not state
unequivocally that the churches of Christ are not a
denomination and who use the most denominational
terminology imaginable to refer to the church.
Hugh continues to be "bewitched, bothered and bewildered" (my apologies to Rodgers & Hart, and their production of Pal Joey) by false conclusions drawn from his baffling determination to equate the universal One Body of our Lord with the group denominated in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ." Even more befuddling is the fact that he narrows it even more to those within this denomination who do not use instruments, who limit the roles of women, and a dozen or more other personal and party preferences and practices paraded as divine precepts. I feel the same frustration as the apostle Paul, who cried out, "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?" (Galatians 3:1). I have tried over and over and over to reason with Hugh about this failure to differentiate between the two, but I have thus far been utterly incapable of breaking through the thick walls of this dangerous dogma that has so tragically deluded him.
As noted in the earlier portion of this issue of Reflections, I have never sought to characterize the One Body universal in terms that would diminish it in any way. These called out ones of all time constitute the Family of God (past, present and future). They are not an institution; they are not an organization; they are not a denomination. They are His people; His children; His beloved ones! They don't all look alike; they don't all have the same abilities; they have different backgrounds; different cultures; different traditions; but, they are all united IN HIM. They are ONE by virtue of that union, even though they may differ dramatically from one another on countless matters of personal perception and practice and preference. It is these called ones who make up the church of our Lord, and that global group of disciples is NOT limited to any one named religious group, or any faction or schism thereof. Although my association is with the historical group that emerged from the Stone-Campbell Movement known as "Churches of Christ," and I enjoy many of their traditions, I do NOT teach that the latter IS, to the exclusion of all others, THE "one true church" universal. I have brothers and sister in Christ Jesus who associate with other named groups, and who express their love and devotion to the Lord with traditions that differ from mine, but they are no less His children by virtue of our differences. You don't have to be my twin to be my brother - we just have to have the same Father! And we do! I don't know WHY Hugh Fulford can't grasp this, but until he does he shall continue to accuse me, and others like me, of demeaning "the Lord's church." Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth!
Baffling Thing #2
Churches that take up an offering every Sunday
(sometimes more than once), but then observe the
Lord's Supper only once a month, once a quarter,
or whenever it strikes them to do so. The same
Bible language is used to refer to both activities
(1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:7).
The glaring fallacy of the legalistic patternists is that they genuinely believe the above two passages establish law for all men for all time with respect to day and frequency for both the Lord's Supper and the collection of funds for the church. For both activities (although some will grant some degree of flexibility for the latter) the only approved time of observance (or so they believe) is Sunday, and the only approved frequency (they will insist) is weekly (i.e., every Sunday). To observe the Lord's Supper more often than this, or less often, is said to be a "sin." In other words, remembering Jesus two or three times a week could send you to hell. Again, however, this "law" is far less rigid with respect to collecting money (no surprise there, right?), although the ultra-legalists will still boldly declare that Sunday only is required for this activity as well, and some will even go so far as to say that if you miss the Sunday collection, and come by the church office on Tuesday to bring your check, you must date the check for the previous or following Sunday, for no funds are to be given or collected except on that day (and, of course, God is easily fooled by such antics when He examines the date on the check!!). All of this, of course, is absolute nonsense! Neither the Lord's Supper, not the collection of funds, are in any way regulated with regard to frequency. Such legalisms are easily refuted and shown to be nothing more than the misguided dogmas and traditions of rigid religionists.
The NT writings (and the Lord Jesus Himself) say absolutely nothing with regard to frequency except: "As often as" you do it, do it in remembrance of Him. The relative adverb used is nonspecific with regard to time; it can also be translated "whenever." It is not frequency that is the concern of Scripture, it is focus. I have dealt with this in Reflections #30 ("The Lord's Supper: Focusing on Frequency"). The reader might also benefit from seeing how the early disciples understood and practiced this, a perspective which I have provided in some depth in Reflections #114 ("The Lord's Supper: An Historical Overview"). I would also suggest a reading of my 228 page book on the Lord's Supper titled "One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism." Hugh, and those like him, also need to consider that there are very serious and legitimate questions pertaining to the actual day of observance. I have presented this information (about which many legalists are completely ignorant) in Reflections #173 ("The Great Time Debate: Were the Events in Acts 20:7-12 Reckoned in Jewish or Roman Time?"). This matter is not as clear as some might like to have you think. Yet, in the end, it doesn't really matter, for this spiritual event is not regulated. Another challenge the reader of Scripture faces is the meaning of the phrase "breaking bread" (does it refer to a common meal or something more?). This too requires some careful and prayerful examination, which I have sought to provide in Reflections #168 ("Breaking Bread: Meal or Memorial?"). In the end, our Lord requests only two things of us with respect to the Lord's Supper: Do it, and whenever you do, remember Me! As for "the collection," most are seemingly unaware that Paul's instructions in 1 Cor. 16:2 pertain to a special contribution for famine relief, and that this collection would cease upon his arrival. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the type of "collections" taken in congregations today (Reflections #100: "The Collection for the Saints: A Study of 1 Corinthians 16:1-2"). In short, the only baffling thing about "Baffling Thing #2" is why Hugh Fulford is baffled by it. Perhaps some need to spend more time seeking Light from the Scriptures than seeking Law (John 5:39-40).
Baffling Thing #3
Churches that adopt the unauthorized practice
of using instrumental music in their worship services
in order to hold the young people, only to wind up
losing them anyway. Once a church starts down the
path of adopting unauthorized practices, there is
no end to where it will go.
Part of the problem here, and one of the reasons people like Hugh are so "baffled" all the time, is the flawed hermeneutic they employ. This has been a plague upon many within my faith-heritage for generations, although, thankfully, that hermeneutic is being completely rejected by more perceptive disciples today. CENI, and its sidekick "the law of silence," seeks to determine that which is and is not "authorized" for belief and practice in the church by means of command, example, necessary inference, and biblical silence (which they tend to view as prohibitive, unless it is something they like, in which case it is permitted as an "expedient"). This hermeneutic is flawed on so many levels that it is not even funny, yet the legalistic patternists swear by it (they must, for it is the only way they can support the countless rules and regulations they have fabricated from what the Scriptures don't say)! I have written extensively about this failed hermeneutic and its impact upon the theology and practice of people like Hugh, and those writings may be found on my Topical Index page under the headings "Law of Silence" (28 articles), "Patternism" (37 articles), and "Requesting Legalism's List" (6 articles). There is also a published debate on this, which surprisingly also appeared in several consecutive issues of "Contending for the Faith," one of the leading publications of the ultra-conservative wing of the Churches of Christ. That debate is The Maxey-Broking Debate, which I believe you will find enlightening with respect to how legalistic patternists seek to establish what is and is not "authorized."
Hugh considers using musical instruments within the context of a "worship service" (a phrase never found in the Bible, by the way) to be an "unauthorized practice." His conclusion is derived from his hermeneutic. I have sought to show how his hermeneutic has failed him with regard to the use of instruments in the following in-depth studies: "Musings on Music: Interpretative Issues Involving Instruments" (Reflections #71) ... "Suggesting Another Hermeneutic: Inquiry into an Interpretive Methodology" (Reflections #126) ... "Holding Harps of God: Singers Singing and Harpers Harping Redemption's Sweet Song" (Reflections #297) ... "God Hates Lamb Chops: In-depth Study of Amos 6:4-6" (Reflections #410) ... "Legalism's Twin Proof-Texts: Allowing Tradition to Trump Truth" (Reflections #454) ... "Symphony for Salvaged Sinners: A Celebration with Music and Dancing within our Heavenly Father's House" (Reflections #567). In fairness, I even examined very carefully the argument of a very well-respected and beloved leader in Churches of Christ: "An Argument for A Cappella: The Position of Dr. John Mark Hicks" (Reflections #320). After extensive and intensive study, however, there is simply no way I can agree with the conclusions of those who view the use of instruments as sinful and unauthorized. There is not even a hint of such in Scripture. Indeed, as I have shown, it is just the opposite. I believe if those who are baffled will simply examine the evidence from God's Word I have provided above, and if they will consider it carefully and prayerfully, their bafflement and befuddlement will evaporate. What baffles me, however, is that I can almost guarantee you that Hugh, and most like him, will not even examine the evidence I have provided (indeed, Hugh has told me he wouldn't). I have even pleaded with these people to show me where what I have written is wrong. They refuse to do so (one told me, "I don't waste my time on apostates!"). So, consider me baffled, for Truth has nothing to fear from honest investigation! Right?! As for Hugh's "slippery slope" allusion, and his assumption that instruments are employed "in order to hold the young people," and that our youth are going to leave us anyway, I'll reserve chasing those rabbits down their rabbit holes for another day. Here's what baffles me: Hugh will never let his readers know about this current Reflections.
Baffling Thing #4
Why it is commonly believed and practiced
that a person can divorce his or her spouse for just
any reason and remarry, when Jesus said, "And I say
to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual
immorality, and marries another, commits adultery;
and whoever marries her who is divorced commits
adultery" (Matthew 19:9).
One of the common misunderstandings associated with this particular passage is with respect to the meaning and significance of the so-called "exception clause," which really is a misnomer, and thus rather misleading. In the teaching of our Lord on this topic of the breakdown of marital covenants, He lets His hearers know that when such covenants are dissolved someone must bear the responsibility for that termination. At times it is the husband, at times it is the wife, at times it is both. Jesus is not establishing marital LAW in these teachings (nor is the apostle Paul when he too discusses the matter), but demonstrating how God's IDEAL for marriage has failed to be realized by a couple and who is at fault for that failure and why (the "who" varying depending on the circumstances - the why - of the situation). In my first book ("Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace"), I literally deal with every passage in the Bible (both OT and NT) that even remotely relates to the topic of marriage, divorce and remarriage. It is quite eye-opening to journey through Scripture and get this overview of what God has to say about this topic, and then to dig into each passage in great depth. I examine the so-called "exception clause" in chapter 6. For those who may not wish to purchase the book (it's also available on Kindle, as are all of my books), I would suggest a reading of Reflections #90 ("Examining the 'Exception Clause': A Study of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9"). I would challenge Hugh Fulford to show me where my analysis of this clause is inconsistent with biblical teaching. I have had people attack me for it, but I have yet to have anyone refute it. The "Contending for the Faith" bunch even featured my book at the 2010 Contending for the Faith Lectureship in Spring, Texas (an event titled "Profiles in Apostasy"). This was videotaped, and it may be viewed by Clicking Here. They had chosen several books for this lectureship: books they believed were especially damaging to the church, and which Christians must never read; books written by "apostates" and "heretics." They completely misrepresented, and even mocked, what I had written and what I teach (no surprise there), which I have exposed in Reflections #434 ("The 2010 Lucifer Lectures: Satan's Sad Spring Spectacle").
There are a number of issues connected to the NT passages on this topic, only one of which Hugh mentioned (Matthew 19:9). What is "adultery"? You might be surprised to discover the biblical concept on this. What is "the law of the husband," of which Paul speaks? Who may remarry? The reader will likely also be quite surprised by what the Bible does, and doesn't, say on this. Hugh, and those like him, may be less baffled if they will just take a little time and simply consider the 17 in-depth biblical studies into these questions and passages, and more, that are listed under the heading "Marriage and Divorce" on my Topical Index page. I would be happy to answer any questions Hugh may have on any of those studies after he has examined them, which I sincerely pray he will take the time to do. I hate to see anyone baffled by a topic about which God really has spoken very clearly and simply in His Word.
Baffling Thing #5
Religious teachers and their followers who say
that we are saved by grace only, and then turn around
and assert that we are saved by faith only. Which one
is it? Or, according to the Bible, is neither correct?
I have often been accused of both, neither of which is true. I teach exactly what the apostle Paul did: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). This doesn't seem too complicated or complex to me. Our salvation is a gift of grace from a God of love; a gift for all who simply believe (have faith). "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Romans 5:1-2). "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. ... He is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ... For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Romans 3:23-28). I could list many, many more, but you get the idea.
Baffling Thing #6
People who say one does not have to be baptized
in order to be saved when the Bible says, "The like
figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save
us [not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but
the answer of a good conscience toward God] by the
resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21, KJV).
1 Peter 3:21 has long been a cherished proof-text of those who have embraced a sacramental view of baptism in water. I have written a great many refutations of this false view of the purpose and place of baptism in water, for it has truly befuddled and baffled many people, leading them down a path of false hope (believing that this act is the precise split second in time when they are saved). For those who would like to examine the extensive exposition of this falsehood, they may examine the 48 Reflections articles listed on my Topical Index page under the heading "Baptism." I would also highly recommend my 300 page book "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice." With respect to the passage in Peter's first epistle, however, this text has indeed proved confusing to many, for Peter seems to suggest just such a sacramental view of baptism. However, when one does some deeper study into the text, and other supportive biblical texts, one will discover just how misguided such a view really is. I have dealt with almost every aspect of that verse in the following studies, and I would again invite Hugh Fulford to simply open his Bible and show me where my evaluation and understanding are inconsistent with Truth. "Salvation by Immersion: Reflective Analysis of 1 Peter 3:21" (Reflections #217) ... "Critical Question on 1 Peter 3:21: Pondering the True Meaning of the 'Pledge' of a Good Conscience as it Relates to Baptism" (Reflections #497) ... "The Filth of the Flesh: Pondering a Petrine Phrase" (Reflections #613). By the way, this isn't the first time that I've tried to dialogue and reason with Hugh on this and other matters pertaining to our faith and practice. I've tried many, many times; two of the more recent are: "Hugh's News, Views & Qs: Twenty Questions Concerning Baptism" (Reflections #642) and "Squeaky Wheels & Bible Grease: Hugh's Six 'Squeaky Wheels' Supposedly in Need of Generous Globs of Bible Grease" (Reflections #706). Interestingly, I dealt with 1 Peter 3:21 in both of these recent articles! Apparently, however, not well enough to "unbaffle" Hugh with regard to his confused convictions on this passage.
Baffling Thing #7
False teachers who say there is nothing about the
gospel to be obeyed, when the Scriptures clearly
teach that one must obey the gospel or else suffer
everlasting punishment from the presence of
the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
How does one obey "good news"? This is a case where translation from one language to another has significantly failed us. There are three places in the New Covenant writings where we find the phrase (in many translations), "obey the gospel." These three are Romans 10:16, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, and 1 Peter 4:17. Two different Greek words are employed in these passages: Paul uses the word "hupakouo" (which literally means "hear under" = "to listen attentively") and Peter uses the word "apeitheo" (which means to "disbelieve"). Neither Greek word has, as it primary meaning, "obedience" (although some translations, following the lead of the King James Version, have chosen to render it thusly). "Good News" (gospel) can be listened to attentively, or not listened to attentively; "Good News" can be believed, or not believed; "Good News" can evoke a response from us: joy, excitement, introspection, etc. But, one does not OBEY "Good News," for it is an announcement of glad tidings, not the issuing of commands. The phrase "obey the gospel," therefore, is an extremely poor translation of a couple of significant passages from the pens of Paul and Peter, and this poor rendering has been used to promote an obedience-based salvation (we are saved by obeying certain commands -- i.e., baptism), rather than a grace/faith-based salvation. I have dealt with this in some depth in Reflections #501 ("Can We OBEY the Gospel? Reflecting Anew on Three NT Texts"). Again, I hope Hugh Fulford will take the time to carefully evaluate this biblical evidence.
Baffling Thing #8
Preachers who say that God will not punish
unrepentant sinners and the disobedient with
everlasting punishment in hell, when Christ said,
"And these will go away into everlasting punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46).
According to Jesus, hell is as everlasting as heaven.
First of all, it is important to make note of the fact that in the passage Hugh quotes we find mention made of "eternal" life and "everlasting" punishment, yet, what many don't realize, is that the word is the same in both cases: "aionion." You will also find it translated "forever" at times. This is a very significant Greek word, and not grasping its intent in a passage can lead to some horribly false theological conclusions. The same is true for the companion Hebrew word "olam." The reality, which some seem reluctant to acknowledge (because it affects their theology), is that "aionios" is used in two very distinct and separate ways in the Scriptures: qualitatively and quantitatively. One must examine the context, as well as that which these words describe, in order to determine which meaning applies, or if both meanings are perhaps applicable. The Holman Bible Dictionary stresses that although "some aspects of both quality and duration appear in every context," nevertheless in some passages "the emphasis is on the quality ... rather than on unending duration" [p. 440]. The tendency of some to view "aion" and "aionios" as only signifying "time without end" can be exegetically misleading, for these terms may also describe the quality of something, with no reference to time whatsoever! Failure to perceive this fact has led to some very misguided theology.
Yes, Hugh is right that in Matthew 25:46 Jesus describes both the blessings of the righteous and the punishment of the unrighteous (heaven-hell, life-death) as "eternal" in nature and "everlasting" in duration. In other words, for as long as the redeemed are ALIVE, the wicked will be DEAD. I have dealt with this very passage, and the importance of understanding the true nature of this term, in Reflections #74 ("Reflective Analysis of Forever: Analyzing the Attributes of Aionios"). Where many people, and Hugh is one of them, draw a false conclusion from this passage is in thinking that Jesus is saying the wicked with be "consciously tormented and tortured endlessly," just as the conscious joys of the redeemed will endure forever also. That is NOT what this passage says, however. Indeed, IF that teaching is true, then one is faced with a very troubling problem: Did Jesus truly pay in full the penalty for sin? If Hugh's view is correct, then the answer is NO. If the wages of sin is "everlasting suffering in hell," then Jesus did not pay that debt. If the wages of sin, however, is DEATH, then Jesus DID pay that debt in full. I would plead with Hugh to please read very carefully the following: "Paying the Debt for Our Sin: Was the Crucifixion of Christ on the Cross Total or Token Payment for Sin?" (Reflections #152). If Hugh's views are true, He has some explaining to do!!
If one stops and considers the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:46 more closely, however, one will see that there really is no problem here. Jesus informs us that the "punishment" of the lost is what will be "eternal/forever" to the same degree (both qualitatively and quantitatively) as the life of the redeemed. He does NOT say it will be the punishING of the lost, but rather the punishMENT of the lost. That is a huge distinction that seems to be lost on Hugh! The former is a process, the latter is a result. Dying is a process, and it can be most unpleasant at times; death, however, is the result of that process. Nowhere does the Lord declare "dying" to be the wages of sin or the fate of the wicked; "death" is the fate of those who deny Him. A number of years ago I was appointed by the state of New Mexico to serve as the Chaplain at the execution of Terry Clark (the only person executed in our state in over 60 years - Reflections #554: "Chaplain at an Execution: Reflecting on a Difficult Choice"). I spent the last couple of days with him in his cell on death row, shared his last meal with him, and stood next to him inside the death chamber, along with the warden, as he died. This was not a pleasant experience for Terry; it was torment! But, his punishment was not this process of suffering and dying; his punishment was DEATH. When we all stand before the Lord one day, and some are blessed with life and some are cursed with death, the latter will be DEAD for the same duration as the former will be ALIVE. The redeemed will never again know death, and the wicked will never again know life. The "second death" is one from which they will NOT be raised; they are DEAD FOREVER. No, their dying will not be pleasant, but it is the result, not the process, that constitutes the punishment promised. I have dealt with this in a very powerful new 308 page book (with a Foreword written by Edward Fudge): "From Ruin To Resurrection." Again, if Hugh will just invest some time examining this information he might find he is less "baffled" about a number of things, several of which we have examined in this current Reflections.
From a Reader in the Netherlands:
Beloved brother Al, A number of days ago I ordered your book "Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace" through a local Christian bookstore in the Dutch town of Alphen aan den Rijn. As I'm considering getting remarried sometime in the future, I am somewhat perplexed about this specific issue in spite of my former wife having left me for another man! I went through much spiritual confusion and experienced a mild crisis of conscience at the time. Originally, I'm South African born and raised; the son of a Dutch father and a third generation South African mother of German descent. Over a decade ago I graduated with honors from a Church of Christ affiliated school (Sunset International Bible Institute) in Athens, Greece. As you are aware, many in the Churches of Christ practice something similar to the "regulative principle of worship," and they use a "hermeneutic-centered" (CENI) approach and philosophy for interpreting the text of the New Covenant scriptures. A while back I came across a YouTube video of a man named Rick Atchley and his powerful presentation of The Chairs [Click Here]. I soon began traveling along a journey away from CENI to a more Christ-centered paradigm of faith and practice! That came predominantly through, amongst other things, meeting other Church of Christ renegades who were also challenging their former mindset, and reading materials from several scholars such as yourself, Frank Viola, F. LeGard Smith, and others. Through you and them Christ has been gloriously unveiled to me! Many thanks, and love in Christ!
Rick Atchley asked me to go to breakfast with him a few years ago when we were both speaking at The Tulsa Workshop, and I got the opportunity during our time together that morning to visit with him about this "chairs" video, which I believe to be one of the most dramatic and insightful teachings I have ever seen. It was fascinating to hear his insights into that presentation. I have shared it with others over the years, and wish it would be played in every congregation associated with the Stone-Campbell Movement from which the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ emerged. I hope all the readers of this Reflections will take the time to click on the above link and view that powerful presentation. It is truly an eye-opening and life-changing experience!! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alabama:
Dear brother Al, I recently read your article "Traditionalist Tendentiousness: Considering the Comments of Critics" (Reflections #712). I have to agree that it is spot on with regard to our legalistic family and friends. My husband and I grew up with this mindset, but we now praise the Lord that we have studied and prayed our way out of it to freedom! Unfortunately, because of this change we have lost lifelong friends and family members. For us, this new freedom came with a price. My relationship with my parents, and with my brother and sister, has suffered greatly. After 30 years of love and devotion to them, and never giving them cause to worry about us, they now have condemned us to everlasting fire and brimstone. They just can't fathom why we no longer "believe what the Bible says." We have "left the faith," and we "should know better." I say all of this because I really need help in trying to forgive, as I don't know how to get past all this hurt we are feeling from our family. My parents are aging and time is slipping by quickly. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated. I have never felt so much freedom in Christ, but at the same time I have never felt a hurt so deep because my parents are grieving over us, truly convinced we are wrong. Thank you, Al, for all your thought-provoking articles. They have helped me greatly! May God continue to bless you in your service to Him.
I have had so many people over the years write almost identical letters to me. They have found their freedom in Christ, yet this life-changing discovery has cost them the love of their friends and family. It is truly heartbreaking. Sadly, it is also very common. I too have lost the love and fellowship of many, whom I love dearly, as a result of daring to differ with them on various traditions they hold dear and regard as "divine essentials." So, what are we to do when our liberty from law causes legalists to withhold their love from us? It is a "shunning" they hope will return us to our "senses" and bring us back to "the one true church" which alone understands and practices "all truth" (or so they sincerely believe). Thus, to differ with them is to differ with God Himself; and to leave their group is to leave "the church" and to leave "the faith." In the minds of hardened legalists, when one no longer agrees with them, that person is now in the "enemy camp," and they will not hesitate to treat you as an "apostate." So, how do we react to such persons (especially when they are friends and family)? I think the best response is to keep on loving them, and showing it in our attitudes and actions toward them, praying for them, and also praying that God will give us open doors of opportunity to share with them, a little here and a little there, the good news we have found resulting in our freedom in Christ Jesus. Debating them or arguing theology with them will rarely prove productive; indeed, such most often widens the rift between us. I have dealt with this somewhat in Reflections #162 ("Evangelizing the Enslaved: Breaking the Bonds of Sectarian Slavery"). I have provided and discussed a number of principles in that study that could prove helpful in how we respond to those whom we love who are still under the influence of legalism. I hope this reader, and others like her, will find them useful. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Two things came out of our discussion tonight in our adult class at our congregation where we are studying your new book "From Ruin to Resurrection." The first dealt with the power of Satan on earth (a discussion which developed while we were examining chapter 9 - "Samuel, Saul and the Witch of Endor"). On this side of Judgment Day, does Satan have control of the elements of this planet to such an extent that he could have actually raised Samuel from the dead? We don't deny that he has the ability to kill the body of a person, so the question came up as to whether he also has the ability to raise a body from the dust of the ground and breathe life back into it for some purpose. The second thing had to do with Moses and Elijah being with Jesus at His transfiguration. I don't remember that being discussed in your book. I also looked through your Reflections archive, but couldn't find anything on it.
We certainly know from the Scriptures (both OT and NT) that Satan and his evil forces have a significant amount of power, although all of that power lies within the parameters of what God allows. Nowhere in Scripture to my knowledge, however, is Satan granted the power to resurrect the dead (and especially not the bodies of the redeemed). Satan is not the "giver of life," but rather the "taker of life;" he is not man's "creator," but his "destroyer." It is unthinkable that Satan could snatch a dead saint from the protective embrace of the Lord God, drag him out of his/her grave, breathe the breath of life into that body, and begin his torments of them again in this life. If so, then what "blessed assurance" do any of us have who are "asleep in Christ" if he can resurrect us for another chance at destroying our faith?! So, for this, and other reasons discussed in the book, I would have to reject the idea that Satan has that power. He certainly will try to deceive us into thinking he has such power, but I do not believe he actually has that power. As for Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus at His transfiguration, I believe this serves a number of divine purposes, but one of them surely is that it affirms in dramatic manner the truth that our God is Lord of both the living and the dead (Luke 20:38; Romans 14:9). When Christ returns, whether we are still alive or asleep in the dust of the ground, we shall be brought together with Him and experience the promise of life eternal in the new heavens and earth. This is a promise not only to the living, but to those who have died (a truth with which Paul comforts the saints: 1 Thess. 4:13f). Elijah on the mount that day with Jesus represents "the living," and Moses represents "the dead." In Jesus, God declares by this appearance on the mountain with His Son, that both the living and the dead will be gathered to Him. Thus, their appearance on that occasion affirms this truth and reinforces the promise of God to those who love His appearing (both the living and the dead). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I just read Reflections #719 ("The Great Title Transgression: Pondering Our Redeemer's Proscription of Calling Someone 'Rabbi, Father, Teacher'"). So glad to see you address this topic, brother. I've had questions about it all my Christian life, and I had just about come to the conclusion that I must be missing something in the translation, for surely our Lord would not waste His time instructing us about titles. Your conclusions, however, fit perfectly with the fact that Jesus was addressing the self-righteous Jews of His day, and the self-righteous people of our day as well. You are probably going to catch some flak from the legalists because of your position on this, but that is nothing new!! Any time the "laws and rules" of the legalistic Pharisees of the modern church are challenged or proven false, they get upset and seek to vilify the messenger. I praise God for you, Al (our teacher and pastor), in these times when the church universal is beginning to look more and more like the church of the 1st century. Keep the faith, my brother!
From an Author in California:
Brother Maxey, When I was in college back in the late 1950s, I took a course during which the professor had persons from various careers come and speak to the class. On one occasion it was a Roman Catholic priest. We were able to ask questions of these guests, but when one woman stood to ask a question of him she made an extended point of declaring why her religious conviction prevented her from addressing him as "Father ____." This was odd, for she really didn't have to address him by name at all; all she had to do was just ask the question! Anyway, the priest handled it quite well. He told her that was okay, just don't address him as "Mother ____." (LOL)
From Charles Meek at Faith Facts:
Al, I love your work, and have quoted you extensively in my article: "Bible Questions for the Church of Christ" (Click Here).
From a New Reader in Unknown:
If possible, could you please add my address to your Reflections distribution list? I find your writing/thinking beneficial, and I would like to make it a more regular part of my spiritual nutrition plan. Thank you!
From a Minister in Missouri:
I wanted to let you know that I thought Reflections #697 was a very good article ("'The Texas Heresy' of Austin McGary: The Gun-Slingin' Sheriff of Madison County who Impacted Church of Christ Doctrine on Baptism"). I have been interested in this Church of Christ character for some time, as he was one of the big three theological bomb throwers in the second generation of "Restoration" leaders. He, along with Daniel Sommer, was more responsible for the divisions in the Churches of Christ than anyone else (Reflections #213: "Daniel Sommer: Father of Ultra-Conservative Church of Christ Watchdogism"). When I did my series on Restoration History here at our congregation, I think many of the folks in the class were shocked to learn that most of the "issues" believed by many in Churches of Christ today to be "absolutely essential," were NOT held to be so by the Movement's founders. If they had been, the Movement would never have grown, and would have died within a generation. Our task today is to restore the magnanimity of thought and spirit that believes, on the one hand, what the Scriptures actually teach, and, on the other hand, does not demand absolute conformity of thought and practice as "tests of fellowship."
From a Reader in Pennsylvania:
Greetings, my friend. I just finished reading "The Great Title Transgression," which is very well written indeed. You may justly wear the title "Esteemed Author." I suppose such praise may test your humility, yet knowing you personally as I do, I have little fear that you are in danger on that count. Having served many years as a US Army Chaplain (I was a Major), I noticed that even some chaplains got caught up in the pervasive "rank awareness" of military culture, preferring their status as a field grade officer (such as "Colonel") over their professional descriptive ("Chaplain"). I found this particularly true among active duty chaplains, but far more rare among reserve duty chaplains (who had civilian congregations to keep them humble). Over the years I have used titles as terms of respect, and do not believe I was going against the teachings of Jesus by doing so (for the reasons you so aptly expressed in your article). Yet, also having served as an elder in Churches of Christ, I know there is always a danger of that term too becoming a prideful ecclesiastical title beyond its mere descriptive sense. Consequently, I preferred referring to myself as simply a shepherd of the church. I have also noticed a reluctance among some to use the terms pastor, bishop or presbyter in place of elder, and I surmise this may be due to a fear of using terms often identified as being "denominational." Be that as it may, I thank you, Al, for your Reflections.
From a Reader in California:
As I've told you often, ALL of your Reflections articles are great, so I don't write as often as I used to, although you do deserve encouragement and support from all of us who are readers/subscribers! As for titles -- yes sir, I totally agree with you. With that said, you are still Elder Al Maxey to me!
From a Reader in Georgia:
I agree with the quote you gave from Queen Elizabeth I in your last article. I would rather be known for something I accomplished that had some lasting benefit for others than for some momentary honor for myself. They say (whoever "they" are) that having a cause or purpose bigger than oneself is the most powerful motivation one can experience. You have, by the way, always shown yourself to be a humble man, even when stomping out biblical ignorance or firing that machine gun in Vietnam! Keep up the fine work, brother!
From a Reader in Arizona:
I enjoyed your treatment of Jesus' words in Matthew 23 ( "The Great Title Transgression"). From the gospel records I conclude that a Rabbi enjoyed a higher standard of respect than others. By Jesus' time, many priests were corrupt. Selling animals and changing money in the temple indicates that to me. "Rabbi," in that context, therefore, meant more to them than it would to us today. For a long time I have thought of "teacher, apostle, prophet" as referring to a function carried out, rather than a title of honor. I appreciate your stress on the heart of a person in this matter (i.e., the pride that seeks honors for self above others). The Pharisee in Jesus' parable (Luke 18:9f) shows this sinful pride. As for the title "Father," I still tend to view this as Jesus' prophecy of the Roman Catholic Church (as well as the statement made by Paul to Timothy about those who forbid the eating of certain foods for religious reasons and forbidding some to marry: 1 Timothy 4:1-5). I am also so glad that you mentioned Reflections #548 ("Paul's Professorial Predilection: Education and Edification by Conversation as Perceived in Paul's Practice in Troas"), as that was written and sent out before I began receiving your Reflections. I appreciate the amount of research you did before writing that, and I learned much from it. Your thrust was clear and convincing to me. The part in that piece about the Greek word "homileo" was all new for me, and what you wrote was great. I may print out that article for future reference! Several years ago I came to view the beginning of the synagogue during the captivity of the people of Israel, and also the Greek cities' ekklesias, as providential preparations for the church, because both invited and expected "dialogue" in their assemblies. In 1 Cor. 14:29, Paul wrote that what was spoken in their meetings/assemblies is discerned by all. Thus, we don't need to be afraid of what someone may say in such gatherings of people in whom the Spirit dwells. Thank you, Al, for all the research you do before writing your Reflections. I look forward to seeing you face-to-face one day!
From an Elder in Oklahoma:
First, I have to thank you for your in-depth writings! You obviously study the Scriptures and think things through with little bias and preset beliefs. God bless you for that! I have two questions: (1) My first one relates to a statement in your last Reflections. You said, "I am often introduced in a public gathering (such as the recent National Day of Prayer event at our Civic Center) as 'Pastor Maxey'." I believe you are an elder in your congregation, so from that perspective you are indeed a pastor. However, if you were just the preacher and not an elder, what would your attitude be about people calling you "pastor"? I used to have a very firm belief that calling a preacher "pastor" was wrong. Now, I'm not so sure. Obviously, in many ways the preacher does pastor the flock. (2) My second question is about name badges. When our congregation started 10 years ago, someone made up name badges for everyone. When we appointed elders, the new elders were given new badges that had "Elder" under our names. I wear this badge with "Elder" on it in the belief that visitors would feel more honored if they knew they were being greeted by one of the shepherds of the congregation. What do you think? Should I wear this badge, or the one without the word "Elder" on it?
As for the first question, I used to feel as you did initially. I found it difficult to understand, especially when studying the qualities given for elders/pastors/shepherds in the Scriptures, how some unmarried kid straight out of a preaching school could be viewed as a "pastor" in light of the biblical depiction of these particular spiritual leaders. I still have those doubts, yet at the same time I am aware that the meaning and usage of words evolve and change over time as they are employed by those within equally evolving cultures of this world. Yes, I agree that technically a kid in his early twenties, fresh out of school, doesn't even come close to possessing the qualities the apostle Paul enumerated for the spiritual shepherds of the church (the primary qualities being the wisdom and maturity and discernment that come with years of experience in serving the Lord and growing personally in relationship with Him). Yet, in our society at this time the term "pastor" means to most people "the preacher." Years ago, I used to correct people when they said, "This is our pastor." I would quickly say, "No, I'm not one of the pastors/elders, I'm the minister/preacher." I was so literalistic with how a word was used that I was becoming legalistic about it. I soon realized that I was pushing people away over how a word was being used in our culture, as opposed to how it was probably used in a different culture thousands of years ago. Also, in our present culture, the reality is that many ministers of congregations do indeed perform duties and engage in activities that previously were viewed as the work of shepherds (pastors, elders, bishops, presbyters), and sometimes elders are doing the work of deacons. My view now is that each of us should simply do what God has called us to do, and if those around us want to define or describe that work by some term that is relevant to our time and culture, then so be it. I don't quibble over titles these days. I simply focus on fulfilling my ministry, and let others do the same. How people choose to introduce me is of little interest to me. I was the featured speaker at a large event a few years back, and the MC asked, "What should I call you?" I replied, "Al." As for the second question, I see no problem when a name tag/badge that identifies one with respect to his/her work. This can be especially helpful in a larger gathering where many visitors may be present. I have been visiting in congregations before where I would wonder who the shepherds were, as I wanted to meet them. I had no clue. Who is the church secretary? The deacons? The preacher? When one is new to an area, or just visiting, this information can be helpful. So, I see nothing wrong with having a name tag with descriptive titles on them. I don't see this practice as a prideful parading before others (although, of course, it could be, if one's heart is wrong), but merely a way to let those know, who may not be familiar with the group, who the various servants of the church are, so that they may direct their questions or comments or requests appropriately. -- Al Maxey
From an Elder in Ottawa, Canada:
My organization calls me a pastor, and I refer to myself as an elder, as I am 75 years old and have been in the faith for almost 60 years. Regardless, if I do not approach all men and women with whom I come into contact with a foot-washing attitude of heart and mind, then any title is an empty one indeed! We are to follow the example of the Lord Jesus, and the one example that sticks out in my mind is when He knelt down and washed the feet of the disciples, a duty of the house slave. He truly emptied Himself of self. I truly believe that if we follow Jesus' example of emptying ourselves of self, and serve others as ones totally committed to walking in the "way" of Jesus, that we will be blessed in the coming New Age.
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