by Al Maxey
Issue #723 -------
June 26, 2017
I am not going to Heaven because I have preached
to great crowds or read the Bible many times. I am
going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who
said in that last moment: "Lord, remember me."
William Franklin "Billy" Graham (b. 1918)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), the great Russian novelist, journalist and philosopher whose literary works often focused on human behavior in times of personal peril and social upheaval, the author of such classics as "Crime and Punishment" and "The Brothers Karamazov," made the following astute observation: "There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God." Some have suggested that one of the great biblical illustrations of this truth is witnessed in the interaction of Jesus with one of the two men being crucified with Him that day outside the city of Jerusalem at a site known in Aramaic as "Golgotha," which, translated, means: "The Place of the Skull" (Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17). In this dreary place, in just a matter of a few hours, the love, grace and mercy of both God and Jesus would be displayed in such a dramatic and dynamic manner that it would forever affect the course of human history. And it would, in particular, affect the fate of one man, a condemned criminal, who was suffering the same cruel crucifixion as Christ, although for vastly different reasons.
Although the other gospel writers (Matthew, Mark and John) mention the two condemned men executed on either side of Jesus, only Luke provides an account of the interaction between Jesus and one of those dying transgressors. It is an account that has raised a number of serious questions and concerns over the centuries; an event still debated in many theological circles some two millennia after it occurred. So, what is it about this dying encounter between Jesus and this man that is so perplexing and troubling? For many, it is the wording of the promise the Lord made to this man: "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43, KJV). The NIV words it this way: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise." Part of the confusion and debate centers around the identity and location of the place called "Paradise." Another major concern is that Jesus seems to promise this "thief on the cross" that he will be with Him that very same day ("today") in this location. Needless to say, legends abound with regard to this "flight of souls" to mysterious "intermediate realms" beyond physical death. In the apocryphal work "The Gospel of Nicodemus," there are several legends about this man, whose name is said to be "Dysmas" (others say "Titus"), one of which is that when Jesus entered Paradise that day, the thief was seen right at the side of the Lord, although in a few legends the Archangel of God, brandishing a flaming sword, tries to drive him away. I personally, after much study, believe there is much fallacious teaching with regard to both the idea of an intermediate state and the notion that both Jesus and this penitent criminal "entered Paradise" that same day. I have provided the biblical basis for my understanding in one of my early issues of Reflections: "The Promise of Jesus to the Thief on the Cross" (Issue #28a). I have also dealt extensively with this, and with other matters pertaining to the nature of man and the eternal destinies of both the righteous and the unrighteous, in my latest book: From Ruin to Resurrection.
One of the major soteriological issues arising from Luke's account of our Lord's interaction with this dying outcast of society is: Why was he extended such mercy at the very end of his life, and upon what basis was such mercy deemed justified? Was his professed repentance even genuine? After all, had he not just an hour or so earlier been hurling blasphemies against Jesus along with the other criminal, and the crowds, and the religious leaders (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32)? So what suddenly changed? Are such "deathbed" declarations of contrition and fervent pleas for mercy really sincere, or are they merely desperate, fearful cries from those suffering the inevitable consequences of a life of sin? How much weight should such "last minute conversions" be given? Although Jesus certainly seemed to be moved by this man's plea (and Jesus had the benefit of being able to see into his heart), many disciples of Jesus over the centuries have been less than convinced by this conversion. Some have even suggested that Jesus, due to His intense suffering, was "not in His right mind," and thus reacted "out of character" when confronted with this criminal's last minute change of heart and words of kindness. Surely, they reason, Jesus would not have been so easily "taken in" by any of this under normal circumstances.
The promise of Jesus to the thief on the cross is an event "to which appeal will always be made, as it has always been made, in reference to a late repentance" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16: Luke, pt. 2, p. 258]. How could one who had lived such a sinful life, and who had even heaped insults upon Jesus just hours before, undergo such a total inner transformation in a matter of mere minutes? Jesus was clearly not preaching lengthy sermons from the cross that somehow touched his heart. Indeed, Jesus said very little. Scholars have sought to explain the basis for this almost "instant conversion" in a number of ways, especially those who feel some degree of human effort (works) must be joined with God's grace to effect one's salvation. Thus, what did this thief on the cross do to contribute "his part" to the salvific process? Yes, he may have had faith; yes, he may have repented; yes, he may have confessed his conviction; but, what "work" did he perform? This perspective finds its ultimate expression of concern from those who take a sacramental view of the act of baptism in water. "The thief on the cross wasn't baptized, so how could he have been saved"? Those who are not rigid baptismal sacramentalists or regenerationists, but who still believe that one must perform some visible work, will insist the thief did just that when he confronted the other criminal and rebuked him for his lack of belief and for his continued blasphemies. In this action he thereby "combined faith and works," and the result was salvation. Had he merely had genuine faith, even though that faith was verbalized, it would have been insufficient unto salvation without some "work." For the sacramentalists, that "work" is perceived to be, primarily (if not exclusively), baptism in water. For the non-sacramentalists, any other "work" would suffice (which the confrontation with the other criminal was perceived to be). In the absence of any such "work," the fitness of this person for Heaven is questioned; yet, what does one do with the promise of Jesus to this man?!
The above dilemma was "resolved" in the early centuries of the church by a man named Vincentius Victor, whose views were attacked very forcefully by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) in his anti-Pelagian writings. Victor, for example, taught that unbaptized infants who died "can attain to the forgiveness of their original sins, yet not so as to be admitted into the kingdom of heaven. Just as in the case of the thief on the cross, who confessed but was not baptized, the Lord did not give him the kingdom of heaven, but paradise" [from Augustine's Letter Addressed to the Presbyter Peter (chapter 14) on the writings of Vincentius Victor]. Victor believed that both Paradise and the many "mansions" (rooms) in the Father's house were separate from Heaven itself, and that the "unbaptized forgiven" would reside in the former, while the "baptized forgiven" would abide in Heaven itself. Thus, the thief could go "to Paradise" unbaptized, but he would never go to Heaven in that state. Problem solved, right?! St. Augustine wasn't buying it! Another important Early Church Father, St. John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.), the Archbishop of Constantinople, wrote the following: "Let us see whether the brigand gave evidence of effort and upright deeds and a good yield. Far from his being able to claim even this, he made his way into paradise before the apostles with a mere word, on the basis of faith alone, the intention being for you to learn that it was not so much a case of his sound values prevailing, as the Lord's loving-kindness being completely responsible. What, in fact, did the brigand say? What did he do? Did he fast? Did he weep? Did he tear his garments? Did he display repentance in good time? Not at all; on the cross itself after his utterance he won salvation. Note the rapidity: from cross to heaven, from condemnation to salvation. What were those wonderful words, then? What great power did they have that they brought him such marvelous good things? 'Remember me in Your kingdom.' What sort of word is that? He asked to receive good things, he showed no concern for them in action; but the One who knew his heart paid attention not to the words, but to the attitude of mind."
Still others will insist (and this is the standard explanation we have all probably heard) that since both Christ and the criminal died under the old covenant, "baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21) was not yet "church LAW." Thus, Jesus could legally save this man apart from immersion in water. This satisfies many, but some still struggle with the thief being "penitent, but unplunged." Surely, there must be some alternate explanation that would address this, they reason! If so, what could it be? A brother-in-Christ from California, as well as a reader of my Reflections for many years, wrote to me the following thoughts earlier this month: "Bro. Al, I was reading one of the interminable debates about baptism and its role, and the topic of the thief on the cross came up. I don't know if you've addressed this directly, but I have a theory that I'd like to run by you. The conventional belief is that the thief came to a belief in Christ on the cross and was saved by Jesus' decree, hence removing any need for baptism. Something that seems more logical to me, however, is that what Luke is recounting to us is not a conversion, but rather a restoration! Here is my evidence: The thief was obviously aware of who Jesus was. He declared Jesus to be innocent. He also had an understanding of the teachings of Jesus and John that the 'kingdom of heaven was at hand.' The nature of the thief's request suggests a working knowledge of the teachings of both John and Jesus. My theory is: This thief was a 'backslidden' disciple of John the Baptist, one who had most likely, therefore, submitted to John's baptism. He came back to repentance on the cross, and Jesus restored him. To me, this makes much more sense than someone with little or no knowledge of Christ suddenly 'getting religion.' This is such a beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness, yet it is lost in the whole 'did he need to be baptized?' discussion. In this account by Luke we find the personification of the heart God is looking for: A man or woman who simply says, 'Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.'"
This reader makes some very good points. We know absolutely nothing about the previous life of this person (except for what little we can infer from the accusations made against him for which he was being executed). His statements to Jesus, however, do indeed seem to reflect some prior knowledge of spiritual truths. He could very well, therefore, have listened to John on occasion, or even to Jesus; he may very well have been baptized by the former, or even by one of the disciples of Jesus (they too were performing baptisms). It is possible he had fallen away, or back into former bad habits. If these assumptions are true, then the event recorded by Luke would indeed tend to be more a restoration than a conversion. This would certainly satisfy those who just can't get past the sacramental nature of "water washings," regardless of the covenant under which they may occur. In the pseudepigraphal "Infancy Gospel of Thomas," and also in the apocryphal work "The Gospel of Nicodemus," the legend is recounted that this criminal dying next to Jesus "had once before looked on the face of the Christ. He had been one of a band of robbers that attacked the holy travelers in their flight from Bethlehem, and had then pleaded for their lives. The Virgin Mother had blessed him. The child Christ had foretold his suffering and his repentance. Now, as he gazed on the face of the divine Sufferer, he recognized the features of the infant Jesus" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 357]. Although this version of prior knowledge is a bit fanciful, there is certainly nothing fanciful in the view that the thief may have had some level of prior knowledge, and may even have acted upon that knowledge in some way, which would certainly make this event on the cross less troubling for some.
The theory proffered above by the reader from California is not new; others have suggested the same for many years. Wayne Jackson, for example, an ultra-conservative writer within the Churches of Christ, who for many years published "The Christian Courier," taught the same view in an article titled: "What About the Thief on the Cross?" In this article he wrote, "The penitent thief had a good deal of information concerning Christ; exactly when he learned these facts is not specified. ... It is not impossible that he had been exposed significantly to information about Jesus earlier in his life, had been impressed by it, and, later, had regressed into a life of crime. ... It does seem improbable that this man could have accumulated this much theological information, with such clear implications, and under such excruciating conditions, in such a short period of time. It is entirely feasible, then, that this criminal had absorbed some earlier teaching concerning the Master. Consider this scenario: Is it not possible that this man could have been a disciple of John the Baptist, or of the Lord Himself, or of one of Christ's disciples as they went forth teaching during the preceding years? If such were the case, the man might well have been immersed for the forgiveness of his sins on some past occasion (Mark 1:4-5; John 4:1-2). I am not suggesting that this proposition can be proved; I am simply saying that no one can make the dogmatic statement: 'The thief had never been baptized.' That is an unknown factor. He might well have been an 'erring child of God' at this point." IF this is the case, then yes: this account is one of a restoration rather than a conversion.
There have always been some, however, who will try everything they can to work baptism into this account (any kind of baptism), even if they have to make it figurative rather than literal; even if they have to make it John's rather than Christ's. St. John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.), already referenced above, acknowledged that the thief had performed no actual "work" that was meritorious in nature, but that he was essentially saved by grace through faith. However, even he could not resist implying (though not specifically stating) that this thief probably experienced a type of baptism. In his "Baptismal Instructions," this Early Church Father wrote, "Did you see how baptism is a cross? Learn that even Christ called baptism the cross when He used the name of baptism interchangeably with that of the cross. He called your baptism a cross. 'I call My baptism a cross,' He says. Where does He say this? 'I have a baptism to be baptized with, of which you do not know.' And how is it clear that He is speaking of the cross? The sons of Zebedee came up to Him - rather, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, saying, 'Command that these my two sons may sit, one at Thy right and the other at Thy left hand, in Thy kingdom.' A mother's request, even if it was an inconsiderate one! How then did Christ answer? 'Can you drink of the cup of which I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?' You see that He called the cross a baptism." If the cross is a baptism, he reasoned, then the thief was indeed "baptized."
Brethren, I have to agree with my friend from California: We have indeed taken "a beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness," and we have buried it under centuries of theological and soteriological wrangling over how Jesus could extend grace, love and mercy to a man professing faith, when there is no visible evidence (to our eyes) of some validating meritorious "work" or baptism (whether literal or figurative; whether sacramental or ceremonial). Why can't we just accept the beauty of a manifestation of God's grace to a sinner in whose heart resides genuine faith and penitence?! While we too often focus on one's outward response (works), our Lord's focus is on one's inward response (faith), and it is always on the latter that one's justification and salvation rests. Lord lift us from law and help us learn to love! Only then will we truly see the beauty of what occurred at Golgotha!
A Great Loss -- The people of God throughout the world lost a great man on June 12 when Jay Guin passed from this life. He was an attorney in Alabama, an elder in the Churches of Christ, and a fabulous writer and thinker. He was also a strong supporter of grace and freedom in Christ. I was blessed to know him, and to correspond with him for a number of years, although I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. He was always an encouragement to me in his support of my Reflections ministry, and he even listed me on his own web site "One In Jesus" under the tab "Progressive Church of Christ Blogs." Jay will be greatly missed, for he touched many, many lives all around the world with his bold teaching on the grace of God and our freedom in Christ Jesus. Only eternity will truly reveal all those whose lives were blessed by his life, example and teaching. May God comfort his family with the assurance that we will see Jay again one day in a much better place!
From a Reader in Ohio:
Al, some of the legalists in our congregation are now teaching that Jesus did not observe the actual Passover meal just prior to His crucifixion, and that Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 13 only describe a "common meal," rather than the Passover feast. When I questioned them on this view, I was treated with less than a Christian attitude! I'm learning when it comes to dealing with legalists. As you know only too well, questioning anything they believe, or presenting a view outside the party lines, is never taken kindly! I'd love to see your in-depth review of this topic. My apologies if you've covered this elsewhere and I've missed it.
Learning to deal with legalism, and those who embrace it and seek to impose it upon others, is a lifelong process. About the time one decides he has this religious aberration "figured out," it will twist and turn in a dozen new directions. It is a constantly writhing beast that one will likely never completely comprehend, and will most certainly never fully tame. Most legalists tend to pick and choose their "issues," and thus legalistic focus is frequently in some degree of flux depending on the faction practicing and promoting it. One of those big "issues," certainly, is the nature of the event at which Jesus instituted what has come to be known as "the Lord's Supper." Was this a true Passover meal, or was it something different? Most legalistic patternists have a very difficult time accepting it as the former, for it tends to raise a number of questions pertaining to how strictly one must follow the "rules and regulations" of religious ritual. I dealt with this topic, and specifically this event, in one of my earlier articles (back in August 2004): "Otherwise Than Prescribed: Did Jesus Violate the Passover Pattern?" (Reflections #138). -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Brother Al, when people in our brotherhood "write you up," how do you decide when or if to respond? I just got "written up" again (about the third time now by this same guy) in the publication "Seek the Old Paths." It is in the June, 2017 issue: the article is titled "Inspiration & Inerrancy According to Andy Walker" by Garland Robinson.
I get "written up" quite a lot, and have even been the focus of this particular publication as well, although they haven't bothered with me much in recent years. In the May, 2002 issue, an article by Kent Bailey appeared titled: "A Review and Response to Al Maxey's 'Restoring the First Century Church'" (Click Here to read). This was about seven months before I began my Reflections ministry, and my article being reviewed was one I had written for (and which had just appeared in a recent issue of): "Grace Centered Magazine." These days I don't bother to respond in public to the vast majority of those who take a shot at me. However, if their "write up" has something within it that cries out for further study from God's Word, and which may be used as a teaching opportunity, I will often make a public (published) response of some kind so that others might gain some spiritual benefit or insight from it. For example: when Victor Eskew made his now infamous YouTube rant, I didn't bother to respond to the bulk of the bunk contained therein. It was the usual "Maxey's a heretic ... Maxey's going to hell ... Maxey's thrown out the Bible ... Maxey mocks true believers," and the like, which we've all heard time and again. However, when he stated emphatically for all the world to hear: "There is not a person on the face of this earth who can give me a clear definition of what it means to live by the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law!" ... Well, this was an opportunity that I could not pass up. Here was a chance to expose the spiritual blindness so much a part of legalistic thinking, and to share with people the beauty and power of God's grace as depicted in "the spirit of law" (as opposed to "the letter of law"). When one can accomplish the latter by making a response to the legalists and critics, then I believe such responses can be beneficial to the cause of Christ Jesus. -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Arkansas:
"The Spirit of the Law: Accepting a Legalist's Challenge" (Reflections #722) is an excellent article, Al. The man you mentioned in that article, Victor Eskew, was the preacher at my home congregation for a few years. He's a really personable guy and very energetic, which also makes his rhetoric very dangerous. He has never been ungracious to me, but he does have a snarky spirit about him that I can't stomach well. Anyway, your article was excellent. I shared it with our intern here, and I told him it would be a great read to help him understand Galatians better. Thanks, brother!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Great article, brother, but don't hold your breath waiting for Victor Eskew to change his heart any time soon. Like other legalists, they revel in their ability to "put liberals in their place" with their version of Scripture (instead of God's version of Scripture).
From a Reader in California:
With regard to Victor Eskew, it is hard to believe that a person who fancies himself to be a preacher (thus, one would think, a person with at least some degree of competence as a student of Scripture) could be so inept at understanding such a basic biblical concept as "the spirit of the law" versus "the letter of the law." Your response to him was excellent.
From an Elder in New Mexico:
Thank you, my dear brother in Christ, for this most excellent essay ("The Spirit of the Law"). I think it may well be your very best!!
From a Reader in Ohio:
I felt the need to send this article ("The Spirit of the Law") to a legalistic patternist brother about two hours ago: a man about whom you and I have spoken before. I look forward to hearing his response to your article.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Your article ("The Spirit of the Law") was well-written, and much more kind toward this legalist than I might have been! I couldn't help but think of how "the letter of law" can easily cause blindness to the intent ("spirit") of law, as you so well described. I believe that Jesus referred to these types of folk, who considered themselves spiritual leaders, as "blind guides." If only they, and those who listen to them, could develop "eyes to see." In regard to Jay Guin, who has just passed, I think I took the time to tell him once how much I appreciated his blog, and even though I disagreed with him on a few issues, he was always reluctant to throw rocks, and offered his defense in a well-mannered way. I was glad I took the time to tell him. I hope I have told you enough times for you to remember how much I cherish our friendship, and how much I've been challenged and instructed by your writings. You are a blessing to many, but no less to me! I love you, brother!!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
The congregation of the Church of Christ I grew up in appears to be very similar to the Oceanside Church of Christ in Atlantic Beach, FL where Victor Eskew preaches. After spending 20+ years in a similar church, I can say the motivation in the church I grew up in was fear: a deathly fear of doing the wrong thing. Grace was rarely taught, but how to get to Hell was very common. We had to "check the boxes" (according to law). This congregation stopped supporting Abilene Christian University, and also seven of eight mission works with which they had been involved, because of various "ungodliness" found in each! Fear is a hard thing to fight against. However, some personalities just seem to need that kind of religious structure. GRACE was/is a concept that "confuses" the fearful, and also makes "a mess" of the "order" that has been created by fear. GRACE, however, is a burden-lifter that allows for "mess ups" in our lives and frees us from having to "check legal boxes" like they had to do in OT times. Taking things out of context has become an "art" with these people, or at least it surely appears that way. When one loves, one fulfills "the rules."
From a Reader in California:
Dear Bro. Maxey, You don't know me, and this is the first I have heard of you. I live in -----, California and am a "friend wannabe" of Bro. Patrick Mead (hint, hint). I've read the article you wrote ("Regulating the Redeemed" - Reflections #708) and have listened to Victor Eskew's lesson on YouTube. It sounds like to me that he didn't actually read the article you wrote, but just picked out phrases here and there out of context and then twisted the meaning you clearly intended in the article. I was in one of those legalistic congregations for a while and found that no matter what I did I seemed to end up breaking one of their "rules." I'll take the Law of Liberty over all the "Law of 'do this' & 'don't do that'" any time! Please keep up the good work, Bro. Maxey!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Look at it this way, Al: if Victor Eskew is talking about you, then he's got a pretty interesting topic!! (LOL) Seriously, I know you are a dedicated minister, elder, counselor, author, husband, father, grandfather and friend. I know you served your country in combat, serve your community and state, and most importantly serve your God. Those who truly know you, know this!! This fellow has an unhealthy attitude about God and about others. Let us pray that he will turn to God!
From a Reader in Ohio:
I'm sickened by what Victor Eskew did, but not really surprised. I'm both sorry and sad that this kind of thing is still so prevalent. Jesus prayed for us to become ONE in Him, not in Law. Where is their faith? - in what Jesus did, or in themselves and what they do? I wish you were given a chance to sit down and actually talk to this person. In fact, since he seeks to live under law, isn't that one of the "rules"?! If you have something against someone, go to them. So, why didn't he do it?! Is he breaking law?
From a Reader in Kansas:
I watched Eskew's video with the sound off. The non-verbal message says it all.
From a Reader in Kentucky:
Really?!!, Mr. Eskew: We can't understand the spirit of the law?! It's ambiguous?! (a word he couldn't even pronounce). Why did the Holy Spirit have Paul put this in his epistles if "no person on the face of the earth" can explain it or live by it?! Deism again! God wrote a book and left us all here by ourselves to figure it out without the Spirit's help? I say all this with tears!!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Satan is alive and well today, and I think you are making him very angry, Al, which is why he is using every means possible to attack you. That man (Victor Eskew) needs prayers!! He called you a "false teacher" on YouTube and in a sermon before his congregation. Yet, didn't Jesus Christ command: judge not, lest you be judged?! Would this man consider that a "law" to be obeyed?
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Wow!! How condescending and judgmental Eskew is!! I have known you for years; have heard hundreds of your classes and sermons in person. This guy has no idea what the meaning of your writings is; he just jumps out there and judges. "Old school" fire and brimstone!
From a Reader in Ohio:
Victor Eskew has clearly missed God's grace and incomprehensible love. I lived many years like this, but when the Holy Spirit opened my eyes and I started living and sharing God's grace, it caused me to love and serve Him and others more. This man is a work in progress and can be covered by the very grace he preaches against; the same Holy Spirit who opened my eyes can open this preacher's eyes also. Prayer! Prayer!!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
I just listened to the YouTube sermon by Victor Eskew, who was preaching against you. You are right: it is terribly sad! It literally turns my stomach. I think the best thing to do is to pray for him and for the congregation which probably hears that type of lesson on a weekly basis!
From a Minister in Wyoming:
Al, I just listened to Victor Eskew's sermon. Well, that was a waste of my time!! Keep up the good work, Al.
From a Reader in Colorado:
My husband said he couldn't decide whether to think of Victor Eskew as a Pharisee or Jerry Springer!! My thoughts exactly. I'm just so grateful that someone came along (named Al Maxey) and helped open my eyes to the Truth, as best we can understand it. Before, I felt that I could never, ever be good enough to be saved, no matter how hard I tried to be obedient. I couldn't do it. Now, I know it is not about me; Jesus paid my debt in full. I'm free to love and serve Him without fear! Praise God!
From a Minister/Author in Tennessee:
Al, what you wrote in your article, the one Victor Eskew "reviewed," was seasoned with grace. It shines all the more when placed beside the bile coming from this fellow! I love and support you, Al.
From a Minister in North Carolina:
Light always shines the brightest in the presence of such darkness. Standing in contrast to Eskew's words, your words are shining brightest!
From an Author in California:
When people would attack me for my writings, I'd be kind of flattered. After all, "When you spray poison on cockroaches, it's rewarding to see one of them run around in goofy circles"!!
From a Minister's Wife in New Mexico:
Some people miss the joy and blessing of Jesus because they are too busy following rules. They don't know life. They don't understand the magnificence of God. They aren't glowing with Christ's glorious grace. So sad. Keep on writing, Al. The Lord is using you!
From a Reader in Missouri:
I could only watch a few minutes of Victor Eskew's video sermon without getting physically ill. It brings back such horrid memories of this toxic nature. Why would anyone searching for Christ find this in any way appealing? The only ones who do are the ones who have been exposed to this way of thinking for so long that they feel they deserve it. Churches with preaching like this do not really grow. They just transfer members of this cultish way of thinking from one church to another in their system. That's why they are dying out. My anger quickly turns to sorrow for this man, however, and for all who have to listen to his flawed understanding of Scripture. I'm sorry this happened to you, Al. But, it just shows that you are making a difference in the world, a difference the legalists cannot stand!!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, I am so glad that I grew up under your tutelage in the church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and not under the tutelage of the patternists. Eskew is actually a very popular speaker in McNairy county here in Tennessee. He returns to the same tiny church every year for their gospel meeting. Our church kind of "retaliates" by inviting trailblazers that have contemporary messages which lift JESUS up so that we can draw all people to HIM. Of course, we do this all year long, as well, rather than just once a year. Come speak here sometime, Al. We can play a game of chess like we used to, and Shelly can make some of her wonderful desserts!!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, I don't see any need to directly respond to this guy. Rather, keep teaching Truth and casting your bread upon the waters so that those who hunger and thirst spiritually will be fed. You are already on his radar, and he's going to read and dissect all you say anyway. Rather than "throwing your pearls before" those who are already attacking you, just keep feeding the hungry!
From a Reader in Utah:
How arrogantly sad! The sacrificial Lamb was given to forgive our sins. Our love of Jesus moves us to obedience, not a set of rules we have to get exactly right or else the rug will be pulled out from under us and "poof" we are "not saved"! I'm not sure these legalistic Pharisees understand what it truly means to be freed from bondage! Many of these "preachers" like to twist, turn and belittle, taking things out of context, to suit their inflated egos! You have been a Godsend to many of us who have left that environment, and who choose to open our eyes, dig in deeply, and really study God's Word! God's GRACE is an amazing thing! They should try it. Keep up the good work, Al ... and remember: this guy has given you LOTS of material for future Reflections!! You are in our prayers, my friend!!
From a Reader in Singapore:
These legalistic preachers today, like Eskew and Fulford, would have persecuted Jesus Himself for violating Sabbath traditions, and attending synagogue services ("unauthorized"), and drinking from cups in the Passover meal ("unauthorized"). They wouldn't recognize Jesus if He showed up in their midst today! I feel sorry for their congregations!!
My sermon yesterday morning (June 25) was titled "Jesus and the Synagogue." I examined the origin and history of the synagogue system, how it was embraced by both Jesus and Paul (they went to the synagogue "as was their custom"), how it served as a model for the development of the church system we know today in many ways, and how it was never mentioned in the OT writings! God never commanded it, and there is not a single example of its use in the OT Scriptures. Thus, why did Jesus and Paul embrace an "unauthorized human innovation"? Digressives!! Apostates!! Jesus did the same with the four cups of wine in the Passover (they also were never commanded by God, and there is also not a single mention of them in the OT Scriptures: the "law of silence," right?!!). Jesus embraced them; He even used one of the cups to represent His blood of the new covenant. Thus, our church system and our Communion service, two of the things we fight about endlessly (with respect to "the pattern") were actually based on "unauthorized human innovations." Hmmm!!! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alberta, Canada:
Victor Eskew's type of teaching has turned so many people away from religion, and in so doing away from Jesus Christ. How does he reconcile the teaching of "...not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts" (which is mentioned several times throughout both the OT and NT writings)?!
From a Reader in Scotland:
It has been such a shock to me over the years to discover many Church of Christ preachers with hate in their hearts! I've watched a number of YouTube clips of preachers trying to destroy your character and ministry, Al, and none of them have any love in their hearts. It makes me feel very sad and very stupid that I was deluded by many of them for a whole lot of years!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
I want to send you a note of appreciation, thanking you for your latest Reflections ("The Spirit of the Law"). Thank you also for your inclusion of my comments in the readers' section. It is a battle here in New Zealand amongst Churches of Christ who have been indoctrinated by the teachings that have sadly come from some in America. The old "Restoration" concept is alive and prevalent in many cases, but thankfully some are now "seeing the light"! I am preaching in Napier this weekend, a city on the East Coast of the North Island. Please pray for the success of this trip as I spend time with the brethren there. Like many congregations in New Zealand, there is a desperate need for strong leadership. God bless you, Al.
From a Reader in Halifax, Nova Scotia:
Brother Al, in Reflections #721 Hugh Fulford said, "Al, I do not consider you a Bible scholar." Well, I happen to have an opinion on that!! I love and respect you, Al, and am proud to be mentored by you. I am enlightened and enriched with your every article. I regard Edward Fudge, for his materials on Heaven and Hell, and Olan Hicks, for his materials on MDR, as brothers who possess wisdom far beyond that of most of our church leaders. These two men I would characterize as "scholars" in these respective fields. Both men have changed the way many in the world now view these topics. Both men have also written Forewords to books you have written on these same topics, endorsing your work! Most of my life in the Churches of Christ I have only met men who would parrot what others had preached (the so-called "accepted CofC doctrine"). I, like these two men, had done my own study and come to the same convictions, and like them I too was opposed by the established church leaders for even daring to think on my own! What impressed me about these two men, as I studied their materials, is that they were willing to search for and proclaim Truth, not just promote accepted Church of Christ tradition and dogma ... AND, they stood strong in the face of harsh criticism!
Well, I was never more surprised (pleasantly) when I first came across you and your work, Al. Never had I ever come across someone who did more research, from more sources (both biblical and secular), than you do! In every article you give full and fair consideration to closely held beliefs, yet you are always able to shed new light, revealing neglected truths, on these matters: insights that others have missed. And yet you do so with love and respect for these who are unenlightened. You weed out the falsehoods in a field filled with weeds and thistles (the legalists and patternists, who refuse to THINK), and challenge the neglected plants to grow and mature. Only a true biblical scholar could/would do what you are doing! And the hatred often poured out upon you by these legalists only serves to affirm you and your work. This is the methodology of the unlearned: condemn and call names; belittle and berate. Al, you most certainly are a biblical scholar; as learned as any I have ever read, and, frankly, more so than most! Please don't ever give up writing and sending out your Reflections (and your recorded Bible classes, etc.). They refresh and challenge me every time I receive them! Brother, I admire you for your study, your bravery in the face of opposition, and your kind and gracious stand for Truth when your haters treat you so miserably. All my love to you, brother!!
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