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by Al Maxey

Issue #726 ------- July 24, 2017
Five percent of the people think, ten percent
of the people think they think, and the other
eighty-five percent would rather die than think.

Thomas Alva Edison [1847-1931]

Thoughts for the Thoughtful
Considering Current Critical Concepts

The British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), who was the Baron of Tilton and the founder of an economic/political theory that bears his name ("Keynesian Economics"), made this insightful observation in a published article on July 15, 1933: "Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" [The New Statesman and Nation]. The basic premise that brought forth this statement is: there are many among us who have little desire to think, and who are thus content to submit to the conclusions of others. The British statesman, jurist and historian James Bryce (1838-1922) correctly noted: "To the vast majority of mankind nothing is more agreeable than to escape the need for mental exertion. To most people nothing is more troublesome than the effort of thinking" [Studies in History and Jurisprudence]. It is thus imperative that the thoughtful seek to rouse the unthinking to a state of thoughtfulness. This effort on the part of the former may be likened to an "assault of thoughts" upon the latter. The purpose is not necessarily to take the hearts and minds of others captive to our own thinking, but simply to motivate them to do their own reflection on matters of importance, rather than the mindless regurgitation of the reflections of others. The words I employ in my teaching (whether they be spoken or written) are not designed to make clones of others to my understandings, but rather to challenge others to think. When any person is content to thoughtlessly embrace the thinking of others, that person is a slave, having forfeited his/her freedom to form their own convictions based on their own reflection. Thus, like Keynes, I seek to bring a bold ("wild") "assault of thoughts on the unthinking." Over the years many people have said they enjoy my teaching, and many others have had less complimentary things to say, but my favorite response, one that trumps all others, is when someone says to me, "You made me think!" That truly is my goal. The "icing on the cake," so to speak, is when they say their studies have led them to the same understandings I have, but this latter is not really my quest. The Church of our Lord is made up of many diverse disciples, and none of us are in full agreement with the brother or sister next to us. Yet, we are fully united IN HIM, even though we all likely have vastly differing convictions on a host of matters. Thus, Paul writes, "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God" (Romans 14:22a). My calling is not to convert you, but to accept you ... and to challenge and motivate you, in love, to personal reflective consideration of eternal truths.

Like most, if not all, of you, I have come to certain conclusions and formed certain convictions as a result of years of study and reflection on the OT and NT writings (as well as a good many extra-biblical and non-canonical sources, such as the writings of the so-called "Early Church Fathers"). I try not to be dogmatic about these convictions, however, and through further study have even changed some of my views over the years of my spiritual journey. I am open to further change, as well, if my convictions are shown to be contrary to ultimate Truth. I also try to remain open to any opportunity for dialogue and discussion with those who hold differing views. With some of these brethren I have developed close relationships, and we have a love and respect for one another in spite of our differing understandings. It is truly a joy to study with such open-minded brethren. There are others who have no desire whatsoever for dialogue, and, in their view, as long as I dare to differ with them I am damned to "hopping from brick to brick in the fires of Hell" (as one legalistic preacher likes to remind me). Although I have little desire these days to engage in theological debate and mud-slinging, I do believe some of the teachings of these people need to be exposed and refuted, for they are leading precious souls away from Truth. Thus, although I will refrain from attacking the teacher, I will NOT refrain from attacking the teaching. I'll leave the man in the hands of God; troubling teachings, on the other hand, our God has called His pastors and teachers, especially, to confront, lest these teachings lead His sheep astray. In this current Reflections, I will address the teaching of several individuals who serve as ministers in my faith-heritage. I have no dislike for them personally, but I do indeed have a tremendous dislike for some of the doctrines and dogmas they are dispensing from their pulpits and papers.

The Door Into The Church

Occasionally, one finds a statement made by a noted long-time minister of the Word that borders on the shocking, for it appears so contrary to what we might perceive as obvious truth. In fairness, they might feel equally uncomfortable when reading or hearing some of the statements you or I might make. Such is the nature of being part of a large spiritual family made up of men and women from vastly different backgrounds and perspectives. Thus, it behooves us to try and avoid being reactive to such statements, and instead taking some time to examine them reflectively. For example, in the July 2017 edition [vol. 48, no. 4] of "The Spiritual Sword" (a quarterly periodical published by the Getwell Church of Christ in Memphis, TN; one that has been around for nearly half a century), the theme for this most recent issue is "A Handy Guide to the NT Church." Each article, with most being written by well-known ultra-conservative ministers within the Churches of Christ, examines some doctrine or practice related to this theme. The article written by Steve Higginbotham, who preaches for the Karns Church of Christ in Knoxville, TN, is titled "Entered by Baptism." His point is that the only entrance into the Lord's church is through baptism in water. Baptism in water is THE DOOR into the church. "If you ain't done it, you ain't in it ... period," some would proclaim to any who would listen. In the concluding sentence of his article, Steve asserts unequivocally: "By this act, one is added to the church" [p. 29]. He further declares: "The Devil will do all within his power to keep people from comprehending that baptism is the door into the church" [p. 27]. "If you were the Devil, and you wanted men to be lost, would you not do your best to pervert the biblical teaching on the doctrine of baptism? Would you not try to create confusion and convince people that it is not essential for admission into the church, the body of Christ?" [p. 26]. Indeed, in the very first sentence of his article, Higginbotham says that baptism in water is "an action, the intent of which is to unite a person with Jesus Christ" [p. 26].

What exactly is the "intent" of baptism in water? Does this "action" itself unite us with Jesus Christ? Is the ACT of being immersed in water what "admits" us into the church? "By this ACT," are we "added" to the One Body of Christ? Is baptism "the DOOR into the church"? The author also writes, "Baptism is the line of demarcation between being dead in sin and alive in Jesus (Romans 6:4). It is the gateway from the sinful world into the forgiven church (Acts 2:47)" [p. 27]. Does one's baptism in water actually accomplish these things? Are these the INTENT of baptism in water? If so, then the ACT itself becomes sacramental in nature, not just symbolic. Similar assertions are often made for the Lord's Supper (though not by those within Churches of Christ). Both claims of intent are, in my view, entirely false! The "door" of the sheep into the fold is JESUS. "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. ... I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved" (John 10:7, 9). Higginbotham cites Acts 2:47 as validation that baptism is the "gateway" into the church. Actually, that verse says no such thing! I have exposed that false teaching in one of my very first Reflections (Issue #9: "Added to the Lord"). Luke teaches in Acts that we are added to the Lord, who then numbers us together with all others who are added to or united with Him. It is IN HIM we find salvation, and that union with Him (being added to Him; placed into Him) is a spiritual "plunging into" accomplished by the Holy Spirit (by grace through faith), and completely separate from a plunging into water. This is the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12:13 ("Immersed By One Spirit" - Reflections #353; see also my book, with the same title, on this same topic: Click Here) as well as Galatians 3:27 and Romans 13:14 ("Putting On Jesus Christ" - Reflections #362). To teach that baptism in water is the point and place of entrance into Jesus, salvation and the church is about as far from biblical teaching as one can get. It elevates a mere symbol to the status of a sacrament, suggesting the intent of the act is to SAVE. That is a dangerous path to follow, in my view. I would urge some to do a bit more reflecting on this. For those interested, and willing to invest the time, I would urge a study of the 50+ Reflections I have written on baptism, which appear under that heading on my Topical Index web page.

The Letter/Spirit of Law

On March 5, 2017, in a sermon delivered to the Oceanside Church of Christ in Atlantic Beach, Florida (a message video taped and placed on YouTube for anyone to watch), the preacher for this congregation, Victor M. Eskew, reviewed a Reflections article I had written the previous November. Information on, and links to, my article and his video message may be found at the end of my article in Reflections #721. In his sermon, Victor made this statement: "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." I took up that challenge, and gave a biblical response, in Reflections #722 ("The Spirit of the Law"). A month later, Victor Eskew send me an envelop containing a cover letter and three of his church bulletin articles, each of which sought to reply to my article on the distinction between the spirit of law and the letter of law. There were eight pages in this response, single-spaced, and I have scanned this material from Victor into a single .pdf file which I will be happy to send to anyone who requests it (I can email it, if you like, but be aware that it is a large file [4.37 MB in Adobe Acrobat 7.0 format], or I can simply "snail mail" a hardcopy to those who would rather receive it in the mail). Since several have written to me wanting to know if Victor Eskew had ever bothered to respond to my above mentioned response to his sermon on YouTube, I wanted to let my readers know that he did indeed respond, and that I will make that response (in full, and unedited) available to any who might like to have it.

Clearly, the full text of his response is too lengthy to include here, nor does most of what he says in it require any further response than what I provided in some depth in my above mentioned study of "The Spirit of the Law." However, he did write a few things that continue to illustrate how deeply entrenched in legalistic patternism this man is, and how he continues to preach and teach the letter of law over the spirit of law, which I believe is entirely contrary, and even damaging, to the new covenant under which we currently live. Those who are determined to seek justification and salvation by observing commands and keeping rules and regulations (most of which are based on assumptions from what the Bible does NOT say), are making the same mistake as the rigid religionists Jesus rebuked with these words: "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; yet it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). Salvation/life is in a relationship, NOT in religious rules and regulations. Salvation/life is a free gift, it is not wages due.

Now, notice the illustration given by Mr. Eskew in the first of his three bulletin articles: "In the Bible we have been given specific instructions about the worship of the church. The church is to assemble together (Hebrew 10:25). Too, the church is to assemble on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). These two things involve 'the letter of the law.' 'The spirit of the law' is that man needs to worship God." I would certainly not argue against the view that it is our God's intent that we love, serve and worship Him, not only individually, but also as a spiritual family. I would also agree that "the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary" (Hebrews 9:1). Such rules and regulations governing worship under that covenant could indeed be characterized as "the letter of the law." However, we are told clearly in Hebrews 9:10 that these were "regulations imposed until the time of the new order." In other words, they were temporary; they would be removed. We are now under that new order; that new covenant. Our worship now is governed by love, not by law; it is the outgrowth of an intimate new spiritual relationship, not the expression of religious regulation. Mr. Eskew sees Hebrews 10:25 and Acts 20:7 as LAW. We must meet for worship corporately at some location (i.e., the church building ... and, of course, only in one that has the "correct" name on the sign out front), and it must be on Sunday. The legalistic patternists have created law where there is no law!! They demand rules to follow, for they believe that "in them they have life." The rebuke of our Lord still applies today to those who search Scripture for "church law."

So, because these two passages are perceived to be a "laying down of the letter of law" regarding place and time of assembly, does this mean one is jeopardizing their standing with God by embracing a different understanding of our Lord's intent in those passages? Notice what Victor Eskew wrote: "Let's assume that a family lives 1 1/2 hours from the church building of the local congregation where they attend. Abiding by the letter of the law is extremely difficult, time-consuming, and expensive for them. Therefore, they choose to live by the spirit of the law. They do this by staying home and worshipping for 45 minutes in their living room every Lord's Day. Is this acceptable to God?" Well, Victor goes on to declare that it is NOT acceptable to God, for the "letter of the law" makes it mandatory to go to the building on Sunday!! Frankly, this illustration presented by Mr. Eskew illustrates perfectly the problem here: laws have been assumed from selected biblical texts and then imposed upon the people of God as essential unto salvation. In so doing, they have completely missed the grace of God and our freedom in Christ, and their return to law has only accomplished a severing from Christ (which Paul boldly proclaims in Galatians). In his second bulletin article, Victor says, "Love and freedom are their key words," which he then declares to be "an extremely dangerous teaching," for "it opens the doors to almost anything and everything imaginable." The church MUST be regulated rigidly by LAW, for His children can't be trusted with freedom: they'll just go nuts and start sinning like demons!

Let me give one more illustration from Mr. Eskew (this one taken from his third bulletin article). I had asked, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, if Victor was compliant with the "letter of law" in bestowing a "holy kiss" when greeting his brethren. After all, that is commanded in the NT writings several different times. However, Victor has found a way to address this: "In Galatians 2:9 we read about the apostles extending the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and Saul following Saul's conversion. Thus, this is another method of greeting found in the Scriptures." In other words, according to Eskew, the "rule book" has given us a choice: holy kiss or holy handshake!! The "letter of the law," however, specifies the right hand; so would shaking with the left be a SIN? Hmmm! Is it also possible Victor has completely misunderstood the nature and purpose of the expression "extending the right hand of fellowship"?! He might want to do a bit more study of this!

The One True Church

On May 25, 2017 I sent out an article titled "Perplexing A Puritanical Patternist: A List of Things that Baffle Militant Legalists" (Reflections #720). This was a response to Hugh Fulford's May 16, 2017 issue of "Hugh's News & Views" in which he listed about twenty things that "baffle" him. I thought some of those were quite interesting. Hugh was less than impressed with my study, and his response is recorded at the end of my article in Reflections #721. My primary concern, and he and I have dialogued on this for a number of years, is the fact that Hugh believes (as I do) that the Lord has only ONE BODY universal, and all who are saved are in that One Body. Where Hugh and I differ is: Hugh believes that "one true church" IS the group denominated in the Yellow Pages as "Churches of Christ." Although my affiliation and association is with this branch of an historical movement, I simply won't go so far as to EQUATE this wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement with that One Body universal. For this I am regarded by many within this movement as an "apostate," a "heretic," and a "traitor to Truth."

As expected, a series of "Hugh's News & Views" have since been mailed out weekly in which his teaching that "our" church is HIS (the Lord's) church has been repeatedly reaffirmed. On June 27 he sent an article titled: "Forty Things We All Need To Know About The Church." Much of what he says about the church of Jesus is very good, but there is always that underlying, lurking, subtle "truth" that no "denomination" can ever be part of God's called out people, for the "one true church" is OUR group (the "Churches of Christ"). WE are that One Body; we alone. This was reinforced again on July 11 in his article titled "Making Sure I Am Right With God." A man in Mississippi wrote to me after reading Hugh's July 11 article, saying, "Al, I think your arguments might be getting to Bro. Fulford, as he has made some statements in his article that are difficult to defend! I don't think Hugh would be open to a discussion on these things, however!" I doubt he would be either, but at least many who are reading his writings are finally beginning to see the inconsistent nature of his teaching about "the one true church." Notice the following excerpts from that article dated July 11, 2017:

Brethren, I am really not trying to be unkind here. I was raised in this religious heritage, and I too was exposed to this thinking for many years (and even preached it for several). Such indoctrination is not easy to overcome; indeed, some never extricate themselves from its grip. This view is wrong, though; it is dangerous; it is deadly. I have no desire to hurt Hugh in any way; I'm sure he is in many ways a very good man, and I don't doubt His genuine love for the Lord. His teaching on this matter, however, is as false as it can be, and it is leading souls astray. It needs to be confronted, and people need to see the inconsistencies of such sectarian arrogance. Thankfully, that is happening, and I thank God for the opportunity to be a small part of that spiritual awakening!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Mississippi:

I love the irenic spirit of W. Carl Ketcherside, who I met many times when I was a student in St. Louis and he was running an inner-city ministry called "The Cornerstone." When he converted to grace in Ireland, he did not give up his conservative beliefs. What he gave up was his insistence that others must believe like him to be a Christian. I wish that those brethren like Hugh Fulford (as seen in your article "Perplexing A Puritanical Patternist: A List of Things that Baffle Militant Legalists" - Reflections #720) could really understand what Ketcherside meant when he wrote the following: "I want it known that I love God and I love every word in the sacred oracles. But I renounce the traditional twentieth century 'Church of Christ' factionalism as a means for achieving God's purpose in this age. I shall continue to oppose everything that I believe to be out of harmony with God's plan, but I shall not allow these things to interfere with my love or regard for any of my brothers who sincerely and conscientiously disagree with me about the implementation of that plan. In short, I shall make nothing a test of fellowship which God has not made a condition of salvation. I shall not seek to establish brotherhood by definition of a human document, nor by conformity in matters of opinion. I shall be a brother to all who have been begotten by my Father. Brotherhood based upon fatherhood, fraternity based upon paternity, this shall be my standard because it is scriptural. I will free myself from all partisan traditions, schemes and ideas which men have adopted to offset unity of the Spirit. I intend to be a free man in Christ, bound only by His Word. 'You are bought with a price, do not become slaves of men' (1 Corinthians 7:23). The unity of the Spirit is one of community, not conformity; of diversity, not uniformity. It is rooted in mutual love, not dogmatism; in freedom, not in slavery. Our peace is in a Person, not a plan or a program!" [originally published in "Mission Messenger," vol. 24, no. 2, February 1962; also published in "Our Heritage of Unity and Fellowship: The Writings of W. Carl Ketcherside & Leroy Garrett," edited by Cecil Hook, p. 125-126].

From an Elder in New Mexico:

In Mark 9:38-41 and Luke 9:49-50 Jesus tells His followers not to stop others from doing things in His name just because they're not part of "our" particular group. Galatians 5:22-23 spells out conduct that is of the Spirit. So, are we evaluating others (and they us) by observing the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, or do we check the sign out in front of their places of worship? IF we follow the guidance Jesus has given, we ought to embrace as genuine brothers and sisters ALL who evidence by the fruit of the Spirit in their daily lives that they are followers of Christ. Yet, that is not how too many of these brethren treat one another. God's children certainly do not have to always agree with one another about every jot & tittle found in the Scriptures; rather, Paul teaches an important principle in Romans 14:1 - we are to accept one another despite disagreements over our lack of understanding. GOD decides whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, not me. As individual Christians, we must stick by and live by our own understandings and convictions, even though some of these may be in error (for none of us is infallible). If God forgives, and does not hold against us, our errors in understanding and practice, how can we say He will not do the same with those who have a different sign out in front of their buildings?! Does God forgive doctrinal errors? I certainly hope so, for my own understanding is less than perfect.

From a Reader in Georgia:

One could hardly be any more encouraging with his admonitions and teachings than the apostle Paul, yet he also, on several occasions, specified by name those who were causing disruption and division among disciples by their flawed teaching. Who among us is so perfect that we don't sometimes mistake an opportunity to encourage someone with an opportunity to rebuke someone? Brother Al, I see great restraint and personal reflection in your writings when it comes to making this distinction, which is evidence of humility, in my view. Keep at it, brother!

From a Reader in Louisiana:

I can't let it go unnoticed that Jesus often "called a spade a spade." His harsh criticism of the religious "know-it-alls" of His day was the right call then, and it is the right call now, IF it is done for the sake of Truth (and the Christ, who is the Truth). And yet, Jesus died for those self-righteous guys too. So, even in our zeal for the Truth, we must still love those "in our sights" the best we can!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

I have recently been impressed by how much some believers can change spiritually, even though they have not yet been baptized in water. I have been studying with and counseling a lady with significant background issues and circumstances, yet with constant spiritual therapy I have been amazed at her transformation (due to the Holy Spirit working within her, rather than from my own efforts). This reminds me of Cornelius, upon whom the Holy Spirit fell prior to his baptism in water. I just wish more people in the Church of Christ denomination would stop idolizing baptism, and would come to realize that God is at work in the lives of people in many different situations, and that based upon their faith and repentance is already reconciling them to Himself prior to the performance of any particular religious ritual or act. May all the glory go to Him! By the way, I am at the moment doing a study on the word "head," and find it interesting that this word often means "source," and that in Jewish culture the head was not so much regarded as the seat of the intellect, but as the source of life (Matthew 14:8, 11; John 19:30; F. H. Palmer, New Bible Dictionary, p. 457).

From an Author in Arizona:

Al, my fellow pilgrim, your article "There is a Time to Speak: Striving for Balance in Ministry" (Reflections #725) is very good! I especially enjoyed this statement by you: "I like to think I've mellowed since then; I no longer find any satisfaction in theological brawling, and largely ignore the attacks of critics. Yet, I realize that if I am to be faithful to my calling as a pastor and teacher, there are times I must speak out, rather than remain silent, when Truth is being assaulted. Silence is not 'golden' in such circumstances." We both have experienced and seen the "handwriting on the wall." Mistakes and blunders cannot be reversed, as much as we would hope otherwise. On the positive side, however, our past blunders can and should enhance our future walk with the Lord. As Leroy Garrett used to say, "Soldier on, brother!"

From a Reader in Florida:

Al, I would like for you to view two passages (Philippians 1:21-26 and 3:11). In the first, Paul wants to "remain on in the flesh" for the sake of the brethren, yet he has "a desire to depart and be with Christ." In the second, there seems to be less certainty of the latter: "assuming that I will somehow" experience the resurrection from the dead. Is Paul confused here? At one point he seems very "sure" he will go to be with Christ, then later he merely "assumes" that "somehow" he will make it. What is your take on this?

From a Reader in Texas:

Dearest Bro. Al, I saw the YouTube rant given by Victor Eskew about you. I felt like throwing a brick through the screen of my computer as I saw the hatred in his facial expressions. Al, it has been through you and your teachings that I was able to find and feel the freedom in Christ for the very first time in all the years I have been going to a Church of Christ (and I am in my 90s). I had previously been filled with: "The ONLY way to heaven is by worshipping in the 'one true church' = the Church of Christ church!" I was finally taught by you that it is one's heart, one's faith, and by God's grace, that we find salvation, not by any acts we do, or by any building we go to, or any traditions we keep. How wonderful it is after all those years to now know this freedom we have in Him. I love you, brother, and can't wait to see you again, hopefully in the very near future!

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