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by Al Maxey

Issue #736 ------- November 27, 2017
Old religious factions are volcanoes burnt out.
Edmund Burke [1729-1797]

Anti-Social Social Media
Fratricidal Factionalism on Facebook

One of our great American statesmen and a distinguished Founding Father of this nation, James Madison (1751-1836), who also served as our fourth US President, made the following astute observation: "By a 'faction,' understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens. ... The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment of different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good" [The Federalist, #10].

The Federalist Papers, as they came to be known in the 20th century, were a collection of 85 articles and essays written under the pseudonym "Publius" by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in 1787-1788 for the purpose of promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution. These writings are among the most important documents penned in the early years of our nation's history, and they deal with some of the most important issues the people would face, as well as a number of deadly threats. In paper #10, James Madison boldly and bluntly tackles one of these threats, for if not identified and dealt with decisively it could rather quickly undermine a people's unity and harmony. That deadly threat was factionalism, and it is just as destructive today as it was then.

Madison is correct, I believe, in stating that the factional spirit lies latent within the nature of man. We all have that tendency, although not all have chosen to submit to its leading in our lives. One's passions may be subdued, if need be, or they may be refocused upon a more profitable pursuit. There is nothing wrong with being passionate; indeed, we could only wish more people were! But when our passions are self-centered, rather than God-centered or man-centered, then such self-serving, strong desires can quickly consume us and inflict untold harm upon others. Those whose passions are misdirected will generally, in time, begin to sow the seeds of division, which soon results in various schisms, sects, parties, and factions. Unity is cast aside in favor of uniformity, and when some choose not to submit to party patterns and precepts, then the factionists will almost always become "disposed to vex and oppress" others, rather than humbly working together for the "common good." Over the years of my public ministry I have spent considerable time and energy in exposing and opposing the spirit of factionalism that far too frequently raises its ugly head among the people of God. That such a godless spirit exists in the world about us is no surprise. What is both surprising and shocking is that it exists, and even seems to prosper, within the church. I have devoted a number of my Reflections to combating this cursed condition, of which the following are a select few:

There are many other studies I've done, and Reflections I have written, that could be listed above, but these few are representative of my focus over the years: to do all I can to break down the walls of exclusion erected by factions and factionists within the One Body of Christ Jesus. The systematic dismembering of this universal Body by determined, deluded disciples is truly disheartening. Yet, we must not despair in the face of such misguided passion. Quite the contrary: we must be all the more determined and devoted to promoting peace, harmony and unity within His Family. God has provided us not only with an abundance of opportunities, if we will just take advantage of them, but He has also provided the very means and the methods whereby we may counter those who passionately seek to wreak havoc upon the One Body. One of those means is social media. Satan and his minions are quite skilled at employing this medium to carry out their nefarious schemes. Devoted disciples of Christ must be equally adept at using this same medium, not only to counter their assaults, but also to convey the good news of God's grace and love, and of our resultant freedom in Christ Jesus. Much good can come from a responsible use of the internet in its various forms, and we are remiss if we fail to take advantage of this opportunity. On the other hand, by the very nature of this medium, it can be a venue for the spreading of great evil. Social media itself is not anti-social, it is merely a tool; many who utilize it, however, are anti-social and anti-God, just as many who use it are very much socially and spiritually responsible, seeking to promote His will, not their own. I discussed this dual focus and usage of social media (specifically: an incident on Facebook) several years ago in Reflections #534 ("Factional Face-off on Facebook: Social Networking - Sectarian Nitpicking").

One of the interesting aspects of social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo Groups, etc.) is that it provides not only an almost instant connection with just about anyone anywhere (immediate global access), but it also affords both anonymity and degrees of separation whereby some may express feelings and employ language that they might not otherwise display or use when in the physical presence of those to whom, or about whom, they're writing. As a result, some of the harshest and cruelest things have been said about others via this medium: slanderous statements that are forever preserved in the vast universe of the internet for virtually anyone to read. Lives have been destroyed, careers ruined, reputations tarnished in an instant, and with little accountability. Yes, the internet can not only be a wondrous tool for sharing God's grace and uplifting one another, but it can also be a deadly weapon in the hands of those who have less than godly motives. And because the internet is largely unregulated, its users are thus largely unrestrained, which can be enormously problematic.

Let me illustrate. Again, I'll use an example from Facebook. On November 13 at 6:47 a.m. a question was posed by Dr. Brad Harrub on his Facebook page. It was a great question, and Dr. Harrub also offered some comment and insight that challenged his many Facebook friends to do some thinking. This is something I have also done on my own Facebook page, as well as through my writings, and it can be very beneficial. He asked, "According to Scripture, which of the following reasons would permit a person to divorce and remarry?" He then listed about 20 reasons many give for terminating a covenant of marriage. Some of those listed were: "A spouse who ... makes your life miserable ... leaves the church ... constantly nags or complains ... is lazy and refuses to work ... becomes paralyzed from the neck down ... refuses to show intimacy ... abuses your children" ... etc. Clearly, some of the situations and circumstances, as well as attitudes and actions, move us into "gray areas" where not all well-meaning disciples of Christ will agree on what action(s) should or should not be taken. Dr. Harrub correctly notes that "Marriage is a covenant before God (Malachi 2:14) and is not to be entered into lightly." He also stated, "According to Scripture, NONE of those reasons would allow a married person to divorce and REMARRY" (note: the upper case emphasis was by Dr. Harrub). Based on my own study of God's Word on this subject (and I have written a book on it, as well as had several published debates on this topic), I would have to disagree with Dr. Harrub on this. However, I would never suggest that he is a godless apostate and worthy of eternal condemnation because of our differing understandings.

As you might imagine, Dr. Harrub's post to his Facebook page generated a great deal of discussion. Some of the comments were very well reasoned, some were not; some were benevolent, some were belligerent. A few were just downright ugly! The topic of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (often shortened to MDR) is one that tends to bring out intense emotional responses from people, for it impacts each of us in one way or another. It can also be a topic that challenges us to lay aside our preconceptions and examine anew the entirety of God's Word to determine if our views are consistent with revealed Truth. There are several Greek and Hebrew words and phrases, for example, that really need to be studied in far more depth than many have done. Such studies have the potential of altering our perceptions and practices, and for this reason some have avoided them lest they be challenged to change their previous convictions. Such persons can quickly become extremely defensive when faced with reasonable challenges to their views, and they may even respond with fierce attacks upon any who dare to differ with them. It is here that we witness the type of ugliness and vindictiveness that too often characterizes exchanges on the internet.

As the discussion generated by Dr. Harrub's question and comments developed, several people posed questions of their own (which generated even more discussion) and urged additional study on certain aspects of the topic at hand. One such comment came from a dear friend of mine, Gerry Parker, who is a minister in Wyoming (and with whom I have shared some quality face-to-face time over the years at The Tulsa Workshop). Gerry posted the following to Dr. Harrub's page: "I suggest a study of the word PORNEIA. You may come to a different conclusion. I also recommend books by Al Maxey, Olan Hicks, Rubel Shelly and John Edwards. They offer a different perspective. I also suggest McGarvey's commentary on Matthew, and Gus Nichols." This would seem to be a rather harmless suggestion; nothing really inflammatory here, right? Take a look at the Greek word "porneia" ... examine what several have to say about this. Gerry acknowledges that there are a number of differing views of the significance of this word, and that the reader, after doing his/her own study, "may come to a different conclusion." Yet, his post brought forth the following response from a minister named Daniel Freeman: "Gerry, every last one of the names you mentioned in your comment are well-known apostates and false teachers throughout the brotherhood of the churches of Christ. They all have been marked as false teachers by every congregation in the Lord's church that upholds the truth." In subsequent posts, Mr. Freeman continued to share his negative views, writing, "Brethren, there are false teachers that don't have a second thought about denying what the Lord Jesus taught. They will lie at the drop of the hat. Why? Because they don't love God, they don't love you either, and they don't love truth. ... Anyone that calls themselves a minister for Christ and is persuaded by the teachings of Al Maxey, Olan Hicks, Rubel Shelly, and John Edwards is not a reliable source of information or of truth."

I chose not to engage Mr. Freeman with respect to his remarks, and thus I made no comment to him on Dr. Harrub's Facebook page, nor did I try to contact him via any other method. I hear charges like this against me (and against others) all the time, so it is nothing new or even unusual. However, a flurry of posts by others ensued: some agreed with Mr. Freeman, others sought to defend the men listed by him as wicked "apostates" and "false teachers." It soon became clear that the original intent of Dr. Harrub's original post had been lost, and it was becoming instead an ugly display of godless, partisan rhetoric. To the credit of Dr. Harrub, he removed the entire thread of posts, including his original question and comments, from his Facebook page. I have had to do the same on occasion (as many of you probably have as well) when a seemingly innocent post took a severe departure from its original intent, becoming instead a factional, fratricidal free-for-all. The dictionary defines a "free-for-all" as "a disorganized or unrestricted situation or event in which everyone may take part, especially a fight or discussion; a fight or dispute open to all comers and usually with no rules; a brawl." Such is not uncommon in social media, yet sadly it far too frequently occurs at the hands of those claiming to be disciples of Christ.

Jesus informed us that His disciples would be easily known "by their LOVE" (John 13:35). I just have to wonder: when others throughout the world witness such displays of defamation, do they see the beauty of Jesus shining through such attitudes and actions? Do they see LOVE on display? Brethren, may each of us (myself included) seek to be more loving and gracious toward one another, especially in those areas where we may have differing understandings and practices. I am not your judge; you are not mine! We are all imperfect, flawed children, and we are all loved by a Father who is gracious and accepting of us (warts and all). Dear God, help us to be more like You in our interactions with one another!


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Maine:

Al, you have done some wonderful studies on hymns and their composers. Alas, though you have a terrific index that is most helpful for other topics, a section on hymns does not seem to be included. Might it be possible to persuade your indexer to create this addition? As I recall, there might be a dozen or more issues of your Reflections devoted to hymn writers and/or composers. Thanks so much for your consideration of this request. Please keep on keeping on! Blessings!!

From a Reader in the Netherlands:

Beloved Brother Al, a few months ago I wrote to you regarding your book "Down, But Not Out." Today I finally decided to go collect it from a local Christian bookstore in Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands, which is most definitely quite some distance from your whereabouts! At the back of your book I noticed that it mentions you have been a pastor and counselor for over 40 years now, as well as having been a prison chaplain (and a chaplain at an execution). Interesting information about someone who's somewhat affiliated with a Stone-Campbell heritage of faith in Christ. Yes, I do realize that you've moved on years ago from the standard Stone-Campbell dogma, or at least the Church of Christ institutionalism anyway. You might remember, I have had a similar journey for the last decade or so. Ironically, as I traveled home today from getting your book at the Christian bookstore, the thought of my former belief regarding "contacting the blood of Jesus in the waters of baptism" entered my mind. Al, I have no idea why this happened, yet when I got home I looked up this topic on Google and your name and study appeared at the very top of the search results! Surely, that is no coincidence!! Anyway, thank you for that study: "Contacting the Blood of Christ: Examination of an Expedient Expression" (Reflections #608). BTW, I noticed on your Web Site that you have written four books so far. My next book of yours that I am considering reading after the one I purchased today at the bookstore is "Immersed By One Spirit."

From a Reader in Barbados:

Al, your article on the "Five Daring Daughters of Zelophehad: God's Gracious Response to a Courageous Challenge" (Reflections #734) was excellent. What more can I say?! I learned quite a bit from this episode. I'm sure I must have read this account a number of times, but all of what you presented in your study had never occurred to me. A significant piece of legislation indeed! Lift up your heads, ye women! Oh, by the way, I really liked the Bible riddle you gave: "How many people does it take to milk a bear?" Nothing like a righteous laugh to ease the stress.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Brother Al, I wish there were a "Like/Love" button that I could use (such as the ones on Facebook) for your article "Guilt-Ridden and Conscience-Stricken: Cheering Confirmation of Creator over Conscience: Analysis of and Affirmation from 1 John 3:19-20" (Reflections #735). GREAT lesson!! My spirit feels much lighter. Thank you!

From a Minister/Elder in Mississippi:

I finally got your article read ("Guilt-Ridden and Conscience-Stricken"). I truly found the passage you examined (1 John 3:19-20) very reassuring. What John says there fits with his point that those who hate are still in the darkness, thus outside the assurance of having their sins constantly cleansed by Christ's blood (1 John 1:6-7). A hater might very well be the one for whom we are not to pray (1 John 5:16). Since love of the brethren is an action verb, I need to be constantly taking action (as when I see my brother in need and when my heart says I have to take action on a conviction God has given me in His Word). Much room there for us all to grow, and also much hope to be found in His continuing aid. You truly read far and wide in your research, Al.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Outstanding article, Al ("Guilt-Ridden and Conscience-Stricken"). The quote you gave from Vatican II was excellent. Thanks so much for sharing this study with us! I trust all is well in the Maxey household!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Another great article! It shows again the importance of careful contextual analysis rather than just being a "verse-plucker." I think conscience and knowledge have a connection, as you have intimated in your study. Some psychologists, I believe, refer to that which is "innate knowledge," and I believe the Bible affirms the same. This is seen in Romans 1:19-21, 32. There is also acquired knowledge, which may be either right or wrong in nature. This is significant in that God looks upon the heart of man. Paul had not always been right in his former way of life, but an obedient heart led him to a confrontation with Jesus. This is further relevant in regards to Apollos, who was accurate in his teaching based upon what he knew at the time, yet he was willing to be obedient to "more accurate" knowledge and revelation. Likewise, we don't always have it right all the time, yet we too live under grace (where God examines hearts). Thank you again for the nice comments you made about me, and for this article: "Guilt-Ridden and Conscience-Stricken." It is both timely and appropriate, for it dispels the myth that God is "out to get us," a view many seem to propagate (sometimes unwittingly).

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Whenever I think about God's grace and my sin, and my knowledge (conscience) of my sin, I think of what David wrote: "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. ... Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:8-14). God is mindful that we are but dust, that we fail, that we don't live perfectly, something our consciences will accurately accuse us of. But God loves us still, knowing that we sin, that we will not live perfectly according to His precepts, and yet He loves us and forgives us and accepts us anyway! May you have a most excellent day! One other point of interest: I noted in the recent issues of "Hugh's News & Views" that Hugh Fulford did not list you as being among the great leaders of the Restoration Movement (LOL). Of course, sometimes not making a particular list is a GOOD thing!!

From a Minister in Utah:

I have not read all your Reflections, nor do I consider myself a regular reader. However, I do enjoy a lot of the things that you write. I happen across your articles from time to time, and when I do I will read them. Some of them make me want to dig deeper in my own studies. Yesterday I happened across one of your articles in which you examined Goebel Music's book on patternism: "'Behold the Pattern' - Has Goebel Music met my Challenge to Provide the Particulars of The Pattern?" (Reflections #209). I remember brother Music. He attended the Bedford Road Church of Christ. I lived near there while I was in preaching school at Browntrail. He was very kind to me, although I never knew him except for those few moments after a church service. I have several copies of his book (I think he may even have given me one, since I was a student at the time), but, honestly, I have never read it.

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