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by Al Maxey

Issue #759 ------- November 7, 2018
A friend is a person with whom I may
be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.

Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-1882]

Reviewing Reader Reaction
Questions, Comments and Criticisms
on the Previous Issue of Reflections

In the quotation section above, I have shared one of my favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), who was one of America's greatest poets, essayists, lecturers and philosophers, and who also was the acknowledged leader and inspirer of the Transcendentalist Movement that was popular in the mid-19th century. He describes a "friend" as "a person with whom I may be sincere," and with whom "I may think aloud." Such loving and supportive companions are truly a treasure: a gift from God. When I began my Reflections ministry on December 1, 2002, my intent was to share my thoughts and insights, my reflections on a number of matters, with very close friends and family. I had, at that time, no clue that these weekly writings would spread throughout the globe, and would be read (according to several web-tracking experts) by hundreds of thousands of people each week. They are being used in churches (in many different denominations) in classes and sermons, in small group settings, in university classrooms; they are being quoted in books and magazines and on religious web sites. In short, what began as intimate personal reflections shared with those "with whom I may be sincere ... and with whom I may think aloud," has evolved to such an extent that the vast majority of those who follow my writings are entirely unknown to me (and for the most part, I am unknown to them ... at least on a deeper personal basis).

With this evolution of readership has come some lessening of the type of support of which Emerson spoke (although the vast majority, who choose to contact me, are still very positive and supportive of my work). I regularly get letters, emails, and phone calls, however, from people who are livid that I would dare to express a view contrary to their own. My family and I have been called every name in the book, mocked publicly, and some have even secretly contacted members of my congregation in an effort to have me silenced or, better yet, fired. A few of the more radical critics have, over the years, contacted my ISP to try and get me removed from the Internet for my "hate crimes." A few men and women, whom I love dearly, and with whom I worshipped and worked and enjoyed sweet fellowship for many years, now regard me, and even openly denounce me, as an "apostate." Before them I am no longer welcomed to "think aloud;" indeed, they have severed all bonds of fellowship. How very well I know the inner pain expressed by David in Psalm 55:12-14 when he lamented the fact that his dear friend had now become his determined foe. I have even had elders sit in my den and urge me to cease "thinking aloud" (via my writings), and rather stick with "the tested truths" that the "members in the pews" wanted to hear over and over week after week. I have always refused, and I always will. I am of the same mind as Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who said, "Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice." William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), the prominent American journalist, abolitionist and social reformer, expressed it even more powerfully: "I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation" [The Liberator, no. 1, January 1, 1831].

There are times when silence is not always "golden," and there are times when moderation is not always a virtue! There are times when one must take a stand; there are times when one must speak up and speak out ... and, yes, speak boldly and bluntly. When confronting the rise of legalism within the One Body, the apostle Paul even dared to wish that those troubling the church would castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12). The Son of God Himself, when dealing with the rigid religionists of His day, called them blind, hypocritical fools; white-washed tombs filled with decay; seed-counting, gnat-straining, camel-swallowing vipers and sons of hell (Matthew 23). Moderation? Far from it. On Mount Carmel, the godly prophet Elijah (one of only two men to be spared death) crudely mocked the false prophets in public, even suggesting they should shout louder for their god may be in the toilet emptying his bladder and bowels (1 Kings 18:27)! Moderation? Nope! Some situations, some doctrines, dogmas and practices; some people, frankly, require more ... and sometimes much more. I would urge those who doubt this fact (this biblical truth) to consider the following in-depth studies: "The Fine Art of Godly Mockery" (Reflections #31) ... "The Magnificent Micaiah: Fearless Prophet vs. Faithless Potentate" (Reflections #321) ... "Speaking the Word Boldly: Examining the Parameters of a Proper Proclamation of Truth" (Reflections #274).

Having stated the above, I also should note that aggressive opposition to me personally, or with regard to my teaching and practice, does not even begin to discourage me or cause me to consider retreating from the ministry to which God has called me. It is not always pleasant, to be sure, but I can honestly say that I lose no sleep over it. Indeed, we are warned in Scripture that if we take a bold stand for the Lord, we can expect opposition and even persecution. It comes with the territory. The greatest disappointment, however, is when it comes from a person with whom you once had sweet fellowship. A true friend and brother sticks close; we can speak sincerely and openly in his/her presence, and we may think aloud before him/her, knowing that whether they agree or not with our views, they still have our back. When those friends attack, it is indeed painful, as David pointed out: "For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. ... But, it is you, my companion and familiar friend; we who had sweet fellowship together; who walked together in the house of God" (Psalm 55:12-14). Fortunately, such persons in my life are relatively few, although they tend to be the most vocal and confrontational. The vast majority of those who differ with me on a host of issues have chosen to do so lovingly and respectfully, and, further, to remain in sweet fellowship in spite of our differing perceptions and practices. Such men and women are a genuine blessing and their encouragement is greatly valued. With them I may dare to "think aloud," and with them I can enjoy meaningful dialogue on our differences, for neither of us desires to undo the other, but simply to understand the other and his/her views.

As a result of sharing with the public my own journey of faith and discovery, I get a considerable number of responses from my readers (most of which are very positive; some of which are not). Occasionally, one of my Reflections will trigger a flood of responses and questions. I always try to respond to every person who writes to me, or who calls me on the phone (even when they are more interested in attacking than understanding). Any public figure, no matter the nature of his or her public service (whether spiritual or secular), should be willing to address all concerns presented to them. Peter charged us: "Always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15b). In the immediate context of this statement, Peter makes it clear that those who stand boldly for the Lord and His cause will experience opposition and suffering, yet he makes this appeal: "Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts ... and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:14-15a, 16). In keeping with the spirit of Peter's admonition, in this current issue of my Reflections I want to take some time to respond to several readers who wrote to me after reading my previous article titled "Peter's Colonnade Sermon" (Reflections #758), which compared and contrasted a statement Peter made in his first sermon (Acts 2:38) and one made in his second sermon (Acts 3:19). My analysis "struck a chord" with many of my readers, but it "struck a nerve" with others.

One individual, a person I've known for almost 20 years, who served overseas as a missionary for decades, wrote: "Good Morning Al. Just a word - I don't know why I continue reading your articles. I get a bit too irritated each time. No, it is not always the content. It is more the manner in which you seem to find a way in each article to bash other brethren. I can't handle that any more. Working for so many years in an environment where you learned to treasure the church family and did all you could to go to the table when there were differences, I cannot accept the continual push toward polarization. Al, your articles serve more to irritate and divide than they do to unite. There, I said it. Please be so kind as to remove me from your mailing list. Arrogance and mean-spirited writing do not serve to build up the Body of Christ, only to tear it down. In love, -------." I am very well-aware that not all my writings (and classes, sermons, speeches, etc.) are equally appreciated by those who read (or hear) them. Some love them; some hate them. This is to be expected. Those people who know me well, know that my intent has never been to divide brethren from each other, but rather to unite them. This is also my practice, to which any who are familiar with my work in the local church setting can attest. I have helped unite congregations, as well as individual disciples, and am constantly seeking to bring diverse brethren together. Preaching, teaching and practicing "unity in diversity," as I have done for decades, can be polarizing, for there are some disciples of Christ, and some sects and factions within Christendom, who do not desire to have anything to do with other denominational groups. I have always boldly, and in no uncertain terms, called out and condemned such thinking. Some may view my exposure of such religious exclusivism as "arrogant" and "mean-spirited," for I do indeed, and unapologetically, confront and condemn it. And I shall continue to do so. My goal is spiritual unity, not sectarian uniformity, and because I boldly preach, teach and practice the former, those entrenched in the latter are not happy with me, to say the least. My intent is not to "bash brethren," but rather to "bash" certain belief systems, just as Jesus and Paul did (both of whom called us to embrace the same attitudes and actions, by the way). Although it is often necessary to mention by name some who are working tirelessly to promote such belief systems contrary to the Faith, it is not these persons I am spotlighting -- it is not the man, but the message. To suggest I am going after people rather than personal or party perceptions, preferences, precepts and practices, is a complete failure to perceive my purpose (and that of Jesus and Paul, as well).

Over the years, a good many of my more vocal critics have declared that I no longer believe in baptism (in water). A reader in Michigan wrote, after reading my last Reflections, "Why is it always baptism that is devalued and diminished? It's as if some Baptist preachers and you have nothing else to write about." Yes, I have focused a lot on this particular doctrine and practice, for baptism in water is a command; it is not optional. It is one of the major teachings of the New Covenant writings, and thus we should take this topic seriously and seek to understand it as best we can. I have never sought to devalue or diminish baptism. I have personally baptized a great many people during the 40+ years of my public ministry, and I will continue to proclaim the need for and value of baptism. If one will carefully review my teaching on this topic, one will notice that it is not the worth of this act I question, nor is it the necessity of this act (I believe it is both valuable and necessary); what I question is its purpose. It is my conviction, based on my study and experience, that too many disciples have failed to perceive the true intent and purpose of this act, and have instead imposed a false purpose upon it. What I have sought to do, therefore, is help my fellow believers refocus on the true purpose of baptism in water, as conveyed in Scripture, rather than the false purposes imposed upon this act over the centuries by a misguided theology. Needless to say, those who have spent a lifetime preaching and promoting this confused perspective of baptism in water are far from pleased with my challenge to their traditional teaching and practice. And it's not just baptism: I have also been just as vigorously condemned for daring to reexamine the purpose and practice of the Lord's Supper, the biblical teaching on marriage and divorce, the role of women in the work and worship of the church, and the nature of man and his eternal destiny, just to name a few areas of inquiry. When men become entrenched in their perceptions and practices, they don't take kindly to having these questioned. I have dared to do just that, and the result is that I am greatly disliked by some people and groups (in fact, "disliked" is an understatement).

A reader in Kansas wrote me, after reading my last article, "Al, your fixation on salvation misses much of the biblical message. We still have to live with each other, and I think the Bible spends ample time discussing how we should live. It is a very small step to make a case for speaking out against the enemies of America. Why not expand your message?!" Some feel that I spend way too much time talking about our need for salvation from sin and death, and what God has done to bring about this eternal salvation. They feel that I need to spend far more time talking about the ills of our society, the enemies who seek to undermine our great Republic, and how we can "make America great again" and live together in peace and harmony. Those who know me are aware that I am very much concerned about these matters, and that I have actively sought to address the ills of our society, and to call for reform, and that I have done so publicly for decades. My Reflections serve a different purpose, yet even here I have devoted several studies to this very topic of living responsibly within our various cultures and societies. I believe we should be part of the political process wherever we live; that we should serve our country as best we can; that we should indeed speak to the problems we face as a people. And I have always done so rather boldly. Those of you who follow me on my Facebook page know only too well how often I address political and social matters, and just how patriotic I am. In fact, some take me to task for being too political.

I would urge this reader to consider my following articles: "Church and State: May Disciples of Jesus Christ Participate in the Political Process?" (Reflections #211) ... "Christians Bearing Arms: May Disciples of Jesus Christ Serve in the Armed Forces?" (Reflections #232) ... "Concealed Carry Christians: Pistol Packin' Pastors and Parishioners" (Reflections #345) ... "The Pledge of Allegiance: Is It Appropriate for Christians?" (Reflections #370) ... "The Death of Osama bin Laden: What Should Be a Christian's Response" (Reflections #486) ... "America the Beautiful: A Poet and Composer Who Gave Us a Great American Classic" (Reflections #491) ... "Pastors Politicking from Pulpits: May Pastors Publicly Endorse Politicians?" (Reflections #546) ... "The Black Robe Regiment: The Pastor-Patriots of the Revolution" (Reflections #547) ... "Chaplain at an Execution: Reflecting on a Difficult Choice" (Reflections #554) ... "Post-Election Reflection: Where Do We Go From Here?" (Reflections #555) ... "The Guilt of National Stupidity: Judgment Against Insufferable Insensitivity" (Reflections #671). I have also written special Reflections articles on such social issues as racism, sexism, the molesting of children, abortion, homosexuality, just to name a few. I have been the featured speaker at the annual New Mexico Legislative Prayer Breakfast more times than any other pastor in the state; I served for four years as the Executive Director of a 24 acre facility that provided shelter and counseling for abused, neglected, and troubled children; I served for six years as an Assistant Chaplain at the Penitentiary of New Mexico, and was the chaplain at the only execution in this state in almost a century; I have even been listed in the book "Legendary Locals of Alamogordo" (p. 107) as a result of my efforts to make a difference in our city, county and state. I think it is pretty obvious that I'm not just "fixated on salvation." I believe that our God has left us plenty of guidance for all areas of life, and I seek to provide a balanced diet of instruction in those areas in my ministry, as well as a positive example of them in my life.

Like the reader in Kansas, a longtime reader in Alabama wrote, after reading my last article, "There you go again, Al - separating the timing of salvation from immersion in water. For what purpose?!" He went on to accuse me of "deemphasizing immersion," and said we must never be guilty of "separating salvation from immersion." He went on: "Romans 6 buries a dead man with Jesus. You and the Baptists keep wanting to bury a live man. It does not fit the context." What this brother seemingly does not realize (and I fear many do not) is that baptism in water is not the real focus of Romans 6; indeed, it is only incidental to the message being taught by Paul. I would strongly urge this reader to consider my in-depth examination of this passage in the following studies: "The Paradox of Dying to Live: Considering the Intent of Romans 6:7" (Reflections #676) ... "Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality: Significant Symbol vs. Salvific Sacrament" (Reflections #617) ... "'I Just Don't See The Point': My Reflective Response to a Reader" (Reflections #669). Again, I have never sought to "deemphasize" the place or importance of immersion in water. I most certainly have, however, questioned the understanding of some of my fellow believers pertaining to the divine purpose of this act. I believe they have it wrong ... seriously wrong!! To question their view and their practice of baptism is NOT the same as questioning the importance and place of baptism itself. It is the former I challenge, not the latter.

There is a minister and author and longtime missionary who lives in Georgia, and who comes from a very well-known family in the Stone-Campbell Movement, who, in my view, exemplifies a Christ-like spirit about as well as anyone I've seen when it comes to differing with a brother in a loving, respectful, yet firm, manner. He and I have corresponded for many years, and although we differ greatly on some doctrines and practices, he has always been cordial and gracious. He seeks to challenge my thinking, rather than condemning me personally. We can all, myself included, learn from his example. After reading my last Reflections he observed, "We are aware that we do not have every word Peter or Paul or others uttered as they were preaching or teaching people. Therefore, to say that since baptism is not mentioned in Acts 3:19 it is therefore not essential, then we can, by that reasoning, remove whatever other step is omitted in other conversion accounts." The thinking with which I was raised is that we collect all the conversion accounts, make a list of everything that was mentioned in those many accounts, hopefully put them in the right order, and we thereby have the legal requirements (the pattern) that must be followed precisely, and in order, and to the letter, before God will save us. Typically our list is: hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized: the so-called "five steps" or the "five finger plan" of salvation, often attributed to Walter Scott (1796-1861), a noted early leader in our movement.

Few would argue that these "steps" are unimportant. Indeed, I would even assert that each of them is essential. However, I believe it is important to ask: "Essential to what?" I am not aware of any passage in the NT writings that lists them all together, and in their "proper order," and declares this to be the pattern for acquiring God's gift of salvation. Indeed, if there are legal requirements that must be met, and met precisely and fully, before one can receive forgiveness, acceptance and salvation, then is God's free gift of grace really a "gift" (as Scripture says it is) ... is it really "free" (as Scripture says it is) ... and is this really salvation by "grace" (as Scripture says it is)? I have never, ever said, "baptism is not essential." Quite the opposite. It is essential. But, essential to what? It is clearly commanded, thus if we love the Lord we will obey His commands. It is my firm conviction that baptism in water is an essential, commanded act of faith that reflects our commitment to and trust in the power of Christ's death, burial and resurrection (of which immersion in water is a participatory symbolic reenactment); it is a reflection of what HE has done for US "by grace through faith." Thus, it reflects our faith in His grace. It is not an act that in itself saves, but rather is an evidentiary act of saving faith. We obey because He has saved us, not in order to be saved. When we make baptism in water essential to the latter, we have made this symbol a sacrament, and that is making more of this act than was ever intended by the Lord.

"But what about Acts 2:38?", some will ask. "What about Acts 22:16?" "What about 1 Peter 3:21?" "What about Galatians 3:27?" These are all frequently paraded out as "proof positive" that "baptism now saves you!" On the surface, these may sound very convincing. However, I believe we have seriously misunderstood and misapplied these passages, oftentimes ripping them from their contexts to form a pretext for a perspective on salvation never actually prescribed by God. I have dealt with each of these passages in great depth, and have provided a tremendous amount of biblical evidence for each understanding proffered, and have simply asked people, "Show me from the Scriptures where my understanding is wrong." To date, not one single person has even tried to do so. They will not hesitate to tell me I'm wrong, nor will they hesitate to condemn me as an "apostate," but when asked to show me from the Scriptures, they have nothing more to say. Rather than listing each of those articles here, with their links (since there are literally dozens of them), I would simply urge the reader to go to my Textual Index to the NT, scroll down to each of the above passages, and then click on the links to my many articles next to each text. They will provide the evidence accumulated over years of study and research into these texts. I simply ask that you consider it with an open mind and heart, and an open Bible. If you still disagree, I will think no less of you. However, I would request that you at least show me from the Scriptures why my conclusions are invalid. If, in fact, they are, then you would be doing me a tremendous favor for which I would truly be eternally grateful.

The brother from Georgia concluded his email to me (dated Monday, October 29) by writing, "I am sure you are aware that even faith is a work." He then quoted John 6:28-29, and stated, "So, if we are saved before or even without works, then we don't even have to have faith. Who can believe it?!" This passage is often quoted by those who insist that "works" are essential to acquiring God's gracious "free gift." It's as if God was saying, "I have a gift for you; free of charge; a gift of grace because I love you. Now, here is a list of works you must do to earn it." There are many within Christendom who genuinely and sincerely believe our salvation is works-based, or knowledge-based, or performance-based, rather than grace/faith-based. Some will say, "Oh, I believe that last statement, but you know, don't you, that faith is really a work! Jesus said so!" Did He? I would suggest you take another look at that statement in John 6. "Working the Works of God: Does Jesus Teach Faith as a Work? A Reflective Analysis of John 6:28-29" (Reflections #161). Please consider this study carefully and prayerfully; I believe you will come away with a much different view of what Jesus meant than the one suggested by my friend from Georgia. Let me close with this quote from the German theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart (1269-1327), "One must not always think so much about what one should do, but rather what one should be. Our works do not ennoble us; but we must ennoble our works." If we are relying on any level of human effort to be saved, then we have missed the point of God's grace. It is not about what we do; it is all about what He has done! He has graciously called us to BE, and because we now ARE, we lovingly and gratefully spend our lives DOING. "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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Georgia:

I just read your article "Peter's Colonnade Sermon: Reflecting on an Apostolic Revision" (Reflections #758). Well done, brother!! I always enjoy my coffee time with Al. Nobody likes to talk about Peter's second sermon. It's hardly ever discussed. Especially troubling for some is the fruit of Peter's message, as recorded in Acts 4:4 - "But many of those who had heard the Word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand" [English Standard Version]. They believed; they were added!!

From a Reader in Barbados:

All I can say in response to your Reflections titled "Peter's Colonnade Sermon" is to shout "AMEN!! Thank You, Jesus!!" Thank you so much, Al, for this study. It truly sums up the contrast between our sin and God's grace. Again, thank you. One of our hymns speaks of "the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary!" Why do some among us so painstakingly dwell on the minor to try and establish the major? In this particular instance, I am referring to the attempts to establish immersion in water as THE point at which we receive salvation by grace?!

From a Minister in Rhode Island:

Brother Al, I've been so thankful for all that you do for the cause of Christ. I presently need your help with combating the CENI pattern hermeneutic. I'm looking for material that I can study to help prepare me to help others come out from under the shadow of this hermeneutic. Can you point me in the right direction? Thank you for whatever you can do for me and this band of Christ-followers here.

From a Reader in Texas:

Thank you, Brother Al, for your insights on "Peter's Colonnade Sermon." I can't tell you how refreshing and encouraging it is to hear/read explanations like this from a Church of Christ minister/elder! My wife and I were part of that denomination for 53 years! I really love your Reflections! You are truly helping to "raise the veil."

From an Author in Arizona:

Al, I like and appreciate the following statement from your pen (which appeared in your last Reflections): "Peter was in no way denying immersion in water its legitimate place in man's response to the grace of God; rather, he was seeking to emphasize one's salvation is not in the act itself of being immersed in water, but that this is merely symbolic of that divine act (the death, burial and resurrection of God's Son) which does have the power to save. Baptism is simply an evidentiary act of faith; it is not a sacrament, it is a symbol (like unto the eating of the elements in the Lord's Supper)." To put it another way, as I have advocated for years, "Immersion in water is a reflection of our faith and salvation: it heralds to others that we have accepted our Lord and Savior." Carry on, brother!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Hey Al, I surely appreciate all the work you have done over the years! I was raised and trained "Church of Christ," and I spent 35 years preaching where most of the time I was in a battle over one doctrine or another. You have been a huge blessing to me by bringing answers to so many of the questions I have had to deal with. I read Edward Fudge's book "The Fire That Consumes" years ago, and I am now working my way through your book on that topic: "From Ruin to Resurrection" (a much easier read).

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, thanks for your latest Reflections ("Peter's Colonnade Sermon"). Yes, it is amazing how some people will try and cram something in to fit a particular mindset. I am developing a chart which will show how God has always basically required the same thing of man (i.e., FAITH) from righteous Abel to today. God bless you.

From a Reader in Unknown:

Al, what do you think about Halloween? I think it should be obliterated from Christian families, since it is connected so much to death and the devil and the occult. Some of my friends, though, say it can be a way for us to be inviting our neighbors and getting them to visit our church.

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