by Al Maxey
Issue #773 -------
May 9, 2019
Men have lost sight of distant horizons.
Nobody writes for humanity, for civilization;
they write for their country, their sect; to
amuse their friends or annoy their enemies.
Norman Douglas [1868-1952]
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the Viscount of St. Alban, an English philosopher (he is credited as being the father of Empiricism) and statesman (he served as Attorney General and as Lord Chancellor of England), made the following observation in one of his many essays: "The greatest vicissitude of things amongst men is the vicissitude of sects and religions." Our present world is flooded with (and, frankly, always has been) an over-abundance of ever-evolving sects and religions. These are constantly in a state of transition and transformation in an effort to be more relevant to the cultures and societies within which they exist. Some regard these changes (dare I say transmutations) positively, while others quite clearly do not.
Regardless of how we perceive them, they are part and parcel of mankind's religious experience; they exist, and in abundance, and thus must be addressed (ideally in a rational, unbiased manner). Christianity itself, in its early days, was seen as little more than a radical sect of Judaism. Judaism itself was certainly no exception to the human tendency toward sectarianism. The various sects or factions within the Jewish religion all considered themselves to be good, honorable, godly people, and to be devoted followers of divine law. Their beliefs and practices, however, were often quite diverse, which frequently led to quarreling, hatred, division, and at times even death (all very similar to the situation found among believers today: each group claiming to be genuine followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and His teachings, yet hopelessly divided over various perceptions, preferences and practices peculiar to their own faction within Christendom). As is the case with God's people today, these various sects and schisms within Judaism led to a deplorable state of affairs, which too often resulted in the people of God being mocked and scorned by the people of the world. Some of the more prominent Jewish sects and religious movements, most of which had been established during the so-called "Intertestamental Period," were: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, the Qumran community (which some today equate with the Essenes), Zealots, Herodians and Zadokites. We should probably also include the Hebraists and Hellenists. And then, of course, there were the followers of this troubler named Jesus, who were regarded by many within Judaism as little more than a fringe faction. When the apostle Paul appeared before the governor Felix, he said, "This I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I do serve the God of our fathers" (Acts 24:14).
Paul clearly did not regard his preaching and teaching as being in any way "sectarian," although he was certainly aware that such a perception was held by his Jewish critics. Paul preached a Savior, not a sect; a Redeemer, not a religion. Sadly, far too few over the centuries have followed his example. It is truly disturbing to find some individuals even today focused more on preaching the church than on preaching Jesus the Christ. The reason? Because in a vast sea of competing sects and factions, they feel compelled to promote their own sect and faction as being, in its entirety, "the one and only true church." Thus, their group of disciples is NOT a sect ... it is NOT a faction ... it is NOT a "denomination" (perish the thought) ... it is NOT a movement. It is THE CHURCH, exclusively. ALL others are false, only IT is true. Their little group IS the "Lord's Church" on planet Earth. The fullness of Truth is taught ONLY by them; and the saved souls of earth are to be found ONLY within their ranks. To even raise a question about this perception, much less present a challenge to it, is to invite an immediate and vicious attack. It is pitiful to behold such blind sectarianism, yet it exists all around us.
Let me hasten to state, lest there be some who might misunderstand my intent in this issue of Reflections, that I fully support the preaching and teaching of the importance of the universal One Body of believers of which Jesus Christ is the Head. This body of believers is even likened to the Bride of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5), which further emphasizes the importance of this divinely called Family of the Father. In fact, I taught a 14 week adult Bible class in 2015 on the identity, history and mission of the New Covenant church (Click Here for information on how to order this audio CD). Yes, our primary focus in proclaiming the Good News is to bring people to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, yet we must also inform those with whom we share our Savior that when they embrace Him, they also are numbered together with all others throughout the world and throughout time in that vast universal assembly of the saved. We may call this gathering by any number of descriptive terms: the Son's Bride ... His Body ... His Church ... the Family of the Father ... the Redeemed ... the Called Out Ones, etc. These and other equally legitimate descriptives convey, each in their own way, the great value deity places on this special gathering of humanity. Thus, I would never seek to diminish "the Church" in any way, as some have accused me of doing. I know very well its worth, and seek to convey that at every opportunity.
Thus, I would agree whole-heartedly with several of the comments by Hugh Fulford in his issue of "Hugh's News & Views" dated April 30, 2019 (the title of that article is "Preaching the Church"). Hugh expressed in this article that he fears there is a growing "failure to preach the distinctive Bible truths about the church." He suggests that "a course on the NT church" could be very beneficial in both congregational and college settings. I concur completely, and, as noted above, have taught a good many lessons on this. Hugh further stated in this article: "Preachers today need to speak concerning Christ and the church! One cannot faithfully preach Christ and not preach His church. Christ is the head, the church is His body. To separate the two is disastrous." Hugh gets no argument from me here. I agree with him. I still feel the primary emphasis of our preaching and teaching should be on Christ Jesus, and most certainly this is the case when we seek to share the Gospel with those who have yet to receive this Good News, yet there is no doubt that when you preach about the Head of the One Body, it is only to be expected that teaching on the nature and function of that One Body will need to take place sooner than later. Most preachers and teachers and authors seem to understand this quite well, and would certainly embrace Hugh's final appeal in his article: "It is time - past time - to again preach Christ AND the church! It is time - past time - to set forth the biblical truths concerning the one blood-bought institution of the New Testament: the precious church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Some of us might wish he had chosen to use another term than "institution" to depict this gathering of the redeemed, since the institutionalization of this body of believers has been more curse than blessing down through the centuries, but on the whole we concur with the basic intent of his appeal.
Hugh feels very strongly, as do I, that this universal One Body of all the redeemed should never be depicted in such a way that it "leaves the impression that the church is a denomination." "But," he notes, "for several decades now distinctive preaching about the church and its undenominational nature has been lacking." I believe Hugh is right about this! And I would also suggest that distinctive preaching about the church and its non-institutional nature has been lacking as well. I know many of you will agree with me on this. The church is PEOPLE; it is people in RELATIONSHIP with their Father. When we take this gathering of people and seek to make it into an organization or an institution or even a business, we quickly lose sight of both the people and the concept of Family. The universal One Body of Jesus our Lord is NOT a sect or a faction, and we should never teach it as such. This is why I cringed when I read the next to last paragraph of Hugh Fulford's aforementioned article, for he basically negated the very positive points he made so well in the rest of that study. I have reproduced that paragraph below:
"We now have elders, deacons, preachers, teachers, members, Bible professors, and editors who do not grasp the point that we are not a denomination. They say they do, but their speech betrays their lack of understanding. In fact, some seem to resent the fact that we are not a denomination and are bent on viewing and speaking of the church in denominational terms. They love to speak of it as 'our heritage,' 'our tradition,' 'our tributary,' 'our tribe,' 'our fellowship,' 'our little corner of the kingdom,' and other such denominationally-oriented expressions. They are ashamed of the undenominational nature of the church and seek to present it as 'just another denomination.' They seem to be embarrassed about what the word of God says about the eternal destiny of family members and friends who have never obeyed the gospel of Christ, or those who once were faithful members of the Lord's church, but have left it to join a denomination. The broadmindedness of some far exceeds what the Scriptures actually allow. Yet, those of us who insist on a biblical view of the church and a scriptural terminology in referring to the church are the ones who are now criticized for the stand we take on these matters."
What some may fail to perceive here is that with this paragraph we find a disconnect of massive proportions from the remainder of this article. Hugh spoke beautifully of the true nature of the Family of God the Father: that this family should never be viewed or portrayed as some religious sect or movement or denomination. He challenged us all to rise above that kind of thinking, and rightly so. And THEN he turned around and did exactly what he had just urged us all NOT to do. I understand Hugh's problem very, very well, for I was indoctrinated just the same as he was growing up. "WE" (notice his use of that word in his first few sentences) -- and by "we" he means those within the group known as "Churches of Christ" -- are NOT a "named group." WE are the one true church on planet earth. Anyone that is in a group other than the group WE are in is eternally damned. THEY are all denominationalists, and they need to abandon their apostasy and come to US instead, for WE are the only place of spiritual safety on the planet. Thus, "the Lord's church" (i.e., the "Church of Christ" church) is where the faithful all gather, and if you "leave it" to worship anywhere else you will go to hell. Period! I can assure you (for I have spoken to Hugh about this very thing for YEARS) that if Hugh goes to a city with which he is unfamiliar, and if he seeks to find "the Lord's church" so he can attend "the one true church" that Sunday morning, he will pull out the Yellow Pages and look up the group denominated therein as "Church of Christ." ALL OTHER denominated groups are damned denominationalists; ONLY THIS denominated/named group is truly the UNdenominated One True Church of our Lord. Or, so he has been indoctrinated to believe, and thus so he teaches to others. Those who haven't been subjected to a lifetime of such indoctrination, or who have studied their way out of it (as I have), will see the pitiful absurdity and inconsistency of what Hugh has written in this paragraph. It is glaringly obvious; it jumps right out at you; it leaves us shaking our heads. But, what is sad and tragic is that Hugh can't see it, and neither can those like him who are still enslaved by that diabolical thinking pounded into them over the years. It breaks my heart!!
What Hugh can't grasp is that, in point of fact, it is HE who has "denominationalized" the One Body of our Lord by reducing it to a particular "named group" of which he is a lifetime member and minister. Those of us he calls to repentance, however, are the ones who are insisting that the walls and barriers need to come down, and that we all need to recognize that NO group IS, in its entirety, THE "one true church" on planet Earth. God's children may assemble for work and worship and edification in any number of places, with a wide variety of traditional practices and expressions of faith, but they are still ONE IN HIM. You don't have to be my TWIN in order to be my BROTHER. If we have the same Father, then WE BE BRETHREN. Yes, my faith-heritage is with the historical group denominated "Church of Christ," which is a branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement. That is my association, but that in no way negates the fact that I am a part of God's ONE BODY IN CHRIST, just as all others are who are saved by grace through faith. Where Hugh and I differ is in this fact: I do not equate the group "Church of Christ" with the One Body; Hugh does! Yes, there are individuals that affiliate themselves with the "Church of Christ" church who are within the universal One Body, but there are individuals within other named groups who also are in the universal One Body. I have beloved brethren all around me; I can now see them, for the sectarian walls have come down. I love my "Church of Christ"/Stone-Campbell heritage, but I do NOT equate it with the universal One Body. The former is NOT the latter in its entirety. NO named group is. I have tried for decades to help Hugh see this ... and I have failed every time. Others, however, who read our exchanges HAVE seen through the folly of such sectarian indoctrination and are now free in Christ. It is for these, and for those who will likewise become enlightened, that I continue to proclaim the Good News of Christ and His Church. May God bless all who seek to do the same, and who seek to bring down the walls that isolate His children from one another.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Bro. Maxey, I love your answer to the preacher from California who complained about your Reflections being too long [see: "Readers' Reflections" in Issue #772]. Your response was the perfect blend of kindness toward the critic and explanation for your own particular style. You could easily have shown offense. After all, whose blog is it anyway?! But, you refrained from doing so. Thank you so much for this godly example. We all are benefited.
From a Reader in Ottawa, Canada:
On Thursday morning last, I trudged toward the mailbox to see what was there. Expecting is only fun for so long; as Proverbs put it: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." In my mailbox that day there was a key, so that I could open the larger containment accessible only to people with parcels. I spied a white box, then the magic word "Alamogordo," and a grin split my face. I had not expected it this early, knowing what international mailing can be like. Returning with my gift, I went to my office and opened it. The way you packaged this material (your books and CDs I had ordered) is superior! I eagerly opened the book ["One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism"] and started in. The next morning, as I started my day, I inserted your audio CD containing your Bible classes on "Law to Liberty: Reflecting on Our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ." Your voice came on, and you began carefully covering the same truths I had come to from my own study. I was floored! I am always amazed to find that others have come to the same conclusions - but far more eloquently than I have done. I wept, briefly, with profound gratitude (it isn't good to be driving to work at 4:30 in the morning and not be able to see through the tears). God has given me joy at your gift to me, brother, and I am very grateful for the rich blessing I have gained from you!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I haven't written in awhile, but I wanted to write and tell you that I never miss one of your articles. I always look forward with great anticipation to your in-depth analysis of biblical Truth. I am thankful for you, and for your style of writing, and for the truths you convey to members of the Churches of Christ, as well as other believers. You have strengthened my own beliefs so many times over the years. I loved this most recent article [Reflections #772 - "A Case of Joyful Disbelief: The Emotion/Conviction Confliction"], having just finished a study of the Book of John in my Ladies' Bible Class. We will all look forward to that "joyful disbelief" in eternity. Can't wait to meet you there! Blessings, my friend.
From a Reader in Barbados:
Thanks so very much, Al, for citing these two emotional occasions ("sleeping for sorrow" and "disbelieving for joy"). They are somewhat like an oxymoron in their expression. I try to read your Reflections when I have time to really pore over them. As a result, I am often behind. "A Case of Joyful Disbelief" is truly "top-shelf." It bears out the born again believer's humanness and the Savior's understanding of our human nature. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." It is a comfort to me regarding the many times I doubt and pray, "Lord, help me in my unbelief." I thank God for you and this ministry of yours; especially thanking Him for the Spirit's gift in you that leads you to bring to our notice those things in Scripture that we so often gloss over. "Sleeping for sorrow" and "joyful disbelief" are certainly two such cases. We often ruminate on the "sleep" and the "disbelief," usually in condemnation of the disciples' lack of belief. I thank God for the Spirit's illumination that helped you to focus on the "sorrow" and the "joy" instead. These two opposing tensions of human emotions were aptly borne out in this discourse by you in a way that is lucid and practical, particularly for the believer in his or her everyday walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks again, Al.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Brother Al, thanks for this excellent article ["A Case of Joyful Disbelief"]. I have always thought that the Lord ate with the disciples following the resurrection because it was a concrete act proving He was in a physical body. There would have been no room for disagreement on this issue as the disciples told others of this event. In other words, it was an "air tight" proof of His being in a physical body. Blessings to you, brother.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Thank you for highlighting one of the characteristics of the Bible that I find so fascinating: the willingness to speak to the weaknesses and the humanness of its heroes. Most literature, then and now, will do all that the author can to protect the hero from being perceived as weak, or of having flaws like the rest of us. Scripture does just the opposite! I really can't think of a single highly notable character in the Bible that escapes having one or several of their flaws pointed out for men and women to see for all time. Even the human part of Jesus! Amazing love!!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Good Morning, Al. Your Sunday morning Bible class on Philippians 3:1-9, and also your Sunday morning sermon on Matthew 5, were exceptional! I just wanted to let you know what a privilege it is to sit under your leadership and instruction in God's Word. Thank you for your obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit! Have a blessed week.
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Regarding your study of Naaman ["The Naaman Narrative: Does this Syrian's Seven-Fold Dipping Suggest a Sacramental View of Baptism?" - Reflections #771], I did a lesson on this here recently which really went well. What I did was present it as a character analysis of the seven groups of people that make the story what it is. It is an interesting approach. Even the servants of Naaman contribute to the significance of the story. I got my class to identify at least one characteristic of each person or group. I believe character studies are significant and important, as they reveal in a very practical way what it is really all about, instead of being side-tracked by some sort of tail-end theology.
From an Author in Florida:
Dear Brother, I wanted to let you know that I am ordering your CD that contains all four of your books (Click Here) and your CD that has all of your Reflections articles on it (Click Here). Al, please give your wife a HUG from my wife and me. I just cannot remember us ever meeting in person before (but, hey, there's a lot I cannot remember these days!), but I believe you, Al, are a blessing to a great many people. And since Shelly is your go-to-resource for encouragement, I believe she must have God's hand on her life too. After all, she is the one standing by your side and having to see the love of her life so often misrepresented and outright trashed by people. My wife and I know that routine from our personal experiences too. Praise the Lord ... and our wives ... for the comfort and understanding we receive when the sectarian bullets are flying our way! Our best to both of you!
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