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by Al Maxey

Issue #774 ------- May 21, 2019
The masses have never thirsted
after truth. They demand illusions.

Sigmund Freud [1856-1939]

Atrophied Power of Comprehension
Always Learning, But Never Understanding

I devoted quite a few years pursuing my undergraduate and graduate degrees at my university. I've always loved the quest for knowledge, which I view as a vital aspect of acquiring greater understanding, and I have always been willing to place all my previous convictions on the table for careful and prayerful examination. As a result of this mindset, I came to the realization, after much research and reflection, that several of my long held perceptions and practices were far more human tradition than divine truth. This is a natural and expected, not to mention necessary, evolution in one's understanding during his/her journey: an evolution that will always bring significant change to honest hearts. There are some, like me, who love to study and to learn, but who, unlike me, are completely unwilling to embrace the change and redirection such learning often demands. One of the saddest parts of seeking to convey these divine truths to others is that, though they may well enjoy the educational aspects of this quest, they simply can't bring themselves to accept the transformational aspects of it. In fact, some will even refuse to feast upon the fruit of their learning because such ingesting of these truths calls for changes they are unwilling and even afraid to make in their lives.

I really like the following quote by Tony A. Gaskins, Jr. (b. March 8, 1984), a motivational speaker, author, and life coach: "You can give a person knowledge, but you can't make them think. Some people want to remain fools, only because the truth requires change." Tony got it right! People tend to fear the unknown, and they most definitely tend to fear any kind of significant change. "Ignorance is bliss" to those who have an aversion to light; who find comfort in intellectual and spiritual darkness, for it saves them the burden of independent thought and analysis; it spares them from the growth pains of personal transformation. Many people, sadly, are spiritually deluded; they are under the mistaken assumption that they already possess perfect (or near perfect) understanding of all eternal truths; that they, and they alone, are the enlightened ones; that they, and they alone, are the "favored few" in the sight of the Almighty. It is not Truth they seek, it is rather continual affirmation of their illusions and delusions, just as Sigmund Freud suggested in the quote at the top of this Reflections. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), whose writings I studied in a couple of my philosophy classes at the university, rightly observed, "People don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed." This is so tragically true!! I know some very well educated, very smart, individuals who, when it comes to their spiritual perceptions and practices, puzzlingly present themselves as little more than blathering idiots. HOW are these men and women able to "get it" in some of life's highly complex fields of study and endeavor, yet utterly fail to "get it" when it comes to the spiritual realm and our place within it?!

Allow me to be very candid here: I truly do not believe the vast majority of these people are "evil" (yes, some of them are; we should not gloss over that reality). Most are not willfully rebellious against God or His Word, nor are they "stupid." Sadly, most have just fallen for Satan's carefully crafted religious delusions; they have come to believe a lie, and, being duped, they promote the parameters and particulars of this deadly delusion as though it were divine Truth. They are "under a deluding influence," and this results in their "believing what is false" (2 Thessalonians 2:11). Some of these fall under this deluding influence because they have no love for Truth; they intentionally seek to promote their own personal or party preferences, practices and precepts. Others, however, seem to genuinely love to learn, but something hinders them from grasping the truths they seek. They may even desire to be proclaimers of divine Truth, yet they themselves can't ever seem to grasp it. Paul warned Timothy about such persons, informing him that "they want to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions" (1 Timothy 1:7). Yet, in the minds of many of these disciples, they probably genuinely believe that they are teaching Truth. It is a delusion pitiful and heartbreaking to behold, and even more sadly: it is manifested almost every day, even in our own beloved families and congregations!

Like the fabled emperor and his "new clothes," it is foolishness to which they themselves seem oblivious, yet "their folly is evident for all men to see" (2 Timothy 3:9). They will say and do some of the most unreasonable and theologically unsound things, and then when those around them look aghast at what they have just heard and seen, these deluded ones will look genuinely puzzled by their reaction. They truly "don't have a clue." Such is the power of this delusion that has them in its grip. The apostle Paul spoke to the brethren in Rome about his fellow Jews, saying, "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness" (Romans 10:2-3). Paul then stated a truth that seemed to elude them: Christ Jesus is the source of our righteousness, and that gift is acquired by faith (vs. 4). As learned and zealous as many of those Jews were, Paul said they had failed to perceive that precious truth, and this failure troubled him greatly. "My heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved" (vs. 1). Jesus also lamented this state of spiritual dullness and delusion, and quoted Isaiah: "You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive" (Matthew 13:14). Jesus even called out some of these Jewish scholars for their blindness to the truths contained in the Scriptures: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). Oh, how this broke the heart of our Lord! And yet, that same blindness is evident all around us even to this day!

Paul depicted this condition very powerfully in this very blunt declaration: "They are always learning, but they are never able to come to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). A number of translations read: "...they never arrive at an understanding of the truth." They read and read, they study and study, but they just "don't get it." It is right before their eyes, but they can't see it. It was for this very reason that Jesus often followed His teaching with this charge: "Hear and understand!" When Philip ran up to the chariot carrying the eunuch from Ethiopia and heard him reading from the prophecy of Isaiah, his first words to this court official of Queen Candace were, "Do you understand what you are reading?" (Acts 8:30). This man was reading and studying, undoubtedly hoping to learn, but understanding eluded him. He needed help, and to his credit he admitted this fact! Pride stands in the way of that admission from many today, sadly. Thus, they continue to read and study, and yet they also continue in their failure to understand.

Although Paul was addressing a specific problem within the church at Ephesus (a number of gullible women who were being swayed by the false teaching of several disreputable individuals who were seeking to gain a following), nevertheless his comment exposes a condition that most certainly transcends any one time, place or people. There always have been, and always will be, those who, for whatever reason (and there may be many), never seem to be able to come to an understanding of eternal truths. Perhaps some simply do not have the cognitive capacity to grasp such truths, and for such persons I truly believe our gracious, loving God will make provision. Others, however, either don't want to see anything beyond their cherished personal or party perceptions, preferences, precepts and practices because it would require them to make changes contrary to their cherished traditions (such as those who stopped up their ears as Stephen sought to share these spiritual truths with them - Acts 7:57), or they had been so indoctrinated in the misguided teachings of their religious tradition that they couldn't find their way out of the darkness into the light. Jesus spoke of both these conditions when He referred to "the blind leading the blind," a condition in which both would come to ruin (Matthew 15:14b; 23:16f).

Those who are willfully blind, and thus incapable (by their own doing) of discerning Truth, are quite often so hardened in their hearts and minds that Jesus indicated our best option might be simply to "leave them alone" (Matthew 15:14a). The Lord will deal with them in due time. Their victims, however, are another matter; it is they who need rescuing from the jaws of these savage wolves who have crept into the fold to ravage the flock for their own personal gain (Acts 20:29-30; 2 Timothy 3:6). Paul, like Jesus, commanded us to "avoid such people" (2 Timothy 3:5). Tragically, such blind guides are most often so spiritually self-deluded that they are beyond reaching. Not so with their victims. This is why both Jesus and Paul tell us to avoid and leave alone the former group (yes, expose them for who and what they are; refute their teaching), but devote your time and energy to those disciples these blind guides are luring to their ruin. In 2 Timothy 3:7 (where Paul speaks of those "always learning, but never able to come to a knowledge/understanding of the truth"), the apostle Paul presents "a graphic picture of a large class, by no means extinct, who are caught and led by the instructions of itinerant religious quacks" [Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 4 - II Timothy, p. 313]. When one submits long enough to the guidance of such blind guides, it is inevitable that "their power of comprehension becomes atrophied" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 4, p. 171]. The Greek scholar Dr. A. T. Robertson states this is a "pathetic picture of those without intellectual power to cut through the fog of words and, though always learning scraps of things, they never come into the full knowledge of the truth in Christ" [Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword].

Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) laments, "There are many such persons in the world, who, whatever attention they may pay to religion, never understand its nature. ... Nothing is more common than for persons to be very busy and active in religion, and even to 'learn' many things about it, who still remain strangers to the saving power of the gospel" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. The British theologian Adam Clarke (1760-1832) concurs: "There are many professors of Christianity still who answer the above description. They hear, repeatedly hear, it may be, good sermons; but, as they seldom meditate on what they hear, they derive little profit from the ordinances of God. They have no more grace now than they had several years ago, though hearing all the while. They do not meditate, they do not think, they do not reduce what they hear to practice; therefore, even under the preaching of an apostle, they could not become wise unto salvation" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 634]. I have personally witnessed, as have many of you, this tragic and deadly state of affairs many times over the past 43 years of my public ministry. I have engaged the blind guides, and sought to expose them and their teaching. I have also sought to enlighten those who have been blinded by these deluded teachers, showing them the true nature of our God and of His Gospel of Grace. I have had some success among both groups, but my meager contribution is virtually negligible in view of the great need that still exists. It is thus my prayer that God will raise up more and more men and women to address this need, for there is indeed a vast harvest of honest seekers out there who need to be rescued from their misguided religious leaders. "When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless. ... Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest'" (Matthew 9:36-38). Lord, help us to be harvesters, not hinderers, as we labor in Your field.


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Readers' Reflections

From an Author in South Africa:

Dear Al, as a regular reader of your Reflections, and one who has delved into your Archives, I congratulate you, and thank you, for your latest issue: "The Sin of Sectarian Salesmanship: Preaching the Church or Promoting a Sect?" (Reflections #773), and especially for the quotation attributed to Norman Douglas ("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"). I am myself in the process of writing a book that addresses the first part of his criticism, and which also touches on Sir Francis Bacon's "vicissitudes of sects and religion." To this end I feel bold enough to ask you for your professional attitude toward a portion of my draft book that highlights the fact of denominationalism (I am including in this email that entire section for you to examine). I trust you will understand that, although I benefited a great deal from the religious teaching I received from Churches of Christ in earlier years, there is an overall picture of Christianity today that is of great concern to me. I do not want to be seen as attacking the Church of Christ, but my religious environment over many decades is my reality. It has become the foundation for the appalling state I find religion as a whole to be in. Hence my endorsement of Norman Douglas! The world we are in is vastly different from that of all our forebears.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, I was just reading your latest article: "The Sin of Sectarian Salesmanship." People like Hugh Fulford are determined to defend to their very last breath their view that WE are UNdenominational, but that ALL OTHERS are "denominational." As I refer to in "tail-end theology," the whole problem is a misplaced faith. I was just thinking this morning about how many people are converted to a church (which often means a doctrinal mindset), and not converted to Christ. Therein lies the problem. I am presenting a lesson on Acts 6:1-7 shortly, which I have found quite exciting and illuminating in preparing for it. I'll send you a copy of my analysis. God bless!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I can only hope and pray that everyone could escape Hugh Fulford's destructive teaching relative to the church (i.e. that the Churches of Christ ALONE make up THE "one true church"). It is awful. It is divisive. The other denominations scoff at the arrogance! Having also been indoctrinated in this sectarian pride, I have an allergic reaction to it when I hear this arrogant teaching now! One can quickly notice, if they will pull their head out of the sand, that this destructive teaching not only alienates one group from the others, but it also alienates one assembly from the others within their own faith heritage! Assemblies get labeled "progressive" and "anti" and "ultra-conservative," etc. It seems like I recall there being over two dozen different "sects" within this faith heritage ("Churches of Christ"), and none of them will even associate with one another. How awful ... and how predictable!! Keep the fires burning, brother!

From a PhD in Utah:

Al, as I began reading your article, you scared me to death! I thought you had gone denominational on me! I had a relative who was an elder at a congregation where Hugh Fulford was the "minister." I always loved and respected him and his lovely wife, and still do. But, I too have been greatly disappointed and upset at his (and many others') inability to see their own denominational mindset. For years we've had tracts and books with titles like "Why I Am A Member Of The Church Of Christ." And the meaning is the same as Hugh's "We." It is sad that so many place salvation on the basis of the works of "proper worship." Many point proudly to Nadab and Abihu (while not knowing exactly what they did wrong) and fail to recognize that they lived under the Law, and that Paul states we are not under Law but under Grace! Even under the Law, look at God's inspired statement: "With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:6-8). It is not the presentation of the gift in the "right" house or in the "right" order. It is the presentation of the heart and life (Romans 12:1-2; James 1:27; Matthew 16:24).

From a Reader in Washington:

Hey Al, I'm sending you a link to the congregation here that we used to attend. They have videos on there of their lectureship on "The One True Church." I thought you might like to see them, but I'm not sure I have the stomach to watch them! I'm sure it is the same old "think as I think and understand the Bible as I understand the Bible" way of thinking. Al, your latest Reflections was spot on! And you are right: they really "just don't get it." Thank you so much for all the hard work you do! When we finally left there (and my husband was an elder), we were told, "You know better than that. The CofC is the only true church!!" We just couldn't do it any more!! This kind of teaching is so sad; it continually blows my mind! All I know is: God knows me by name, and He loves me even when I don't always get it "right." Oh, the glory of GRACE!! Blessings to you and your wife!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, thank you for sending me the CD containing all four of your books which I ordered recently through PayPal [Click Here for information about this CD and how to order it - Al Maxey]. I look forward to reading them all. I was also delighted to see that you had autographed the CD cover. Thanks so much!

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