by Al Maxey
Issue #782 -------
September 10, 2019
Heresy is what the minority believe; it is the name
given by the powerful to the doctrine of the weak
Robert G. Ingersoll [1833-1899]
The English author and broadcaster Sir Antony Rupert Jay (1930-2016), said to be one of the favorites of the Queen, observed that in religious institutions and churches, "The heretic must be cast out not because of the probability that he is wrong, but because of the possibility that he is right." Those persons who are personally and professionally invested in the perceived rightness, and even sacredness and infallibility, of these religious entities, and who are responsible to some degree for the promotion of that public perception (or should we say misconception), will of necessity fight fervently to ward off and destroy any and all challenges to those personal and party practices, precepts and preferences to which they are devoted. Their own personal and professional survival, as well as the survival of the religious organizations within which they have become entrenched, absolutely demands it. They must always be right about everything, and they must never be wrong about anything, for to the legalistic, patternistic mindset the very validation of their salvation is linked to both! This is why it is virtually impossible to reason with such persons, or even to get them to engage in any form of dialogue or communication with those of opposing views and practices. Any form of challenge, any questions or doubts, directed toward their convictions and traditions will almost always at some point result in an outburst of rage against their "apostate" antagonists. They will either fight or flee, but very, very rarely will they respond rationally. I appreciate the way the American author Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) has expressed this truth: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Heretic hunting and hounding has long been a trait of the ultra-conservative, legalistic, patternistic sects and factions of Christendom (although, ironically, it is they themselves who, by the very definition of the terms, are the "heretics" engaged in "heresies"). I have dealt with this in some depth in my article "Heretic Hounding 101: Pondering Partyism's Pattern and Philosophy of Personal Persecution" (Reflections #376). They have become masters of religious militancy, and pride themselves on "marking" and maligning that vast horde of heretics they perceive to be encamped around them. They are "fighting the good fight" and "contending for the faith," or so they have convinced themselves. Indeed, one would almost think, based on their attitudes and actions, that the terms "heretic" and "heresy" are found on every page of the New Testament writings. How shocked some of them are when it is pointed out to them that just the opposite is true. The Greek word "hairetikos" (English: heretic) appears only one time in the NT writings, and it is used by Paul in Titus 3:10 - "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning." Paul then characterizes such a one as "perverted, sinful and self-condemned" (vs. 11). Strong's Concordance defines the term as meaning: "a schismatic." It literally signifies one who is willing to divide over a strongly held opinion. The Greek word "hairesis" (English: heresy) also appears only once, and it again comes from the mouth of the apostle Paul as he spoke to the governor Felix: "But 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). The Jews regarded those who followed Jesus as being part of a "heresy" (i.e., a religious sect formed around strongly held opinions). A "heretic" is one willing to divide the larger body of believers over certain cherished views and practices, which is what the Jews believed the Jesus-followers to be doing. Paul spoke of the godless dismemberment of the One Body as being the result of "factions (heresies) among you" (1 Corinthians 11:19). These "factions" (motivated by a factious spirit) are listed as a "work of the flesh" (Galatians 5:20). These are "destructive heresies" introduced to the body of believers by "false prophets" and "false teachers," according to the apostle Peter (2 Peter 2:1), which result in a destructive "maligning of the way of the Truth" (vs. 2). In these few verses we have the totality of what the NT writings have to say about "heretics" and "heresy." By the way, as an interesting aside: 2 Peter 2:1 is the only passage in the Bible where the phrase "false teacher" appears (see my in-depth study of this in Reflections #123: "Focusing on False Teachers: Scriptural Fact vs. Sectarian Fallacy").
"False Teacher" and "Heretic" are terms that for far too long and far too frequently have been rather thoughtlessly applied to anyone with whom one may differ on any topic or traditional understanding or practice. It is so casually cast upon those around us that one would almost think there are heretics lurking around every corner just waiting to entice true believers into the fires of Hell. Hardly a week goes by that I don't hear of someone referring to me as a heretic or apostate. And this comes from people who have never met me, and who have never bothered to sit down and talk with me. They heard something or read something or somebody said something, and they are now experts on "all things Al Maxey." For example, there is a discussion thread on the Facebook group "Church of Christ Facebook" (which claims to have 38.5K members) that began when someone posted a link to my article titled "The Split-Second of Salvation: Is it Imperative for Us to Perceive the Precise Moment of God's Acceptance?" (Reflections #348). As is quite common, those who didn't like the article simply ignored the position taken and attacked the person who wrote it instead. A man from Texas, whom I have never met or heard of, and who most likely, based on things he wrote, never even read the article, boldly declared, "Al Maxey is a false teacher." The man who posted my article responded, "Concerning Al Maxey, he is not a false teacher. I'd encourage you to actually talk with him before you start making such judgments." The person from Texas wrote back, "I've had a discussion or two with him and I've read several of his articles. He's a false teacher. He speaks out of both sides of his mouth." A woman from Ohio jumped in, writing, "I've known Al a long time. He is indeed a heretic, dooming souls to hell one soul at a time. ... Yes, he is a heretic." And it went on and on and on from there. For the record, I've never heard of either of those persons, although for some reason they believe they know me inside and out. Again, this just goes to show how thoughtlessly and casually some disciples "mark" others as hardened, Hell-bound heretics who are determined to take as many souls with them as they can.
With all this in mind, it would be well to point out, by way of reminder, that this is nothing new. We've been marking and maligning, castigating and criticizing, and even almost gleefully eviscerating one another in the One Body of Christ Jesus for centuries. From the first century to the twenty-first century, and all points between, we have been shamefully hunting heretics among our brothers and sisters in Christ, while the true forces of Darkness amass and gain strength all around us (and yes, I plead guilty to having done this as well, I'm ashamed to say). In every generation, and within every denomination (including our own), we can point to specific persons who have turned on one another so viciously that lives and reputations have been destroyed, and the beauty of the Bride of Christ has been tarnished. Two hundred years ago, in the city of Philadelphia (ironically), a child was born whose life would be a testimony to this "heresy hunting" mindset. He died 149 years ago this month (on September 3rd), and the events that occurred during the 51 years of his life should serve as a wakeup call, on a number of levels, to each of us, although my guess is that very few of you have ever heard this man's name, and thus have no clue as to who he is or why his short sojourn is so significant. So, let's get to know him a little better.
Jesse Babcock Ferguson was born in the "City of Brotherly Love" (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on January 19, 1819. Jesse's father, Robert French Ferguson, was Scottish, while his mother, Hannah Champlain Babcock, was English. Religiously, his father was the descendant of Quakers, who were among the first settlers of New Jersey, and his mother was the descendant of Puritans who settled in Rhode Island. Very soon after his birth the family relocated to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Jesse showed early on an interest in gaining a good education, and so he was enrolled at Fair View Academy where he studied for several years, making good progress in his education by all accounts. His goal was to one day attend William and Mary College, from which his older brothers had acquired their education, but as he entered his teen years he saw that dream slip away from him. His father suffered some major financial losses, and he was forced to put young Jesse into an apprenticeship position in the printing office of the local newspaper. A year later, however, the publisher, due to financial troubles, had to close down the newspaper. His father then secured a position for Jesse with a book printer in Baltimore, Maryland. He remained there only a few weeks before poor health forced him to return to the home of his parents. After he got better, Jesse went to work for his older brother who was the editor of a paper being published in Virginia. He was able to continue his formal education while working there, completing a number of courses in both Latin and Greek.
At the age of 21 he moved to Ohio where he opened a school and began teaching. He also got married at this time, began editing a religious newspaper, and did a bit of preaching, as he had opportunity. He did not remain long in Ohio, but chose to move to southern Kentucky, where his wife's family resided. It was here that he began to focus more fully on his calling to the ministry, and he became an "independent itinerant preacher." He established a number of congregations of believers in the poorer, more rural, areas of Kentucky, and soon became known all over the state as one of the most brilliant and eloquent preachers in all of Kentucky. The people loved him, and would come from far and wide to hear him preach. "Jesse Babcock Ferguson was famous in his day as one of the most eloquent orators in the South. ... He enjoyed a national reputation for his eloquence" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 334]. Sadly, this would also be a contributing factor to his eventual downfall, for his popularity and fame went to his head. H. Leo Boles (1874-1946), the great-grandson of "Raccoon" John Smith, wrote the following in his biography of Ferguson: "He was brilliant, and he knew it. He was possessed with a very high degree of self-esteem, and it fed his vanity. ... Some claim that he was spoiled by the compliments that he received and the praises which were given him. Few men have possessed such conceit as he had" [Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preachers, Gospel Advocate Company, 1932]. Boles went on to note that what Ferguson gained in the development of his self-esteem, he lost with respect to his spirituality. To be perfectly honest, this is something many of us in ministry need to always be on guard against. Even the apostle Paul wrote that God had allowed him to be afflicted with a "thorn in his flesh" for the purpose of "keeping me from exalting myself" (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Ferguson very quickly began to come to the notice of some of the religious leaders of that time, including a man by the name of Alexander Campbell, who invited Jesse to come and hold a Gospel meeting for them. This opened the door for Jesse to enter into association with the brethren who were part of what would come to be known as the Stone-Campbell Movement. These disciples of Christ, who were formed into Christian churches, and also churches of Christ (more as descriptive terms than legal names), were on the move and on the rise in the land, and they began to reach out to Ferguson to take his place as a leader among them. Thus, "he moved up fast in the Disciple ranks, and when only 27 was in the pulpit of the largest and most influential congregation in Tennessee: the 500 member Church of Christ in Nashville, which was about half white and half black" [Dr. Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement: An Anecdotal History of Three Churches, p. 399]. Dr. Garrett points out that in the mid to late 1840's, when Ferguson was called to serve as their Minister, this congregation "had three services on Sunday for teaching and evangelism, and then the members gathered in the afternoon in a special service for the Lord's Supper. ... It had an organized Bible school; it had an outreach program that ministered to the city's poor, maintaining a fund for that purpose; it had elders who took care of the church without the aid of a hired preacher; and it sent forth evangelists to preach in destitute fields, Tolbert Fanning being one of them" [ibid, p. 309]. For a period of two years, from 1844 to 1846, the Nashville Church of Christ sent letter after letter, appeal after appeal, to Ferguson to come and be their preacher. He finally agreed in 1846, and came to work with them for a year. At the end of the year he was asked to stay on, and he again agreed. He took a month's vacation, during which time he returned to Kentucky, packed up their things, and moved his family to Nashville. This was March, 1847.
Ferguson served that congregation faithfully for five years, during which time his fame and influence continued to grow throughout the state and nation. "He had all the marks of being sound in the faith. He was a debater for the cause, and in one debate he converted his opponent, a Methodist, to the Christian Church" [Dr. Leroy Garrett, p. 400]. He served as editor of a number of Christian papers, including "The Heretic Detector" and "The Christian Magazine." He worked alongside Tolbert Fanning and Alexander Campbell in a number of endeavors. He was a speaker in great demand throughout the area, and he also "was on the committee that set in motion the American Christian Missionary Society" [ibid]. Yes, this congregation in Nashville was all set for a bright future, for they "had hired the most gifted young Minister in the Movement, Jesse B. Ferguson" [ibid, p. 309]. H. Leo Boles writes that this congregation "continued to increase in number and popularity in the city until it was necessary to erect a larger building. The church of Christ in Nashville, with Jesse B. Ferguson as its preacher, enjoyed a greater prominence and popularity than any of the denominational churches. During this time Brother Ferguson was looked upon as the greatest pulpit orator that ever visited Nashville, and he enjoyed the fame of being the greatest and most eloquent pulpit orator in the South. He was popular with all the churches of Christ in Tennessee and the South. He is described as a man of fine personal appearance, a very fluent writer, and a very fascinating and eloquent speaker. ... During the era of his popularity he was made a member of the Board of Trustees of Franklin College. No man had more honors thrust upon him by the brotherhood in Nashville and in Tennessee than did Brother Ferguson" [Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preachers].
Yet, in only five more years it would all begin to come crashing down around them. "The church was not only decimated in numbers, but its building was burned and its reputation marred" [Garrett, p. 309]. Ferguson was ruined; he "died a broken recluse" [ibid, p. 388]. "The rise and fall of the Nashville church affected Tolbert Fanning's theological outlook, if not the future of the Church of Christ in the South" [ibid, p. 309]. So, what happened?!! Let me be painfully blunt here, and the reader is free to disagree with me on this, as this is entirely my own view. I believe a significant cause for what ultimately would befall this congregation and its young preacher, Jesse Ferguson, had been in the making for years: it was that both, as they achieved more and more fame and acclaim, became "too big for their britches," and as a result lost sight of who and what the Lord had called each of them to be! An in-depth study of our Lord's evaluation of His church, using His message to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3 as our primary text, may very well be a timely study for each of us, both individually and congregationally, for some of these were also losing their focus, and thus losing their way. We should further note that history shows us that such falls do not generally happened suddenly. They are years in the making, and there are ample warning signs if we will only open our eyes to them and act quickly to deal with them. Paul's charge to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17f, as well as his advice in the Pastoral Epistles, would also be very helpful in any such study of the calling and purpose of the called out ones and their spiritual leaders.
But we can get even more specific with what happened in Nashville. Indeed, we can pretty much pinpoint the month and year. It was April, 1852. Jesse Ferguson made public a conviction that he had come to embrace, one which he acquired through personal reflection on the Scriptures. It was his studied opinion that "all whose place of birth and external circumstances prevented the hearing of the Gospel in this life would not be condemned without hearing it." Ferguson had been wrestling with the thought, as a great many people have, of how a loving, merciful God could condemn to Hell those who never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel due to no fault of their own: i.e., due to the fact that they were simply born at a time and place where the Good News had not yet been proclaimed. The apostle Paul even deals with this some in Romans 2, where he seems to be saying that some will be judged fit or unfit for the kingdom by some other means (their response to the testimony of nature, for example). I myself, just like Jesse Ferguson, struggled with that, and like Ferguson I came to a personal conviction, based on intense study of the Word, of how I believe God intends to deal with this in a way consistent with His nature. I have provided an accounting of my conviction on this in my article titled "God's Plan for the Unenlightened: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light" (Reflections #158). I have taught this in classes over the years, presented it in sermons and lectures, and in various publications where my writings appear. Yes, I am strongly convicted that my understanding is correct, and I stand by it, but I will not make an "issue" of it; I will not elevate it to a condition for salvation or a requirement for fellowship. If someone asks me about it, or challenges me on this view, I am more than happy to take time to study it with them so that they might see why I believe as I do. After all, did not Peter write, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Even Paul makes it clear that we don't all have to understand every biblical text or religious matter the same. Rather, "the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God" (Romans 14:22), and "Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind" (vs. 5). God accepts both persons, regardless of their varying convictions. Our challenge is to do the same: accept one another, but NOT for the purpose of passing judgment on his or her opinions and convictions (vs. 1).
It was here that things began to fall apart in Nashville in April, 1852. When Alexander Campbell heard what Jesse Ferguson had publicly declared about this matter, he "took issue with this exposition. Brother Ferguson became irritated and highly incensed that anyone should contradict anything that he should write or preach" [H. Leo Boles, Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preachers]. This led to a vicious war of words between these two powerful and beloved leaders, with others getting involved along the way by taking sides. It got very ugly very fast. Campbell would devote more than a hundred pages in his journal The Millennial Harbinger to exposing Ferguson to the brotherhood, referring to Jesse's views as "crude and undigested speculations." He called him an "apostate" who was promoting "damnable heresy," and he suggested that perhaps Ferguson's problem was "a maggot in his brain." Campbell, through his efforts, made it clear to all that "the Movement had a first-rate heretic on its hands, sitting in high places" [Garrett, p. 400]. Jesse Ferguson, on the other hand, was not only upset by Campbell's fury, but somewhat puzzled by it, for it had always been Campbell's stated view that brethren had a right to their opinions and convictions as long as they didn't seek to impose or bind them upon their fellow disciples. Campbell made this clear in his debate with Rice: "I have learned, not only in theory, but the fact - that if you wish opinionism to cease or to subside, you must not call up and debate everything that men think or say. You may debate anything into consequence, or you may, by a dignified silence, waste it into oblivion." Campbell, for whatever reason, was unable or unwilling to grant this liberty to Ferguson, and he went after him with a fury. "Enos E. Dowling, who has probably researched the Ferguson-Campbell controversy more than anyone else, ... asks the kind of question that history forces upon us: 'Would a more generous course, a kindlier attitude, have saved Jesse Ferguson for a useful and continuing ministry in the Christian Church?' We wonder!" [Garrett, p. 402].
The more Campbell attacked Ferguson, the more the latter began turning away from the teachings of Campbell and the whole Movement. He began to embrace the teachings of Universalism and Spiritualism. He denounced "eternal damnation" as "a hideous fable of a barbaric age; a dream of the fanatic," believing that God would give all the damned souls "a second chance," preaching to them after their deaths. This came to be known as his "post-mortem gospel." He, his wife Lucinda, and his daughter Virginia, began holding sťances where they professed to receive messages from the "spirit" of William Ellery Channing, one of the foremost Unitarian pastors in the United States, who had died in 1842. Campbell sought to debate Ferguson on these beliefs in 1855, but Ferguson turned him away, saying the "spirit" of Channing had warned him not to debate Campbell. The latter later noted in The Millennial Harbinger that he had been "thwarted by a ghost!" Ferguson was soon inviting Universalist pastors to come fill the pulpit at his congregation in Nashville. Some in the congregation sought to oust him from the pulpit, but others were supporting his views. A huge battle for possession of the buildings and property ensued that ended up in the courts. The court awarded the property to the followers of Alexander Campbell, and so Ferguson was forced to resign in April, 1857. Almost immediately thereafter, on April 8th, the building burned to the ground in a "fire of suspicious origin." Tragically, "the church in Nashville was completely destroyed by his influence" [H. Leo Boles].
One commentator on the life of Jesse Ferguson made this observation: "Ferguson's beliefs and their upshot led some of the members of the Nashville Church of Christ, who had not agreed with Ferguson's Spiritualism, to make stronger affirmation of orthodoxy a requirement for future ministers; among the leaders of this strain of belief was Tolbert Fanning, who used the Ferguson incident to enforce his own conservative beliefs as the norm for the group" [Wikipedia]. Dr. Leroy Garrett concurs, writing that this whole affair "confirmed Fanning in his conservatism, and helped to set the stage for resistance to anything 'liberal'" [The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 310]. Indeed, Fanning's battle cry would become thereafter: "Remember Nashville -- and Lot's wife!" [ibid]. In some ways, therefore, Ferguson played a part in turning some of the early leaders of our Movement more firmly to ultra-conservative views: understandable, given what they were facing, but hardly a positive development. "After Ferguson parted ways with the Campbellite Movement, still firm in his Universalist, Unitarian and Spiritualist beliefs, he devoted himself to trade and real estate investment. Many in the Church of Christ still regard Ferguson as the most disruptive influence in their denomination's history, a 'meteor that rose to the zenith,' one church historian wrote, who then 'burned out and fell into oblivion'" [Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, a resource of the Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society].
"During and after the Civil War, Ferguson traveled extensively, lecturing and preaching. He returned to Tennessee in the 1860's, where his real estate investments had made him a wealthy man. Ferguson was making plans to begin a utopian spiritualist settlement in the Tennessee countryside when he died in September, 1870" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 334]. Jesse Babcock Ferguson began so well, but he will go down in history as one of our denomination's "first heretics," for he fell into the deadly trap of allowing opinions to become divisive. In fairness, though, he was not entirely to blame, for the way others in this Movement sought to "handle the situation" certainly served to pour fuel on the fire. Handled differently, this perhaps could have turned out much differently. Ferguson spent his last years at his large estate outside of Nashville, living in wealth, but also in seclusion. "Once the most popular man in Nashville, he was no longer even recognized when he occasionally ventured forth" [Dr. Leroy Garrett, p. 407]. H. Leo Boles ends his biographical sketch of this man with the following observation: "He died on Saturday, September 3, 1870. On the Lord's day he was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville. The funeral services were performed by Dr. Baird, of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. His death attracted scarcely a passing notice from the daily press and hardly a remark on the streets of Nashville for one who at one time was their most honored and esteemed pulpit orator." I hope and pray this account will generate some thoughtful discussion among the disciples of Christ, as well as some very honest self-reflection, for there is a bit of Ferguson and Campbell in each of us just waiting for the right circumstances so that they might be unleashed. Let us take warning, brethren, for "there but for the grace of God go you and I."
From a Minister/Elder in Florida:
Brother Maxey, I read your articles and enjoy them very much. It seems I remember reading something you wrote about new wine in old wineskins. I am preparing a sermon on this subject, dealing with the traditions that we follow and think more of than we do the Word of God. If you have anything on this subject, and would be willing to share it with me, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!
I shared with this fellow Minister/Elder, whom I have known for many years, a study I did back in 2014 titled "The Gospel in a Goatskin: Reflecting on Christ's Comment about New Wine in Old Wineskins" (Reflections #630). In that study I too focused on how men frequently allow their traditions to trump Truth, and the sad consequences of that lack of spiritual focus and insight. I pray that my study will be of some small help in his preparation for and presentation of his sermon to the members of his congregation. -- Al Maxey
From an Author in Arizona:
Brother Al, the following statement from your pen, which you wrote in your most recent Reflections (Issue #781 - "Apostolic Call for Self-Emasculation: Reflective Analysis of Paul's Wish in Galatians 5:12"), is worth broadcasting far and wide: "What was the problem that prompted Paul to pen this first book of the NT canon? It was the rise of legalistic, patternistic thinking which, if not opposed quickly and firmly, would undermine our very blood-bought freedom in Christ Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith. Period! Yet, this was being challenged (just as it is today, by the way). Paul wasted no time going after it, and he did so with a ferocity that has, quite frankly, shocked a lot of disciples over the centuries." As you have often noted, Al, we are not saved, nor are we justified, by patterns and plans formulated by man's wisdom. These have accomplished nothing through the centuries but general division. The evidence is splattered all over the sectarian valleys and factional mountains. As our dear deceased W. Carl Ketcherside once said, "We couldn't be more divided if the Lord had commanded it." If the great apostle Paul were on the scene today, I can envision him writing another epistle: to The Divided Western Front! When will it all end?! In the trash-heap of bygone religions.
From a Minister in Arkansas:
Your article "Apostolic Call for Self-Emasculation" is a good treatment of a rather distasteful subject. I had always just thought this was a hyperbolic outburst by the apostle because the Judaizing teachers had done so much damage; their crowning achievement being the intimidation of the apostle Peter. Peter's snubbing of Gentile converts must have caused havoc. I always like to discuss the effect on the small children of converted Gentiles. Many must have asked why Peter didn't come to their houses any more. How do bewildered parents answer such questions, and how can the harm be erased? I am sure Paul did a lot of "damage control," and hopefully Peter did likewise after being severely (and rightly so) rebuked. Your article adds the dimension of related pagan practices which adds a lot of depth to one's understanding of Paul's outburst. I appreciate your research into that aspect of the topic. God bless you!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, thank you for your latest Reflections article. It was interesting to see the final letter in the Readers' Reflections section, which was from a member at the Southeast Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. I used to be supported by this congregation in the 1980's. Regarding Galatians 5:4, to which you alluded in your last article (and I see you have 37 Reflections articles connected to that verse in your Textual Index), I was noting two of Thayer's definitions regarding the Greek word "katargeo": (1) to cause a person or thing to have no further efficacy, and (2) to terminate all intercourse with one. W. E. Vine says, "The aorist tense indicates that point in time at which there was an acceptance of the Judaistic doctrines." As usual, your article is very good, well researched, with great credibility. Have a great day!
Galatians 5:4 is a very powerful verse. Paul stated, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (New American Standard Bible). "Severed" is how this translation rendered the Greek word "katargeo," which in the text appears in the 1st Aorist Passive Indicative, 2nd Person Plural form. The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised defines this word thusly: "to render useless or unproductive; to render powerless; to make empty and without meaning; to bring to an end; to destroy, annihilate; to free from, sever from" [p. 219]. This lexicon states that it is primarily this last meaning (to sever) that applies in Galatians 5:4, which is the meaning the NASB (and also the English Standard Version) opted to use in its translation of the verse. The New International Version (and the Holman Christian Standard Bible) reads: "You have been alienated from Christ." The King James Version reads: "Christ is become of no effect unto you." The New Living Translation and The Message read: "You have been cut off from Christ." We could go on and on with the various versions, but I think the point is made: there is significant diversity of understanding exhibited in these translations, and if one is not proficient in Greek, then comparing a number of versions can be very beneficial. The Greek aorist tense indicates point action (primarily in the past). Thus, at some specific point in the past these persons mentioned by Paul had been (the significance of the Greek passive voice) severed, cut off, alienated, and made useless, powerless and of no effect. Apart from a relationship with Christ, all of these apply. W. E. Vine believes this point in time was when they opted to accept the theology of the Judaizers, thus returning to an effort to be justified by law, rather than by grace through faith. I believe Vine is very likely correct in that assessment. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
Sometimes you just have to say it like you mean it! I wonder what Paul would have thought of today's focus on "hydration salvation"? My guess is that he would rise up against it, and those who teach it, just as boldly. Keep preaching Truth, brother!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, looking over Galatians 5:12 (the text for your last Reflections), I believe that looking at the overall context of Galatians 5 provides an understanding for verse 12. The issue at hand in Galatians 5 is the call by some for circumcision, or the cutting off of the flesh, as the basis for justification. Paul is against this, and against those who teach this. I think that Paul is therefore saying to those who teach this that if they are going to go this far, then why not go farther and "emasculate" themselves. To the Gentiles, circumcision might have been seen as self-mutilation of the flesh, but to God this wasn't the purpose. Rather, it was a sign for the nation of the Jews. Circumcision wasn't required of the Gentiles who worshipped God. The people of Nineveh who repented weren't required to be circumcised. This is in line with Paul's argument in Colossians 2:20-23 - "Why do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch' (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using) in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence." God bless you, Al.
From an Evangelist in Georgia:
Al, I hope this finds you doing well. In reading your new Reflections tonight, I am a bit confused by your "grace alone" and "faith alone" statement. I have seen that in some of the denominational manuals that I have (and I have a case full of them). It seems that those phrases are contradictory. Does not "faith alone" contradict James 2:24? And if faith alone saves us, then what do we do with several passages that refer to the faith that demons have? James 2:19 says, "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe and tremble." I think the demons had more faith than some so-called Christians have! Just wondering.
If one goes back and examines my article, one will find that the phrases "grace alone" and "faith alone" were not my words, but rather the words of Dr. Dallas Burdette in his book from which I provided an excerpt in the final paragraph of my article. I thought that in that quote from his book he had made an excellent observation: just as Paul faced those who opposed the biblical teaching ("saved by grace through faith"), so also do we today face the same preaching and teaching by those who claim to be believers, and who, one would think, should know better. Paul was opposing those who were attempting to add all manner of traditional or religious acts to the NT path of salvation by grace through faith. Circumcision being the primary example in Paul's case. We today face the same attempt to add all manner of acts to our salvation by grace through faith. I would probably have chosen not to add the word "alone," as it tends to raise red flags in the minds of some disciples, yet I believe I know what Dallas intended by that addition. He was simply seeking to show that too frequently men believe and practice a meritorious works-based approach to salvation, rather than salvation being the GIFT of God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Himself; a gift which we then receive by faith, and for which we then show our love and gratitude through our works which God prepared ahead of time for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10). The word "alone," therefore, was an attempt to show that the additions to that divine path to salvation, which men sought to impose upon others, were useless. Yes, both grace and faith are only truly appreciated by our fellow human beings when visible. Thus, God made His grace, love, mercy, etc. visible to us in Jesus (John 1:14-18), just as James says we make our faith visible to others through our evidentiary acts of faith. No matter how many ways we SHOW (manifest) our faith through our actions, it is still true that none of the acts themselves are redemptive (they are not sacraments); rather, it is His grace and our faith "alone" (nothing added by us) that secures the gift of salvation. Yes, we will show that faith, love and devotion to Him in countless ways for the remainder of our lives, but we do so NOT to secure our salvation, but rather simply to show the reality of that which we now possess by grace through faith. We do these God-ordained, divinely-commanded works BECAUSE we already are His children, not in order to BECOME His children. It is this distinction I have sought to convey in countless articles, sermons, classes, lectures, etc. And it is this, I truly believe, my friend Dallas was trying to convey with the use of "alone." NOTE: I sent the above to the reader from Georgia, who is a well-known and well-respected leader in Churches of Christ, and he wrote back the following: "Al, thanks for your response. That clears the matter, as I agree that our works do not earn or merit what Christ did for us, but they serve to show that our faith is a real faith, not just so many words." -- Al Maxey
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