by Al Maxey
Issue #788 -------
January 19, 2020
Religious bondage shackles and debilitates
the mind and unfits it for every noble
enterprise, every expanded prospect.
James Madison [1751-1836]
Roger Williams (1603-1683), an English theologian and Puritan pastor, the founder of the colony that would become Rhode Island, characterized the imposition of one's own convictions (or the collective conscience of any group) upon others as "soul rape." Our founders knew quite well the dangers of a person or group having such elevated views of their own convictions that they were thereby convinced that the imposition of their convictions in matters of conscience upon all others was a noble and necessary endeavor. This is not only easily perceived within the political arena, but also within the religious arena as well. When a person or group becomes convinced that their way of thinking and behaving is the only correct way of thinking and behaving, tyranny is never far behind.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) wrote, "It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others!" George Washington concurred: "While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to Him only are they answerable." Thus, Jefferson vowed, "I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others." Even our own First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States affirms this truth: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Sadly, this has been greatly ignored, and even abused, in our society, and it is most certainly never followed by rigid religionists who feel "called of God" to impose their own will upon the rest of humanity (and most often against the will of the latter). As James Madison rightly noted in the quote at the top of this study, "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind." It is a subjugation of another's convictions of conscience to our own, thereby enslaving them to the will of whatever sect or faction we serve or promote. In this way, Jesus declares, we make such a convert to our own convictions "twice as much a son of hell" as we ourselves (Matthew 23:15). Further, we rob them of the joy of growing toward those "expanded prospects" envisioned for us by our Savior. We bind them to a legal pattern, rather than allowing them the freedom to simply serve the Person of Jesus, who lovingly purchased that liberty for them with His blood.
My heart truly goes out to those persons who are struggling under the heavy yoke of legalistic, patternistic, oppressive and repressive sectarianism. They are in bondage; they are slaves of a system, rather than servants of a Savior. Indeed, the Savior offers them infinitely more: He invites them to become sons and daughters of a loving Father, and to feel His warm embrace of grace, rather than the harsh judgmentalism of their partisan taskmasters. We are called to become more than mere rule followers; we are, in this season of divine grace, called to become relationship facilitators instead! Our calling is to introduce others to a Person, rather than imposing upon others a pattern. We are not commissioned to lead the lost into one of many factions, but are rather commissioned to lead the lost into the One Family. For many, many years I have been working tirelessly to tear down the walls of sectarian, factional and denominational isolation and exclusion, and simply point those who long for something better to that freedom which awaits them in Christ Jesus. This can be (and has been) a rather thankless task at times, and, yes, I know the hurt of seeing friends and loved ones becoming my enemies. On the other hand, there are very few feelings any greater than those generated by knowing that those who were formerly enslaved have found freedom, and that you played some small part in their liberation from the bondage of legalism.
It is also very personally satisfying and encouraging to come into contact with a great many other disciples of Jesus who, like me, have studied their way out of the futility of factional thinking, and who have devoted their lives to helping others do the same. There are times when, like the weary prophet Elijah, we just need that reassurance from above that we are not alone in this battle for lives: that there are many, many more out there fighting the same good fight (see: 1 Kings 19:9-18). I love hearing the testimonies of such persons on the front lines of this spiritual warfare. Hardly a week goes by that I don't get an email or letter or phone call from these bold, but understandably battle weary, warriors. On Sunday, November 24, 2019 at 2:26 in the afternoon, I received just such an email from a man in Arkansas (the state where I was born) by the name of Ronnie Head. This disciple of Christ did not know it, but his email could not have come at a better time, for I was in need of such encouragement. He was moved to write me because of something I had written in my article "A Cringing, Wishy-Washy Apostle: Asinine Accusations Against the Apostle Paul" (Reflections #787). That article was dated Friday, November 15, 2019. Little did I realize at the time that it would be the last Reflections article I would pen for over two months! More about this later, as I know many of you have wondered why I took a two-month hiatus from my writing ministry. First, however, let me share this brother's email to me. I asked his permission and he graciously wrote this response: "Al, you are welcome to use what I have written in any way you wish. My only objective is that others may benefit spiritually, and I know that your objective is the same. If even one person benefits from what I have written, then it was worth all the effort. You are also welcome to use my name, if you wish." I appreciate this brother so much for his willingness to place both himself and his studied convictions out there for public scrutiny. Here, then, is Ronnie Head's email to me:
Hello Al. Though a bit lengthy, I am writing my perceptions in response to a comment you made in the Readers' Reflections area of Reflections #787, a comment pertaining to "obeying" the Gospel. I agree with what was written there, and I consider it a very important subject. May I thank you in advance should you have any comments regarding what I have written.
You wondered how one could obey good news. That is an excellent point. It has to do with discernment between what is Gospel and what is doctrine. The Gospel is proclaimed, and the doctrines are taught; we preach the proclamation and we teach the doctrines. The reason so many are confused today is because they overlook this basic principle. The problem some have is: they do not differentiate between what actually saves us and what we thrive on after we are saved. The Gospel is the birth and the doctrines are the food required for life and growth after we are born. We respond to the Gospel in faith and we grow in doctrinal understanding following our spiritual birth as we read and study the New Testament letters written to the ancient believers.
While responding in faith to the Good News can be done rather quickly, understanding and digesting our spiritual food (the Christian doctrines) requires a lifetime of study. The latter is an ongoing effort that does not stop this side of the grave. We are ever learning and revising our thoughts as we approach and discover new truths.
In my past, I identified everything written in the New Testament as "The Gospel" (I was following the teaching from my group). This was a serious mistake because we made requirements up front, before anyone could be saved, by mixing the simple message of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection (preaching the Gospel) with a selected concoction of our own doctrinal understanding (teaching doctrine). For example, the church I once attended made a requirement of having to properly understand baptism (that it is for remission of sins) before our baptism was seen as valid (which is a perfect example of confusing Gospel with doctrine). In this case, one had to understand our own group's convictions pertaining to baptism before conversion, otherwise their baptism "did not count." The study of baptism is but one of the many doctrines in the New Testament that can be made into a long term study, yet converts were required to "properly understand" baptism before they could be saved!
To be consistent in this line of reasoning, how can we know we are saved?! Who draws the line on just what is mandatory understanding and how much of this "proper" understanding is required? A puzzling dilemma to be in, for if the Gospel is "everything written in the New Testament," and we are obliged to "obey the Gospel," then look at the tremendous burden this places upon anyone who simply desires to make Christ their Savior! I am convinced that this is why there are so many splinter groups and schisms in the Body, for different groups are not satisfied with the Gospel alone, but instead begin adding their own respective doctrinal requirements into the mix: requirements that must be met before they will accept a convert. So, the way they interpret "obeying the Gospel" is this: an obedience dependent upon how perfectly one can apply doctrinal details in flawless understanding and performance (i.e., it is just another way of saying "salvation by works"). The "five-step plan" is an effort to achieve this, however it obviously falls short of the "proper understanding requirement" theory.
My personal opinion as to why believers in some Churches of Christ feel so insecure deep inside (as I once felt) is this: they have a captivating fear that somehow, somewhere, they have missed something, and so they are never assured of eternal life. This is a devastating feeling. It is very telling of one's concept of God when God is depicted as a Being who will withhold eternal life - despite our sincere efforts to please Him - just because of some detail involved in conversion that the convert may have overlooked or misunderstood. I am convinced that we do not have to understand the details before we can respond to the Love Story in simple belief, trust and commitment. Our education on the particulars can follow as we feast on the letters to the Christians, and as we grow in grace and knowledge.
The New Testament doctrines encompass a lifetime of learning, and to try to compact it all into "five steps," and then referring to the completion of those five steps as "obeying the Gospel," appears ridiculous to me! It is all because of a very basic misunderstanding: not being able to tell the difference between what saves and the learning that comes afterward. As I see it, with such an interpretation of "the Gospel," obeying the Gospel is a virtual impossibility, because no one has a perfect knowledge and understanding of the New Testament scriptures. I, for one, most certainly don't. I am very certain that there is much more "proper (perfect) understanding" that I lack regarding baptism (and other doctrines), and perhaps will never know this side of the grave.
I am certainly not against anyone wanting to learn and understand as much as they can when they come to the Lod, but denominations must be careful to prevent forcing down meat (and sometimes tainted meat) when only milk should be given. First we preach, then we teach! Such confusion exists when one does not differentiate between what leads to spiritual birth (hearing, believing) and the spiritual growth that results from our daily diet of spiritual food (studying and applying NT doctrine). Obviously, I was never exposed to this fundamental truth when I attended the ultra-conservative Church of Christ. I learned it during my personal, independent study: in particular, when I read Carl Ketcherside's writings on the Gospel-Doctrine topic several years ago. Becoming aware of this basic principle probably did more to open up my understanding than any one thing I ever learned since studying my way out of legalism. I believe such an awareness could help others as well. I appreciate you reading this, Al, as I know your time is valuable. Thanks, and God bless!
In his email to me, Ronnie has alluded to a study I did in early September, 2006 titled "Can We OBEY the Gospel? Reflecting Anew on Three NT Texts" (Reflections #501). I have long believed, as well as taught, that we are saved by divine grace, not by human effort, and that seeking to merge the two is in effect to negate the gift God bestows out of His abundance of love, mercy and kindness! Does our Father have high expectations for His beloved children? Absolutely. But our attitudes and actions are reflections of the fact that we already are His children, saved by grace through our trusting faith. They are not attitudes and actions evidenced in our lives in order to become His children; they are not pre-conditions to salvation. As this brother astutely observes: the Good News (Gospel) is simply what God has done for us through His Son. Doctrine (and more specifically: New Covenant doctrine) is commentary and direction on how we are to respond to that gift of grace in lives lived daily as His children in a spiritually hostile world. The teachings (aka "doctrines") of these preserved NT documents are not inflexible LAW, but rather wise counsel for the children of God no matter when or where on this earthly globe they may dwell (which necessitates that this counsel be flexible so as to be applicable and relevant to any societal or cultural setting). God took care of our salvation. In His Son it became a finished fact. We contribute nothing to it. Our response to that finished fact, however, is a life lived in love for and trust in Him, and lives lived manifesting our gratitude and faith via our attitudes and actions (with guidance provided by the wise counsel and teaching of the NT writers and the inner leading of the Holy Spirit).
Therefore, "Good News" is not something one obeys; "Good News" is something one embraces by faith as a life-transforming truth, and our trust/faith in that truth is then daily evidenced in our attitudes and actions. I believe that God has dealt once and for all with the sin problem through the sacrifice of His Son, and I believe He has extended LIFE to me as a GIFT of His marvelous, amazing GRACE. By faith I accepted that gift. The works that I do thereafter are simply evidentiary acts of that faith. They secure nothing, but they show much (James 2).
I fully agree with Ronnie that far too many in Christendom (and most certainly far too many within our own denomination: Churches of Christ) confuse and even conflate the concepts of "Gospel" and "Doctrine." This invariably leads one down a pathway of human effort, and thus away from salvation by grace through faith. I have sought boldly to convey this truth for decades, and have collected a cadre of caustic critics for my efforts. I have also rejoiced to see "the light come on" for countless disciples of Jesus who were in religious bondage, but who now are enjoying their freedom in Christ. Too many have allowed human teaching and tradition to trump divine truth and transformation. When we fail to grasp the very real distinction between "Gospel" and "Doctrine," we end up facilitating the chaos witnessed daily in Christendom of countless sects, factions and schisms warring with one another over doctrines, which only results in the lost never hearing the Good News, but instead witnessing "Christians" tearing one another apart over personal and party perceptions, preferences and practices. It is shameful, and it is deadly. I would urge you to read Reflections #117 ("The Gospel-Doctrine Debate: Are they the Same or Separate?"). Again, I thank Ronnie Head for this timely article. May God bless you, brother.
I mentioned earlier that Ronnie's email to me had been very timely. As noted, I received it on Sunday, November 24, 2019. He had written to share some personal observations about remarks I had made in my Reflections article sent out on Friday, November 15. As I also noted, that article was my last one until this current one today (a gap in my Reflections ministry of over two months). A number of people have called and written to inquire as to the reason. I shared the cause on my Facebook page, but not everyone is on Facebook. Thus, let me share it with each of you here at the end of this present article.
After sending out my Reflections that Friday, I went over to my dad's house to see him. He and my mom moved down here from Cortez, CO ten years ago, as they were getting older and wanted to be near family in their final years. My mom died in February, 2016, and my dad continued to live alone in the house, which is only about four blocks from our house. Very convenient, as I can be there in just a couple of minutes. On that Friday, when I got there, my dad was just driving up after having seen the doctor. He had a bad infection in his leg (a lot of swelling) and was put on a strong antibiotic. He was really out of breath, as well, so I got him settled in his recliner and fixed him lunch. After eating he said he was feeling better. On Sunday, he was at the church building for both class and worship (he never missed!). He still wasn't feeling that great, but he refused to miss the assembling of the saints together. He loved coming. On Monday he had a follow-up appointment with the doctor, and I spent some time with him afterward. We had a really good visit. I believe my sister had a good visit with him on the phone (she lives in Washington) either that evening or early the next morning. On Wednesday, November 20, I went to the hospital to visit the wife of Jim Ernst (one of our Deacons here at the church). I spent some time with Tammy, had prayers with her, and she asked me to be sure and give her love to my dad. I told her I would.
After leaving the hospital, I went to my dad's house. A woman was standing at the front door. She identified herself as a RN and said that she was there to do a "wellness check" on my dad. He liked getting "meals on wheels" for lunch (which the city provides to the elderly), but he had not responded to the doorbell either Tuesday or Wednesday. Thus, the nurse was sent to see why. I knew right then what I was about to find inside the house. I opened the front door (I had a spare set of keys to his house and car) and found him dead on the floor of his bedroom!! From what we were able to piece together, he had likely died Tuesday morning (I didn't find him until the next day). He had suffered a massive heart attack, and the medical examiner said he almost certainly died instantly. My dad and mom both were very strong Christians, and my dad had served close to 40 years as an Elder in the church. He was 93 years old at the time of his death. He had served in the US Navy in WWII and had fought at some of the big South Pacific island battles, and he was even placed in charge of a group of captured Japanese soldiers at one point. After his time in the Navy, he earned several advanced degrees from several universities, and spent his career as a high school English teacher, school principal, and then a Superintendent of Schools. For a few years he was also the Director of the American Schools in Nicaragua, with an office at the US Embassy there. He and my mom are now at the New Mexico Veterans Cemetery at Fort Stanton, New Mexico. As executor of his estate, I have been very busy these past two months working through the ton of "red tape" associated with this task. A couple of weeks after his death, our 11th grandchild was born: Addilyn Grace Maxey. What a precious little girl. We adore her, and just being able to hold her and look into her innocent little face was a spirit-lifting experience.
I mentioned above that I had found my dad just minutes after visiting Tammy Ernst (the wife of one of our Deacons, both of whom are very dear friends). To compound the stress of the past two months, it was to be (though I didn't know it at the time) the last time I would see this precious woman, for she too passed away about a week later. I performed her funeral at our church building, then we all (escorted by the Patriot Guard - Jim Ernst, our Deacon, also happens to be the New Mexico State Captain of the Patriot Guard) made our way the 70 miles to the NM State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Stanton, NM where I did a brief graveside service. Then, just minutes after this, we walked over to the site where my mom and dad were placed into a vault together, and Jim Ernst (who had just buried his wife) and his grandson (who is serving in the US Navy) presented me with the flag for my father's service in WWII. Although it was well below freezing outside, with a brisk breeze, my heart was warmed by this ceremony, for it was done by those who had just laid their wife and grandmother to rest less than thirty yards away!! Yes, it has been a tough couple of months. Yet, I rejoice with my mom and dad, for they are now at rest together, awaiting that great Day of Resurrection. I will see them again! I am blessed with the best wife in the world, who has been there to encourage me every step of the way, and with sons (and their families) who provided loving support "above and beyond." I can't say enough about the brethren at Cuba Avenue Church of Christ, with whom I have been serving for almost 22 years now. Their understanding and countless acts of love truly reflect the very spirit of our Lord Jesus. And to all the readers of these Reflections, I thank each of you as well, for many of you poured out prayers on our behalf and contacted us offering words of comfort. As we begin a new year (2020) I pray that it will be one filled with an outpouring of God's blessings upon each of you, and of an outpouring of divine healing upon our nation.
From a Reader in California:
Brother Al, I'm sure you have heard about the church shooting at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. I remember your Reflections article from a few years ago about protecting the flock, and this shooting brought things you wrote back then to my mind. While I am grieved beyond words at the loss of the two brothers-in-Christ, a part of me was shocked that someone would actually dare to pull a gun in a church in Texas! When I heard it was a Church of Christ I immediately thought: "Buddy, that was a really bad move to pull a gun at a Church of Christ in Texas!" I figured maybe 5% of the people in that congregation were "packing heat," and the video showed that about five people with guns quickly reacted to the shooter. In light of what has been happening in our country lately, you may want to revive that Reflections article as a "repeat."
Like this reader, I too was (and still am) grieved by the tragedy that occurred during the Lord's Supper in that gathering of believers. I was (and still am) angered by this as well, for it is just another reminder of the depth of the darkness that is rapidly spreading over our nation. We are a nation who has largely lost its way, and such horrific incidents are the inevitable result when people increasingly reject God and embrace the darkness. The article to which this reader referred is "Concealed Carry Christians: Pistol Packin' Pastors & Parishioners" (Reflections #345), which I wrote and published in April, 2008. I hope many will read this again, and that they will send it out to their friends and families. I would also strongly encourage them to share that article with the leaders and members of their congregations. These terrible acts of evil are going to continue, and they are going to increase, so we had best be prepared. And yes, that includes being armed (and I'm not just talking about the "sword of the Spirit"). Jesus told His disciples, "Let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one!" (Luke 22:36). It seems to me that He was strongly suggesting that there would be times and circumstances when the use of such deadly force might be needed. I would also suggest my following two studies: "Christians Bearing Arms" (Reflections #232) and "The Black Robe Regiment: The Pastor-Patriots of the Revolution" (Reflections #547). -- Al Maxey
From an Author/Professor in Texas:
Al, I sent a copy of your MDR book (Down, But Not Out) to a brother who is an elder in a Texas congregation, and he now wants 8 more copies for his fellow elders. Do you keep a supply in your office, or do I need to contact your publisher? I prefer to sell my books myself when I can (I make a little more on them when I do, and I thought you might prefer that as well). Just let me know what's best. May God bring you joy and peace during this "Holy Day" season.
It just so happened (pure chance or providence?!) that I had exactly 8 copies of that book left at my house, so I boxed them up and sent them to the elders of this church in Houston. I pray that it will prove beneficial to them as they study the topic of marriage and divorce and remarriage in light of God's healing grace. NOTE: I found it interesting that the same day I mailed these eight copies of my MDR book to Texas I got an email from a native preacher in India wanting a digital copy of that same book (Click Here for information on how to order my books in digital formats). He wrote: "Some preachers have asked me to teach on the subject and I greatly value your study and exposition of the Word in its original context. A great many of your Reflections have been part of my sermons and classes. Thank you." I emailed him a copy that same day, and he received it almost immediately. I pray it will be a great help to him as he preaches and teaches the Word in India. -- Al Maxey
From an Author/Professor in Connecticut:
By way of introduction, I taught for 7 years with Dr. Steve Eckstein at the university you attended (I got there the year after you got your Masters Degree). A friend of mine follows your Reflections blog regularly. From what he has shared with me, I have concluded that you may have an interest in a book on women in the church that I wrote and published a few months ago. The title is "God's Woman Revisited: Women and the Church," and it is available on Amazon in both paper and Kindle format. I am sending you a signed copy under separate cover.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Merry Christmas, Al. I recently had a person ask me a question, and I wasn't very sure about the best way to respond to it. Someone asked me if smoking marijuana is a sin. My confusion is that I'm not sure how different this would be from drinking wine or beer. I know that it is a sin, as pointed out in the Bible, for a person to be drunk, but there is nowhere in the Bible that indicates drinking in moderation is a "sin." So, would this also be the case with smoking marijuana? Another factor that must be considered, I suppose, is that the government says this act is illegal in some states (but not in others). How should that play into my response? I value hearing your thoughts on this, brother. Thank you!
About the closest I've come to writing on this topic is: "Paul's Proscription of Pharmakeia" (Reflections #545). I personally tend to think that a lot of what transfers some act into the "sin" category in the sight of God is one's motivation for engaging in that act. WHY we do what we do is often far more vital to a determination of "sinfulness" than the act itself. God looks within a man, whereas men are more focused on the outside. You and I might judgmentally declare: "That person is smoking pot." God, on the other hand, might ask: "WHY is that man smoking pot?" Because of these differing perspectives (human and divine) we may find ourselves condemning something or someone while God, who has gazed more deeply into the man and perceived the motivation for his actions, does not condemn either him or the action. As for the restrictions imposed by societies, I believe the Lord urges us to live peacefully within the parameters of the just laws and norms of our society (as long as those laws, customs, norms, etc. do not defy or conflict with the clearly stated will of our God). If society has dictated that certain behaviors and acts are "unlawful," then we should probably abide by those dictates, unless there is a legitimate reason to defy those societal norms (e.g., when our obedience to the laws of men would set us at odds with the stated will of God). As a rule of thumb, I would say: if your choice brings glory and honor to God, and if it brings no harm to yourself or others, but rather does good to or ennobles the lives of others, then your actions will almost certainly, in my view, be condoned rather than condemned by our God. -- Al Maxey
From a Dentist in Tennessee:
Thank you for accepting my friend request on Facebook. I've been reading your Reflections for many years. You have profoundly challenged my beliefs (I grew up in the Churches of Christ), and after much study I have come to see pretty much eye-to-eye with you! I consider you a mentor, and I am grateful for your incredible faith!
From a Reader in Rome, Italy:
Dear Al, Our family wants to wish you all the blessings from our Lord Jesus, the greatest of which is to know Him and the power of His Grace in your life. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from those of us here in the Appian Way.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I was very sorry to hear of the loss of your father; on the other hand, I rejoice with you in the birth of your 11th grandchild. They are not called "grand" for nothing! I want you to know, Al, that your writings have buoyed me ever since I discovered you! The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways!
From a Native Pastor in Ukraine:
Dear Brother Al and family, Merry Christmas to you and Happy New Year from Ukraine! Your Reflections articles have been a blessing for us here in Ukraine for many years! Please keep them coming.
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Happy New Year, Al. I preached a sermon from Jonah 3:9 - 4:11 on Sunday showing that God is concerned and compassionate about all humanity, even the animals, but that repentance is the greatest concern. A passage of Scripture that popped into my mind the other day, either by direct epiphany or stirred up from my subconscious mind, was Galatians 5:2 - "Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you." It impacted me in a new and powerful way: we can't have it both ways; one will cancel out the other. Do you know where I am coming from on this? Have a good year, Al. We are looking forward to your next Reflections. Keep them coming, for you are blessing many.
From a Reader in Unknown:
Al, we have just completed the work of translating Edward Fudge's book "The Fire That Consumes" into Spanish. That book, in which Edward mentions you and your own work on this topic, is now uploaded to Edward Fudge's web site. I thought you might like to let your readers know about this free resource: "El Fuego Que Consume."
From a Reader in Unknown:
Al, I read a review somewhere of "The Fire That Consumes" which implied that Edward Fudge believed there was punishment/torment for the unsaved before their ultimate annihilation. If this is accurate, would that perhaps consist of their awareness of what all they were going to miss out on? Could this awareness cause the grinding and gnashing of teeth? Your thoughts when time permits would be appreciated.
Edward and I actually visited about this several years ago at the Tulsa Workshop when he and I were both speakers that year. We both agreed, based upon our individual study of the matter, that justice, and indeed fairness, requires the wicked to experience some degree of awareness of the consequences of their wickedness (whatever God might determine that to be). I liken it to the suffering, both physical and psychological, that one experiences in the execution process (with which I have had firsthand experience: "Chaplain at an Execution" - Reflections #554). The end result of that process is termination of life (death), but such ultimate termination does not negate the reality of the horror some experience during the process of execution. Some, frankly, deserve this (Revelation 16:6). One might think of Hitler, for example. Others who will experience the second death, and who were not so openly and viciously evil toward those around them, may be shown some consideration in a more merciful death. This could very well describe the intent of the statement: "beaten with fewer stripes" (Luke 12:47-48). I would refer the reader to my study of this passage and its teaching in Reflections #413 ("Battering with Lesser Blows: Doctrine of Degrees of Punishment"). The "gnashing of teeth" is referred to a number of times in Scripture (in both OT and NT writings), and is applied to a number of intense emotional situations, and Jesus several times (especially in the Gospel of Matthew) links this with the termination process of the wicked. This certainly suggests some degree of conscious distress prior to death. Nevertheless, regardless of the nature and extent of the torment during the DYING process, the resultant state is the same: DEATH; a death from which there will never, ever be a future resurrection to life. When one experiences the "second death," one is dead forever, never again to live!! Just as one who experiences the resurrection to LIFE is alive forever, never again to die (Matthew 25:46). On this latter passage, and the meaning of our Lord's statement therein, I suggest a careful reading of my study titled "Reflective Analysis of Forever: Analyzing the Attributes of Aionios" (Reflections #74). One might also find helpful my following study: "Tortured or Terminated? A Study of Revelation 14:9-11" (Reflections #45). Yes, for some the second death may come rather quickly; for others, however, the process leading to that second death may indeed be hellish. God will fairly and justly determine which. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Kentucky:
Al, I thought I'd let you know what this old ex-NIer (Non-Institutional Churches of Christ) has been up to recently. At the once-a-week, one-hour-a-week gathering of our tiny group in ------, Kentucky this past Sunday, we had a presentation focusing on the birth of our Savior. We had readings of appropriate Scriptures, a few explanatory comments, and we sang some of the old, favorite, traditional Christmas songs ("Silent Night," "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," "Go Tell It on the Mountain," etc.). Everyone sang along. No one fainted. No criticism. Many favorable comments. I think everyone there enjoyed it tremendously. I believe everyone was edified. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?!
From an Elder in Texas:
Al, you don't know me personally, but I have read your materials over the years. I am an elder at ------ Church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas. My wife and I were members at Cuba Avenue some three decades ago while we were stationed at Holloman Air Force Base. We loved that church! Jim Morrow and Larry Sullivan were the ministers. We still remember some of the elders also, although their names are a bit foggy in our memory. Our church is trying to address in a holistic manner the matter of how much women may participate in public worship. Your articles have been helpful. Blessings to you!
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Good Afternoon, Al. First, I wish for you and your family a Happy, Blessed and Joyful Thanksgiving. I continue to enjoy and appreciate your weekly writings and feel privileged to be part of the Maxey Community. Next, I have been putting together a series of lessons on the Lord's Supper. I have been using several resources, including your book "One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism." These classes began this past Sunday and will continue for about three months (possibly four, considering all the holiday breaks). Based upon what research I have done so far, I am coming to the opinion that there is no valid biblical or extra-biblical reason to ONLY use unleavened bread for the Lord's Supper. I have copied and am sending you much of the research I have found on this, and not being familiar with the Greek text references, I would defer to your judgment as to their accuracy. Anyway, am I off-base with my conclusion? I'm not trying to change a tradition within our fellowship; just trying to deal with a centuries old controversy related to the "bread" used in the Communion. Thanks, and have a blessed day.
I sent the following response to this brother-in-Christ: "I have read the quotes you provided from a number of sources, and I really appreciate you sharing this information with me. I have printed it out and filed it. My understanding of various NT rites (baptism, Lord's Supper, etc.) has grown, and changed, over the years the more I study. Like you, and many of the sources you provided, I no longer believe God intended for future generations of disciples to be forever shackled to a first century 'pattern.' Rather, we must allow the spiritual significance of such rites to find expression in the resources available in the various cultures in which these great truths are taught, embraced and expressed. Too often we have allowed human tradition to trump divine Truth. There are truths associated with our practice that truly transcend the physical emblems themselves. In my view, any emblems which convey to the peoples of a particular time and culture the truths our Lord would have us perceive in these rites are divinely accepted and are thereby acceptable. If differing emblems in diverse cultures convey the same eternal truths, then they accomplish what our Lord desired: our understanding of the spiritual significance and impact of His sacrifice." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, this morning I was praying and reflecting on how good it will be to reconnect in Heaven with people who've gone there before me. One of those who came to mind was a lady at the Church of Christ in Cortez, Colorado. I knew her only slightly, but she always had such a sweet spirit and great inner strength. I remember her as Sister Zook. It occurred to me that you are somehow related to her. Am I correct? Anyway, I remember visiting her in the hospital before she passed away, and I came away impressed with her indomitable strength and faith, something that has stayed with me to this day. I don't know exactly why the Lord brought her to mind as I reflected on the sweetness of Heaven, but perhaps the reminder to me means even more to you. Let me know how far off in the weeds I am.
Yes, this wonderful woman was my grandmother (my mom's mother). In her final years she had come to Cortez, CO (from her home in Clovis, NM) because she was becoming too ill to live alone. She passed away in the fall of 1968. I was unable to come to her funeral because I was serving in the military at the time, and my Grandma Zook did not let anyone contact me about her death until after her funeral, as she didn't want me worrying about how to get home. She was always thinking of others. She also was a fabulous biblical scholar and writer (she wrote a number of tracts and Bible class books). She always put "M. Zook" on her books (her name was Mae) as she didn't believe they would sell if people realized they were written by a woman! Several of her books and tracts were dedicated in the front to my sister and me. Yes, the new heavens and earth will be wonderful to behold and experience, and a part of that will most assuredly be seeing again those we loved and admired in this life. -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in (Withheld by Request):
Dear Al, I have enjoyed your scholarship and thinking for many years now, and have written to you several times over the years. One of our Sunday School teachers comes from a Non-Institutional background, and yet always exhibits a loving attitude toward those of us who differ with her. Recently, we decided to give some money to a new member to send to her mother (who is not a member) who was in need. I asked around to see if anyone disagreed with this before we sent the money, and there was no negative feedback. Later this sister emailed me to say she was struggling with that decision, as she had been taught that the money from the church collection and treasury should only be used for members, and never used for non-members! Al, what is your thinking on this? If you have already touched on this subject in one of your Reflections, which you might well have done, please let me know the issue number of that article. Thank you!
I sent the following reply: "I think the real problem here goes much deeper than the issue itself (i.e., may we give funds out of the 'church treasury' to someone we deem to be a 'non-Christian'?). Frankly, there are numerous such 'not according to the pattern' issues that some disciples struggle with (e.g., one cup or multiple cups, Sunday School, eating in the building, etc.). The real issue here is the problem of the theology of patternism itself. In other words, has God required us (and all people on the planet until the end of time) to search the 27 books of the NT writings to find and formulate LAW governing every aspect of our daily spiritual journey through life? If one's salvation is being sought by achieving a level of perfection in one's religious practice or performance, a compliance based upon perceiving some elusive 2000 year old 'pattern' that must be searched out in the Scriptures (the particulars of which, by the way, no group of legalistic patternists can even agree upon, which is why they are so divided -- this woman, for example, struggles with the use of the treasury, yet teaches in a Sunday school), then such persons have sadly missed the whole point and purpose of the Scriptures (see: John 5:39-40). Our 'pattern' is a Person: Jesus. As the hymn says: 'HE our great example is, and pattern for me!' Jesus reached out to Samaritans, and the religious Jews were horrified ('They aren't one of us'). Jesus dined with sinners and did good unto them, and the religious were horrified. Etc. We are told that even God Himself is kind toward those who are unrighteous, and if we seek to be His sons and daughters, then we must do the same. Yes, it is true that we are called to be responsible stewards of our resources, and we should use such resources responsibly, but to make LAWS to govern who, what, when, where, and why is falling into the trap of living by LAW. Rather, let all that we do (even the use of our resources) be governed by LOVE. It is here that we truly follow the Pattern set before us (i.e., Jesus Christ Himself). As for an article I have written that may deal with this, I have done several, but I would especially recommend the following: 'Pondering Patternism: Creating Copy Cat Christianity' (Reflections #130)." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I have been reading several things on Conditionalism recently and have come to a current conclusion that I don't think I've expressed to anyone before. You have written so much over the years, and I am all caught up with reading your Reflections, but if you have written about this before, and I just missed it, I hope you will direct me back to that specific issue of Reflections. Here is my current view: I do not believe any part of my being is immortal, and so the great gift of the Father to His Family at the resurrection is LIFE. Yet, during my reading and studying I came to the conclusion that not only are we not immortal now, but there does not seem to be a declaration that we will be given immortality then, but rather we will be given access to life for all eternity. If this is not the case, then why would God place the Tree of Life, bearing fruit each month, on the new earth? Al, I pray you are doing extremely well this new year, and that God will continue to bless you and your readers for many years to come!
I wrote the following to this reader: "Good to hear from you, brother! As to your question, there is much
symbolism to the tree of life being restored to mankind. Remember, the book of Revelation is filled with figurative and apocalyptic language, and
as such there can be much confusion generated when we take these figures, types and symbols too literally. We could say the same of the 'street
of gold' (is the gold real?), or the ascended Jesus appearing as a lamb with its throat cut (will He really look like a sliced-up lamb?). I don't believe I
have done an article specifically on the tree of life, but I will definitely put that on my 'to do' list for this year. Back to your question, though: What
seems to me to best negate the idea that the redeemed, following the resurrection, will merely be granted 'access to' immortality, but
not actual full possession of immortality, is the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. In that chapter, Paul tells us several things. First,
he describes 'death' as 'an enemy' that will be utterly 'abolished' on that great resurrection day! If this enemy is truly abolished, and if death is an
enemy that will trouble us no more (after all, death itself is cast into the lake of fire according to Revelation), then the teaching of Scripture certainly
appears to be that we can rest assured that it will not be lurking around somewhere just waiting for the redeemed to 'miss a meal' from
the fruit of the tree of life. Second, we are told in 1 Corinthians 15 that when we are raised on that day, then 'this perishable will put on
the imperishable, and this mortal will put on immortality.' When this occurs, then at that point 'death is swallowed up in victory.' It is
defeated; it is abolished; it is no more! It's gone! We have been changed; we have been gifted by God. We are no longer mortal by nature, but
immortal. It is a gift of God's grace. If this is not the case - if you and I must make regular 'trips to the tree' to get 'recharged,' and if
missing a meal can prove everlastingly fatal, then eternal life becomes something that you and I must keep on 'working out' via regular trips
to the tree. Everlasting life then becomes conditional, and we ourselves must fill in the gaps of God's incomplete gift of
life. I just can't see this being the case!! Just a few thoughts, brother."
After sending the above response to the reader in Texas, I received back this reply later that same day: "Al, it is a good thing
I don't live next door to you, because if I did you would never get anything done!! You make so much sense! So much so that I don't know how
some people can ignore what you say! Thanks for your response to my question. This may be the quickest 'flip-flop' in thinking I have ever made!
Love ya, brother!!" I feel that same love and affection toward this brother, and still think fondly back on the times he and his wife have traveled out
here to spend time with us. May the Lord richly bless you, my friend.
After sending the above response to the reader in Texas, I received back this reply later that same day: "Al, it is a good thing I don't live next door to you, because if I did you would never get anything done!! You make so much sense! So much so that I don't know how some people can ignore what you say! Thanks for your response to my question. This may be the quickest 'flip-flop' in thinking I have ever made! Love ya, brother!!" I feel that same love and affection toward this brother, and still think fondly back on the times he and his wife have traveled out here to spend time with us. May the Lord richly bless you, my friend.
From a Professor at Texas A&M University:
Al, your last Reflections article was published in November, so I suspect that you will be posting fewer as time goes by. I wanted to let you know that your articles have been a great inspiration to me and many others, as judged from the Readers' Reflections section in each issue. Thank you, Al, for your courage in providing your ideas to the public! They have resulted in critical examination of my long held beliefs. Please continue to send your Reflections from time to time in the future. I look each day for new articles from you. Your Reflections Archives are very useful to me as well. Thanks for all your hard work over the years!
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