Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #803 -- July 30, 2020
The world has narrowed to a neighborhood
before it has broadened to a brotherhood

Lyndon B. Johnson {1908-1973}

Sharing Satan's Sectarian Silliness
A Deadly Delusion of Non-Denominationalism

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), one of the leading Jewish philosophers and theologians of the 20th century, made the following observation: "The brotherhood of men would be an empty dream without the fatherhood of God" [Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion]. The operative assumption is that the vast majority of the human species prefers, and even longs for, a sense of oneness with his/her fellow life-travelers. Yet, our human nature, as evidenced far too often both individually and collectively, tends toward disunity and disharmony. Unless, and until, mankind comes to genuinely accept and appreciate the all-embracing fatherhood of our Creator, the brotherhood of men is destined to be little more than an empty dream. The British historian and philosopher Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) also perceived this truth: "The brotherhood of man presupposes the fatherhood of God" [A Study of History]. The unifying force that binds mankind together is not of ourselves, it is rather from Him who created us. In Him we can be united as One Family. When we elevate self, however, whether individually or collectively, the outcome is far less desirable. Paul urges his fellow disciples to "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3), for "there is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling" (vs. 4). "And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" (Colossians 3:14). He then emphasizes again, "you were called in one body" (vs. 15).

I feel rather confident that we can all agree that God the Father desires for His children to be united with Him and with one another in a loving familial relationship. Why wouldn't He? After all, no father likes watching his children fussing and fighting among themselves. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity. ... For there the Lord commanded the blessing: life forever!" (Psalm 133:1, 3b). The good life, the abundant life, and ultimately the forever life is characterized by unity, harmony, peace, love and acceptance in One Family in the presence of and in the house of the Father. As I was growing up, I heard countless sermons and classes on how to identify this One Family of our Father, as did many of you. We were informed time and again, in no uncertain terms, that WE (the group known as "Church of Christ"), and we ALONE, were that One Family. WE alone, of all believers on the planet, were "the one, true church." All others were hell-bound apostates and dreaded denominationalists who had no respect for the Bible, no love of God within their hearts, and who intentionally perverted Scripture in order to validate their heretical beliefs and practices. If they were to be saved, we must convert them to "the truth" and convince them to leave their false religions and enter into the one, true church of the Lord (which, of course, was US).

Like a great many young people, I didn't give any of that a whole lot of thought. I knew that many of my friends from school, who were in various "denominations," were hearing much the same thing. If you weren't a Catholic, then you weren't going to make it to heaven (in fact, they even had separate cemeteries). My friends who were Baptists said they were hearing the same dogma. None of us were too concerned about such matters; this was what adults fussed over. We were just focused on growing up and getting out on our own. It wasn't until I finished my time in the military and went back to college that I began to do some independent thinking and reflecting on this. It didn't take me long to realize that there were some major problems with the indoctrination I had received growing up. For the most part, I truly believe these people were very sincere and well-intentioned in what they were proclaiming and practicing (just as those were who were sharing their religious convictions and traditions with my friends). I don't see any of them as "evil" men and women. They were doing what they believed was right, and I love(d) them dearly for it, which made it all the more painful when I came to realize that their biblical perceptions were seriously flawed and were actually doing great harm to those they truly believed they were helping.

I have written extensively over the years about this deadly deception to which most of us have at some point been exposed. It is the conviction that "my/our" church is exclusively and entirely THE "one, true church" of our Lord. We would all agree that there is only ONE universal Family of the Father; there is only One Body of believers worldwide (Ephesians 4:4); only One Church on the planet. ALL who are "in Him" are in it. If you have been accepted BY GOD into a relationship with Him, you are IN that universal One Body-Family-Church. There isn't a second group that you can "join" if you don't particularly care for some of your spiritual siblings. You don't get to make that choice. They are all HIS children, and they are chosen by the Father (not by you or me). And guess what?! They don't all look alike, or act alike, or think alike, or even like the same things. Just like a physical/fleshly family. Are you ready for this? -- You don't have to be my twin to be my brother. The Father loves you as much as He loves me, and we can be as different as day and night!! We are Family because the Father says so; HE has chosen us. You were not consulted; neither was I. Here's another "inconvenient truth" for the rigidly religious: It is okay to be different in how we show our love for, how we relate to, and how we serve our Father in His Household. You don't have to do it my way, nor am I bound to precisely following your pattern (or anyone else's, for that matter). We are each unique, and yet we are unified. Uniformity is not what characterizes God's Family. It is unity ... and yes, that unity is seen in a wide diversity of individuals, with a diversity of abilities, personalities, wants/needs, and methodologies with respect to service and worship. If this troubles you, then you have yet to fully grasp the reality and the beauty of the universal One Body of our Lord.

I have been in fulltime ministry for 44 years now (after several years in the military, and after several years in university and graduate school earning my degrees): long enough to have made some wonderful lifelong friends who are as close as family, and also long enough to have made a number of enemies. Many have told me that my ministry has helped them shed the shackles of legalism and sectarianism; a number have also told me that I am an "apostate" who has done great harm to the cause of Christ, and that they can't wait to watch me "hop from brick to brick in the fires of Hell." It has been an interesting journey, to say the least. One of the truths that seems to upset some of my critics the most is that I emphatically do NOT believe that the group found in the Yellow Pages that is denominated "Church of Christ" is entirely and exclusively "the one true church," and that all other groups listed in those same Yellow Pages are "denominations damned to Hell." OUR group is not a "denomination" (I have heard this claim all my life), but THEIR groups are. This is such a ludicrous claim that we are often mocked and maligned by these other religious groups for making it (and rightly so, quite frankly). It is sectarian silliness at its worst; a Satanic delusion; and, sadly, some of my spiritual siblings are too blind to see it, and if they do see it they are too arrogant or fearful to deny it. Thus, they continue to incorporate it into their "gospel" message, and in so doing continue to look cognitively deficient (which sounds better than moronic) to those who haven't yet lost the ability to think and reason for themselves from the Scriptures.

One such individual who has elevated such confusion and conflation to an art form is Hugh Fulford. A great many of us have tried and tried for years to help him grasp God's grace as it pertains to the universal One Body, and every single one of us has failed. We simply can't break through the powerful delusion that has a death grip on these legalistic patternists and hardened sectarians. In one of his more recent issues of "Hugh's News & Views" (mailed out June 30, 2020), he devoted his four page article to the question, "Is it possible for one to be a Christian, but not be a member of His spiritual body, the church?" In the article's title the latter part is more specific and in upper case: "A CHRISTIAN, BUT NOT A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST?" This question (the lower case version) was the first sentence of Hugh's article, and at that particular point (and I hadn't yet read another word of the article) I could have written his article for him, for I know how he thinks and where he was going with this. I had been indoctrinated the same way, and I had made the same arguments. Thank God those scales have long since fallen from my eyes! This is why my heart breaks for people like Hugh, who I have no doubt is a good, God-fearing disciple of Christ Jesus.

The answer to the above question, of course, is "yes" ... and "no." It depends on what one means by "Christian," and more specifically what one means by "CHURCH OF CHRIST." We will assume, for the sake of argument, that by "Christian" one means a genuine believer in the Good News message who has given himself heart, mind and body to the Lord Jesus Christ, and who is striving to the best of his or her ability to live according to God's will, as best he understands that will. Taken in this light, the question really becomes: Can one be SAVED, but not be a member of the CHURCH OF CHRIST? The answer, once again, is: "yes" ... and "no." I will show you in just a moment WHY this completely blows the minds of people who think the way Hugh does. Here we go: If by this designation one means the universal One Body, One Family, One Church of our Lord, which is made up of ALL who are truly IN HIM, then the answer is clear: If you are IN HIM, then YES you are in that select/elect group of SAVED individuals. Can you be truly SAVED and IN HIM and NOT be in that group? NO. Although, and here is where I part company with the "once saved, always saved" theology, you CAN, because of free will, CHOOSE to leave, forsaking your Lord and returning to the world. But, if you desire to remain in that blessed relationship, then NO force in the universe can remove you from His loving embrace. Only YOU have that power, that choice. Yes, you are indeed in the One Body/Family/Church, as are ALL other saved men, women and children.

BUT ... If by "CHURCH OF CHRIST" you mean that group that is designated or denominated "Church of Christ" in the Yellow Pages of your phone book; if you mean that group with that name that is one of several wings of the religious movement known as "The Stone-Campbell Movement" that split from that movement and is known as "Churches of Christ" (rather than "Disciples of Christ" or the "Christian Church"); if you mean that faction within this wing of this movement that has opted not to use instruments of music, and/or hundreds of other things that further fragment this group into literally dozens and dozens of warring factions, then YES, one can most definitely be SAVED (a "Christian") and NOT be a part of that named group that appears in the Yellow Pages of your phone book. And that applies to every OTHER named group in the Yellow Pages as well. The sum total of ALL those who are SAVED is NOT to be found exclusively in just one of these many named groups (not even the one named "Church of Christ"). None of those named groups (not even the one named "Church of Christ") IS exclusively the one and only true church! Those believers who haven't surrendered to sectarian brainwashing can easily perceive this truth. Even a child can see it.

The problem with those who can't is that they genuinely believe ... they really do, I'm not just making this up ... they honestly believe that the group designated "Church of Christ" in the Yellow Pages IS ... I repeat: IT IS ... the universal One Church established by Jesus, and therefore ALL of the other groups named in the Yellow Pages are "Eternally Damned Denominations" filled with either evil apostates or people too ignorant to know they are lost and need to get out of their "church" and into THE REAL ONE (which, of course, is ours!). And, as you read Hugh's articles, and those of people like him, you will find that the point he seeks to make over and over and over is that THIS named group IS that One True Church, and for us to dare to even hint that this group might be a "denomination" also, will almost surely send such people into a "foaming at the mouth" rage! I would urge you to write to Hugh and request a copy of this article ( and then circle every place in that article where he EQUATES this named group with the universal One Church in which ALL the saved are gathered. And be prepared for your jaw to hit the floor. It is truly that pathetic and heartbreaking!

More and more discerning disciples of Christ are stepping away from what is coming to be known as religious "brand name loyalty." MY loyalty is to a Savior, not a sect. I seek fellowship with the Father, not a faction. Yes, I gladly fellowship ALL who are true believers, but I do not limit such true believers to any one named group of disciples. Are there SAVED ones in the group named "Church of Christ"? Yes, there are. Are there SAVED ones in the group named "Baptist Church"? Yes, there are. And on and on and on. ALL of these "Christians" are IN that universal One Body. ALL OF THEM. Their affiliation with various groups of believers who happen to have differing traditions or perspectives IN NO WAY negates that greater truth! My religious affiliation is with that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement denominated "Church of Christ." This is my faith-heritage. This is the group in which my parents raised me. I love many of their traditions and practices (some I don't). I have spent my life among these brethren, they are good people, I love them, and I understand them. I am in a position within this church group where my voice has some influence, and I believe this to be God's doing. I intend to remain affiliated with them, helping them perceive even more the beauty of God's grace. I also have NO problem whatsoever affiliating with other such named groups in which God's called disciples are found. They too are my spiritual siblings, and I will associate and work with and fellowship with them every chance I get. And I will do all in my power to help break down factional and sectarian walls that have been erected between God's children over traditions and practices and preferences, the vast majority of which are never even mentioned by God anywhere in the Bible. Shame on us!! There are many "rooms" in the Household of our Father, and I fear many are hiding behind the doors of their little area. Brethren, throw open those doors and come out; let's ALL gather together at the Father's Table and start acting like Family. We've grieved our Father for too long. Let's vow to end this foolishness NOW, and let us each vow to take a lead in making this happen!!


All of my materials (books, CDs, etc. - a full listing
of which can be found on my Web Site) may now
be ordered using PayPal. Just click the box above
and enter my account #:

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister/Elder in Tennessee:

Al, thanks for your frank and hard-hitting critique in your article titled "Pastoral Pandemic Perspective: Reflecting on Reactions to a Rogue Virus" (Reflections #798), in which you demonstrated how the reaction to COVID-19 is far more dangerous than the virus itself. What we are seeing now with this COVID-19 panic, local and state tyrannical decrees, BLM and Antifa riots, and the canceling of our culture in general is much more than an attack on Trump or even the United States as a whole. It is a psychological warfare campaign against Christendom in general and the Church in particular. It breaks my heart to see so many Christians here in Middle Tennessee, "the buckle of the Bible belt," readily give up the assembly and follow without question the dictates of our political leaders. I left my position of preacher and elder (for 10 years) at ----- Church of Christ because I simply could not approve of our congregation's giving up our worship assemblies just because our governor asked us to do so. Many of our members were too afraid of germs to even allow those who were willing to continue gathering for worship to do so. During this year's turmoil, the reactions of our nation's leaders (church, government, academia, media, business) strongly suggest that decades of academic, moral, familial and social decline have rendered the American people unable to govern themselves as mature adults. At this point my prayer is not that God would spare us of the inevitable hardship that decades, if not centuries, of Western civilization's foolishness has invited, but only that God will chastise this country, and especially the church therein, just enough to bring us to true repentance. Al, may God continue to bless you for your faithful and prophetic service!

From a Reader in California:

Al, thank you for your decades of hard work helping others to see that we don't all have to look, think or behave exactly alike in every way in order to walk in unity with each other and with God.

From a Minister/Elder in Mississippi:

AMEN to your study titled "Apostolic Mt. Everest Affirmation: Pondering a Powerful Pauline Pronouncement: Reflective Contextual Study of Philippians 4:13" (Reflections #802). I love it when the context is used to inform us about a much deeper understanding than ever would be possible with expansive surface reading.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, great minds think alike. I had just been revisiting and studying Philippians 4:10-13. I was drawn to the word "secret," as it has a background in the mystery religions and their initiation and training. I agree that the term "all things" particularly pertains to a scarcity and/or abundance in material things. From my study, the word "content" contains the idea of self-sufficiency in Christ irrespective of either of the above two circumstances. Thanks again for your study. God bless you.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I always enjoy your Reflections. On this one, however, I'm nearly embarrassed to say that I have one exception: the translation of the Greek word "autarkes" in Philippians 4:11 as "content," and with the theology that follows. Having done some research on that word, it is not used in the common Greek, except on rare occasions, to mean "content." Nearly all the translations now days add a footnote to indicate that a possible or probable meaning is "self-sufficient." Paul was seemingly one of the least "content" people alive: a very strong-willed, type A, always pushing the envelope, ever willing to argue any point or face any intimidation kind of man. I'm convinced that his comment was related to the Philippians' support of his ministry, and that he was able to be self-sufficient during times of fluctuating circumstances. That results in a much different subtle admonition. To simply be "content" is to allow circumstances to dictate. To be self-sufficient suggests an attitude that whatever the circumstances, I can provide for myself, even if it's not exactly what I would desire. I remember that at times Paul would make tents to have additional financial resources. That seems like being self-sufficient rather than content. I agree that being self-sufficient does not necessarily mean having an abundance. Times get tough. But, rather than sitting back on the couch with an attitude that "the Lord will provide," more folks need to get up and find a solution. I once heard a person say that God has a tough time driving a parked car. Certainly, our strength comes from the Lord, but it seems Paul also expected people themselves to be making an effort. Perhaps it's just my personal experience, but I see too many people sitting back and waiting on God to solve all their problems, while giving God nothing to work with. We are partners in our progress, even if it's a very junior role. Or am I missing something? Anyway, just some of my "spoutin' off" this morning! Love ya, brother, and Happy 47th Wedding Anniversary to you and Shelly.

From a Reader in California:

Al, you know how much I appreciate you and how much your articles have meant to me over the years, so I'm sharing a couple of thoughts with this in mind. One: My Greek professor, Dr. Carroll Osborn, taught us in first year Greek that every epistle has a thread running through it, and until we discover that thread we really can't understand the letter, for everything in the letter ties back into that thread. In Philippians, he said the thread is conflict in the church, and NOT, contrary to popular opinion, the theme of joy. As a matter of fact, he said that when Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice" (Philippians 4:4), he is actually saying, "You had better get some joy in this church!" It is a reprimand, not a compliment. Two: Dr. Osborn taught that the idea of "doing all things through/in Him who strengthens me" was Paul's perspective based on his personal experiences (2 Corinthians 11:23ff) while following Christ. It was never meant to be understood as a promise to all believers. In Dr. Osborn's words, "Paul said he could do all things; he never said you can do all things." To be honest, I haven't used biblical languages in almost 15 years, as I don't need it to be a funeral director. But, there are a few things Dr. Osborn taught us in his freshman Greek class that have stayed in my memory, and his exegesis of Philippians is one of them. My Bible is filled with notes from his lectures, particularly the three-day class he gave at Pepperdine University many years ago on Philippians. Al, I am sending these comments to you because one of the many things I have always appreciated about your writings is your willingness to be challenged and to rethink a position or perspective. When I was preaching, I loved to be challenged. You, Edward Fudge, Greg Boyd, Carroll Osborn, Patrick Mead, and many others have challenged me deeply and helped me become a better student of the Word. Blessings, brother!

Dr. Stafford North: A Great Man of Faith

I was saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Stafford North, who ended his journey here on earth this past Saturday, July 25 at the age of 90. This man was a giant of faith, and a beloved professor of Bible at Oklahoma Christian University for many, many years, as well as a powerful voice within our faith-heritage (that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement denominated "Churches of Christ"). Countless Christians have been (and will continue to be) enriched spiritually by his influence in their lives. I was blessed to be able to communicate with him now and then, and especially appreciated his gracious response to a letter I wrote to him almost two decades ago on a principle of sacred hermeneutics that was being widely discussed at that time: i.e., the impact of specificity versus silence as an interpretive principle for aiding in establishing authoritative biblical doctrine and practice. His response to my letter (where I questioned something he had written in an article that appeared in the Christian Chronicle - November, 2002 issue) was very typical of the gracious, humble man that he was. Click Here to read this exchange. Dr. Stafford North will be dearly missed. What an example he has set for us all. -- Al Maxey

If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, Contact Me and I'll immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may
all be obtained on a special CD. Check the Archives
for details and all past issues of these Reflections at: