Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #816 -- February 15, 2021
Perils as well as privileges attend the higher
Christian life. The nearer we come to God, the
thicker the hosts of darkness in heavenly places.
Aggressive Christianity is the world's greatest need.

Albert Benjamin Simpson {1843-1919}

Albert Benjamin Simpson
"What Will You Do With Jesus?"

Douglas Coupland (b. 1961), the German-born Canadian journalist, novelist, and visual artist, perhaps best known for his critiques of American culture and for popularizing the term "Generation X," suggested that we all "need to question and question and question and never stop questioning until the world stops spinning. ... We will change minds and souls from stone and plastic into linen and gold" until "every cell in our body explodes with the truth." Coupland provided a voice to the "subculture of the disaffected," to those who seemed out of step with their own societies, yet who sought those greater truths with which most of the world around them seemed unconcerned. We are urged never to blindly accept as ultimate truth the dictates and pronouncements of those persons or institutions in power, but rather to boldly "draw our line in the sand and force the world to cross our line."

When one refuses to bow to one's cultural or national "norms," but challenges and questions everything so as to better perceive those ultimate truths the world rarely grasps, then that person does indeed draw a line in the sand with respect to his or her life choices. As disciples of Jesus, who exist within the cultural and institutional parameters of Christendom, we should never cease questioning and challenging the religious dictates and pronouncements of the past and present "powers that be." We must think for ourselves, do our own research and study, and then boldly embrace those truths we discover. In the past, as we struggled to live for Jesus in a world that largely rejects Him, we heard such questions as, "What would Jesus do?" Making that even more personal, we might ask, "What will I do with Jesus?" and "What will He do with me?" These challenging questions are sobering when we take time to seriously reflect upon them with a view to our walk with the Lord during our journey through life.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), one of the leading Jewish theologians of the 20th century, observed, "It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face." For this Polish-born American rabbi, that ultimate question was, "What am I here for?" We search for some purpose for our existence; for some validation of our contribution to this world into which we have been cast. How sad to live and die, and to have made NO impression upon anyone or anything around us! Our lives should matter; they should count for something. This is especially important as we begin to think beyond ourselves and the world about us, and as we begin to question our place and purpose in the plans of our Creator. God has reached out to me (and you) in His Son Jesus. He has a purpose for my life, and that purpose is found in my response to His gracious gift. At some point, as I become increasingly aware spiritually, I must ask and answer the question, "What will I do with Jesus?" Never far behind is the sobering query, "What will He do with me?" These two questions were posed in one of the church hymns with which we are probably all quite familiar, but I wonder how familiar we are with the person who wrote it, and the people who composed and arranged the music for it. In this issue of Reflections we'll put faces to the names of those involved with producing this hymn. I think you might be surprised at who some of them are!

I have a dear friend, who has supported my writing ministry for many, many years, who lives on Prince Edward Island, Canada. He was a former minister with an ultra-conservative Church of Christ congregation, but has long since studied himself out of religious bondage and into the freedom we have in Christ Jesus through God's infinite grace! In fact, one of the letters in the readers' response section below this article is from him. On that same island in Canada, on the 15th of December, 1843, a baby boy was born in Bayview, near Cavendish, to James and Janet Simpson, a couple who had immigrated to Prince Edward Island from Scotland. This child was named Albert Benjamin Simpson (pictured at the top of this article). He was related to Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942), the author of the famous "Anne of Green Gables" series, which took place on Prince Edward Island. Albert was the third son, and the fourth child, of his parents, who raised them in a very strict religious environment: "a strict Calvinistic Scottish Presbyterian and Puritan tradition." Albert's father was a highly respected deacon in the church, and he had great hopes that his son would one day be called to the ministry.

Albert received most of his theological education at Knox College (part of the University of Toronto). He graduated in 1865 and was ordained in the Canada Presbyterian Church. That same weekend, he married Margaret L. Henry (1841-1924), and then accepted the call to be the new pastor at the large, prestigious Knox Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, Ontario. This congregation had 1200 members, the second largest church within this denomination in Canada. He would stay with them almost 9 years, during which time he was very successful as a pastor, and the church grew to almost 2000 members. In 1873, at the age of only 30, Albert accepted the call to leave Canada and to pastor the Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church, the largest church in Louisville, Kentucky. The American Civil War had left its mark on this congregation in a negative way (financial problems, as well as some spiritual issues). Albert called the members of the church to a number of prayer meetings where the focus was on reconciliation among believers (who had fallen out with one another over the turmoil in the nation). He extended these meetings to the entire community, and more than ten thousand citizens of the area took part. Although Albert had great success at bringing healing to the area, he was working himself to death, and his health was beginning to suffer. He was also becoming increasingly frustrated working within the rigid parameters of a denominational system, and was coming to the realization that the true work of reaching people for Jesus was being limited by such religious restraints.

In 1880, Albert and his family left Kentucky and moved to New York City. Here he became the pastor at the Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church. This was a fruitful ministry, at least for the congregation, but Albert's heart was not in it. After being there less than two years, he resigned as their pastor. During those two years he had become increasingly focused on reaching out to the poor and displaced immigrants to the city from other nations. On one occasion he led over 100 Italian immigrants to accept Christ, but was told by the congregation he pastored that "it might be more appropriate" for these poor people to "worship elsewhere." In short, they were not welcome; they would be "happier" down the street "with their own kind." This was the final straw. Albert had had enough. He left the Presbyterians and formed an independent church in New York City called The Gospel Tabernacle, where all were welcome. His whole evangelistic focus shifted dramatically. He was done with Churchianity, and was now focused entirely on leading people to JESUS. One biographer wrote, "He held evangelistic meetings, ran several rescue missions, preached at the jails, had meetings for sailors, opened an orphanage and a home for unwed mothers, provided a dispensary for the poor, and started the Missionary Training School." It was Albert Simpson's strong conviction that people needed "Jesus only," rather than a rigid religious system that was far more restrictive than redemptive.

It was at this time also that Albert began expanding his evangelistic vision beyond New York City. He had a genuine longing in his heart for those throughout the world who did not know Jesus, and he felt called to do something about it. He took the "Great Commission" seriously, and began taking steps to send forth missionaries to all nations. He created two groups: The Christian Alliance and The Evangelical Missionary Alliance, which about a decade later would merge into The Christian and Missionary Alliance. By 1895, hundreds of missionaries had been trained and sent forth into the nations of the world. He also wrote a number of books and produced several magazines that promoted and supported this vision to share JESUS with the world. Even after his death, his wife Margaret continued to provide leadership to these various groups. Albert was adamant in his vision: he was NOT promoting any denominational system; he was preaching JESUS. Period. In his book titled "A Larger Christian Life," which came out in 1890, he said the Lord had shown him "the plan for a Christian Church that is much more than an association of congenial friends to listen once a week to an intellectual discourse and musical entertainment and carry on by proxy a mechanism of Christian work; but rather a Church that can be at once the mother and home of every form of help and blessing which Jesus came to give to lost and suffering men, the birthplace and the home of souls, the fountain of healing and cleansing, the sheltering home for the orphan and distressed, the school for the culture and training of God's children, the armory where they are equipped for the battle of the Lord and the army which fights those battles in His name."

Albert Simpson's focus on missions (taking the Good News to every corner of the earth) was due to his "belief that Jesus' return was dependent on the Gospel being preached to all the world. Fulfilling the Great Commission thus became the focus of his vocation" [Dana L. Robert, The Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, p. 622]. This helps explain why he simply refused to be tied down to any local work, especially if that work had a tendency to elevate its own denominational traditions and to exclude those believers with whom they differed. Simpson was willing to embrace as "brethren" any and all who embraced JESUS, regardless of their various traditions or sectarian views. In this he most definitely led the way in preaching Jesus only, rather than one particular group's view of Jesus. Simpson wrote: "We are an alliance of Christians for world-wide missionary work. It is to hold up Jesus in fullness, 'the same yesterday, today, and forever!' It is to lead God's hungry children to know their full inheritance of privilege and blessing for spirit, soul, and body. It is to encourage and incite the people of God to do the neglected work of our age and time among the unchurched classes at home and the perishing heathen abroad." Albert devoted his entire life to this mission. Due to health issues, he retired from his many mission trips in May, 1918. He would die on October 29, 1919. Five years later, his wife Margaret would follow him in death. They are buried on the campus of Nyack College in Nyack, New York.

In addition to his missionary efforts, Albert Simpson was also a prolific writer. He authored 101 books, edited and wrote for a number of prominent periodicals, and wrote the lyrics of over 120 hymns. One of the hymns that I have always thought highly of is titled "What Will You Do With Jesus?" He wrote this in 1897, and its publication date was 1905. The music for his lyrics was composed (also in 1905) by Mary L. Stocks. This hymn had five stanzas, and each of them was very JESUS focused. The chorus reads: "What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be. Some day your heart will be asking, 'What will He do with me?'" [NOTE: In 1926, another hymn was written with the very same title. The lyrics and music were not the same, however. In this later hymn, the lyrics were written by James Robinson, and the music was composed by Bentley D. Ackley]. In 1972, the music was changed to the familiar tune we know and love today by Alton H. Howard (1925-2006), and a couple of phrases were added to the chorus to make it flow better with the new tune: "What will you do with Jesus, my friend? Neutral you cannot be. Some day your heart will be asking, O friend, 'What will He do with me?'"

Alton Howard was a successful businessman, author, and gospel hymn writer who lived in West Monroe, Louisiana. During World War II he flew combat missions over Germany as a gunner on a B-26 bomber. In 1969 he started Howard Publishing Company, from which a great many hymnals were published, with many of his own compositions included. He was a longtime member of and elder at White's Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe. His granddaughter Korie is married to Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, a family that attends at the same church. Alton, through his music, and also in his teachings and writings, as well as through his publishing company, has had a tremendous and lasting impact on the people of God throughout the world.

Although Alton Howard came up with the familiar tune to this famous hymn in 1972, the person who arranged that music (also that same year) was Peggy Spoonts West, the wife of Larry West who, like Albert Simpson, is focused on world missions and sharing the Gospel message to the peoples of the world. I have known Larry for many years, and he even came here to our congregation several years back to conduct one of his "We Care" campaigns. I wrote to Larry a few days ago just to verify that the person credited with the musical arrangement was indeed his wife. He wrote back, "Al, so good to hear from you. Yes, that is my wife. She arranged many for Alton. In fact, she was his final editor on his last hymnal. She brought her small keyboard and played every song on our recent campaign trip." Peggy is pictured at the far left in the photo below (Larry is seen standing next to her). They too are members at the same church in West Monroe, Louisiana. Another interesting connection is that the daughter of Larry and Peggy (seen standing next to them) is Missy Robertson, who is married to Jase Robertson (also of Duck Dynasty fame).

I really find it interesting how people living in different centuries, and in different parts of the country, and with differing religious traditions and backgrounds, can nevertheless collaborate so successfully in making a memorable hymn that has inspired many men, women, and young people to give their lives to Jesus Christ, and how each of these families, living in very different times and circumstances, can still express their love for JESUS and for Gospel missions together in a single hymn. Truly God's Holy Spirit has been moving in each of these families, as well as in the life of this hymn. As Disney might say: It is indeed "a small world after all." Truly, only eternity will reveal just how huge an impact these few precious souls have had on others for the Lord Jesus. May the Lord continue to bless their efforts to share JESUS as our only Savior with the lost and seeking souls who live all around us.


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I just got your latest Reflections titled "When Wrongs Make A Rite: The Elevation of a Sectarian Standard to the Status of a Salvific Sacrament" (Reflections #815), and once again I am reminded that I must continually remind myself that I am not the one who makes the final call. God sent His Son, and His Son Jesus was obedient through death. They have both been faithful, and are being faithful, and will continue to be faithful in all things. There is absolutely no hint of me being allowed to determine who can be covered by the blood of the Lamb. The only condition for salvation is that we are claimed by God. Only ONE is worthy, and I could sooner believe in the totality of "Universal Salvation" taught by some, than to believe that the act of baptism is the qualifier for my salvation. Love you brother!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, you so often make my day with your thoughtful, God-given intellect which you use in explaining the Scriptures and encouraging people to move away from legalism. You inspire me over and over again. This article ("When Wrongs Make A Rite") was one I really needed to read and understand, as I quite often don't have a ready answer for why baptism isn't the "saving act" that we grew up believing it to be. May your good health and the many blessings you bring our way continue!

From a Minister in Kentucky:

I have not spent much time getting to know you, brother, but I believe we would connect well. I grew up in Athens, Alabama (home of our mutual friend Edward Fudge, as you know), and was not only raised in the Non-Institutional branch of the Churches of Christ, but was also unwittingly indoctrinated in sectarian theology that whole time! Through years of my own study, one of the things I learned that truly baffles me is that those of us who grew up in this heritage (we who are "children of the Restoration") should have been more keenly aware of the attempts to make rituals and rites out of things God didn't say. It is true that we make sacraments of things when God didn't. I really appreciate your writings, Al, and your many studies you have shared online. I know these are finding their way off the web and into people's lives. It is so helpful to read your thoughts, and also the thoughts of those who oppose them. It is so important that we just preach the Word, teach about the heart, and try to help people learn about the grace of God and the hope we have in Christ that prevails in His kingdom. We must preach this above all other allegiances!

From a Reader in Unknown:

Hi, Al. It has been a while since we last corresponded. I hope you are feeling well. It seems that the conservative, traditional Church of Christ members never change their views. A person I have known for years is yet again trying to persuade me to embrace her beliefs, and she is sending me links to videos. The most recent are YouTube videos of Don Blackwell teaching. I wrote her back the following: "We've discussed 'baptism' for years. I think the foremost expert on the subject of baptism is the Church of Christ minister/elder Al Maxey. If a person would, with an open mind, study all the studies he has thoughtfully written on this subject, that person would be enlightened to truths not typically presented by conservative, traditional Church of Christ ministers. You can find a list of Al Maxey's writings on his Home Page and in his Reflections Archive." Al, I am wondering what information you might have on Don Blackwell and the WVBS (World Video Bible School). I wonder how influential he and they are, and how successful they are in converting people to their view of baptism. Or, do these videos just serve mostly to reinforce the oft-taught traditional beliefs and practices of these conservative, tradition-bound churches? Here are the links to the three videos on YouTube that my friend sent me: Link #1 ... Link #2 ... Link #3. Thanks, Al.

From an Author in California:

I think many people in denominations (including the Churches of Christ) have only a superficial knowledge of the tenets of their denomination and its leaders (past and present). This is regrettable, in one sense, but at the same time we must realize that we are not saved by our knowledge of these tenets, but rather by our faith/trust in Jesus Christ. Many believers, I think, show their faith not by their intellectual knowledge of these tenets, but by their attitude and lifestyle. Which is more important: knowing the tenets that one's leaders espouse or one's own personal lifestyle? Rhetorical question! Most denominations (including our own) have elevated party shibboleths to a level of importance that is not warranted by the Scriptures. The doctrine of the Scriptures that is the most important to believers is how we live and relate to others. Are we caring, helpful, just, loving, moral? Are we manifesting the image of God and the fruit of the Spirit in our lives? It is these that truly matter. Sorry, I didn't mean to "sermonize."

From an Elder in Canada:

Greetings Al. I completely agree with all that you have written in "When Wrongs Make A Rite." Great article. I hope many will take to heart what you have written, and that they will change their attitudes toward the act of being baptized in water, which is simply a public witness before others of what has already taken place in one's own heart. Keep moving forward in faith, Al. We love you, brother! You have, by the enabling power of God's Spirit, an amazing ability to write about what is real and true in a clear manner that can be understood by anyone! It is truly a gift that God has blessed you with that you might bring glory to His righteous and holy name.

From a Reader in Michigan:

I have followed you and your work for many years. With regard to baptism, Romans 6 seems pretty convincing to me that we die to sin at our baptism, and we then rise up new.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, thank you for this latest article ("When Wrongs Make A Rite"). I have struggled with the topic of baptism for years. Naturally, I keep returning to what I've been taught. I did immerse a young man 3-4 times back in the late '60s because he thought I didn't put him deep enough in the water and thus each time some part of his body didn't get wet. The first time it was his hair. The second time maybe a hand went up. The third time he thought maybe a foot wasn't saved. The last time I pushed him to the very bottom of the baptistery. He opened his eyes under the water, looked around to see if every part of his body was totally saved, and I then lifted him back up to dryness. He was finally satisfied that none of his body parts would miss out on going to Heaven. I believe that far too many are guilty of assuming certain views, and then preaching and teaching their assumptions as though they were the very doctrine of Christ.

From a Reader on Prince Edward Island, Canada:

When I was a young preacher, I baptized a very, very heavy lady, and for all the wrong reasons (as you outlined in your article). But here is the kicker: she was so heavy that I could not have lifted her up if I laid her back in the baptistery (as most perform this act). So, I had her get into the baptistery on her knees and then had her go forward into the water until she was fully immersed. Afterward, however, I was "called on the carpet" for doing it the "wrong" way, and was told to go and do it again the "right" way! He who is baptized "backwards" is saved, I was told; NOT he who is baptized "forwards." This was a turning point for me! I started looking deeply into many of the teachings and traditions of "our" church. As you know, you and I are very much on the same page as a result of our studies. It is sad that so many these days are far more concerned with "form" than with "substance." Yes, baptism is an important symbol showing outwardly what we have received inwardly by grace through faith. In this act we profess our commitment, as those now saved, to living our lives as Jesus demonstrated we should through His life. Love you, brother!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, your article "When Wrongs Make A Rite" is a classic. Well done! I thought as I was reading it that many today prefer "easy Christianity." It's "easier," for example, to take a "nip and a sip" (i.e., the Lord's Supper) than to fix a whole meal and invite the less fortunate to join in. It's "easier" to tell people that they must attend the church of their choice on Sunday than it is to challenge them to BE the church seven days a week. It's "easier" to take comfort in the act of baptism, which is something one can DO, than in seeking to grasp God's grace, which is hard for many to fathom. It's also "easier" to condemn than to lift up. Unfortunately, you will likely find a good many in this latter category as a result of your latest well-done article. If only we had a vaccine for ignorance and hate. Love ya, brother!

From a University Professor in Florida:

Al, you and I have conversed back and forth for years, and I always appreciate your honest responses to anything I have said or asked. I will be interested to see what kind of response you receive to your current article ("When Wrongs Make A Rite"). People like you and Matt Dabbs (the editor of Wineskins magazine) are brave to push the envelope and question some of the traditions that have plagued the church for 200 years!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, I hope you have your asbestos suit on, because in your article you didn't just kill a sacred cow, you got the whole herd!! I can see the hot tar pots of the legalists heating up, and they are going to come after you with a vengeance. Brother, it is so refreshing to read your articles, and to take advantage of the years of research and study you have done. You truly teach the Truths of the Bible with love for those who have been misinformed. Take no note of the hate mail you will receive because of this article, for there is only ONE whose opinion matters. Love you, brother.

From Dr. Dallas Burdette:

Al, I have added your name and your latest article dealing with baptism to my web site: Freedom in Christ. It is placed under the heading "Additional Learning" (and then when you get to that page, it is under the heading "Unity in Diversity"). Within the first two weeks of putting up this new web site we had over 2000 hits. I thank God that He has allowed us to make another web site available for the message of salvation by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. If possible, I would appreciate you letting your readers know about my web site.

From an Elder in Alabama:

Al, I appreciate your lifelong quest for Truth as revealed in God's Word. I believe that is your calling. I enjoyed your latest Reflections ("When Wrongs Make A Rite"). I totally agree with your position that we are not saved by the act of baptism itself or that one must perform this act to be saved. I also agree with your statements about baptism in water being a proclamation or profession of one's faith, and that it is a vow we make to live for Him. Now, in practical terms, in your bringing of unbelievers to Christ Jesus, how do you teach baptism? After they have expressed belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, do you proceed to baptism?

From a Reader in Mississippi:

I'm still enjoying reading your Reflections, but I have a question: have you considered that God created a mature Earth, just like He created a mature man (Adam). The Scriptures tell us that God created a man, not a baby. No one knows the age of Adam when he was created. So why is it absurd in the minds of some that God would create a mature Earth?

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