by Al Maxey
Issue #824 -- July 18, 2021
If you pick up a starving dog and make him
prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the
principal difference between a dog and a man.
Mark Twain [1835-1910]
Dogs appear throughout the OT and NT writings, both literally and figuratively, and rarely are they depicted in a positive light. Dogs in the ancient biblical cultures were not the pampered pets with which most of us are familiar today. They were largely wild, untamed, scavenging animals, and were even used in the Bible to depict (figuratively) those humans who lived depraved, brutish lives. In Revelation 22:15 we are informed that outside of the Holy City (depicting the New Jerusalem, the eternal dwelling of the redeemed) "are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying." These "dogs" are not literal animals of the canine species. Instead, the term is being used of those persons who lived lives of rebellion against God and His will. Male prostitutes and sodomites are called "dogs" in Deuteronomy 23:18. No wages earned by harlotry were allowed "into the house of the Lord your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God." The Jews regarded non-Jews as "dogs" (Matthew 15:26), and the apostle Paul warned the brethren in Philippi, "Beware of the dogs" (Philippians 3:2), which most scholars take to mean the Judaizers. To view someone as "a dog" was to view him with contempt, as Goliath accused David of doing (1 Samuel 17:43), and of no worth or value (2 Samuel 9:8). The Bible speaks proverbially of "a dog returning to its own vomit" (2 Peter 2:22; Proverbs 26:11), which is a particularly disgusting thought. Jesus cautions, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces" (Matthew 7:6). For more about this proverbial saying, see my article, "Hog and Dog Theology: A Reflective Study of Matthew 7:6" (Reflections #776). There are more that we could mention, such as the dogs that came and were "licking the sores" of Lazarus as he lay outside the rich man's gate (Luke 16:21) and the dogs that devoured Jezebel (2 Kings 9:33-37), but these few provide an adequate picture of how dogs were depicted in the Scriptures. It is far from favorable.
This present article, however, is not about dogs in the Bible, it is about dogs in the church. Or, more specifically, dogs being taken into a church building and remaining there as the saints are assembled together within that physical structure. And just to make things even more interesting, let's throw a bit of lying and deception into the mix as well. Sounds like a good recipe for a bad Sunday morning, doesn't it? I have been in full-time ministry now for 45 years (I began in May 1976 after completing my Master's degree), and I have seen some interesting things happen "in church" during that time (or, more accurately, in church buildings, for the "church" is actually the people of God, not a physical structure). And, yes, I have even had dogs show up for the Sunday "worship service." In fact, that happened here just a few weeks ago with a visiting couple whose little dog even "commented" a time or two during my sermon!
I wanted to give the above as a bit of background, for it will help put in context the email I received from a reader in Colorado. On July 8th this brother wrote, "Al, I loved your article 'Eating Our Way To Hell: Are Kitchens and Potlucks in Church Buildings a Deadly Satanic Seduction?' It reminded me of an occasion in which a family, whose kin worshiped with us, came by the church building to visit while a 'fellowship meal' was in progress in the 'fellowship hall.' A younger son of these visitors spoke to me as they entered our building, and he said something to the effect of, 'Man, I'm hungry; we haven't eaten since early this morning.' He was ready to dive right in, but his father, who came in just a few people later, said, 'We've just eaten, but we'll visit for a bit with our kin here.' The mother carried her pet dog into the fellowship hall, sat down hungry, and then said, 'We've just eaten and are stuffed.' The father refused to let the son eat anything. So they sat there with their dog in this 'holy place.' I believe the son was telling the truth, but because they held the very beliefs your article addressed, both parents lied to me. Eating in our building was 'sinful' in their view, but apparently lying and holding a dog in this same building was not. I've thought about this over the years, wondering how the son turned out as far as his relationship with his Lord, seeing that lying and a dog in such a 'holy place' was justified, but eating there would never be forgiven in this world or the world to come. If this isn't a concept of salvation by works, then I'm at a complete loss to understand the definition of works, law, and grace. Thanks, Al."
There are a number of things about this incident that are troubling, but one of the glaring truths revealed is the inevitable inconsistency associated with the embracing of a rigid religious dogma. When one is willing to lie, for example, to try and validate one's attitudes and actions, then those cherished beliefs and practices immediately become suspect. The whole CENI (plus silence and expediency) hermeneutic is horribly flawed, and it almost always leads to a theology that is far from the intent of the Scriptures and God's purpose for His people. This, in turn, leads to inconsistencies with regard to other acts that, by using the same hermeneutic, some will find to be "sin." The various lists of right and wrong acts arrived at by those searching the Bible for laws and regulations are numerous, and no two lists are ever the same. The "pattern" is an elusive thing, for few legalists can even agree among themselves as to the exact nature of this "pattern," yet they will each argue that obedience to the "pattern" is essential to being accepted by God. For years I have asked these legalistic patternists to provide me with The List that one must follow in order to be saved. Not a single one of them has ever provided that list; indeed, they become angry every time I ask for it. They know only too well that their list won't be the same as the list compiled by other legalists, even though they all use the same hermeneutic as they examine the same written documents. One would think they would readily provide such a list, since they claim that compliance with it is mandatory for both salvation and fellowship. Indeed, why, one wonders, would they NOT provide it?! Yet, they won't. I have documented this unwillingness in several of my Reflections, and they may be found on my Topical Index page under the heading "Requesting Legalism's List."
They won't take food into their mouths in a "church building," but they will speak lies out of that same mouth in that same "sacred edifice." Isn't that sinning to avoid sin? Inconsistency!! They won't hold a hot dog in the church building, but they'll hold a real dog. Kitchens in a church building are an "abomination," but bathrooms are okay. God hates potlucks, but seems to be okay with pee and poop. Such religious arguments are ridiculous; they border on the absurd. Yet, these people are dead serious about their deduced and assumed "laws." After sending out my last article, a reader from the state of Texas wrote, "Al, I can't help but wonder why you allow such small-minded people with small-bore interests to occupy any space at all in your mind. They cannot be anything but a vanishing breed. Don't you find them insufferably boring?" The really hardcore ones are indeed wearying, for they simply can't be reasoned with. They have chosen their path and they are unwilling to realign themselves with the pathway of our Lord. Thus, I don't give them much thought at all. What does trouble me, however, are those whom they are misleading. Jesus, in speaking of/to the legalists of His day, really let them have it in Matthew 23. He didn't mince words. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (vs. 15). Jesus told the crowds and His disciples, "You would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws!" (vs. 2, The Living Bible). Like Jesus, I have little use for the "movers and shakers" within this religious darkness, but I have great compassion and concern for their victims! It is the latter who occupy a space within my mind, and it is in the hope of delivering them from the grasp of legalism and into the freedom which Christ Jesus has secured for us that I find my motivation to keep exposing and speaking out against legalism. I dealt with this in more depth in my article titled "Evangelizing the Enslaved: Breaking the Bonds of Sectarian Slavery" (Reflections #162).
So, do I have a problem with a dog inside a physical structure designed to facilitate the worship, education, encouragement, edification, and fellowship of local disciples of Christ Jesus? Nope! If that dog, however, was making a nuisance of itself and causing a disturbance and disruption of the above-named purposes, then I do have a problem with that. In fact, I would have a problem with any person doing the same. With regard to dogs in inappropriate spaces, one of my pet peeves (pun intended) is going to the grocery store and seeing a pooch perched in a shopping cart. Now, that does bother me! The bigger problem in the above story, however, is the fact that a couple was willing to lie to the Christians assembled that day for a fellowship meal. If your convictions are such that you have to LIE in order to conceal them from others, then you may want to take another look at those convictions! Also, if you're not courageous enough to boldly stand up for your convictions, then you may want to take another look at yourself. Do I have anything against those disciples who believe one should not eat in a church building? Nope! I do have a problem with those who attempt to bind those convictions on others, and who regard other disciples who differ with them as "apostates bound for hell." The Family of God consists of a wide variety of people with a host of differing preferences, perceptions, and practices. We will never be perfectly uniform in all these areas (and we don't need to be), but we CAN be united as One Body by virtue of our common bond: faith in and love for Jesus Christ! "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3). "Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity, and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body" (Colossians 3:14-15).
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, thanks for your latest Reflections titled "Eating Our Way To Hell: Are Kitchens and Potlucks in Church Buildings a Deadly Satanic Seduction?" (Reflections #823). I can't believe that reader who called you a "false teacher." What is the world coming to?! Thanks for your insightful and thorough investigation of 1 Corinthians 11. Great job! We desperately need more people who are not afraid to dig into things and come up with spiritual treasures. Well done, brother! We have been doing a study of the book of Acts here mid-week on a Thursday. One sister, who has been a Christian for 50 years, said it is the best study she has ever been involved in. We did Acts 17 last week, and I enjoyed exploring Paul's ability to adjust from dealing with a Jewish audience to pagan Greek philosophers. We all need to learn to adjust to the situation at hand for maximum impact. God bless you, Al, and we praise God for Shelly's recovery!
From a Reader in Colorado:
I remember arguing this subject (kitchens and eating in the church building) back in the old AOL internet Bible discussion group days. I know that it's true some congregations still believe this. There were several people on AOL who would always call ahead and check on the "soundness" of congregations if they were traveling, for unknowingly visiting an "unsound" congregation could send a person straight to Hell. Thanks for your articles!! We're praying your wife continues to improve!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Recently, I read again your article "The Trespass of the Tray Pass: Is Serving Communion Gender Exclusive?" (Reflections #646). I was prompted to do so by something I saw in the Christian Chronicle about passing trays during the pandemic instead of using the "rip and sip" Communion supplies. Over the past year, during this lockdown, I visited a church near my hometown in Pennsylvania which records and broadcasts its services on Facebook Live. I made a comment on their Facebook page that I had really liked the comments that were made during the Communion. Someone from the Church of Christ I had attended for 20 years reacted to my post "commending a woman at the Communion Table." The pastor and others at the church I had visited handled it with much grace. Anyhow, your article made me realize once more just how upset some people get over stuff that doesn't matter. It's all about what Communion means, not about the items used. In this past year, during the lock down, I have used Ritz crackers, Cheez-its, or whatever I had on hand. Well, I didn't mean to make a speech here. I just wanted you to know again that I appreciate your work. You make us think, and you keep us focused on the Man, not the brand.
From a Reader in California:
Al, another strange twist the CENI folk's doctrine takes is that there is no command, example, or necessary inference "authorizing" the very church building that they say one is prohibited from eating within!! There is NO "necessity" for them to even BE in a church building. The early church has proved that point. In fact, I would say the biblical example was meeting in homes. My father told me about a Church of Christ preacher from years ago who preached at a "no eating and drinking in the building" congregation. During his Sunday morning lesson, he told them that they were "violating the Scriptures" by having a drinking fountain in the back. He was hoping to point out their hypocrisy. When he returned to preach that Sunday evening, they had removed the drinking fountain. At least they were making some effort at consistency!!
What?! They returned to the building that evening for a second service?! Where is the "authority" in the NT writings, with command, example, and necessary inference, for TWO "worship services" on a Sunday? Heresy!! Apostasy!! REPENT!! -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Ottawa, Canada:
Since I have a church fellowship in my home, I am surely going to Hell, because obviously I have a kitchen in my home, and any brother or sister is welcome to eat in my home after the service. Al, don't these foolish folks realize that the ekklesia (the called-out assembly) is not a church building, but rather a group of people who have become new creations in the Lord Messiah Jesus? There were no "church buildings" for believers until the second century. They had their meetings in their homes, and they ate "agape feasts" in those homes. You, of course, know exactly what I am saying. However, it never ceases to amaze me how far off track some have gone from the real purpose of our calling, which is to spread the message Jesus brought to the whole world. Each of us individually is a temple of the living God Yehovah, and collectively we are also the temple of the living God Yehovah, NOT the building we gather in! Al, may God guide you in your ministry and protect you from the assaults from false brethren! May He be your rear guard and your sure defense always!
From a Minister in Zimbabwe, Africa:
Thank you, Brother Al, for such a hermeneutically sound exposition (i.e., your article "Eating Our Way To Hell"). The problem with the Restoration Movement (aka "Churches of Christ"), with its various factions, is a lack of hermeneutical accuracy and exegesis in their exposition of Scripture. As a result, the main focus is now idiosyncrasies like how many cups, do you support social institutions, do you eat in church buildings, among many other petty issues. All these "issues" are dividing rather than uniting us as churches of Christ. Thank you, brother, for this eye-opener!!
From a Reader in Toronto, Canada:
In the early to mid-1950's, a congregation of the "One Cup" Church of Christ began in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The cup they used for Communion was a coffee cup. One day, the cup was accidentally dropped, and the handle broke off. Some wanted to keep using the cup because of tradition: it was what they used when they began meeting. Others objected, however, because without a handle the "cup" was now a "glass" - I kid you not!! So, a One Cup (with handle) congregation was formed. One day, a young couple asked to get married in their building, but they were refused because there is no NT example of weddings in church buildings. Later, in 1956, I was told that there was going to be a funeral in the building. When I called and asked, "What is the scripture in the NT for using the building for funerals?", the person responded, "You have no respect for the dead!", and he hung up on me! Ignorance is one thing, stupidity is another!!
From a Reader in California:
Al, as always, Great Job in your response to the challenge posed re: Instrumental Music ("'Thank You, Lord, for the Harp': My Response to a Misguided Minister's Chart" - Reflections #822). As for the claims that God is displeased with, and even hates it, when His children employ instrumental music in worship, you are arguably the foremost authority and author on this subject in the church today. Thank You, Al, very much for carrying the torch of Truth on this matter, and for being the voice of reason! We here appreciate so much all that you do, brother! Again, you are the leading authority on these matters, and we so appreciate you for boldly taking this stand!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Legalism blinds people to the heart of the message. And it is not the fridge at the church building that is causing the most harm, it is the fridge at home ... and undisciplined eating! It is a huge problem, and the church has abdicated its responsibility to provide strong teaching on this subject. Blessings, brother!
From an Author in Arizona:
Al, my brother, it is indeed sad how deeply logic has deteriorated among rigid minds. I, too, have experienced the same question as you did from the person who phoned you. My response is often: "Yes, we do have a kitchen in the meetinghouse, and we occasionally eat there, but that 'evil' is far less so than the restrooms you have in your 'church,' where you and your comrades have spent church funds on rolls of toilet tissue to wipe your butts." Yes, sectarian mindsets are still among us. As usual, Al, your remarks are right on target! Stay in there, brother, and may the Lord continue to bless you and yours.
Hmmm ... I feel a sermon coming on - "When Tissue is the Issue." (LOL) -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Al, eating in the building is another one of those discussions that could open eyes that usually wish to remain shut. I have a friend who is an elder in a "No Bible Class" congregation since the 50's. He is a fine individual whom I admire greatly. On my last trip to Oklahoma to see him, he mentioned that they now had a separate building next to the "church building" where the church members eat a fellowship meal from time to time. It was "scriptural" because it was purchased from money given by members, but NOT from money that was given on Sunday in the worship service. That building is also separated from the "church building" by several feet. So, those two points make it "scriptural." We accept our traditions, turn them into inspired truths, and proudly condemn those who don't understand our thinking processes! I'm just thankful for the grace of God, and I believe a lot of us will be even more appreciative of it when the Lord smiles, motions us to come on in, and then has a belly laugh over the fact that we were all so ignorant concerning His grace. The more I study the book of 1st Corinthians, the more I see the worthlessness of disfellowshipping one another because "we" are doing things "more righter" than "them." Consider all the error practiced and preached by that congregation, and yet God only had them withdraw from the fellow sleeping with his father's wife! Al, THANKS for your articles!! They make us THINK ... if only we will.
From a Minister in Washington:
Al, what are your thoughts on Judas? Doesn't Matthew 27 show he repented, even though he killed himself? My wife is in a back-and-forth with a preacher who used Judas as an example of someone condemned to hell. We are not so sure he stood condemned, only God can know that for sure.
Many people over the centuries have wondered about the eternal fate of Judas, and theories regarding what God will do with him abound. Ultimately, of course, only God Himself knows. He has given us a few hints, however. I referred this preacher to my article titled "Judas Iscariot: An In-Depth Reflective Analysis" (Reflections #260). -- Al Maxey
From an Author/Evangelist in California:
Someone recommended to me your article on church suppers ("Eating Our Way To Hell"), which I just read with appreciation. Your point seems so obvious. I sometimes am baffled by how some of God's people major on minors. The thought occurred to me while reading your article that even in the Spirit-filled early church there were, initially at least, some real hang-ups, like Peter eating with some men who were uncircumcised (Acts 11:3). You and I have eaten with many people over the years, and that issue probably never even crossed our minds! I have written recently some articles about Christian people I have known, and I will refer you to the most recent, if you desire to take a look at it. Seeing you are in Alamogordo, NM, I wonder if you may have known Curtis Dickinson. I spoke at his congregation when he pastored there in Alamogordo, also when he was in Lubbock, TX. We also had a couple occasions to share the pulpit at conferences in Houston and Colorado Springs years ago. God bless, and thanks again for a fine article, which I have saved for reference.
It almost seems at times like the more obvious something is, the less likely some will be to perceive it. I have wondered if such persons may be under that strong delusion of which the apostle Paul wrote: a delusion so strong that they actually believe a lie over the truth. Sad! Yes, I knew Curtis, although he and I never met. He had left Alamogordo long before I got here. However, we corresponded for many years, and we were avid readers of each other's writings. He was a good man! For those who might like to check out the writings of this evangelist from California, the link to his page is: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association. -- Al Maxey
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