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by Al Maxey

Issue #849 -- August 1, 2022
Brotherhood is not so wild a dream as
those who profit by postponing it pretend.

Norman Lewis Corwin [1910-2011]

A Memorable Unity Assembly
A Day of Worship, Prayer, and Fellowship
Desert Hills Church - Mountain View Church

Sunday, July 24, 2022 - Alamogordo, New Mexico

Dr. Ronald David Laing (1927-1989) was "a Scottish psychiatrist noted for his alternative approach to the treatment of schizophrenia," and "who wrote extensively on mental illness; in particular, the experience of psychosis" [Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia]. Dr. R. D. Laing was very much regarded as a rebel in his field and led what came to be known as the "anti-psychiatry movement." The views and treatments he promoted were influenced significantly by existentialism (a philosophy that I too studied extensively in graduate school). Due largely to his upbringing and his philosophical studies, Dr. Laing came to believe that schizophrenia sprang from severe tensions within the nuclear family (and even within specific societal groups), and that it was therefore rarely responsive to conventional methods of treatment. In his book "The Politics of Experience," which came out in 1967, he made the following observation, "The brotherhood of man is evoked by particular men according to their circumstances. But it seldom extends to all men. In the name of our freedom and our brotherhood we are prepared to blow up the other half of mankind and to be blown up in our turn" [chapter 4].

In other words, the idea of and reality of "brotherhood," as embraced and evidenced by most of mankind, is territorial in nature. If you and I agree, then "we be brethren;" if we differ on any one of countless "issues," then walls go up and weapons come out. This was seen to some degree in the teaching of Malcolm X (1925-1965), who declared in a speech in New York in 1964, "I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don't believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn't want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I'm not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn't know how to return the treatment." He has a point, yet in some ways he makes the point of Dr. Laing as well: i.e., brotherhood, in theory, extends to all men, but in practice it extends only as far as how I myself am regarded and treated, and whether or not my own views and actions are respected, and whether or not I am given the freedom to be me without restrictions or recriminations.

UNITY can be tricky, especially when, for too many, it is actually UNIFORMITY that is being sought. For those whose hearts and minds are focused on the latter, the concept of "Unity in Diversity" is anathema. And yet, genuine unity will always be a blessed experience among diverse individuals, groups, and peoples. The Lord has never expected, nor even desired, for His people to be goose-stepping automatons or puppets on strings manipulated by religious handlers. His Body of Believers (His "church") is made up of many diverse members (diverse by divine design) who nevertheless function together, as a physical body would, with each part doing what it was designed to do (Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12).

The religious world we know today (and it has always been this way), with its many sects, factions, denominations, and schisms is a testimony to the fact that disciples of Christ Jesus have lost sight of our Lord's intent for His universal One Body. We rally as combatants around the countless points of diversity, rather than celebrating those points of diversity and rallying around JESUS. There is room for all in HIS FAMILY, but room only for a select few in OUR FACTIONS. It is the latter that must diminish in this world if the former is ever to truly flourish! We have a daunting task before us, but we must rise to it and become His ambassadors of Unity. Thankfully, there have throughout the history of the church always been those who dared to call for unity, harmony, and oneness of all believers in Jesus. It was not always a very popular position for these fearless reformers, but it was most definitely a much needed one.

In my personal ministry, and I have been in fulltime ministry for over 46 years now, I have done all in my power to bring down the sectarian walls that separate the people of God. Unity that our Lord favors and promotes is not, and never has been, one that revolves around human perceptions, preferences, practices, and precepts; rather, it is a unity that finds the fullness of its focus in Him. We are "called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:9). The apostle John concurs: "Indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). When we are in intimate relationship with the Son, the eternal Word who took on flesh (John 1:14), we are a part of His universal One Body. ALL those who are in Him are thereby in it, regardless of their differing cultural and racial backgrounds, understandings, traditions, and methodologies. I can't help but think of the insight provided by the German novelist Thomas Mann (1875-1955), "In the Word is involved the unity of humanity, the wholeness of the human problem, which permits nobody to separate ... and to isolate himself within the ivory tower of the 'cultural' proper." Sadly, too many have embraced religion over relationship, and such will always lead to separation and isolation and warring sects and factions. We dwell in ivory towers of our own making and look down upon all those around us. Only in the Word (John 1:1-4), who is Jesus, do we find the light and life of mankind that generates genuine unity and harmony.

Over the years I have sought to put into practice that which I preach. In other words, if our unity is truly in Him, rather than in us, then we should be looking for open doors of opportunity to visibly demonstrate this One Body/One Family reality to the world around us. It is this that is truly evangelistic. Jesus prayed "that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:21). Thus, I have sought over the decades to tear down the sectarian walls that divide the One Body into factions, and to encourage loving interaction between brethren of differing traditions. For years I have been part of local ministerial alliances in which local pastors come together to plan city-wide events that evidence unity of purpose among the people of the Lord. Every other week there is a Men's Breakfast and Bible study held at Grace Baptist Church here in our city, and several of us, along with members/pastors from over a dozen denominational groups, enjoy this time together. Another pastor and I started the Hospital Chaplains program at our regional medical center, and I was the commander of this program for many years (overseeing about 25 chaplains who were serving as pastors in various denominations in our area). I have also "swapped pulpits" with other ministers in the area on occasion, one of the most memorable being on Sunday, June 5, 2016. I preached at Grace Baptist Church, and their pastor, Joe Bryant, preached at our congregation. I wrote about this in my article titled "Preachers Swapping Pulpits: Reflective Review of a Pastoral Practice" (Reflections #696). The most recent event, however, was just a few days ago! It was a combined worship assembly with Desert Hills Church of Christ and Mountain View Assembly of God: a Unity Service held Sunday, July 24, 2022 here in Alamogordo, New Mexico. It is this that I want to focus on in this present issue of my Reflections, for it is a fascinating story of God's love and grace in action in this city.

We need to go back almost three years, because the back-story is important context for this "unity assembly." As 2019 was drawing to a close, one of our former deacons informed one of our present deacons that he had heard the Mountain View Assembly of God was seriously considering either expanding their present facilities, or looking to build elsewhere, or perhaps even swap properties with another church in the area (in fact, such a swap had been considered for a time with one of the Baptist groups, but that fell through). Our present deacon passed this information on to me, and I then passed it on to the other two elders with whom I serve. Our facility at the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ was very large, and even included a parsonage (which was being used for storage, as Shelly and I purchased our own home when we moved here from Hawaii 24 years ago). We simply had more property than our congregation needed, and the Mountain View group was in need of more. Below are pictures of both properties (our old Cuba Avenue property on top and our new Desert Hills property beneath it).

Over the next 3 months the leaders of both groups met several times to discuss a possible swap of property. Both groups owned their land and facilities, and they were both fully paid for. We toured one another's facilities, discussed areas that would need to be addressed for a deal to go through. We got both properties appraised, got realtors and a title company involved to help us with the required paperwork. Members of both congregations also examined each other's facilities and were asked to give their input to the leaders (the members of both groups were thrilled at the prospect of a swap). To make a long story shorter, we agreed to do the swap. Since our old property was much larger than theirs, it was appraised higher than theirs. Thus, when both properties were swapped, our congregation received a check from their group for the difference in value between our property and theirs. We signed the paperwork ... and then COVID hit, and the governor shut the state down. This was about the first part of March, 2020. Providentially, this gave both groups time to strip their buildings of pews, furnishings, libraries, office equipment, etc., and during the COVID lockdown we made the move to each other's buildings and then did the needed upgrades. The timing was perfect, and we could definitely see God's hand in all of this. By the time both groups were moved in, and the buildings set up for classes and assemblies again, the state opened up for such assemblies to occur.

During this time, Anthony Torres (the pastor at Mountain View) and I became good friends, as did leaders and members of both groups. I am seen with him in the picture at the left in our old auditorium as the pews were being removed and new ones brought in. At the time, we all agreed that we wanted to hold a joint worship assembly and fellowship meal with both congregations as soon as it could be arranged. Little did we know that due to a number of things (scheduling, illness, etc.), that joint service would not be for another two years! During those two years, though, there were many times of less formal interaction between various persons in both groups, and the relationship continued to grow stronger. At long last, the day arrived. It was Sunday, July 24, 2022. Word went out to both groups, to other groups, and to the city of Alamogordo.

We wanted to promote this to our respective congregations, and to the community, as a time of genuine expressed UNITY among BRETHREN. This was to be more than just two "denominations" daring to spend a few hours together, but a display of true ONENESS of purpose, devotion, and message. We enjoyed worship of our Father together; we held hands and prayed together; Anthony and I shared the pulpit and shared the same message of unity in One Spirit. We sat together and ate a meal together. It was a glorious FAMILY get-together, and it will be talked about in this city for years to come, because it was a true display of exactly what Jesus Himself prayed for in John 17. Indeed, it is what He died for - that we all might be ONE BODY in Him. And we were ... and we are. In a fallen world where the Darkness is imposing its evil power more dramatically daily, and where people all around us are perishing in that Darkness, it is imperative that the CHURCH come together IN LOVE and begin standing firm against the REAL ENEMY ... and that enemy is NOT our fellow believers. We have fussed, fought, and fragmented too long. We have elevated sects over the Savior and factions over Family far, far too long. We have preyed upon one another far more than we have prayed for one another. It has gone on for 2000 years! Enough is enough!! Our worth in His sight and our worth in the sight of one another is not based on various rigid religious tenets and traditions. We don't have to look alike to be His children. You don't have to be my twin to be my brother. We have the same Father; we have the same Savior; we have the same Spirit; we have the same purpose: lift high the name of Jesus and seek to bring others to Him. Be loving, merciful, compassionate, benevolent, gracious! It is this that will be ultimately determinative on that day, not the countless human rites and rituals with which we fuel our feuds.

The day of the assembly arrived. Both groups were excited and were looking forward to it. We dismissed services at our building that morning, and we all (as many as were able to; there were a majority of our members) met at their building (which used to be our building). It was a packed house, with people even standing who couldn't find a seat. There were a couple of songs (the lead singer in the praise team is the daughter of pastor Anthony), there were prayers for those who came requesting prayers (several of us stood at the front and prayed with those who came up). A great video on unity was shown (just 2-3 minutes in length). Anthony and I both gave about a 15 minute sermon/talk (I went first; he then came and wrapped up); neither of us knew what the other was going to say, but it meshed together wonderfully (the Spirit was definitely at work). I presented Anthony with one of the books I had written a few years back; it is titled "One Bread, One Body." We both ended the service by wrapping our arms around one another and each praying in turn for unity, while all the members held hands! We then enjoyed a wonderful potluck meal in the fellowship hall. It was a marvelous day, and I have yet to hear a single negative word from anyone. In fact, I had a total stranger come up to me in the post office yesterday and tell me what a powerful sermon I had that morning! I don't know if she was there in person, or if she watched the service online. Either way, the message got out ... and is getting out even now, for the entire service was streamed live and is still available for viewing by the public on both Facebook (Click Here) and YouTube (Click Here). It is my prayer that this very special and powerful Unity in Jesus demonstration by our two congregations of believers will motivate others to do the same in their cities, and that God's people can begin coming together more and more as the return of our Lord draws closer and closer!


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Readers' Reflections
NOTE: Differing views and understandings are always welcome here,
yet they do not necessarily reflect my own views and understandings.
They're opportunities for readers to voice what is on their hearts, with
a view toward greater dialogue among disciples with a Berean spirit.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Al, I just wanted to send a brief note of appreciation for your following statement in your latest article ("Identifying the True Gospel: Abandoning 'Another Gospel' and Ascertaining Genuine Glad Tidings" - Reflections #848). You wrote: "Those who preach a steady diet of denominational distinctives and party perceptions, practices, preferences, and precepts ... rigid religious rules and regulations ... We are called, brethren, to preach a Person, not a Party; a Savior, not a Sect. The gospel message is all about HIM, not about US. It's about a Redeemer, not a Religion." GREAT WORDING, Al. Thank you!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, I just read your article "Identifying the True Gospel," and I would love to have a copy of the document you offered titled "Identifying the Gospel." I am going to teach a Bible class on the "Gospel of the Kingdom" starting in August, and I would like to read anything you have written on the subject. Thank you very much!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Hey brother, I'm behind on your articles, but I just wanted to say that I love this one: "Baptism Hath Enslaved Me: The Tyranny of an Elevated Tradition" (Reflections #847). I'll never forget attending a Sunday evening service in a Church of Christ where I lived about 30 years ago, and a teenage girl (who was visiting with one of her friends) came forward for prayer when the "invitation song" was sung. She said she didn't want to be baptized until she talked with her parents, but she was ready to accept Christ as her Savior. Much to my horror, the preacher guilted her into the baptistery with the old threat, "What if you die on your way home before you get baptized?!" To my never-ending shame, I sat there and said nothing. I would like to think she went on to serve the Lord in a church where blind Pharisees don't rule the members with such dumb dogma! Keep the faith, my friend.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, you have written so many good things that it's difficult to say which one is better than all the others. But this one ("Identifying the True Gospel") has to be in the top 5 of all time!! Mainly because it puts all of our theology, patterns, and traditions in their proper place. They are but mere opinions and interpretations. But Jesus ... well, He is the Man! The more we preach the good news of Jesus, and how He redeemed us, the better. The more we teach how we redeem ourselves, the more we get "anathema." Love ya, brother. Oh, one more thing: that was an excellent comment about Romans 4 that you made at the end of the Readers' Reflections section. I hope people read that!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, you nailed it on this one ("Identifying the True Gospel")!! It was like you were talking about some of the many "Church of Christ" churches I have attended. I know that there is no such thing as "a perfect church," but there are some that seem as though they think they are. I have learned a lot in the last 68 years, and most of it has been in the last 10 years! Thanks to you, I now know that I'm not the only one that sees that we have a lot of other brothers and sisters out there who do not assemble in the same buildings with the same "signs out front" as ours. I was brought up in the "Churches of Christ;" my wife was brought up in the Catholic Church. Her cousin is a Catholic priest, and as strange as it may sound, I think he and I are on the same page more often than others at my own church. Great Writing, Al ... please keep it up!!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, with respect to your articles "Identifying the True Gospel" and "Baptism Hath Enslaved Me," I do not see the need to separate salvation from immersion in water. It seems Calvinistic to do so. Philip preached Jesus to the Eunuch, who responded with, "Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (Acts 8:36).

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, just a quick note on your comments about baptism in your recent article and our thirst to get it exactly right. I am preaching on Romans 9 this week, and I find that many in "our tribe" seem to be like the Jews Paul mentions at the end of this section of his epistle. The New Living Translation put it like this: "But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in Him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path" (Romans 9:31-32). I believe there are a great many sincere Christians out there trying to "get right with God by keeping" a law someone created by cherry-picking Scripture. Unfortunately, they fail to see the need to trust God, and thus they stumble over what Jesus has already done for them! I pray that we can undo some of the legalistic teaching that ensnares these folk. I am thankful to God for helping open eyes to the wonders of His grace and the freedom granted to us by just trusting Him!

From a Reader in Nova Scotia:

Hello my brother! WOW!! What an article on baptism ("Baptism Hath Enslaved Me"). It was wonderful and smack on. It took me 15 years to realize it was not "what" I know but "Who" I know that saves me! And you, Al, have been a big part of that change! I want to tell you a true, but funny, story. I was preaching "the church doctrines" on baptism and a huge lady came forward at the end of the sermon and wanted to be baptized. She was far too big for me to lower her backwards into the water, so I got her to kneel and then pushed her under the water. Later I was questioned as to the "validity" of her baptism. Why? Because she was not lowered backwards into the water. After all, "He that believeth and is baptized backwards shall be saved, but he that believeth and is pushed under, well, not so much." This is really how they thought! I could not believe my ears!! This is funny, but also so tragic to a Faith/Grace-based life. This hardcore dogma was the real starting point in my deep study of the Scriptures, and in my putting away "our" sermon outline books when looking for sermons to preach. Al, I love your depth of reasoning and your willingness to share it with others, even with all the pressure and the persecution you get from the unlearned and the doubters. Stay well, and study on, brother!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, thank you for this message: "Identifying the True Gospel." The true Gospel is actually wonderful. I won't go into any long, boring detail, but I do lament the five decades that we spent under the thumb of "Church of Christ" doctrine and tradition, never really knowing if we were "good enough" or had "done enough" to receive the amazing GIFT that, I would later learn, was already ours!! When the obvious finally hit us, i.e., that it is not about how good we are or how much we do, but rather what Jesus did already, it was like the weight of the world lifted right off of us!! Thank you, Jesus ... and thank you, Al Maxey.

From a Reader in Ohio:

Thank you, Al, for all you do. The Lord is truly using you to touch so many, many lives around the world for His glory! Blessings to you!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, is there any consensus among Christians about the advisability of cremation of the body after death? Is there anything in the Bible that would make one doubt whether it is appropriate?

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