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by Al Maxey

Issue #850 -- August 13, 2022
Those who pretend to be what they are not,
sooner or later find themselves in deep water.

Aesop [620-564 B.C.]

Pretending to be CofC
Reflective Response to Robert

I came across the following quote as I was doing some research, and it really grabbed my attention. I have no idea who originally uttered these words, but I appreciate their insightful observation and word of warning: "Make sure everyone in your boat is rowing, rather than drilling holes when you're not looking." A sad truth that many fail to realize in time is that not every sailor aboard ship is fully committed to the mission or his/her shipmates. Some are there to undermine the mission, the ship's captain, and the crew. In our voyage through life, not all in the boat with us are there to help us; some are there to hinder us. With regard to the church, Paul spoke of "false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage" (Galatians 2:4). Later, Paul spoke of those "preaching Christ from envy and strife, ... proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition, ... thinking to cause me distress" (Philippians 1:15-17). To the elders of the church in Ephesus, Paul gave this warning: "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, ... for after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be on the alert" (Acts 20:28-31). These are wolves pretending to be sheep; or worse: wolves pretending to be shepherds! I would urge you to read Ezekiel 34 very carefully; in this chapter we find how God views such false, self-serving shepherds of His One Flock, and how He intends to deal with them.

The Lord has never had any use for pretenders and imposters, and He especially has no use for such persons when they practice their hypocrisy among His people. All of us, whatever our function may be within His flock, should heed these warnings. Our Lord seeks genuine disciples, not pretenders with hidden agendas. All of these thoughts came to mind recently when I came across a statement made in some internet group by Robert Waters, a person living in Arkansas (the state in which I was born) whom I have known for about three decades. I think it safe to say that Robert and I differ rather significantly on a good many things, and I have made reference to some of these doctrines and practices, about which we differ, in previous issues of Reflections, a couple of recent examples being: "Two Old Authors on a Bench: Reflective Response to Robert's Review of My Insights on Interpretive Methodology" (Reflections #806) and "Revisiting the Park Bench: A Final Attempt to Reason with Robert" (Reflections #806a). With regard to the above mentioned statement by Robert, however, I would like to make a few observations. Here is his statement in full:

Although Robert didn't mention any names, and no doubt had a number of individuals in mind, I feel rather sure, based on numerous past exchanges with him, that I am one of those about whom he was writing. Thus, I would like to briefly respond to some of what he has written. First, he speaks of "a few in the Church of Christ" who are "pretending to be" within this group. In other words, it is a false claim made by false brethren. We have slipped in among the members of this group, pretending to be one of them, for some nefarious purpose. Robert does make a valid observation here, for there have always been, and there always will be, such pretenders, and both the OT and NT writings speak of such "tares among the wheat." Jesus told His disciples to beware of those "who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation" (Mark 12:38-40, NKJV). Yes, they are there; we need to be alert. On the other hand, I fear we too often misidentify, and thus unjustly malign, some persons among us. We are crying, "Wolf," when in reality the one "marked" is simply a fellow sheep in the flock with whom me may differ on some matter of personal preference or perception. Robert and I differ on a number of matters, but such diversity of conviction and practice does NOT make one or the other of us a godless pretender. There is ample room within the One Flock of the One Shepherd for all kinds of sheep. We need to be very careful about who we label and why, for such harsh judging may reveal more about ourselves than those we castigate.

In the first sentence of his statement, Robert also mentions "the Church of Christ." Some, who are not of "our tribe," may find this confusing. Is he referring to the universal One Body of believers made up of all those throughout the world and throughout the ages who are redeemed? Or is he referring to that group denominated "Church of Christ" in the Yellow Pages of our phone books? Is he speaking of people who are in relationship with Jesus Christ, or only of those who assemble in buildings with "Church of Christ" on the sign out front? Sadly, the tragedy here is that too many, for far too long, have equated the latter group with the former group. Thus, in effect, declaring that the religious group denominated "Church of Christ" (thusly identified in the Yellow Pages of our phone books) IS the "one true church" established by the Lord Jesus - it and it alone. ALL other denominated (named) groups are apostate; only WE are approved by God. This is the epitome of sectarian arrogance; and, no, "we" are not the only group that makes such a claim. Such walls of exclusion that isolate us from our fellow spiritual siblings need to be torn down! No "named" group is, to the exclusion of all other "named" groups, THE "one true church" on planet earth! I only bring this up because what someone means when they say "Church of Christ" will determine what someone means when they say someone else is only "pretending to be" a part of it. The nature of the pretense of the pretender will vary somewhat based on what is meant by "Church of Christ." Let me phrase it a different way: Are we accusing someone of being a "pretender" because this person opposes divine TRUTH, or because this person opposes or questions some human TRADITION?! There is an enormous difference between the two, and I fear too many sheep are being falsely labeled and libeled because of the latter! For example, I once had a well-known leader in the "Church of Christ" denomination tell me to get out of his church and go start my own! Why? Because he and I differed on the instrumental music issue. Because I didn't agree with him on this matter, I wasn't truly a "Church of Christer" ... I was a "pretender" ... Therefore, I needed to "get out" ... and the sooner the better! There was simply no room for the likes of me in "his church." Thankfully, there IS room for one like me in the Lord's church, a truth even the apostle John needed to learn (Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50).

I am not suggesting that Robert Waters necessarily had me in mind when he spoke of some who were "pretending to be ... in the Church of Christ" (although he has denounced me publicly as a "turncoat," an "agitator" and "change agent," and a "foe of the cross of Christ"), but there have been some over the years who have suggested such, so let me share with you my personal conviction on this matter. I am a member of the universal One Body of the Lord; the One Family; the One Flock. I am a member by virtue of having been saved by grace through faith. I am "in Him," and all others who are "in Him" are my brothers and sisters in the great, universal Family of the Father. We don't all have the same cultural backgrounds, or even theological understandings, or worship styles, etc. These, however, are not determinative of whether one is or is not "in Him" and thus "in His Family." You don't have to be my identical twin to be my brother! We have the same Father. Having said this, let me further state that my association or religious affiliation is with that segment of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as "Church of Christ," which is one of several denominated groups that sprang from that larger historical movement. There are also literally dozens and dozens of sub-groups of the denomination "Church of Christ," and I suppose some would say that I am a leader in one of the more progressive factions of that denomination. Let me hasten to say that I do NOT believe "our tribe," or any particular faction thereof, IS "the one, true church." To affirm such is not only stupid, but also arrogant.

My parents were "Church of Christ," so naturally that's where they took my sister and me when we were kids. I didn't choose this denomination; it was chosen for me. As an adult I chose to continue within this religious heritage. I was familiar with its teachings and traditions, so I stayed. In time, however, through study of the Scriptures, I realized that many of the traditions and teachings and practices of this group were more "from men" than "from God." That doesn't mean they were wrong, necessarily, it just meant they weren't the "absolutes" (upon which salvation was based) that I had been taught that they were. In other words, someone could have completely different worship styles and traditions and even teachings than I, and still be a part of the Lord's One Body. "WE" were not the standard ... HE was/is. So, again, I am in the universal One Body, but I have chosen to associate with and work with a group with which I share some cherished traditions and practices. This understanding has freed me to embrace as brethren those who associate and affiliate with those groups of differing traditions and practices. Thus, I am not "pretending" anything!! It seems to me that the greater pretense is those who are "pretending" (and proclaiming) that their group, and their group alone, IS, to the exclusion of all others, the "one, true church" on planet earth. Brethren, I will pretend no such absurdity; and I most certainly will not preach it.

In his statement, Robert Waters states, "The number of things the Bible teaches to do to become a Christian is five." He also wrote, "...the five things we teach that are required to become a Christian..." (although he doesn't tell us what they are, and even adds, "but the number itself is not important"). Anyone "raised" in the "Church of Christ" denomination is more than familiar with these five items: hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized. It kind of goes along with our tribe's "five acts of worship" (sing, pray, preach, give, and take the Lord's Supper). If some are wondering about the number five, especially as it pertains to salvation, I would refer them to my article titled "The Five Finger Exercise: Walter Scott's Mnemonic Device" (Reflections #710). Are there just FIVE "steps" to salvation? Are there three? Four? Ten? I would agree with Robert that the number of items "itself is not important." I would also agree with Robert that what is important is "that ALL of what God has commanded is obeyed." The Lord has not burdened us with a ton of rules, regulations, and commandments. His "burden" and "yoke" are light when compared with the expectations of rigid religionists, whose laws are anything but "easy" in nature.

Are singing, praying, preaching, giving, and partaking of the Lord's Supper "scriptural"? Yes, they are. Are hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, and baptizing/being baptized "scriptural"? Yes, they are. "The scriptures are there and cannot be denied," writes Robert ... and he is correct. They are there. Are these "man-made doctrines"? Although each of these is biblical in nature, and thus "of God," nevertheless there are a lot of teachings associated with these items that are very much of human origin. Jesus condemned the religionists and legalists of His day for "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:9), and for "invalidating the word of God for the sake of your tradition" (vs. 6). In fact, Jesus called these people "hypocrites" (i.e., "pretenders"), and even worse (see His scathing rebuke of these "pretenders" in Matthew 23, in which He adds descriptive terms such as "fools" ... "serpents" ... "a brood of vipers" ... "sons of hell").

Robert suggests in his brief statement that these passages about these five items are upsetting to these "pretenders" because they "add up to something they don't like." And what would that be? Robert answers: "They evidently want to go along with the world that believes" in salvation by "faith only." IS one's salvation by faith only/alone? Of course not. The concept being conveyed by those who emphasize faith is that salvation can never be as a result of one's own effort or meritorious works. To declare salvation is by faith alone is simply to argue that salvation is by faith, and NOT by works, or knowledge, or inherent goodness, etc. Salvation is a God-man event; thus, when one states the necessity of unaccompanied faith, that is simply focusing on the "man" half of the salvation event. Our response is FAITH ... and nothing else. The God-man equation would therefore be: we are saved "by grace through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). God displayed His grace, and He expects us, His redeemed/saved ones, to display our faith, just as He also expects us to display our love. The things we DO (some of which are indeed commanded ... such as partaking of the Lord's Supper), we do because we ARE saved, not in order to BE saved. They are actions that manifest, display, and show (as per James 2) the reality and genuineness of our faith that laid hold of His gracious free gift. They show much, but secure nothing; they are not redemptive in nature, but reflective. No one is "going along with the world" on this; we are simply going along with what the Scriptures inform us our faith-response is to be to God's gift of grace! Thus, we dare not "pretend" that a God-given symbol is instead a God-ordained sacrament. It is my hope and prayer that these few thoughts in response to Robert's above statement will help clarify some of the obvious confusion he seems to feel when encountering views other than his own.


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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 Tennessee:

I am a reader from Tennessee and already have your audio presentations (plus the printed handouts and PowerPoint slides) of the class on Revelation that you taught. I was hoping you may have produced a video version since that was released. Can you respond and let me know if you have, as I am going to start a small group series on Revelation soon, and your videos would be helpful.

From a Reader in California:

Al, I just read "A Memorable Unity Assembly" (Reflections #849). GREAT article! As you know, I fully agree with what you two pastors did, and with what you wrote about that unity meeting that took place between your two congregations on July 24th. In a twisted sort of way, I can't wait to read how you are going to be skewered over this! Love you, brother!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Al, that was such a great write-up on the unity meeting, which I was blessed to attend. Hopefully, people will keep their ugly comments and criticisms to themselves, and that you will receive wonderful comments for what you did.

From a Reader in Montana:

Al, I had the pleasure of watching this unity assembly online. Our kids go to Mountain View Church, and they gave us a heads-up on how to view it as it was being streamed live. I found it very gratifying to hear both of your messages (yours and Anthony's). Thanks for going "above and beyond" to spread a message of unity!

From a Reader in California:

Wow!! So, if I understand correctly, your two congregations got together, discussed how you could mutually benefit one another's missions, and actually became friends?! What is the world coming to? Next thing you know, you might actually do it again! Horrors! Seriously, though, what you did sounds like it was a true win-win-win for everyone, including the community at large. Well done! There is so much hatred, anger, and bitterness flying around our nation right now that a little "let's get together" surely does feel good, even if it's vicariously.

From a Reader in Unknown:

Dear Al, thank you for the excellent account of the unity meeting (Reflections #849). This is exciting! Too often the world looks on and sees only a bunch of religious people, some claiming that only their group is "right," and thus all others are "wrong." I loved this statement by you: "You don't have to be my identical twin to be my brother." God bless you, Al, and thanks again for what you did.

From a Pastor in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada:

Al, what a great article on unity. You wrote: "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." Amen, brother. That says it all in a nutshell, for Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). If we live/abide in His love, as He has asked us to do (John 15:9), then we will love ALL those who are new creations in the Lord Messiah Jesus, and we will also reach out in love to those who are not! The called-out Assembly of Yehovah is made up of scattered brothers and sisters all over the world, many of whom are fleeing war, persecution, and lack of food or water as I write this to you. May our God and Father Yehovah be with you in your ministry as you continue to reach out to everyone regardless of denomination or background!

From a Minister in Zimbabwe, Africa:

I loved this unity meeting!! Brother Al, you are an inspiration to me as a minister in Zimbabwe. I am seeing great things in you. God bless you!

From a Minister in the Philippine Islands:

Wow! What a large crowd in your unity service! I love to see so many people hearing and studying God's Word. You both are very interesting speakers. Thank you.

From a Reader in Vietnam:

Great message! Thank you!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Thanks, Al, for leading us on a path toward answering the John 17 prayer of Jesus!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, that unity assembly is awesome on so many levels! The Holy Spirit is moving among you!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

When the Body of Christ comes together as one to worship Christ, the Head, it is a wonderful blessing. Thanks to all of you there for making this happen, and may God continue to bless each of you. May God help us to recognize Whose we are, rather than who or what we are!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Hey Al, well done on the unity service!! It's interesting how much more we appreciate each other when we find out how much we have in common, rather than focusing on differences. One thing I've noticed over the past twenty years or so, is that a fairly large percentage of people in any given congregation didn't grow up in that particular denomination. Marriage, relocation, convenience of location, reputation of the church in general, etc., etc., have caused many to join groups even though they are not all that familiar with the tenets and traditions of that denomination. All they know is that they've made friends, they like the preaching and teaching that is consistent with what they believe, and more than likely the kids have friends who attend there. As one dear aged sister once told me, listening to certain preachers and teachers, and hearing things one may not agree with, is like eating fish: occasionally you have to spit out a bone or two. My belief is that nobody agrees 100% about everything. Yet, the more we seek to unite with one another, the better. Well done, brother. Keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Texas:
(Excerpts from a letter written to Anthony and me by
a man and his wife from Houston, TX who were able
to attend and experience the unity meeting in person

Brothers Al & Anthony, I look forward to a trip to New Mexico every summer to meet with my family in Ruidoso. Since coming to know Al through his Reflections, I have also looked forward to seeing him each year, as I have been following and highly approving of his desire to break down barriers that have kept the Family of God divided for so many years. I'm glad I got to shake his hand again and give him a hug when we came into your Unity Service, and also to shake hands with Anthony when leaving. I want to thank both of you, and your individual congregations, for taking this step forward. My wife and I were so blessed to be present in that assembly, and I doubt that we were the only ones. In fact, I have a friend in Texas who is a leader in the Southwest Texas Assemblies of God who felt just as blessed when I shared my experience with him. Al and Anthony, when both of you spoke, the emphasis was placed on our membership being found in HIS church, not in my church or your church. I have come from a religious heritage (Church of Christ) of my church being the only right church, and it took a long time for me to realize that GOD is the one who accepts us, and we, as individuals, have no choice in who God calls to be His sons and daughters. It is my prayer that those loving and serving God under various traditions that differ, will begin seeing and loving their Family members as fellow sons and daughters of the King. Yes, united as one under God; expecting to share the promise of Him who has always been faithful. May you both be greatly blessed for what you have done, and not hindered by those who are still blind to the worth of truly loving one another!

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