by Al Maxey
Issue #866 -- April 30, 2023
My own belief is not rule for another!
John Wesley [1703-1791]
The English writer and devout Anglican Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), characterized by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history," once confessed, "Every man who attacks my belief diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy; and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy." The avowed atheist Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), in a BBC television interview in London in 1959, took this "unease" and "anger" a step further, saying, "When a man tells you that something you've always believed was in fact not true, it gives you a frightful shock ... and you get into a terror." We love the feeling of security we find when we are sheltered within the walls of our comfort zones (whether they be social, political, or theological). We believe what we believe, and we don't want anyone or anything to "rock the boat" of our cherished beliefs. It makes us uneasy; it is a shock to our system; it terrifies us. And it can quickly anger us. Notice the response of the Jews in Acts 7 when Stephen sought to challenge them to rethink some of their convictions!! "Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him" (Acts 7:57-58, NKJV). Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was right: "Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet."
Sadly, those who dare to engage in independent thought, especially when such thinking leads them to insights and understandings outside the parameters of accepted party and/or personal preferences and practices, are rarely appreciated by those content within their comfort zones. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) observed that the majority of such a person's life "is one prolonged effort to prevent oneself thinking." Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) wrote, "Renunciation of thinking is a declaration of spiritual bankruptcy." Our Creator gave us a brain; He instilled within us the capacity to think, to question, to reason, and I have no doubt that He expects us to do so. This will not always be comfortable, either for ourselves or for others, but there will be no growth in our understanding without it. And yes, this can be terrifying, for with increased insight comes increased need for change to accommodate our convictions and actions to that new understanding. And with such change will come challenges and even castigations from those resistant to such change. It can get ugly, and it can be painful. One will discover who his friends are (and those who aren't) very quickly, and this can be emotionally crushing. Daring to think is not for the faint of heart! "Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth - more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless to the well-tried wisdom of the ages" [Bertrand Russell, Principles of Social Reconstruction]. There is much truth to what Don Marquis (1878-1937) observed, "If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you."
Those of you who know me, whether personally or through my body-of-work over the decades, know that I have never been one to sit back silently and "go with the flow" of "accepted" thought. I will ask questions, I will voice doubts, I will examine everything critically, I will even give serious thought to opposing and unpopular views. Everything "goes on the table" when I look at my beliefs and practices; nothing is "too sacred" to "get a pass." A great many of my convictions have survived such scrutiny, but some have not. It is the latter that has resulted in a cadre of caustic critics who abhor me and what I teach with a passion! I have dared to rattle their cages, rock their boats, and rile their sacred cows. And perhaps the topic that causes them to crawl from their comfort zones and confront me most is baptism. The fact that I have done some serious and intense rethinking of the purpose and place of "water baptism" in the theology and practice of those who now live under this New Covenant between God and men, and that my conclusions differ dramatically from theirs, drives them to distraction! It absolutely infuriates them that I have posed an alternate understanding of this divinely commanded act. Thus, it came as no real surprise that my last Reflections article ("Drawing the Line at the Water: Is Water Baptism God's Salvation Line?" - Reflections #865) generated a flood of responses from readers.
Let me just interject something here that is important for you to know. Although I do indeed present my findings publicly so that others can review and reflect upon them for themselves, and although I do challenge people to think, and even challenge their conclusions when I feel they are contrary to divine revelation, nevertheless I do NOT demand that others blindly accept my views, nor do I regard them as godless apostates just because their study has led them to differing conclusions and applications. You are my beloved brother or sister whether you agree with me or not!! "You don't have to be my twin to be my brother!" If we have the same Father, then we are in the same Family! There is room in the universal One Body for countless different views and practices; uniformity of thought and application is NOT a part of the unity of the Spirit. We can be different even in areas of faith and belief, and still be ONE IN HIM. We each stand approved before the Father if our convictions are of genuine faith, even though we may struggle with approving of one another -- and therein lies the human dilemma which Paul addressed in Romans 14. So, yes, I will challenge you to think, and I will also at times challenge your thinking, just as I hope you will do for me, for "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another!" (Proverbs 27:17). May we always seek to do so, however, with love and respect for one another.
When my above-mentioned article was first released, it appeared on (and was shared on) a number of Facebook pages. Most were very kind and gracious, with the comments being positive. There were varying levels of agreement with the view I presented, but nobody got ugly. But when it was placed on the group known as "Church of Christ Facebook," it went viral. It generated close to 200 comments, and a number of those who posted got extremely ugly in their comments: calling names (such as "infidel") and consigning human garbage and trash to the fires of hell. Many of us who have dared to differ with such persons have heard such things for many years. It's not pleasant, but we're used to it. Frankly, I don't waste my time trying to respond to such persons. Like those who killed Stephen, their approach to anything with which they differ is to stop up their ears and attack. You can't reason with a closed mind and a heart filled with rage and murderous intent. To do so is little better, Jesus said, than casting pearls before swine. However, there were others who, while differing greatly with what I presented, nevertheless chose to confront me in a spirit of respectful concern. Such people as these I will always seek dialogue with, for with these men and women in Christ one can reason. And even if, at the end of the discussion, we still differ in our conclusions and convictions, yet we remain brethren in Christ Jesus -- spiritual siblings with separate understandings and practices, but united as One Flock under One Shepherd. Therein lies the beauty of the reality of the power of LOVE!! In the remainder of this article, let me share with you a couple of the responses I got from concerned readers, and the responses which I made to them in return. Perhaps it will help clarify some things in the minds of some of you who didn't write, but who wondered the same things. Other responses received, that do not require a more detailed response from me, will appear in the Readers' Reflections section below.
From a Reader in Tennessee
A dear reader, whom I have known for many years, and who serves as a minister in the state of Tennessee, wrote, "Al, I read your last article, and although I appreciate your articles, I was wondering if I fully understood what you had written! Here is what I got out of it:
The reader in Tennessee continued: "Or, describing it another way:
This friend and brother concluded the above brief analysis with this statement: "Al, this is the picture I see reading your article. It seems to me that, in a round-about-way, you are saying, 'yes, no, but yes'." First, let me say how much I appreciate this email from this dear disciple of Jesus. Based on our correspondence over the years, I know his heart is truly filled with love for the Lord and His cause, and he was reaching out to me, a fellow minister, to seek some clarification of my views in my recent article on whether baptism in water is the "line in the sand" between a person being saved or lost. My view is that it is not, which is most certainly not the traditional position of many within my faith-heritage (that segment of the Stone-Campbell Movement listed in the Yellow Pages of the phone book as "Churches of Christ"). Although it is a fact that more and more within this denomination are rethinking many of our past traditional understandings and practices, there are still a good many who are resistant to such change, and they remain quite conservative, and even legalistic and patternistic. It is among these latter brethren that I find most of my harsher critics (and sadly: enemies). Thankfully, this brother from TN is not among them. In response to his email to me, I wrote him the following:
Good Afternoon ----,
Thanks for writing, brother. I appreciate it. Actually, after reading what you wrote, almost none of it really reflects what I believe or what I sought to convey in that article! Look at #1 and #2, and note the word "because" that connects the two statements. The "because" seems to suggest that one's sins are "remitted" at the point of faith. I believe the Scriptures teach that SIN (all sin; of all men) is forever and completely dealt with ("once for all") by our Lord's sacrifice! He "took away" the sin of the world. It is a done deal. It is a gift of God's grace for "whosoever" wants it, and that "free gift" is acquired by faith! Our faith receives this gift of what Jesus did for mankind (taking away their sin). Yes, I can refuse that gift (and many do); God forces it upon nobody. But if I truly want it, then it is mine by faith. I admit, this might be a bit of a quibble over words, but I don't really think my sins are remitted "because" of my faith, but rather because of HIS faith and sacrifice!! JESUS took care of my sin problem before I was ever born; I receive that benefit (of a previously accomplished reality = taken away SIN of the world) as a gift by placing my trust/faith in HIM. Thus, the "because" points to HIM rather than to ME. HIS faith remitted SIN, once for all -- MY faith simply received that gift and made it a reality in my life! Again, maybe a bit of a quibble, but I believe there is an important distinction here that we often miss.
In your point #3, I would disagree that being baptized in water "proves" my faith to be valid. Many over the centuries have been immersed in water, either willingly (for various reasons) or by force, who had/have no faith at all. Thus, baptism itself does not necessarily "prove" the presence of faith, although our Lord did design it to serve as a visible testimony of one's faith in Him and what He has accomplished for us. This "testimony," or evidentiary act of faith, is not only for our own benefit, but primarily, I believe, for the benefit of others. Just as cleansed lepers were sent to the priests "as a testimony to them," and ordered to "offer the gift that Moses commanded" (Matthew 8:4), so also are those who are cleansed of their sins as a free gift "by grace through faith" commanded to SHOW the reality of that gift of cleansing by a symbolic washing in water, an act we submit to as a testimony to others of our faith IN HIM who has cleansed us of our sin by His sacrifice! Our baptism is a testimony to our newfound reality. It neither acquires it, nor proves it, but it does make a statement or proclamation about it. The same is true, by the way, with our participation in the Lord's Supper (which is also commanded by the Lord). By partaking of the bread and wine together, "we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). My observance of this "meal" doesn't prove anything necessarily, but it does proclaim something! The same is true of baptism in water. Although both these acts are commanded of believers, yet neither of these acts are thereby redemptive in nature; rather, they are reflective in nature. They secure nothing, but they show a great deal. The mistake that has been made through the centuries with regard to both is that they have been elevated by men from symbols to sacraments, and the latter was never the intent of the Lord for either!
As for items 4-6, I don't see how one's faith, if indeed it is genuine, is "invalidated" simply because a "follow-up immersion" has not yet occurred. What is the "authorized" time-frame for that follow-up? One hour? One day? One week? Is one's genuine faith "valid" for a time, but then at a point becomes "invalid"? Can we apply this "rule" to another commanded follow-up such as the Lord's Supper? Yes, I think we would all agree that those who truly believe, and who sincerely seek to follow the Lord in their daily lives, will seek to do what He asks of them as they have understanding, ability, and opportunity. Grace allows for growth, however; spiritual perception and maturity do not suddenly appear when we first believe. Nor do all have the same abilities and opportunities for immediate compliance once they do reach a point in their spiritual growth where they realize a need for some visible faith-response. Thus, I would hesitate to "invalidate" true faith based upon some arbitrary point on a humanly devised time table. The only way I would suggest that the genuineness or "validity" of one's faith should be questioned, is if the person professing such faith in the Lord willfully, knowingly, stubbornly REFUSES to do what the Lord commands them to do as a visible testimony of that faith, even though they have understanding, ability, and opportunity. James suggests that such a "faith" that will not manifest itself is "dead," being "alone" (James 2:14f). The focus here, however, is not so much the act itself, but rather one's attitude! Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). We could say the same for faith: if you believe, you will show it as you grow in understanding and ability, and as the Lord provides opportunity. The only invalidation of faith, therefore, it seems to me, would be a willful, rebellious refusal to manifest our professed faith in ways He Himself has directed.
Brother ----, you spoke of one being saved by faith "ONLY IF there is a follow-up at some point" with the person being immersed in water, although you did acknowledge this follow-up had "no future time prescribed." Is one saved during this gap between faith and baptism? If so, then one indeed is "saved by grace through faith," but if one is lost, then baptism becomes a sacrament - i.e., the very act by which and the precise point at which salvation is conferred by God. However, if baptism is a testimony of faith, it is a symbol that is reflective in nature, NOT a sacrament that is redemptive in nature. Yes, if our faith is genuine, we will indeed seek to do all our Lord expects of us, as best we can, and to the best of our ability. To make our salvation conditional upon any or all of these "follow-up" evidentiary acts, however, is NOT what the Scriptures teach. These "after-acts" are not performed by believers in order to BE saved; these "after-acts" are performed by us to the best of our understanding, ability, and opportunity because we ARE saved, and because we seek to do His will and reflect His nature in our daily living.
I hope these thoughts help, ----. I appreciate you, brother, and hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. - Al Maxey
A few days later, this friend in TN replied, "Al, I received your response and appreciated it. One question which has bothered me for years is that of the individual who responds to the Lord in faith and repentance, but who just before entering the baptistery has a heart attack and drops dead. His faith and repentance are valid, but his obedience is too slow. I remember H---- P----- (the preacher who taught and baptized me back in 1957) had the same troubling thoughts. Sadly, some of us, despite the years we may have in the church, have harbored these thoughts, had no valid answer, and so we just put them way back in our thinking. H----'s answer in 1957 was that God knew the mind of that individual, and He would do the right thing by the person. Of course, neither of us broadcast what we were questioning or what we were thinking, because it would have been viewed as a 'liberal' statement, and our 'faithfulness' would have been questioned. So, here I am asking you, and finally receiving clarity. Thank You!! The sad thing is, if I preached this explanation next Sunday, I would probably be accused of attempting to teach 'liberalism.' Again, thanks for your time spent in replying. I appreciate your ministry and your topics covered in your Reflections. Keep challenging us to think and to discover Truth, even though it might not always be pleasant."
From a Reader in Indiana
Another reader, who resides in the state of Indiana, wrote a couple of lengthy emails to me in which he wanted to emphasize the important distinction between certain aspects of the old and new covenants. He focused especially on the manner in which one entered into each of these covenantal states, as well as the distinction between the key signs that indicated one's presence in that covenant in which they lived. Although I won't attempt to reproduce the entirety of these emails (this issue of Reflections could quickly become a novella), notice a few important sections. He wrote, "One of the main differences between the covenants is the basis or means of membership. A baby born to Jewish parents was a member of the Old Covenant community simply by means of physical birth. As the child grew, he had to be taught to know the Lord, even though he was already under the covenant. But it is different today. One becomes a member of the New Covenant community not by physical birth, but by the new birth or spiritual birth, which is possible only for those who are old enough to make a conscious decision for God and 'believe in His name' (John 1:12-13). We are children of God 'through faith in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:26). For this reason, a distinctive characteristic of the New Covenant is that those who are under it do not have to be taught again to know the Lord, for He declares, 'They shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them' (Jeremiah 31:34)."
Before sharing more of what this reader in Indiana wrote, let me pause here and make a few comments. I agree with 99.9% of everything he wrote above, but I think we also each know from experience that these very points and passages have been used and misused by some disciples down through the centuries as platforms from which to "chase rabbits down rabbit holes" (theologically speaking). For example, those "IN Christ" are clearly not there by virtue of being physically born to parents (one or both) who are. During this time of the New Covenant, physical, racial, and even national and cultural distinctions are not determinative of one's place or standing in the Family of God. We don't enter it by means of a physical birth, but by means of what some characterize a spiritual birth (a birth that is fundamentally new and different in nature). Some use the phrase: "born again." This reader quoted John who wrote that the Lord has given the right to become children of God "to those who believe in His name" (see my study titled, "The Right To Become God's Children: An In-Depth Reflective Study of John 1:12-13" - Reflections #528). Belief/faith, then, would seem to be that "open door" - that invitation - of which Paul and Barnabas spoke in Acts 14:27, where it is said they reported to the church in Antioch "all the things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles." All men may now become part of this all-inclusive community of believers by entering that open door of faith. There is a new access; a new pathway; and that pathway is Jesus. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (John 14:6). Our entrance is through faith in Him.
So, where does baptism in water come into all of this?! Some reply by saying that the "new birth" is a reference to baptism in water (some even liken the water in the baptistery to the amniotic fluid of the mother's womb, from which the newborn emerges at birth to "new life"). They appeal to the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3:1ff as their primary "proof-text." That passage, however, when examined carefully and in context, offers far less proof of the necessity of baptism in water under the New Covenant than many "proof-texters" would have us believe. I would urge you to please read very carefully my in-depth analysis of this passage in my article titled, "Born of Water and Spirit: Reflecting on the Statement by Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:5" (Reflections #212), keeping in mind that it was written almost 18 years ago, and therefore some of my views have evolved since that time. It is also important to note, in the context of this current study, that Jesus, in His dialogue with Nicodemus, declared, "You must be born again" (John 3:7, NASB). Literally, what Jesus said was, "You must be born from above." This "birth" into the Family of God had nothing to do with some earthly, physical process, nor with human effort. This birth was of/from God's eternal realm. That statement in itself shows us it is out of our hands to bring about, and clearly places it within His. It is HE who "births" us! I believe this is done through His Holy Spirit, a truth especially noted by Paul for New Covenant believers. Thus, such common proof-texts for rigid baptismal regenerationists as 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27, and Romans 13:14 offer no proof of such a view at all, for these texts have nothing to do with the act of immersion in water. They are speaking of a spiritual ("from above") birth effected by the Holy Spirit. Please consider the biblical evidence for this understanding presented in my following two studies: "Immersed by One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:13" (Reflections #353) and "Putting On Jesus Christ: An Examination of Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27" (Reflections #362).
If this birth from above is for believers, then the strong implication is that one must believe to experience it. A physical family, an earthly family or people, can bring a new being into its midst through a physical process. Thus, one could become a Jew, for example, by being born to Jewish parents, and that process incorporated these infants into this covenant people. Not so with those who live under the New Covenant, as this reader in Indiana correctly noted. The "way" into this new covenant Family of the Heavenly Father is through a Person (Jesus), and we enter through "the door of faith." It is for believers. Thus, as this reader also rightly noted, we don't teach those already IN a new covenant relationship to "know" about the Lord; rather, it is in coming to "know" the Lord and in believing in Him that we ENTER this new covenant relationship. Yes, as "spiritual infants" in this body of believers, we must grow and mature in our understanding; we must move from milk to meat. But, faith in Him is what brings us in, NOT some "follow-up act." Both circumcision (under the old covenant) and baptism in water (under the new covenant) were/are "follow-up acts," and neither were acts that made these "newborns" a part of the covenant people of God; rather, both were visible (and, yes, commanded) testimonies to that reality.
We should be very careful not to equate circumcision and baptism, as some have sought to do, for they are each very distinct and separate acts. We should also be very careful not to diminish the importance, purpose, and place of both acts in their respective covenants, for both are commanded by the Lord, and both are highly significant in the lives of His people. At the same time, we must be very careful not to elevate them to something they were never divinely intended to be! There were Jewish disciples who were doing this with the act of physical circumcision, and they were creating a stir in the church: "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'" (Acts 15:1). This led to the Jerusalem Council, and also to the writing of the first book of the NT canon: Galatians. Circumcision may have been commanded by God, but it was not in itself in any way redemptive, nor was it the precise point in time God dispensed His gift(s) of grace. Abraham, for example, was declared righteous, and was accepted by God, prior to being circumcised, and Paul made a HUGE point of this to believers under the New Covenant in his epistle to the Romans - "The Romans 4 Gospel: An Awesome Apostolic Application of an Abrahamic Awareness" (Reflections #852) and "Challenges and Questions: Responding to Readers who were Concerned by Reflections #852" (Reflections #853). Paul wrote, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6, NIV). I love the rendering of The Message here: "When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. ... For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love." Too many in our present dispensation have sought to do the same with baptism in water, and they are just as wrong!
This brother from Indiana, in his most recent email to me, after I had corresponded with him (sharing some of the above thoughts), made a beautiful comment: "Al, I am certainly in agreement with your thoughts regarding the importance of a saving faith! To say that salvation is by God's promise and Christ's work is just another way of saying it is by grace, and faith is the natural and proper response to grace. Since salvation 'is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace' (Romans 11:6). Grace-salvation is not wages paid; it is a gift freely given (Romans 4:4-5). 'For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace' (Romans 4:16). Faith is not a work accomplished in response to the Creator's law. It is a submissive and receptive disposition of the heart in response to the Redeemer's promise of grace, and thus is a natural condition for receiving it. Therefore, faith as a condition for salvation is the 'means' by which grace is received." AMEN, brother! But ... he then immediately writes, "I hope you can see why I hold that faith is the 'means' to our salvation, Jesus is the 'way' of our salvation, grace is the 'basis' of our salvation, but baptism is the 'time' of our salvation." SIGH!!! It is so hard for us to break from this sacramental perception of baptism in water. God, Jesus, Grace, Faith, Free Gift: all nice preludes ... BUT we're saved ONLY at the precise time of our baptism in water?!! It's almost like telling God and Jesus, "Thanks, Guys ... I'll take it from here!!" What a slap in the face of Deity!! I would urge this reader to examine such a view very seriously, for it is contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures. Please read the following and pray about it -- "The Split-Second of Salvation: Is it Imperative for Us to Perceive the Precise Moment of God's Acceptance?" (Reflections #348), "Definitive Salvation Equation: Obsession over a Formulaic Process" (Reflections #614), and "The Five Finger Exercise: Walter Scott's Mnemonic Device" (Reflections #710).
I still have a stack of emails from readers that is rather thick, and I had initially thought of including many of them (some of which are quite lengthy) in this current article, but it is becoming apparent that this could easily become far too lengthy for most to wade through. Almost all of those emails are very similar in many of their points to the ones made by the above two individuals. Thus, there is really little need for me to engage in "repetitive babbling" (as some might characterize it). For those genuinely interested in my views on this topic, rather than in just arguing, I have been sharing them in great depth in various venues for decades. They are readily available. I suppose there is such a thing as theological overkill, and, truth be told, I probably push that boundary more than many. I strive to be thorough, but I don't want to be redundant.
Most of those who wrote emails challenging me to "reconsider," offered views and biblical texts that I have indeed considered and reconsidered over and over and over for years. I am constantly challenging my own understandings, and they are continually being refined by more and more study of and reflection on God's Word. I also don't discount the working of the Holy Spirit within me, as He guides me in this process of growth toward better insight and application of God's will for our lives. Some seem to believe that if they toss a few "tried and true" proof-texts at me, that my "heresy" will crumble and my "false teaching" will cease. I used to teach and preach those same proof-texts (I know as well as they do what my "tribe" believes them to reveal), yet through years of in-depth study I have come to realize that they do NOT teach what I had been led to believe they teach. It was a painful revelation, for I loved (and still love) those who sought to instill these "truths" within me. Their intentions were good, but their information was wrong!
I was raised in a segment of a religious movement that placed enormous spiritual and salvific significance upon a single act that they had come to regard as a sacrament rather than a symbol. When a new family moved into the community and showed up "at church," the first question on the minds of the leaders (and probably most of the members) was: Have they been baptized? All other questions took a backseat to that one! Even as a youth, in the back of my mind, something just didn't seem right about this obsession with this one act. Oh yes, I had heard all the sermons on it (and preached a few myself), but it always left a bad taste in my mouth. Something was off; something was out of sync. Years into my work as a minister it would begin to "click"; the light began to come on. Even then, it was a long process of reevaluation of my convictions before I felt confident enough to begin sharing my understandings. My book titled "Immersed by One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice" documents ten years of that journey of discovery as seen in my Reflections from that period. Eleven years have passed since that book was published, and my understandings have grown even more during that second decade (perhaps a volume two is needed).
I have come to accept the reality that I will never convince the vast majority of my critics on this topic (or almost any other topic, for that matter), no matter how much time and effort I put into my responses to them. On the other hand, there are those "out there" who are feeling the same angst in their hearts and minds as I once did over their denomination's teaching on baptism that just doesn't seem to make sense in light of their own reading of Scripture. My writings are for them: for those with seeking souls and Berean spirits. I get much, much more mail and calls and even personal visits from these brethren, who simply want to say "thank you" for helping them work through the inconsistencies between their various sects' teachings and the Scriptures. I have no desire to force my own conviction on anyone; I am passionate about sharing them, however, for I believe they truly reflect God's will for us, but I have no passion to impose them. You are free to follow your own convictions, and I will love you no less for doing so. You are still my beloved brother or sister IN HIM. We don't have to be twins to be siblings. May God bless each of you as we journey together as One Family toward our eternal HOME ... and may the Lord help us to try and make the trip enjoyable for one another!
From a Reader in Oregon:
Good Morning, Al. As always, thank you for your ministry! You bring the "fresh air" of open and compassionate searching of the holy Scriptures to us through your writings. I have for many years appreciated your Kingdom work in fulfilling the honorable Restoration Movement promise of allowing Holy Scripture to ask hard and honest questions (without fearing whom it might please and/or displease). I am enclosing a check to cover the cost of having the new second edition of your book "Immersed by One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice" mailed to me. My wife and I are looking forward to working through it this Spring. Please know that should you find yourself in the Great Pacific Northwest, we would count it an honor to meet you and visit with you. It would be an honor to treat you to a meal and provide you a place to stay on your travels. Peace to you and your house (Luke 10:5-6).
From Max Ray in Kentucky:
[Sent to me just 3 days before he tragically
died; we love you and miss you, brother!]
Al, your new Reflections article titled "Drawing the Line at the Water: Is Water Baptism God's Salvation Line?" is quite true! So many cannot see that the need of man is to submit to the truth of what the Lord has already done for us. I would suggest there is even more than that, however. When Peter preached on Pentecost that Jesus had been made both Lord and Christ, he was declaring that Jesus was now the reigning King. This so alarmed the Jews that they cried out, "What shall we do?!" It goes without saying that they needed to repent of rejecting their Messiah, and they needed to turn to Him as their Lord. So, where does that leave baptism? I contend that it is simply the act that symbolizes one's cleansing, and is an act which at the same time testifies or shows our commitment to Jesus our King. I love you, Al.
Max and I had known each other for many years, and he was such an inspiration to me. We corresponded very regularly and bounced ideas off each other all the time. He was a great encouragement to me in my writing ministry, and I hope I was a similar influence in his. His sudden loss shocked us all, and it broke our hearts. Yes, he was a devoted disciple of Jesus, and we know we shall see him again under far better circumstances than this present "vale of tears." With regard to his comment about the question, "What shall we do?!" (found in Acts 2:37), that is a fascinating text, and I agree with Max that there is much more there than we typically perceive in our rush to get to verse 38. I dealt with that in my article "Questioning a Pentecost Query: Rethinking the Spiritual Significance of the Question Posed to Peter in Acts 2:37" (Reflections #763). The article following it dealt with some of the reader responses: "Questions from Querists: Readers React to Reflections #763" (Reflections #764). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, thanks for reaching so many in the name of Jesus!! May God bless your efforts.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I have purchased multiple copies of your book "Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace." I've loaned out multiple copies over the years, and they just get passed on to someone else and I never see them again!! I actually see this as a good problem! Keep up your studies, Al. I don't always totally agree, but that is good also. I love the fact that Truth never fears being studied.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Brother Al, I love your article "Drawing the Line at the Water." I have been at those same convictions myself for years, and it certainly helps to see writers and preachers/elders like yourself from our fellowship coming to them publicly. I applaud you, Al. I only wish that more would do so!! I honestly believe a whole lot of us do, it's just that most of us are too afraid to say it "out loud." Bro. G. C. Brewer (d. 1956), a prominent Church of Christ minister, author, and weekly writer in the Gospel Advocate, and who I understand was your cousin, wrote the following in his autobiography (pages 92-93): "To put stress upon a 'plan,' and the specific items and steps of that plan, may lead to a wrong conclusion. We are saved by a Person, not by a plan; we are saved by a Savior, not by a ceremony. Our faith is in that divine Personage - that living Lord - and not in items and steps and ordinances. ... We must trust His grace and rely upon His blood and look for and expect His healing mercy. To trust a plan is to expect to save yourself by your own works. It is to build according to a blueprint; and if you meet the specifications, your building will be approved by the great Inspector! Otherwise, you fail to measure up and you are lost! You could not meet the demands of the law! You could not achieve success!" Brother Al, AMEN to your article. I came to the same conclusions on baptism after years of study and being raised 3rd generation "CofC" myself. Hopefully, due to efforts like this article of yours, and of others, more and more within our movement will come to see the truth as well.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Thank you, Brother Al, for your article "Drawing the Line at the Water." I agree completely, and had come to the same conclusion from my own deep study a while back. I find it significant that both Paul and James tell us that we're still declared righteous on the same basis as Abraham was: by faith, which is shown to be real through actions motivated by that faith (Romans 4:4; Galatians 2:15; 3:6-9; James 2:23).
From a Reader in Hawaii:
Often, as I sit here in Hawaii and watch the waves coming in on the beach, I notice that "lines in the sand" are soon washed away. A man's line in the sand will be washed away; God's won't. GOD is in control of the lines in the sand, NOT MAN!!
From a Reader in Alaska:
Dear Al, as for drawing lines "in the sand," those who claim Jesus as Lord and Master (not just Savior), may want to reread two passages about judgment: Matthew 7:21-28 and Matthew 25:31-46. Scripture explicitly says that Jesus spoke with authority, which I think we should respect. People disagree about what's important in the conversion process, but from my advanced age (four great-grandchildren), the biggest problem among some churchgoers is that they do not follow Jesus, and thus they are not really His disciples. They may call Jesus "Lord," but unless they treat God's Son as their Master (and they become His servant, or even slave), they will be subjected to an assessment in Matthew 7 as to whether they actually put Christ's words "into practice" (vs. 24) or not (vs. 26). That "line in the sand" really matters. Matthew 25 talks about how some treat "the least of these." This remains another important "line in the sand," but this time the outcome gets even more specific than Matthew 7. My point is that many so-called disciples forget about the second part of "the greatest commandment" - loving our neighbors, even the unlovable, though I suspect God will judge rightly our intent, since He knows our minds. Not that I'm a great example of that, because I clearly fall short, but it's on my mind and keeps me from feeling self-righteous, because while I may have my doctrine "all figured out," my practice certainly falls far short of what God commands (James 4:17). I could talk about "straining gnats and swallowing camels," but I won't go there (this time). Blessings in your ministry, Al.
Great thoughts! I couldn't agree more! Matthew 25 is one of my favorite "go to" texts for the Lord's "line in the sand" when it comes to what His expectations are for our focus and practice in daily living. We tend to obsess over what happens in a church building on Sunday morning, and we tend to judge others based on worship styles and traditions. I find NONE of that in Matthew 25 (or anywhere else, for that matter). Instead, "sheep and goats" will be separated one day on how they lived their lives daily among those around them. Did they/we truly manifest His loving, gracious, compassionate nature, or did they/we manifest selfish desires and demands (hurting those who got in the way)? I think a lot of "religionists" are going to be in for a surprise on that day! It won't be about their rituals, but about their relationships! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, thank you for your writings and your work! I'm not sure what decade I began getting your Reflections, but I've profited from your studies and insights. I'm 81, a former preacher, brought up in a wonderful, but closed-minded, "conservative" church; an ACU honors grad who was adept at finding questionable scriptures to back up my error-filled understanding of the Bible. Finally, like the man healed in John 9, I was able to say, "I was blind, but now I see!" That happened when an 85 year old church member brought me a debate book to put in the church library, and I was hesitant to do so because the well-respected debater for what I had always believed had no sustainable arguments! I could see through them instantly, and I had to ask myself, "What else have we been wrong about?!" I began to study more in earnest, not to find support for my own beliefs, but I began to study to actually learn. I began to read what others had to say, and not just those who agreed with my own "convictions." In the 40+ years since that time, it has been encouraging to see many, who once were just as wrongly "convinced" as I had been, now listening, learning, and delighting in their newly found understandings. Again, Al, thank you for your scholarship, your writings, and your devotion to Truth. May God help us all do better along that line.
From a Minister/Author in California:
Dear Brother Al. As always, I appreciate being in touch with you. Doubtless, God has gifted you as a teacher, as well as in other ways! I read your article "Drawing the Line at the Water," and I am in agreement all the way through. I think I may have mentioned to you before, that when I lived in ------, back in the 70s, I had two Christian ladies, sisters who lived together, as next door neighbors. They were members of the non-instrumental Church of Christ. I told them I believed in water baptism, and that in Scripture it is mentioned along with faith, repentance, etc. However, perhaps to see where they would "draw the line," I asked them, "If a man has heard the Gospel, repented, believed in Jesus, and was on his way to the river to be baptized, but was killed in a car accident before he got to the water, would he be saved?" Their response was that he would spend eternity burning in hell because he had not been baptized!! With your present understanding of Truth, I know this issue has put you crossways with some in your own "camp." Hang in there, Al; God is still on the throne!
From a Reader in South Carolina:
Thank you, Al, for your article! I was always taught that baptism was the "line in the sand," but by my studies over the years I have come to challenge that line to a degree. Your latest Reflections study has really provided food for thought. Thank you.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Dear Brother Maxey, thank you for your thoughts on "the line in the sand." I personally consider that "finding" the passage in the NT about "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love" was a landmark in my spiritual journey!! A brother recently said, "God's relationship to us is love; our response to Him is faith." God's blessings to you!
From an Author in Texas:
Atta boy, Al. Another good one! Keep up the good work. I'm sharing this article on drawing the line in the sand with my readers! By the way, the idea that water baptism (a physical work of man) is essential to salvation flies in the face of Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5, and the 4th chapter of Romans. "We are not saved by any works we have done."
From a Reader in Georgia:
Just read your article "Drawing the Line at the Water." The sub-mariners are heating up the tar and plucking the feathers, brother!! (LOL) I couldn't agree more with your review of the meaning and purpose of baptism. Even Paul said in the Romans chapter to which you referred, that circumcision was a "sign" and a "seal" of FAITH, and that "works" made faith "null and void." If circumcision was a work, wouldn't baptism also be? I just can't accept that when Jesus said, "It is finished," what He really meant was that He'd done His part, and now we had to secure our salvation through doing our part: finding somebody willing to dunk us completely in water. How can anyone really believe that Jesus' work at the cross was subordinate to our own efforts?! Keep at it, brother!!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, I have just read your latest Reflections. Very good! There is much that can be said, but it is this basic humanistic approach to God that causes us to want to put God in our debt so that He owes us something because of what we have done. We can't stand the thought that we might have to actually trust Him, totally, for what He has done! God bless you!
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