Issue #98 -------
January 12, 2004
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
-- I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
"The Road Not Taken"
I recently received the following email from a minister in southern Texas. He gave me permission to use his thoughts as the basis for an article, but I assured him I would not use his name or the congregation for which he preaches. The actual location is not that critical anyway, for the conditions that elicited his concern are spread far and wide; they are not restricted to any one location, nor to any one group, movement or faith-heritage within the broader parameters of Christendom. All are similarly afflicted. Consider the words of this brother in Christ:
How it must pain our Father to see His children fussing and fighting with one another, and ultimately fragmenting the family Jesus shed His blood to establish. What greater affront to deity could there be than these seemingly endless sinful sibling squabbles; these food fights at the Father's table?! Brethren, we ought to hang our heads in shame at our behavior; not only those engaged in factional feuding, but those who have stood by silently much too long and let it happen. The time has come to put this devilish dysfunction forever behind us and begin behaving as God's family. "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are ..." (1 John 3:10). Let's pause for a moment and do some reflecting. What do you suppose that identifying mark IS? Is it preciseness of practice with regard to some religious ritual? Are God's children distinguished by words on signs in front of a building? Number of cups in a communion tray? Line items in an annual budget? How one sings praises? Where one eats a meal? Listen to John! This inspired apostle declares: if anyone does not love his brother, he is a child of the devil. Listen to Jesus! "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Listen to Peter: "Love the brotherhood" (1 Peter 2:17). Listen to Paul, who declares that no matter what gifts we may have or what gifts we may give, if we have not love ... it all profits us nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
We can try and lay the blame for our dysfunction and division at the feet of many possible culprits, but the genuine cause is perceptively pinpointed by the above minister when he simply stated, "Maybe it is just a lack of love!" No maybe about it ... that is exactly the cause! Yes, lack of love will manifest itself in any number of loveless actions and attitudes, but these are merely symptomatic of the deeper affliction of heart. "For out of the HEART come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders" (Matthew 15:19). The rigid Jewish religionists were condemning the Lord and His disciples for various departures from their legalistic traditions. Jesus rebuked them, and set them straight, by declaring unto them what truly mattered in the sight of the Father --- it wasn't the outside, it was the inside. It wasn't unwashed hands, but an impure heart that defiled a man! Sadly, misguided disciples today are still focusing on fingernails, while the Father focuses on hearts. Therein lies the distinction between law and love.
Why do so many disciples lack love? I believe it is, in part, because they lack the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, and the various visible aspects of that fruit are displayed in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We live by the Spirit, therefore "let us also walk by the Spirit" (vs. 25). Led by the Spirit of Christ we will cease challenging and contending with one another (vs. 26). If one will carefully examine the fruit of the Spirit, one will soon perceive that these are all qualities of love which build relationships. Division will cease when disciples allow the fruit of the Spirit to increase within their hearts. That increase will then spill over into their lives, affecting both their attitudes and actions. Harmony and unity will be natural by-products of siblings led by the Spirit.
When we fail to "walk by the Spirit," however, we will "carry out the desire of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16), "for the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit ... these are in opposition to one another" (vs. 17). When one examines the deeds of the flesh, one finds qualities that destroy relationships --- enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, to name a few --- and where these are evidenced, division follows quickly in their wake. Wherever division exists in the Body of Christ Jesus you will find lack of love and a very noticeable lack of the Holy Spirit. The deeds of the flesh will be abundantly evident, the fruit of the Spirit will be visibly lacking. Just prior to listing the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit, Paul wrote: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another" (Galatians 5:13-15).
For generations, for centuries, brethren bereft of the Spirit and lacking in love have bitten and battled and castigated and consumed one another. There have been countless acts of "enmity, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, and factions" perpetrated and perpetuated by pathetic partyists devoid of any spiritual discernment. The result has been schisms, factions, divisions, cliques, splinters and splits. The One Body has been dismembered; the family has been fragmented into feuding camps of fussing cousins; the army of God is AWOL -- adrift without love! We have brought shame and reproach upon the Father long enough. It is time for prideful partyists to abandon their dogma and return to being humble, loving servants of God and their fellow brethren. It is time to cease judging those who differ with us, and begin accepting them, as indeed God has accepted them.
The reader from southern Texas asked, "Have our traditions and opinions become doctrine?" The answer is an unequivocal and resounding YES. "This people honors Me with their lips, but their HEART is far away from Me. In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:8-9). Yes, we have indeed "sought to justify our marginal relationships based on our perception of what constitutes being 'faithful to the Scriptures.'" Conceding to party perceptions is a far cry from being "faithful to the Scriptures." Equating the tenets of the former with the truths of the latter is a leap that will only send those who make it into a chasm of confusion and conflict! We will never achieve genuine unity of the Spirit when we seek only to enforce the uniformity of some sect. Before we can ever become family, we must cease being factionists.
Our greatest challenge as the people of God has always been to rise above ourselves. Before we can ever accomplish our purpose and mission as the called out of the Lord, we must come out of our buildings, embrace our fellow brethren and move together into the field white unto harvest. Lost souls are too precious to leave lying on our doorsteps as we eviscerate fellow believers over petty personal preferences. Wake up, brethren!! ... it is later than we realize. The Judge is standing right at the door (James 5:9)!
From a Reader in Alberta, Canada:
Al, I am interested in your Reflections as an aid to my spiritual life. I am a student at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and I am not looking to use your Reflections other than as a resource (I don't support plagiarism). If you would like, I can send you some of my own reflections (I don't have many), especially the ones that I am working on now. I am looking to become a pastor, and am looking for other views into Scripture to better support my own faith, and as an aid in my ministry. I have read several of your Reflections, and I am pleased with and intrigued by many of your insights.
From a Reader in Texas:
Hope you and your family had a great holiday season. Keep up the great Reflections work. I am at present time spiral binding all of your work into a book. It will be an exact copy of all your work with credit to you, and NO changes other than font size. I have most of it on floppys now. Just to let you know how much your work means to me .... THANK YOU.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Your latest Reflections -- The Only True God -- is great! I had two Mormons visit me back last summer and we talked for about an hour. It is really hard to make any headway with these various cults. I tried to reason with them the best I could. This Scripture stands out also: "...the only GOD" -- 1 Tim. 1:17 (ESV). I look forward to reading new Reflections each week!
Are you familiar with Watchman Magazine? Talk about a bunch of folks who will argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Well, anyway, I remember reading an article about fellowship halls. One of the writers went on and on about how ungodly they are. I couldn't believe it! He said that there is no Scriptural reference to them. Well, there is no Scriptural reference to church buildings either!!!! What are your thoughts on this? I look forward to your answer.
From a Reader in Ontario, Canada:
Over the last couple of years I have done a lot of reflecting on what I used to believe (back before I met you and when I was preaching) and why. What I believed came from ignorance and tradition, as well as my feeble effort to study on my own and to learn without a lot of outside influence. I followed the "good old boys" far too often. However, I do have a good reputation as one who looks deeper than most (that's dangerous) and who preaches with conviction. As I reflect over all the STUFF that we have fussed and divided over, I find very little that I would now call doctrine. In fact, I hardly want to give some of it any validity at all. Most I would like to put in the pile Paul called "filthy rags." I have become so "ticked off" that people who claim to love God would fight and fuss so much about what seems so unimportant when compared to the Great Commission ... fragmenting over: cups, walls, heaters, classrooms, located preachers, men and women teachers, versions, etc., etc.
Sometime over the next two months, another reader of your Reflections and I hope to fly down to your area and drive over and "crash" (just kidding) your Sunday worship service. We both love and appreciate you so very much and would be honored to enjoy your Sunday service, and also a chance to just talk to you.
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Al, I would like to thank you for your writings and your willingness to openly share. My background is conservative Church of Christ, but about a year ago I began attending a nondenominational congregation after our congregation split. It has been a gut-wrenching change with a lot of questioning of what does the Bible really say about several issues -- instruments, Lord's Supper every week, continued activity of the Holy Spirit, continuation or cessation of gifts, etc. My parents have essentially told me I'm on my way to hell (because "I've left 'the church'") and that I'm taking my wife and children with me, but I've found help in my search from the writings of Ketcherside, Fudge, and you ... and so I am thankful for all of you. May God continue to bless you.
From a Reader in Alabama:
In order to be a Christian you must love and be obedient to the Law of Christ. But in Unity in Diversity, people like Al Maxey, Rubel Shelly, Max Lucado and Leroy Garrett are embracing people in all denominations as their brothers/sisters in Christ; that is what Unity in Diversity is all about. There is nothing but error in that teaching. You can't belong to a local church that isn't according to the pattern of the NT. You can't worship with the instrument and be acceptable to God, and many other such things -- i.e., family life centers, missionary societies, sponsoring church arrangements. All of these are not supported by Scripture. They are wrong, so if you support such and do not remove yourself from such you are guilty. Christians must go to the Bible and get their instructions. Leroy Garrett and Al Maxey quote everybody but Scripture. We can do something about the divisions among us if your cult and Leroy's would stop teaching what is not found in the Word of God.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Al, I can find little to fault in your thinking on baptism. It is a stronger stand than Fudge (and I generally like and respect Fudge), Grace-Centered Magazine, and Max Lucado/Oak Hills. In fact, I will use some of your arguments verbatim in the future. I find it interesting that you quoted Max Lucado (and I agree with all that you chose to quote from him) because his baptismal beliefs (or at least those of Oak Hills) are not as well-grounded as yours, I think. He has some inconsistencies in his belief statements. I saw none of these inconsistencies in your statements. Thanks for all your help because it helps me come to terms with the struggle for Truth in study while wanting to reach out in a spirit of inclusiveness. I really appreciate your spirit. You seem to have found a good balance between study and inclusiveness -- and that's no small task.
From a Reader in Texas:
I read your piece on "Asexual Aspects of Adultery," which was an excellent and thought-provoking article. I then went into your archives and read some of your other writings, one on the execution of a brother in Christ which was beautifully written and very touching. Then I came across the article concerning you being labeled a "change agent." I have to tell you I had never heard of you before today. I also feel as you do, that there are many in the brotherhood of Christ who are too quick with labels. Labels such as "liberal" and "conservative" cause divisiveness that ought not to be there, and this does not please the Lord. In the end there will only be those who are in Christ and those who are not. Frankly, the Lord has given us objective Truth in His Word to us, and we are either on the right side of it or the wrong side of it ... it is a very black and white issue ... there is no gray. You either keep the doctrine or you do not; the rest is just opinion and we are to be tolerant of each other's opinions.
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