by Al Maxey

Issue #429 ------- January 29, 2010
You must love Big Brother. It is not
enough to obey him; you must love him.

George Orwell {1903-1950}
Nineteen Eighty-Four

Fellowship's Uniformity Factor
Agree With Me on Everything I Consider
Essential or Get Out of My Church!

There's an old slogan, which was quite popular during the French Revolution, that urged, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (Brotherhood)." In time, some became so passionate about this that they vowed to achieve these goals even if it should cost them their lives -- indeed, they declared life unthinkable should these qualities be absent. Thus, one found such cries as, "Fraternity or death." In our own country, Patrick Henry declared on March 23, 1775, "Give me liberty, or give me death!" Chamfort (1741-1794), a French writer best known for his wicked wit, gave the phrase "Fraternity or death" his own unique twist, writing, "Be my brother, or I will kill thee." I believe he may have captured the sentiment of far too many of our sectarian brethren today.

Those disciples who are overly impressed with their own positions and perspectives rarely have any use for those persons who dare to differ with them. They are quite happy to embrace you as their beloved brother if you happen to agree with them, and more than willing to trample you underfoot if you disagree. Be thou conformed, or be thou condemned. There is little middle ground with legalists. When a village of Samaritans refused to show hospitality to the Lord Jesus as He journeyed toward Jerusalem, James and John ("sons of thunder") wanted to "command fire to come down from heaven and consume them." Jesus turned and rebuked them, saying, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of" [Luke 9:51-56]. Just prior to this account, John had made an effort to hinder another disciple's ministry for the Lord, "because he does not follow along with us" [Luke 9:49; cf. Mark 9:38]. Again, Jesus had to confront a beloved disciple with a misguided spirit. That same spirit exists today, thus calling for that same rebuke from our Savior.

The notion that it is you and I who have the authority to determine the parameters of our brotherhood is a false one. Brotherhood is determined by association with Him, not by agreement with us. The reality is -- the disciples of Christ may differ on a thousand and one points of personal preference, perception and practice and still be regarded by the Father as His beloved children. We don't have to be twins to be brothers; we don't have to be clones to be children. This is a truth that is extremely hard to grasp by those devoted to a pursuit of patternism. For them, fellowship with other believers cannot be achieved without some degree of uniformity to their own cherished convictions on a number of perceived "essentials of faith." They will tolerate no compromise on these points, although if you challenge them to provide you with a detailed accounting of these "essentials," they will never, ever provide it. I have been tirelessly trying for well over thirty years to acquire this list of particulars, and not one single person has ever provided it. Indeed, if you ask for it, they will either flee for the hills or turn and tear you to pieces for daring to ask for it. Why?! The reason is obvious -- they can't provide such a list, and they know it. God has never given us such a pattern, and the one each faction and sect has formulated consists entirely of their own shibboleths. Thus, to actually provide such a list would expose their sectarianism. This they will never do. If I live another 30 years, I will still never find a legalistic patternist willing to give me this list of patternistic particulars.

Tragically, most such hardened legalists absolutely refuse to listen to or consider any view but their own. Indeed, they will almost literally stop their ears rather than hear something that may challenge their perspectives. Such a spirit can hardly be classified as noble. The Bereans were willing to examine their convictions, and any challenge to them, in light of the Scriptures; the Thessalonicans were of a different spirit. They agitated and stirred up the crowds against Paul, pursuing him from city to city in an effort to silence him [Acts 17]. The same with those who heard the powerful testimony of Stephen, our Lord's first martyr. Unable to refute the wisdom of his teaching, they "covered their ears and rushed upon him" [Acts 7:57]. We find both types of disciples today; both the noble and the nefarious. For example, I have been "eternally banned" from the ultra-conservative Church of Christ Internet discussion groups (those run by the Non-Institutional and the Contending for the Faith leaders) because they did not want to be exposed to any position other than their own. Indeed, on a couple of these groups, the members were told that if anyone even mentioned my name in one of their posts, they would be removed from the group. Stopping up one's ears is a common practice of all legalists who can not and will not defend their theology against questions and challenges designed simply to get them to think.

My heart goes out to, and genuinely hurts for, a sweet sister-in-Christ from the state of Georgia. She wrote me an email this week in which she stated, "Dear Bro. Al, I just wanted you to know that I am slowly working my way through all of your Reflections, and what a blessing they are! Now, if only I could get my very conservative husband to read them, or at least discuss them with me!! I've just finished reading Leroy Garrett's book The Stone-Campbell Movement. Again, my husband does not want to hear anything about the history of the Churches of Christ. Brother Al, can you tell me why this is?! Are all conservative Church of Christ members like this? Thank you so much for all the good work that you do. May God bless you and yours."

No, not all who have been raised up within the ultra-conservative wings of our historical movement have closed minds and hardened hearts. Thankfully, there are many Bereans out there, and my efforts over the years have been focused upon reaching these beloved brethren who are the "disenchanted enslaved." They realize something isn't quite right, but they aren't really sure what it is or how to deal with it. They long for freedom, but have not yet found it. I will work tirelessly to bring the Light into the darkness that engulfs these precious souls, as well as to expose those who continue to entrap and enslave them, so that more and more saints may experience the same joy that I have found in Him!! How does one go about doing this? What tactics and strategies should one employ to reach those who may be, at least initially, resistant to our efforts to break the bonds that bind them? May I suggest a careful, prayerful examination of Reflections #162 (Evangelizing the Enslaved: Breaking the Bonds of Sectarian Slavery), which offers some helpful advice for those who seek to help rescue others from the darkness.

It is certainly painful to watch people you love turn a deaf ear to the very message that can enrich their lives. And yet, we have all experienced this. If what we teach proves to be unsettling to them, or challenges some of their cherished traditions, or causes them to begin questioning what they have "always believed," then these people will quite often simply "turn us off." It is a rare disciple who will exhibit a true Berean spirit and ask to sit down with us, open Bible between us, and study the Word to "see if these things be so." How exciting it is to encounter such a brother or sister; how discouraging to witness those who are more Thessalonican in spirit. Over the years, I have watched a few families walk away from congregations where I was preaching, never to return. When asked why they decided to leave, they responded that they did not like some of my teachings. "Why not sit down with Al and study this with him?" they were asked. "That wouldn't work," they said; "We could never prove him wrong from the Bible." Truly, there are none so blind, and so personally miserable, as those who refuse to see. It's heartbreaking!! These are good people ... precious souls ... but, rather than ever have to face anything that might challenge them to consider their beliefs anew in the light of Scripture, they will instead flee to the nearest congregation that will not do so.

Tragically, these people are convinced that it is impossible for them ever to be wrong in their understanding and practice of ultimate Truth. Their perceptions are the only perceptions on the planet that are flawless; their methodologies are the only methods approved by God in the implementation of divine precepts and principles. Thus, to differ with them is to differ with GOD. Indeed, it is even tantamount to blasphemy to ever question these beloved beliefs, which is why they will adamantly refuse to even consider something different, for to do so would be SIN. When you are convinced that you, and you alone, possess all Truth, then it is pointless to listen to the thinking of another, and to entertain their questions or challenges is "a waste of time." In this way they shield themselves from anything that might debunk their delusion. Sadly, this greatly limits the parameters of their fellowship in the Family of God, although, to their way of thinking, they alone ARE the Family of God in its totality upon the face of the earth. A small number of saved souls, they lament, but their numbers would increase if only all other so-called believers would just agree with them on all points of personal and/or party preference, perception and practice. Ah well, such is the heavy burden one must bear for being theologically perfect in a world filled with apostates, digressives and liberals. Or, so they believe!

This mindset raises the question -- Just how right must one be in order to be acceptable to the Lord? Just how right must one be in order to be in fellowship with His other children? What degree of difference among disciples severs fellowship and removes one from the ranks of the saved, transferring them to the ranks of the damned? A dear brother-in-Christ in Nevada wrote me an email a few weeks back in which he asked, "Brother Al, allow me to ask you a question. I think I already have the answer, but I would really like to hear your thoughts, if you have the time. Question: How different does a belief have to be before it causes a Christian to cease being a Christian? How different does a belief have to be to cause a Christian to be lost eternally?"

Of course, the obvious question the above queries beg is -- How different from what?! If the answer is: from "the clear teaching of God's inspired Word," then that will prompt a response much different than the one which would result from the answer: from "the teachings of uninspired men." For example, Hebrews 11:6 informs us that "anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists." Will some belief other than this exclude us from God's fellowship? I would answer in the affirmative. On the other hand, in Romans 14 we find disciples having "faith" (belief) that greatly differs from their fellow believers. Their convictions were not even remotely on the same page theologically, and yet the Lord accepted them both, which prompted Paul to encourage them to accept one another (differing beliefs and all). We can differ with one another on any number of matters of belief and practice, all the while keeping our fellowship intact. When we depart from revealed Truth, however, that's another matter. The problem is: too many disciples equate their own understanding of Truth with objective Truth itself. The latter is an objective Standard, the former is highly subjective, and thus can never be a standard by which others are judged worthy or unworthy in the sight of God. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the legalistic patternists seek to do. Unless others submit to their convictions, fellowship will be denied (indeed, they will even deny these others can be saved).

A number of years ago, while I was preaching in Honolulu, Hawaii, the former President of one of the more conservative Church of Christ Bible colleges, who did not like some of my writings on the topic of instrumental music in worship, wrote me a letter in which he urged me, "Get out of my church and go start your own!" I wrote and informed him that I was not in his church, and had no desire to be; I was in Christ's church, and had no desire to leave to establish my own. No, I never heard from this man again, although he would occasionally mention me by name in some of his articles in the ultra-conservative journals! This rigid mindset, so very prevalent among the hardened legalists, continually promotes what's often been termed -- fellowship's "Uniformity Factor." Unless you concur completely with my convictions, you and I will NOT have fellowship. You are NOT my brother. This thinking underlies the continuing fragmentation of the Family of God into countless feuding factions and squabbling schisms. And these factious congregations grow ever smaller and smaller as they keep on dividing over every difference of opinion that arises among their members. These people are literally self-destructing by consuming one another, and are, tragically, too blind to perceive the fact. Paul wrote to those in danger of being overcome by legalism, "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" [Gal. 5:15]. It is not uniformity our Father seeks from His children; such is neither achievable nor desirable! What the Father seeks is unity and harmony; a oneness that comes from union with Him, not from agreement with one another. May the Spirit awaken more and more of us to this reality. May our shameful separations come to an end, and may we journey to our Father's eternal home as loving brethren! Our Lord deserves no less from us!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Texas:

Bro. Al, I received an email today from a man who grew up here (he is now retired from the military and an airline pilot) who told me profusely of the tremendous influence that you, Edward Fudge and I have had on his spiritual walk. Thanks to guys like you and Edward Fudge, I too am now an "apostate" for associating with the "denominational" folk!! Thanks for being you, brother!! Here is part of the email from the pilot who wrote to me: "The Churches of Christ that could be called 'conservative' do NOT have a lock on salvation, and what really gets me is the way they look down on, shun, and generally despise anyone who would attempt to say anything different. They allow no room for discussion or questioning of any doctrinal mandate that for them has been set in stone. I heard one of their preachers say in a sermon, 'Do not fellowship with them other folks. We are the only ones with the Truth. If you discuss matters of doctrine with them, then the first thing you know you will have a kitchen in the building, and then where will it all go from there?!' I said to myself, 'Never again!' The Stone-Campbell Movement never, ever wanted such acrimonious interactions between the religious bodies. They wanted folks to stay in their own groups and all come together as Christians. By the way, I read everything Al Maxey and Edward Fudge write, as well as the writings of many other spiritual leaders."

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, I just finished reading "Malicious Menace Unmasked" and want to compliment you on a fine article. It expresses the experience many of us have had who are trying lovingly to promote positive change within the church. Even though I have not personally gained Mr. Waddey's attention, I have been called a lot of things because of my views regarding gender equality within the Churches of Christ. My web site on this draws an average of 1500 hits a month, so it may just be a matter of time until I join the Waddey "Change Agent" list! "Change Agent" is actually one of the milder terms with which I have been labeled (and I imagine you have been there more times than I have). For me personally, it is almost humorous when I read about myself in a publication, an email, or a public discussion forum. I have found it amazing what some, who have never even met me, have deduced about my personal views! The Waddeys of the world are always going to be with us, but through the efforts of men like Al Maxey, Edward Fudge, Rick Atchley, and a growing list of others, they are slowly being reduced in number and influence. There is indeed a beautiful sunrise (or Sonrise) beginning in the 21st century that is heralding a major shift from the extreme legalism of those like Waddey. I wish I could live long enough to be a part of this entire new century as positive change comes to our fellowship through the combined efforts of all us "Change Agents" so despised by Mr. Waddey. Lord willing, brother, we will be spending a few nights in Alamogordo in July, and we look forward to seeing you again.

From a Minister in Kansas:

Dear Brother Al, One Cup man here. I've just read your latest Reflections -- "Malicious Menace Unmasked" -- and see that the new year has brought "more of the same" from the "Church Police." These men continually attack you, but they never try to deal with your questions and challenges. If Mr. Waddey and his group have "all Truth," then why do they refuse to send you the list of these things?! IF they have such a list, then I wish they would provide it so all the rest of us could get our "unscriptural thinking" straightened out!!

From an Elder in Colorado:

Bro. Al, Thank you so much for this issue of Reflections ("Malicious Menace Unmasked"). I've been an elder for several years at a small town Church of Christ in the state of Colorado. We've gone through many changes over the past few years, and not without having to struggle with those who are very traditional within our congregation. They would make statements like, "I can't find anything in the Scriptures against what you propose, but I'm against it because we have always done it another way." We have made these changes slowly, however, and these same people are still with us, and things are getting better each day. I think they just feared change (any change)!! Our argument to them has been, "If something, anything, doesn't change, it will die." The church is a living entity, the "Body of Christ." Living things need to change, or they will become, as you put it, fossils. It's our goal here to be a living, active part of the Body of Christ. If that means we are classed as "change agents," then so be it. I don't have any desire to be a fossil.

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Brother Al, This week's Reflections reminded me of a quote from C. S. Lewis in a book on Spirituality I'm reading. The context in the book is how we should learn from each other's spiritual styles. None of our individual styles is ever the center of religion. God is!! Learning from each other can be unpleasant and painful, but it is necessary in order to become a mature Christian. C. S. Lewis is quoted as stating, "It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird, but it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad." I guess many of us are having trouble breaking out of the shell, and some have already gone bad!! Have a blessed day, Al.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Maxey, I just finished your recent Reflections, "Malicious Menace Unmasked," and it caused me to search through some of the religious email I have saved over the years. A fellow employee had forwarded to me an article in June of 2005 titled "Precursors to Apostasy" by John Waddey. I reread that article and it is the same brain-washing that spews forth from many of the ultra-conservative pulpits each Sunday in which we hear such nonsense as, "All those wanting to change are over-educated, over-sophisticated, wealthy, and have no knowledge of or respect for the Bible." It is that same brain-washing that many of us have been subjected to for years ... and still are. Thank God many of us have resisted all along! Thank God also for teachers like you who can articulate to an audience what we have always felt but couldn't say! Finally, Thank God for the Grace that comes through Jesus Christ, and which sets the thinking man free!! May God continue to bless you and your work.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Brother Al, Excellent observations in your most recent article! I wonder how many people know that the "Five Finger Plan" was also a human invention -- coming from the late Walter Scott. Makes you wonder -- Why did it take 1200 years for God to reveal this "plan" and the precise "order of worship" to us?! Worshipping in spirit and truth takes on a much clearer meaning after reading your fine articles.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Bro. Al, When I hear of "Change Agents," I think of the greatest agent of change of all time: our Lord and Savior. Then there was John the Baptist, who preached a baptism of change (repentance). And I am reminded of the apostle Paul, who was plagued by "Judaizing teachers" who refused to change. Those today who refuse to learn from history (i.e., the history about those "Judaizing teachers" recorded in the Scriptures) are doomed to repeat it. Their "Jerusalem" will also be destroyed rock by rock until nothing is left. Keep preaching the gospel of change, brother; keep preaching repentance! You are following in the steps of giants!!

From a Minister in California:

Dear Brother Al, John Waddey's waddlings hit the "round file" the moment they arrive here! I have asked him before to stop sending me his ink stains, but he keeps right on mailing them to me. So, into the trash can I throw them.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Thank you for not being intimidated by those who deem themselves the appointed judges of God's people! Mr. Waddey needs to focus on himself and quit writing his little partisan paper, for he fails to understand what Christianity is all about -- either "then" or "now."

From a Minister in Missouri:

My Beloved Brother Al, John Waddey talks about folks being "Change Agents." Let him know that the Old Paths Advocate bunch (One Cup) would classify him as a change agent! I love pointing out things like this to these groups of legalists because they refuse to see the contradictions and inconsistencies within their own patternistic views! These guys must all be exposed for what they are. Soldier on, brother!!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Dear Bro. Al, After seeing on Facebook that you had posted your latest Reflections to your web site, I anxiously awaited its arrival in my inbox so I could read it. I know, I know, I could have read it right there on Facebook, or on your web site, but I'm still "old school" and like reading it via email. I fear change!! Seriously, I loved the article and actually audibly said "Amen" as I read your closing remarks, where you declared, "I personally perceive much good within the Churches of Christ, and am excited to be a part of their evolution within the 21st century. There are going to be some very positive changes experienced by my brethren within this Movement in the decades to come, and if I can contribute in some small way to that spiritual progress, then I shall feel my life's work was well-spent and very much worthwhile." Those words express my own feelings exactly!

After spending too much of my time trying to fit in with the conservative/mainstream movement, I eventually realized that I don't fit in. I will NOT "toe the party line" anymore when it plainly violates God's Word and, in some cases, even insists that the "line" is greater than God's Word. Recently, someone called me a "Liberal," and instead of trying to convince them otherwise, I said, "Thank you!" I will run no more from the Truth of God's Word. In talking with a friend recently, he inquired as to why I stay with the Churches of Christ. He said, "You could so easily go work and preach for a Community Church or a Baptist Church and not have to deal with all the hassles and headaches you have to endure in the Churches of Christ. I told him he was probably right, but that I have chosen to stay because the prospect of bringing others within this movement to a better understanding of God's Grace is worth the headaches and hassles. Vacations are good for undoing the stress of the hassles, and God has blessed us with Tylenol for the headaches! Thank you, Bro. Al, for staying!! Thank you for teaching God's Grace! I think I'll do the same!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Bro. Maxey, Thank you so much for addressing my question regarding the love/like conundrum in a recent Reflections. This has indeed been difficult for me, especially when dealing with Pharisees in the church. Your response made me realize that I still have a ways to go in my spiritual maturation process. Thankfully, the blood of Christ covers all of my shortcomings in the meantime! I thank God for you daily, brother! I have attended worship services other than at Churches of Christ (mainly Baptist), and although the worship style is a little different than ours, all I have ever found are Christians who love the Lord and display it boldly (at times, more than I have experienced it in my entire life within the Church of Christ). I really wonder what would happen if folks in the CofC would actually attend just one service of another denomination?! Perhaps it would be a little more difficult for them to be so condemning of others. Speaking of which, go check out the awful bulletin article titled "Are There Devout Christians In Denominations?" that appears on the web site of the Mabelvale Church of Christ in Mabelvale, Arkansas! Such arrogance is beyond my imagination now, but I used to be one of these Pharisees also. Fortunately, I no longer feel this way, and this is thanks to you!! I cannot express my gratitude to you enough for helping me loose my shackles and find my way to the freedom that Christ had promised me all along!! May God bless you for this! Like you, I have no plans to leave the Church of Christ church. I am with you on this -- I feel I can now do more good within this group than outside of it.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

My Dear Brother-in-Christ, How I would love to meet you face to face. I never cease to enjoy your articles and insights. In fact, when something difficult comes up in Bible class, yours is the first web site I turn to in order to do research into the matter. Most recently this was on the question "What happens to us when we die?" which you have addressed in great depth. Your Reflections are thorough and thought-provoking. You are a prolific and provocative writer, and you never cease to challenge my thinking and perspectives. Thanks again for continuing to stretch my thinking -- sometimes beyond my comfort zone! But, hey -- I grow more when I get outside my comfort zone!! If you are ever in our area on a speaking engagement, please let me know. I would love to come hear you and meet you. God bless your continued work in the kingdom of our Lord.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Maxey, I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know that my wife and I are now planning to attend The Tulsa Workshop. We have never attended this event, but we believe that it'll be an excellent opportunity to further learn God's Word and to meet with some fellow Christians. I am especially excited because I will finally have the opportunity to meet you and Shelly in person, and also to hear you speak (even though I listen to your sermons online weekly). We will not be able to attend the whole event, but we will be there on Thursday and Friday, which is when you and Rick Atchley will be speaking. We really enjoy Rick's lessons (as you probably know, he is the Senior Preaching Minister here at Richland Hills Church of Christ where we're now members). What an opportunity to be able to learn from two Ministers whom I highly respect at a single event!! We look forward to meeting you and Shelly in Tulsa. May God continue to bless your ministry.

From a Reader in Washington:

Bro. Al, I'll tell you a couple of stories about change! My step dad was one of the elders in a church in Idaho and was asked to fill in one Sunday at a small church in the country. After the service, one of the members told my step dad that he liked the message, but that the service wasn't "Scriptural." When asked why, the man said that it was because the service didn't start with two songs, a prayer, and a song! The second story is about something that happened during my tour in Vietnam. Soc Trang was the furthest U.S. Army airfield in the Delta. There was a supply convoy that ran from Can Tho on the same day of the week, same time of day, and using the same route. You guessed it. They got hit, and we lost some people. Even a land-locked swabby knows better than that!! Moral: yes, change may be a bit uncomfortable for some, but it may save the lives of others. Thanks again, Al, for all you do, and I pray for your continued perseverance. Love you, brother!

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