by Al Maxey

Issue #454 ------- September 3, 2010
The weakness of a soul is proportionate to the
number of truths which must be kept from it.

Eric Hoffer {1902-1983}

Legalism's Twin Proof-Texts
Allowing Tradition to Trump Truth

Herbert Agar (1897-1980) made a rather astute, and tragically true, observation about human nature when he penned these words: "The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear." Vauvenargues (1715-1747) correctly reflected --- "Few people have enough character to endure the truth, and to speak it." Not only are too many people afraid to hear truth, they're also afraid to declare it unto others. Truth can bring out either the very best in a man ... or the worst. When the latter occurs it can be deadly. Thomas Merton (1915-1968), in "No Man Is An Island," observed, "We are much like Pilate. We are always asking, 'What is truth?!' and then crucifying the truth that stands before our eyes." St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) pondered: "Why does truth engender hatred?" Or, to pose this question in the words of the apostle Paul, "Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (Gal. 4:16). Those who cannot abide truth, and who react violently and viciously toward any who dare convey to them truths they don't care to hear, only reveal to us the depth of the void within their soul. As Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) declared in the quote at the top of this present Reflections, "The weakness of a soul is proportionate to the number of truths which must be kept from it." Oh, how true ... and how sad. I know people like this; I suspect you do as well. We work and worship with them, we enjoy sweet fellowship with them ... until we place before them some "inconvenient truth," and then we behold a completely different person than the one we thought we knew.

David lamented in one of his psalms the fact that a friend had become an enemy --- "My companion and my familiar friend; we who had sweet fellowship together; who walked in the house of God in the throng" (Psalm 55:13-14). It really hurts when a chill falls over a relationship; when a loved one turns away from you; when, instead of words of encouragement, you hear words of condemnation. Taking a stand for Truth will often cause those you hold most dear to take a stand against you. May God give us the courage to stand up for the Truth in the face of such heart-wrenching opposition. It will not be easy, but we must remain loyal to the One who called us and to the truths He has entrusted unto us. It is tempting to withhold Truth so as to maintain a relationship with a brother or sister in Christ (or perhaps with a person outside of Christ) who is too "weak of soul" to abide those truths that might call for a change of perspective and practice. It is tempting ... but we must never give in to it. Enabling a weak soul is not ennobling it. We must learn the difference, and then proceed with love (both for Truth and the weak soul in need of its enlightening, freeing embrace).

In a fabulous study titled "Music and History," the author, F. L. Lemley, makes this observation: "There is no valid reason why one who seeks Truth should withhold information on a controversial point. Fear of reprisal from well-meaning, but often misinformed, brethren should never cause us to hesitate in telling all of the Truth we know" [Mission Messenger, vol. 30, no. 11, November, 1968]. I would imagine that each of us has been guilty of this failing at some point in our lives; I know I have. Not wanting to "rock the boat" or upset a brother or sister comfortable in their religious rigidity, I have withheld sharing what I believed, based upon my study of the Word, was the fullness of God's Truth. This was wrong, and I am determined never to do this again, although I will seek to convey such Truth in a loving and considerate manner. Bro. Lemley, who was preaching for a Church of Christ in Denver, Colorado at the time he wrote the above piece, dared to raise the issue of using musical instruments as an aid or accompaniment to our singing, a bold move that immediately generated an outpouring of hatred and condemnation against this man. How dare Lemley question our traditional practice?! How dare he suggest our practice just might be more personal or party preference than divine precept? He dared because it was a truth very much in need of being expressed; a truth that had been withheld far too long ... and one still being withheld by fearful disciples today. Brethren, we have nothing to fear from Truth ... if it is Truth ... but there is great danger in clinging to traditions as though they were Truth. The latter has led to deadly division within the Body of Christ as brethren bite and devour one another over religious minutiae.

Whenever this subject comes up, get your Bibles ready because you can be sure that you will be referred to the "twin jewels" of all proof-texts: Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. There it is, folks. Proof positive that God forbids the use of instruments when His church gathers to sing His praises. Couldn't be clearer. It's right there in "plain English." You'd have to be a fool not to see it. Right? I was raised believing that this was THE teaching of these twin texts, so I simply just accepted it as fact, feeling sorry for all those poor souls in the "devil-deceived denominations" who were headed straight for the fires of hell for daring to use those abominable instruments as they sang their praises to their God. What idiots they were! Didn't they read their Bibles?! And then I bothered to read mine!! It wasn't long before I was asking God to forgive me for my ignorance and arrogance!! I was ashamed of myself for mishandling His Word so horribly, and, frankly, am both ashamed and embarrassed by the continued distortion of these texts by the traditionalists in my faith-heritage. To speak out against this abuse is to invite their wrath, and so I held my tongue for years. Those days are past; I have vowed never to do so again. Too much is at stake. Yes, some people I love dearly have come to regard me as an enemy of Christ, and they have become cold toward me. Although this bothers me, it will not silence me. We must speak Truth, not hide it for fear of a few fellows with ruffled feathers.

Brethren, here is a truth that some among us would prefer you never hear -- the two passages referred to above have nothing whatsoever to do with instrumental music. They neither condone nor condemn their use; they neither permit nor prohibit. Further, these two passage have nothing whatsoever to do with a corporate "worship service" of believers. The legalistic patternists, however, will become so enraged over such a revelation that they will almost literally foam at the mouth, for this truth renders their "proof texts" for condemning the "denominationalists" for their "soul-damning error" of using instruments in a "worship service" null and void. The stark reality is: the only ones in error here are those condemning where God Himself has not!!

If one will simply bother to examine the context of these two passages, one will quickly discover that the apostle Paul is NOT discussing procedural precepts and ritualistic restrictions for a "worship service" in a "church sanctuary" on a Sunday morning. He is discussing guiding principles of daily living among the disciples of Christ. Although those special times when we're all assembled together certainly constitute a vital part of our journey through life, and thus these principles will be applicable, "the context is not restricted to that of the church's liturgy" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 73]. Thus, it is life, not liturgy, that Paul has in view. Indeed, Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, the acclaimed New Testament Greek scholar, observed that within this context "there is nothing to suggest the thought of actual worship" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 3, p. 363]. Rather, these words by Paul "focus attention on matters that have to do more directly with the personal life" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 216].

Paul is advising wisdom in our daily walk with Jesus, urging us to be "filled with the Spirit," rather than filled with strong drink!! We must make the most of the time and opportunities and abilities given to us by God, using these to encourage and edify one another. As joyful disciples of Jesus, we may even "break forth in song" on occasion!! These can be used as opportunities to teach and admonish one another, as well as express the love and devotion of our hearts to our heavenly Father. Yes, they might indeed take place within a larger gathering of fellow believers, but they may also occur when only two or three are together at various times during the week. When Spirit-filled disciples daily interact with one another, they do so to the benefit of one another and to the glory of their God. Whether or not I strum a guitar when I sing a song of spiritual encouragement to you is not even in view. Ministering to you IS. Whatever I can use to achieve that goal, as long as it edifies you and glorifies Him, is acceptable.

"But, it says to sing 'in your hearts,'" the legalists will counter. Okay, so where do you get the authority for using your voice box? Two can play this "law of silence" game. The reality is: when you examine the context you will discover quickly that there are two audiences in view in these passages. One is GOD, the other is ONE ANOTHER. Singing and psalming (making melody) in our hearts is "to the Lord." Audible sounds are irrelevant with this audience, for it is our hearts He "hears." However, the variety of musical methods (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs) and the variety of purposes for these expressions (speaking, teaching, admonishing) is "to one another." Form, style, sound, etc. are important to humans, as these genuinely speak to us ... and always have. Therefore, utilize anything you can to reach those about you with the intent of encouraging, edifying, educating, evangelizing, etc. as long as such styles and methods glorify our heavenly Father and genuinely serve to accomplish some spiritual good for those you seek to reach! The same principle can be seen in our teaching. We may use PowerPoint slides, we may use graphs and charts, we may use drama, videos, etc. to aid or accompany our teaching IF these assist us in reaching those about us and IF they do not in some way dishonor our God. I have dealt with this interpretive approach much more fully (using these two passages as examples) in my following study, which I would encourage you to read, as it provides a far more rational and reasonable hermeneutic than CENI -- Reflections #126.

"But, the history of the first several hundred years shows most early disciples didn't use instruments." Okay, so now we're going to determine and establish Christian attitudes and practices based on historical precedent? Is that really where you want to go with this?! If so, prepare yourself ... the church is in for some interesting times ahead if this becomes the basis of our authority. There are many things the early church didn't do or didn't have, but this is hardly the foundation upon which to build one's theological practices. Furthermore, where precisely in the New Covenant writings are the disciples for the rest of human history commanded to imitate precisely the religious practices of first century disciples? I would like to see the passage that declares such to be essential to our acceptance by God. Lemley said, "Frankly, it is not conclusive to reason that because instrumental music was not used in the first century it is therefore wrong and sinful and against God's will. The fact that a practice wasn't in vogue in the first century isn't proof that God disapproves of it" [Mission Messenger, vol. 30, no. 11, November, 1968]. Bro. Lemley goes on to say: "Let us assume that instrumental music was not in use among any of the congregations in the first century. Has it ever occurred to history students to enquire as to WHY it was not used? Should not the reason WHY it was not used have some bearing on our reasoning? ... Was it because God had spoken on it and condemned its use? No! There is not one word on the specific subject in the New Testament Scriptures" [ibid]. Lemley correctly points out in his study that the use of instruments is considered sinful today by the legalists by virtue of their humanly devised "law of silence." On this basis, and on this basis alone, they will condemn others to the fires of hell. By this same "law" those who eat in a building are going to hell ... and those who have Sunday School ... and those who use multiple cups in the Lord's Supper ... and those who have located preachers ... and those who use song books ... and those who sing with "four part harmony" ... and those who have water fountains in the building ... and those who have buildings ... and those who --- well, you get the picture!!

These two passages by Paul (one in Ephesians 5, the other in Colossians 3) are beautiful and moving reflections on the value of "walking worthy" in relationship with the Lord and His people. The principles shared with us in these passages provide guidance for Spirit-filled daily living, a day-by-day practical witness to the changes our Lord can bring about in our lives. Such change brings in its wake great inner rejoicing, which then overflows in our visible expressions, which in turn positively impacts those souls around us, just as they also reflect a heart of love, which is sweet music to the Father of us all. For a faction within the Body to take these texts from out of their contexts, and to force them into service as proof-texts for personal and party preferences and practices, is an abuse of God's Word that borders on "abomination." Peter spoke of some "untaught and unstable" characters who were "distorting the Scriptures to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). May God protect us from such folk, for, sadly, they have always been around doing their best to disturb the simplicity and purity of the Gospel, as well as disrupting the unity of the One Body.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 193 page book by Al Maxey

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

A 230 page book by Al Maxey

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Your last Reflections surely humbles me as I read of such modern day saints. It also shames me and puts me on my knees asking for forgiveness for my own lack of service!

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Brother Al, That was a good Reflections, and I could tell it meant a lot to you. Not to diminish the first three persons in any way, I nevertheless wanted to say that I am very sorry that you lost your "sounding board" with the death of Al Cornelius. I detected your words of joyful sorrow in your last few sentences that described your relationship with this man. We realize such ones are in a better place, but we still miss those who have passed on. Again, I am sorry for the loss you and others are feeling. I will continue to pray for your ministry.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I appreciate your tribute to "the good looking" Al. We worshipped together for about a year here, and we shared the same views on grace, fellowship and eschatology. The disciples here announced his passing with great sorrow. The concept of "retirement" for our senior saints is a blight on the earthly work of the kingdom. I believe the Lord intended for us to be led by and taught by the older gray/bald heads, rather than youthful professionally trained entertainers. Thank you for your weekly encouragement in your Reflections. I hope no firebombs have sailed through your windows lately!!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Bro. Al, Although I am saddened by the deaths of your friends, what incredible stories! This world has been blessed by their faith and grace. As you know, I deal with death and dying every day (we have a family owned/operated funeral home), but the more crazy this world gets, the more I see death as a blessed release. In many ways, I actually envy those who are now free from this fallen world. On the other hand, I love being around my family, friends and especially our precious grandchildren! Again, thanks for sharing these stories. I am grateful for you, Al.

From a Missionary in Bolivia:

Brother Al, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading about Sis. Merces Marquez from Bolivia in your last Reflections. I am going to translate it and share it with the brethren here Cochabamba. What an inspiration she was!! I can't wait to meet her in heaven!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, After our preacher read your new book -- One Bread, One Body -- we have had three weeks of great lessons from him on the Communion.

From a Minister in Utah:

Brother Al, Today I read your Reflections article "Behold, A Winebibber" (Issue #134) in which you discussed whether or not a Christian may drink wine. I really appreciate your balance and honesty regarding this subject!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Maxey, Your recent article "Two Interpretive Approaches: Should Our Study of the Scriptures be Approached Inductively or Deductively?" (Reflections #450) was very well written! You were able to put words to feelings I have had for quite a while about a problem I've observed with the public teaching in the One Cup Churches of Christ. I was born and raised in this fellowship (and I'm still a member). It has bothered me that our group, which professes the utmost respect for Scripture, is just as willing to "slice and dice" the Bible in order to "prove a point" as those other groups we declare to be false. Al, I've found your articles to be very interesting. Thank you for your willingness to tackle such a wide variety of topics, and thank you especially for providing insight into some of the more difficult questions that plague many Christians.

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