by Al Maxey

Issue #696 ------- June 9, 2016
An author's study is a sort of sacristy, and his printing
press a pulpit, wherefrom he preaches to all men; for
an author is the Town-Chaplain of the Universe.

Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (1763-1825)

Preachers Swapping Pulpits
Reflective Review of a Pastoral Practice

Samuel Butler (1612-1680), the English poet and satirist, spoke of the pulpit within the Church of his day as the "drum ecclesiastic," which "was beat with fist, instead of stick." We are all quite familiar with the concept generated by the term "pulpit," although it might convey somewhat differing levels of significance to people. The religious might perceive it one way, the non-religious another. To some the pulpit may represent "spiritual enlightenment," while others may view it as a source of social and spiritual oppression. Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), nicknamed "The Great Agnostic," once declared, "Every pulpit is a pillory, in which stands a hired culprit, defending the justice of his own imprisonment." On the other hand, the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart (b. 1935), in a less than humble outburst, stated, "If I do not return to the pulpit this weekend, millions of people will go to hell." Both views are extreme, and both revealed much more about the hearts of these two individuals than they probably realized when they uttered those words.

In the Bible one will find that "Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose. ... And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people" (Nehemiah 8:4-5, KJV). Although the word "pulpit" is used by the KJV translators, it probably wasn't the same type of structure that many of us might think of today. The Hebrew word used is "migdal," which generally signifies an elevated platform strong enough to hold several people. We today might refer to it as a "stage." Nevertheless, it was an elevated place from which one could speak to an assembled crowd, a concept still conveyed to most of us by the word "pulpit." Outside a church building, such words as "dais," "podium," or "lectern" might be used. When we hear the word "pulpit," however, we tend to think of that location/structure within a church building from where, and behind which, "the preacher preaches" to the assembled "people packing the pews." Hopefully, the message coming from "the persons/parsons in the pulpit" is drawn from God's Word, and thus is more a message from HIM than THEM. That is not always the case, however. Paul warned Timothy (and by extension us) that some disciples would not be willing "to endure sound doctrine, but rather, wanting to have their ears tickled, would accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires" (2 Timothy 4:3). Thus, in far too many locations the pulpit would become, Paul warned, a place where pre-programmed professional pulpiteers would proclaim the preferences of the people. Nothing new there! "If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' he would be just the prophet for this people!" (Micah 2:11). The pulpit should be the place where Truth is proclaimed and upheld, no matter how unpleasant or unpopular or inconvenient that Truth may be, which can indeed prove dangerous for the one standing firmly behind that pulpit and standing firmly for Truth. I can't help but think of what Herman Melville (1819-1891) said about what could happen when enough people are displeased with the proclaiming of truths that they may not want to hear from the pulpit: "Let any clergyman try to preach the Truth from its very stronghold, the pulpit, and they would ride him out of his church on his own pulpit banister."

Yes, standing before the people and proclaiming Truth (as much as one is able to perceive) can at times prove quite costly, for not all appreciate the message ... or the messenger, for that matter. In many of our societies and cultures today, pastors preaching from pulpits is an accepted norm of our religious experience. Almost every group within Christendom has made provision for someone to stand before an assembly and proclaim a message. Most groups also tend to expect the person behind the pulpit to be "one of us," and to proclaim only that which the group approves. The idea of letting someone other than their own hired or appointed speaker stand before them and deliver a message from the pulpit is enough to send some into sectarian spasms! For such people, a "preacher swap" (or "pulpit swap") is unthinkable, for all those outside of their denominational group are "heretics" and "apostates." Thus, for one of them to stand in that sacred spot and share his/her thoughts with them is enough to send these religious isolationists into fits of foaming-at-the mouth rage. One might as well invite Satan himself to "fill the pulpit," since all those outside their own group are viewed as "the damned" and in league with the devil. In the eyes of such people, swapping preachers/pulpits, even for just one Sunday, is SIN, and whenever they hear of such a swap they will gather their forces for a full frontal assault against those godless wretches who dared to seek fellowship with those they do not accept as Christians.

Over the past 40 years of preaching and teaching in my faith-heritage (Churches of Christ), which is one of the groups that evolved from the Stone-Campbell Movement, I have "swapped pulpits" a number of times with several different denominational groups. I truly enjoy getting to meet and worship with those outside my own heritage, and spending quality time in fellowship with my brothers and sisters who have traditions that differ from my own. I am a firm believer that one does not have to be my TWIN in order to be my BROTHER (or sister) in Christ Jesus. What/Who binds us together in One Body is of greater significance than all the many petty party distinctions that we too often allow to fragment the Family of God. Thus, for the bulk of my decades of ministry, I have tried to bring down walls of sectarian exclusion and isolation, and to bring God's children together in sweet fellowship. I preach and practice unity in a Person, rather than uniformity of a pattern. When we focus on traditions and patterns we divide; when we focus on Jesus, we unite. I believe it is the latter our Lord Jesus had in mind when He uttered that powerful prayer for oneness (John 17) before going out to the garden to be arrested and ultimately crucified. He died, in part, to make us ONE; we should be living daily to bring that divine desire to fruition. This I have sought to do in a good many ways: one of which is occasionally swapping pulpits.

My most recent "swap" was Sunday morning, June 5, 2016. Pastor Joe Bryant and I exchanged pulpits that day: Joe preached the morning sermon at the congregation which I serve as the minister and one of the elders, and I preached the morning sermon at Grace Baptist Church, where Joe is the pastor. Our two congregations (and Joe and I particularly) have worked together a number of times in our city, and the two groups interact well together. Every other Thursday morning men from Joe's congregation and men from mine (as well as men from a number of other churches in the city) gather in the fellowship room of Grace Baptist Church for a breakfast and devo. This has been going on for years. As relationships developed, and as understanding and respect for one another as fellow believers grew (even though we have some traditions that differ), it was only natural that we would want to begin spending more time together and standing together in our city to promote faith in Jesus and show love among His disciples. I was received warmly by the members of Grace Baptist Church, and Joe was received warmly by the members of Cuba Avenue Church of Christ. It was a good day.

Sadly, however, when the legalistic bunch within my faith-heritage heard of this exchange on June 5, they went crazy. On one of the Church of Christ Facebook sites (which has over 4000 members), some of the hardcore members went immediately on the attack in hope of assuring that no such "dealing with the devil" ever occurred again here in our town (or anywhere else). As I read through the countless expressions of outrage on that Facebook page, it truly saddened me, for such was the similar reaction of the legalists in Christ's day to His association with those they deemed unfit for fellowship. "Al Maxey is a false teacher." "Al Maxey is drifting away from the truth." "Woe to him on judgment day." "What a tragedy!! Baptists are not even Christians. Yet, Mr. Maxey is bragging about exchanging pulpits with a Baptist. Sad, sad, sad!" "I urge Al Maxey to get God's Word out and start studying it, and to get Satan out of his heart. The elders there should fire him. The congregation needs to do something about him ... he is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The congregation needs to wake up and see his evil deeds." "Al Maxey is what Paul meant in the book of Acts 20:29 - 'After my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.'" A few members of that Facebook site, however, were not impressed by this outpouring of rage from the rigid sectarians. One man wrote, "Al, I really admire your courage. Standing for Truth in face of such hostility is not easy, and you are a great example for Truth-seekers everywhere. It is sad that so many are unwilling to even examine a view that is different from those they have accepted. Thank you for your service!" A woman on that Facebook site messaged me privately, saying, "I wanted to write you personally because I cannot take some of the comments made about you. I applaud you for what you are doing, and I struggle with what these 'brethren' are doing to you. I still struggle with their view that there are NO believers in any other group; that the ONLY true believers are in the 'Church of Christ' group. I want to thank you for this pulpit swap, and just wish there were not so many who immediately jumped on you about it. Thank you for being honest and open in what you say and do; things about which others will not speak. They just don't get it."

Yes, "pulpit swaps" can be very controversial, for there has developed over the centuries an "us - them" dismembering of the Body of Christ Jesus, and when some seek to bring healing and restoration of that One Body there will inevitably be a strong reaction from those satisfied with the status quo (the Body in a fragmented form), and who truly believe that their little piece of the whole IS the whole. When some view themselves, and their group, as "the one true church," then all other groups are thereby regarded as being in rebellion against God and doomed to destruction. Thus, for one of US to ever associate with one of THEM is a betrayal of our God and an act of fellowship with Satan. I know very well what these people are thinking and feeling, for I too was raised in that same toxic environment. I thank God that He has led me out of that darkness and has shown me the light of what true unity and harmony and fellowship can and should be! I have been working ever since to help bring this about, and have been attacked every step of the way! One of the very first responses I received after the pulpit swap on June 5 was from a woman in Texas who shouted: "WHAT IN JESUS' NAME WERE YOU THINKING?!!" Well, frankly, I was thinking that in Jesus' name, and by Jesus' authority, I was simply seeking to bring about the fulfillment of Jesus' prayer: "Father, may they all be one ... that the world may believe!" (John 17:21, cf. vs. 22-23). Our unity and oneness is not based upon our agreement on various personal preferences, perceptions and practices that are more tradition than truth (much of what we fuss, fight and fragment over is never even mentioned in the Bible); our unity and oneness with one another is based on our union with Him. ALL who are in Him are my brethren, even though we may have numerous differences about countless "issues." You see, you don't have to be my twin to be my brother!

I will not apologize for wanting to be with my brothers and sisters in Christ; I feel no shame in seeking fellowship with them. I will not allow my personal preferences, perceptions or practices to rise to the level of universal LAW, nor will I allow them to become walls of separation between spiritual siblings. If you are His by grace through faith, then We Be Brethren ... and I will SHOW it daily in my attitudes and actions. I will worship with these brethren, even though our worship styles may differ. I have determined NEVER AGAIN to proclaim and practice "brand name" churchism! I'm done with it. I am not "Church of Christ" ... I am not "Baptist" ... I am not a member of a faction; I'm a member of a Family. I am simply a child of the Father, and a brother to all who are His. I'm done with the sectarian squabbling; I'm finished with the factional fighting. Whatever time the Father chooses to give me (whether days, months or years) will be spent tearing down walls and restoring relationships within the One Body universal. There are many practical ways to help bring this about, and the practice of swapping pulpits (i.e., swapping preachers) is one such tool that can be effectively utilized.

This practice of congregations occasionally exchanging preachers on any given Sunday is not a new one, nor is it confined to any one particular denomination. Many, many years ago, especially in the South, "pulpit swaps" were seen as a way to help bring about healing between black and white Christians, many of whom were worshipping in separate locations with "their own kind." Thus, swapping preachers (and sometimes swapping choirs) was seen as a visible gesture of racial unity and harmony. It was a step toward bridging the gap (in this case: racial) that divided brethren in Christ. It is also a good device to help bring people of faith together in their communities. It is hard for Christians to significantly impact a city for the Lord if those believers are divided among themselves. Together the disciples of Christ can accomplish much good; fragmented, they are destined to fail. The world about us is not interested in being called to join a family feud; survival in our societies is struggle enough for most people, they don't want it perpetuated and intensified in the church. In a gravely divided world it behooves the people of God to be united! "May they be ONE," Jesus prayed, "so that the world may believe." There was an interesting article by Kristen Chick in the April 28, 2010 issue of Christian Science Monitor titled "Pulpit Swap: What Happens When Churches Switch Preachers?" [Click Here to read]. In this article the author spoke of a growing trend in Birmingham, Alabama. "Recently, churches in Birmingham have begun reviving it (preacher swaps). With an emphasis on community, the swaps have even expanded beyond their original intent of bridging racial divides to include churches of the same race but different denominations." Pastor Arthur Price, Jr. of the historic 16th Street Baptist Church summed it up well with these words, "Heaven is not going to be a place where we're all going to think alike, sing alike, and worship alike. Pulpit swapping gives us a chance to demonstrate unity in the Body of Christ, and also demonstrate diversity." I couldn't agree more! Our goal should be to begin tearing down the walls that divide us and to begin enjoying the sweet fellowship that is ours for the taking as the Family of God. There are many ways to go about this, and "pulpit swaps" is one that I firmly believe can prove effective. Let us not be afraid to think outside the box in our effort to achieve unity in the Body of Christ.

Specials for Readers
2016 Book & CD Offers
Click on the link above for a listing of the
books and topical studies and audio sermons
and new Bible classes by Al Maxey, and for
information on how to order these items.

Readers' Reflections

From Buff Scott, Jr. in Arizona:

Al, my brother, I have dealt with this subject many times with my Calvinist brethren, and not one mind have I changed (as far as I know). You have done a very good job with the subject in your latest Reflections (Issue #695: Pondering Clay Pigeon Theology). My web site also covers this issue: (Click Here to read). Following is a brief excerpt from that study: "As per the mindset of the average Calvinist, man has a free will and can choose to do anything in his natural environment, but his free will and ability to choose ends at that point. He cannot exercise free will and choose to obey God until he has been 'regenerated.' Hyper-Calvinists claim that he must be born again before he can come to the Lord. If you compare this Calvinistic sentiment to numerous biblical passages that teach the opposite, you will find that this dogma collides with heaven's testimony. Jesus clearly says a man may choose whether or not to obey God. But how can he choose unless he is endowed with free will? He cannot. Note, please, Jesus' words in John 7:17, 'If anyone chooses to do God's will' (NIV)."

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Maxey, I have been reading your Reflections for quite a while now, and they are so helpful, as I was raised in Churches of Christ. In fact, my family and I were in what could only be characterized as a "cult," complete with isolation, threats, mocking, guilt and shaming: typical group control. I was conditioned to believe that what our group taught was THE truth. Thankfully, I have come out of that bondage and am in a safe place for the first time in 28 years! However, I have a question: How would I even begin talking with my legalistic family members about our freedom and God's grace? I don't have a clue where to start.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Man, am I glad you dealt with this passage in Romans 9:22-23 in your latest article (Issue #695: Pondering Clay Pigeon Theology). It has always troubled me that God would do such a thing. Am I to sit in judgment of God if He did in fact do that? No way! But it just didn't seem to fit the attributes of Him as I understood them. I am encouraged to know that I have the option of understanding that God in His infinite wisdom allows us to make our own decisions relative to our eternal destination, and that He does NOT, in fact, create us just to destroy us. Whew! This article was a "two cupper" (morning coffee while reading your studies), just so you know!! Blessings, brother!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

This article (Pondering Clay Pigeon Theology) was so wonderful, and it resonates with what I know to be fitting with the comprehensive nature and character of God. I've rubbed shoulders with hyper-Calvinists and hyper-Armenians and everything in-between. Hyper-Calvinism has been in my immediate family for some time, and it has been nothing short of destructive. My own daughter stumbled over it to such a great extent that she still struggles to meld the sovereignty and righteousness of God with His extravagant love. I plan to send this article to her, and I just hope and pray it will lead to restorative conversations using this good and helpful material. I have known in my spirit these truths, but have not been able to articulate them in such a scholarly fashion. Thanks again, Al. I am so grateful for you and your work.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Thank you for another carefully researched Reflections on the much debated subject of God's will and man's with respect to the subject of saving faith. I also appreciate very much the detailed information you provided in that study on the middle and passive voices in Greek. Al, this latest issue of Reflections makes me want to see your face in person even more!

From a Reader in Canada:

Pondering Clay Pigeon Theology is an amazing study! How do you make the time with your ministry, health and family commitments?! As you know, after many decades of preaching and teaching, I have come to have very similar views as you on topics such as marriage, hell, grace, the Lord's Supper, baptism, and what the essential steps to salvation are. But Al, you are simply the best writer and teacher I have ever known. The work that went into this latest study of yours is so impressive. My mind is now just a small shade of what it once was, and in-depth studies like this one are a refresher course for me in the purity of God's Word. All I can say is: Wow, Wow, Wow! Please don't ever stop doing this wonderful work of sharing your Reflections with us! Love you, brother!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Maxey, I was thumbing through some Church of Christ articles on the Internet, and I noticed that someone (I won't mention any names) used Balaam's reply in Numbers 22:18 to the servants of Balak to try and prove that "the silence of the Scriptures" is prohibitive. Does that passage prove what this gentleman assumes and asserts?

From a Reader in Washington:

I am so glad to read that the treatments for your cancer were successful, and am selfishly happy to see your Reflections returning to my inbox. I want to thank you for your ability to enlighten a Tennessee Church of Christ kid about God's grace and love. I especially want to thank you for the work you've done on the nature of man and the final destiny of the lost [i.e., your book From Ruin to Resurrection and your two CD set of audio lessons The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny]. Over the last few days it has finally sunk in, and I almost feel like I will bust now that I really understand the whole of God's plan for restoring His creation. Escaping the first lie of the devil in the garden makes everything make sense. The fall, the flood, the promise to Abraham, the law, the temple sacrifices, Christ's sinless life, His conquering of death -- it all fits now! The wages of sin is death, not eternal torment. With this understanding you have brought to us, everything is now in balance! Thank You for all your work. My faith is stronger now that I don't have to say over and over that I don't understand.

If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: