by Al Maxey
Issue #721 -------
June 5, 2017
I like the dreams of the future
better than the history of the past.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Letter to John Adams (Aug. 1, 1816)
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), in his classic work "The Screwtape Letters," astutely observed, "The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is." As long as the present heavens and earth exist, time will march on at the pace determined by our Creator and Sovereign. So too will the lives of those who dwell within this temporal realm until they reach their eternal destiny. Yes, we all have certain hopes and expectations for the future, but none of us has been there, thus, while we may anticipate the future with faith, we can't reasonably do so with absolute certainty. "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow!" (James 4:13-14). Even Jesus Himself declared there were things about the future that not even He knew, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36). As the British Marxist historian Eric John Hobsbawm (1917-2012) rightly noted, "The only certain thing about the future is that it will surprise even those who have seen furthest into it." Yet, it is true that our Creator has instilled within man a sense of the eternal realm, and thus we have the ability to anticipate something beyond ourselves and our present time-space reality, even though the precise nature of that future will continue to elude us: "He has also set eternity (i.e., a sense of the eternal) in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Thus, historians and anthropologists, such as Crane Brinton (1898-1968), assert, "Man is unique in nature and among animals in being able to conceive a future." Yes, we can conceive it, and to some degree may even help shape it, but ultimately the future lies in the hands of God. He will do as He has determined, regardless of our own desires and designs.
That being said, our God has nevertheless not left us without some degree of revelation from above as to His intentions for our future. There is prophecy, and there are divine promises. He has, throughout history, permitted mankind glimpses into their future, both historically and even spiritually; both in the temporal realm as well as the eternal realm. The nature of these revelations is such that it often leads to a fair amount of speculation and even confusion. Thus, even with these revelations in hand, we still gaze into the future with something less than absolute certainty. This is where trust and faith and hope come into play. Although we may not know all the specifics of the future, we have complete confidence in the One who does. As Paul declared just prior to his execution, "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day" (2 Timothy 1:12). There was much about which Paul was not certain, but there was also much about which his faith had given him a confident expectation. The historian Charles Page Smith (1917-1995) stated it well when he wrote, "The future is given shape by our faith."
As briefly noted above, one of the puzzling factors associated with man's quest to know the future is divine prophecy. Occasionally, God has given mankind glimpses of that future: "peeks behind the curtain," as it were, on the grand stage of life as preparations are being made behind the scenes by the Director for the acts yet to be played out. These are not always as complete and clear as we would like, however, and many times they leave us with more questions than answers. A problem we have always encountered, as finite beings seeking to perceive the Infinite, is how to approach prophetic proclamations and passages (which are often highly figurative in nature) so as to best understand their divine intent. This is where one's hermeneutic, one's specific approach within that field of scholarly endeavor known as the Art and/or Science of Biblical Interpretation, becomes a vital part of arriving at one's understandings and subsequent theology. Over the centuries a number of principles and guidelines have been developed to help us in our efforts to better understand these prophetic utterances and writings, as well as qualities that one should possess (and not possess) as a hermeneutist whose understandings are worthy of being taken seriously (Reflections #53: "Building Biblical Hermeneutists").
"It is principally those portions of the prophetic Scriptures which forecast the future that call for special hermeneutics. Being exceptional in their character, they demand exceptional study and care in interpretation" [Dr. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 407]. "All those instructions given to the world by the prophets which include prediction have many peculiarities which require special attention at the hands of the interpreter" [Dr. Clinton Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, p. 198]. This is no insignificant matter, either. "According to the calculations of J. Barton Payne, there are 8352 verses with predictive material in them out of 31,124 verses in the whole Bible: a staggering 27% of the Bible that deals with predictions about the future, even though the function of foretelling is less prominent as a feature among the prophets than that of forthtelling. The only books without any predictive material are Ruth and Song of Songs in the OT, and Philemon and 3 John in the NT. The other 62 books of the Bible are all represented in one or more of the 737 separate prophetic topics gathered together by Payne" [Drs. Kaiser & Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning, p. 139-140]. Since few deny that "we all approach the text as the products of our backgrounds, experiences, and previous understandings" [ibid, p. 142], it becomes imperative that we prepare ourselves for our approach to Scripture with the proper hermeneutical training.
This current issue of Reflections is not the proper place (nor is there sufficient time or space) for a thorough examination of the interpretive guidelines pertaining to biblical prophecy. However, in view of the specific topic I wish to address in this article, we will note a few of the pertinent principles. There is quite often found in biblical prophecies what is known as the "Double Sense of Prophecy." It is also characterized as the "Multiple Sense" and/or the "Multiple Fulfillment" nature of some prophecies found in the Scriptures. "A distinctive characteristic of prophecy is that it often looks forward not simply to a single event or person. ... Many prophecies have a manifold number of applications or fulfillments as the means for ensuring that that word is kept alive while we await the climactic fulfillment. ... Therefore, we affirm that there is 'multiple fulfillment.' ... Each fulfillment is thus at once a partial realization of what had been promised and a continuation of the word pointing to the future climactic fulfillment" [ibid, p. 157-158]. Dr. Grant R. Osborne concurs, characterizing this as "the progressive nature of prophecy." He notes "the 'multiple fulfillment' of passages like Daniel 9:27; 11:31 and 12:11 (the 'abomination which makes desolate'). The prophecy was originally fulfilled when Antiochus Epiphanes forced the Jews to sacrifice pigs on the altars and entered the Holy of Holies in 167 B.C. However, it was fulfilled again in the destruction of Jerusalem and will be fulfilled a final time in the end-time events (Mark 13:14 and parallels; compare Rev. 13:14)" [The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, p. 213]. There are many such "multiple fulfillment" prophecies in the Bible, and I'm sure most of you are quite familiar with a good many of them.
It is also very important to keep in mind that virtually all biblical prophecies had a primary purpose and fulfillment that would have been specifically relevant to and impactive upon the people who first heard them. This is often completely overlooked by those who seek to understand these prophetic passages of Scripture (both OT and NT). This most certainly does not mean these prophecies may not also have a secondary or parallel fulfillment, but it is vital that the biblical student seek out the primary fulfillment first. For example: Isaiah 7:14 obviously has been used to refer to the Messiah, and rightly so (as Matthew 1:22-23 points out). However, if one views this Messianic fulfillment as the only fulfillment of this prophecy, then one completely overlooks the message that was initially being conveyed to King Ahaz. What was the more immediate fulfillment? Was there some truth being conveyed to the king for that time and situation? Of course there was. Another example is Psalm 16:10. In Acts 2:27 we again see that this refers to Jesus. But, the initial prophecy was for David. What fulfillment did it have for him?! At times the secondary fulfillment is better known to us today than the initial fulfillment, yet both are just as valid. And there may even be further fulfillments of some prophecies yet to come. These are all factors that must be discerned and weighed as we seek to understand biblical prophecy.
With regard to biblical prophecy, and especially with respect to NT "end times" matters (Christian eschatology), there is a perspective among a good many disciples (and this view goes all the way back to the Early Church Fathers) that these prophecies have for the most part, if not entirely, already been fully and finally fulfilled in the first century (primarily in 70 A.D. with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple). This is known as "Preterism" (from the Latin, meaning "gone by"). There are many versions of this theological perspective, but the two primary ones are: (1) Partial Preterism = the older of the two views, which maintains that most of the end time prophecies were fulfilled in the first century (70 A.D.), although they will concede a still future coming of Jesus, a physical resurrection of the dead, a Day of Judgment, and a new heavens and earth. (2) Full Preterism = ALL end time prophecies (including the book of Revelation) were fully and finally fulfilled in the first century (70 A.D.), including the resurrection of the dead and the Parousia (the second coming of Jesus Christ). The "second coming" of the Lord is past: it occurred in 70 A.D. when He came in judgment on Jerusalem. There is no future physical resurrection of the dead; no literal "new heavens and earth." All of this happened in the first century, and was primarily figurative and spiritual in nature, rather than literal and material. Many today (as well as in the past) regard this version of Preterism as heretical, although it is gaining in popularity at present (even within the Churches of Christ); I have a number of friends who have embraced this view, some of whom are pastors, and they are constantly seeking to convince me that their convictions are consistent with Truth.
I can state unequivocally that I am NOT a "Full Preterist." I do not agree with that point of view. It is inconsistent with my understanding of the book of Revelation (not to mention the rest of Scripture), and it is completely inconsistent with my views on the nature of man and the eternal destinies of both the redeemed and the wicked. Thus, I simply can't reconcile the "Full Preterist" position with my present understanding of God's Word and Will. On the other hand, the view known as "Partial Preterism" is generally conceded by most biblical scholars and historians to be fairly "orthodox," as it tends to affirm the major items of the Ecumenical Creeds of the Church, as well as the key doctrines of Christendom (a still future Parousia of Christ Jesus and a bodily resurrection of the dead on "that day," the new heavens and earth, a final judgment and punishment of the wicked, and the like). Their primary emphasis theologically and eschatologically is simply that the 70 A.D. event was far more spiritually significant than the church has traditionally realized, and that this event was the primary fulfillment of "end time" prophecies. I don't fully grasp all aspects of this view, because, frankly, I have not studied it that thoroughly, so I suspect there are a number of aspects of this view with which I would differ. However, I admit that I am in agreement with a good number of its primary points (as best as I presently understand those points). I would agree, for example, that Matthew 24 most certainly has the events of 70 A.D. in view. I would also agree with the "Partial Preterist" view that this prophetic passage also has (secondarily) a yet future application (thus making it relevant, and anticipatory in prospect, for us today as well). On the other hand, I believe the book of Revelation was written around 96 A.D., and thus was never intended to be prophetic of the fall of Jerusalem or the destruction of the temple (indeed, the word "temple" never appears in Revelation; that structure had already been destroyed when John penned this revelation from the Lord). Therefore, I would probably not be considered a really good "Partial Preterist," even though I am far more sympathetic with their views than those of the "Full Preterists" (with whom I have very little agreement).
Preterism and Conditionalism
The study of Christian eschatology has always interested me, and I have even taught some classes on the subject, several of which have been recorded and made available to the public: (1) The Book of Revelation: An In-Depth Reflective Study, (2) Encouragement for the End Times: An In-Depth Study of the Epistles of Peter, and (3) The Nature of Man: His Eternal Destiny. My newest book (From Ruin To Resurrection) also deals extensively with this topic. In these studies I have offered my understanding of "the end times" and how our God plans to deal with both the redeemed and the unredeemed. The view that I hold, after 30 years of intense study, is known as "Conditionalism," which stands in stark contrast to the traditional view of man's nature and his ultimate eternal disposition. Simply stated: man is mortal by nature (not inherently immortal), yet there is a promise of a future resurrection at which time we, who are in Christ, shall be changed and given immortality. Our life is in Him, and apart from Him there is no life. The redeemed will dwell upon "the new earth," and the unredeemed will experience "the second death" (an execution) from which there will never, ever be a resurrection. The traditional view, on the other hand, teaches we possess "an immortal soul" that cannot ever die. Therefore, God, being unable to terminate the unredeemed, will instead torture them forever and ever! "Eternal Death," in the traditional view, is really "Eternal Life" in torment. I do not believe this view is biblical, and, frankly, regard it as, in many ways, blasphemous. Again, for those who may wish to read in far greater detail my understanding on this, I would urge a study of the above mentioned materials where I provide the biblical basis for my views. You may also find my debate with one who holds the traditional view to be enlightening: The Maxey-Thrasher Debate: "The Eternal Destiny of the Wicked: Perpetual Torment or Ultimate Extinction?"
A reader in Tennessee recently wrote to me, saying, "Dear Bro. Maxey, I am in agreement fundamentally with your views expressed in your materials. I am also familiar with Edward Fudge's book ("The Fire That Consumes") and his position on this topic. I would like to know if you have seriously investigated how your position fares with a Preterist view of eschatology." In response to this reader I would say that Conditionalism fares well with those who hold to Partial Preterism, but it is completely at the opposite end of the theological and eschatological spectrum when compared and contrasted with Full Preterism. I have already, in the course of this current Reflections, mentioned some of the points of contrast. Conditionalism is based on future fulfillment of certain prophetic passages in both OT and NT writings, while Preterism is based on past fulfillment of those same prophetic passages. Thus, the two views could not be further apart. Since "Partial Preterism" accepts that these biblical texts may well have future application and fulfillment (even though they believe these passages primarily focus on 70 A.D.), Conditionalist understandings are not necessarily discounted out of hand, but rather relegated to the realm of "secondary" application. I would agree that many of the passages in question do indeed look to 70 A.D. for their fulfillment (although I disagree that the book of Revelation does so), yet I would disagree with the view that the future resurrection of the dead, and the "Second Coming" of the Lord, and the new heavens and earth, and the putting on of immortality for the redeemed, and the ultimate destruction of the unredeemed, is in any way "secondary" (in importance) to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Although the latter was most certainly a spiritually significant event, it nevertheless pales in comparison with what is yet to come.
This reader from Tennessee also posed a few other questions in his email to me, all of which are dealt with extensively in my above referenced materials on this topic. However, let me share the following one. He wrote, "I suppose that you would argue, as would Edward Fudge, that unending conscious torment of the soul is cruel punishment for a loving Creator. In addition, since a soul is not immortal, it does not make sense, or even seem possible, that it would be endlessly tormented." Men do not possess a "living soul," they are a "living soul/being." So also are other life forms (the phrase "living soul/being" is also used in the Bible of animals; in fact, it is used this way about seven times more often than of men). Man is not inherently immortal (God alone possesses immortality - 1 Timothy 6:16), but in the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10) we find that those who embrace God's gift of His Son in faith will be given immortality "on that day." If the wicked, on the other hand, are not given this gift of immortality, then the "second death" is just that: death, not life. The punishing (the dying), the executing, of the wicked will be horrific (any execution is), but the punishment (result) will be a termination of life, a death from which there will be NO future resurrection. They are gone; they no longer exist; and this state will endure forever. For just as long as the saved are alive, the lost are dead; both states (being & nonbeing) are everlasting. Our God is not a cruel torturer; He does not bestow immortality upon the wicked so that He might torture them without end. He IS, however, a just God, and this requires that all that is unholy be dealt with once and for all. This He will do on that day by removing all evil, and evildoers, from His presence, and since He is everywhere, evil and evildoers will be nowhere! "The present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:7). "But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells" (vs. 13). All that opposed Him is forever gone; all that remains is all that is good! This is just! "Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell away, severity, but to you, God's kindness" (Romans 11:22).
Attack Sermon by Victor M. Eskew
There have been a number of preachers over the years who have chosen to devote their Sunday sermons to exposing my work as "false teaching," and even to go after my family and me as "heretics and apostates." Every now and then someone will inform me of these (although I imagine a good number occur that I don't even know about). The other day I received a notice on Facebook that a preacher in Florida had decided to devote 24 minutes of his Sunday evening lesson to an article I had written last November titled "Regulating the Redeemed: What is Paul's Intent in 2 Timothy 2:5?" (Reflections #708). The preacher, whom I have never met, nor had I ever heard of before, is Victor M. Eskew, a graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching (one of the most ultra-conservative, legalistic of the schools of preaching in Churches of Christ). Even the radical publication "Contending for the Faith" has gone after them (more particularly: their leaders) in recent years. Victor preaches for the Oceanside Church of Christ in Atlantic Beach, Florida. His rant against me, and against my work, is recorded and posted to YouTube, and may be watched by Clicking Here. This was a Q&A evening at Victor's congregation (once a month, apparently, he will devote the evening sermon to answering questions that members have submitted to him). He dealt with two questions on the evening of March 5, 2017, the second of which was devoted to my above referenced article (although his comments quickly departed from anything written in the article, devolving instead into a rabid rant on what he assumed I believe and teach). It is a shocking, sickening display of pastoral arrogance and theological confusion. It is so far "out there" that it is almost humorous to watch and listen to (although some informed me they simply couldn't bring themselves to watch it to the end for it was making them physically ill). It is a perfect display of why I have devoted my life to helping people see legalism for what it is, and helping them to become liberated from that deadly bondage. Although my work is appreciated by those set free, it is greatly UNappreciated by those doing the enslaving, as you will see in this video of Victor's sermon. I urge everyone to pray for this man, that his eyes may be opened; please pray also, and especially, for those who are being influenced by his teaching.
Hugh Fulford Responds to Reflections #720
[From Hugh's email to me dated Friday, May 26, 2017]
Al, I no longer read your Reflections. You have nothing new to offer in your effort to defend a denominational concept of the church and denominational perversions of the scheme of redemption, New Testament worship, and various points re: New Testament doctrine and faithful Christian living. I see no sense in continuing to waste my time by reading your repetitious diatribes against New Testament Christianity. However, I did read your article: "Perplexing a Puritanical Patternist." But, nothing has changed. Same ol' same ol'. Your obtuseness re: New Testament teaching is amazing and your verbosity in responding to a brief article is overwhelming.
You flatter yourself when you indicate at the beginning of your paragraph six that I had you in mind when I added an observation to the Cecil May, Jr. quote. I did not have you in mind at all. First, I do not consider you a Bible scholar. Second, I specifically had in mind the former (now retired) Chairman of the Division of Religious Studies of Pepperdine University. However, you and various other assorted liberals and progressives have felt the full impact of my writings and continue to struggle to try to answer them.
You again say nothing new in your effort to refute my article. In addition to not grasping the New Testament concept of the church, you obviously have done little reading in F. D. and F. B. Srygley, Cled Wallace, G. C. Brewer, and others. Have you ever read Charles Chumley's excellent little tract: "You Can Be A Christian Without Ever Joining Any Denomination"? It was written in the 1960s and widely distributed. Brother Chumley preached for some three decades for the Granny White church adjoining the campus of Lipscomb University, and his tract was widely distributed. You would do well to read it, and also the far more extensive works of the Srygleys, Wallace, Brewer, et al.
I will continue to uphold apostolic Christianity and the New Testament way, while you will continue to try to defend denominationalism and aberrations of the New Testament way. Keep up your reviews of my articles! I appreciate the coverage you give my writings. But, as I said to a mutual reader of both your "Reflections" and my "News & Views," after he had sent me a note about this latest "effort" of yours -- "Poor Al. He is a case."
From a Reader in Oregon:
I don't know if you remember me, but I corresponded with you many years ago. At the time I was a preacher in the Churches of Christ in California. I have since left that group following a crisis of faith that nearly ended in suicide. I am now free, though: free from the fear-based confines of my former legalism. Your writings and words were a part of that journey to freedom. Today a post of yours just happened to show up in my feed, and I was reminded of you and just wanted to reach out and say hello. I went from ultra-conservative to "liberal," I suppose, but I believe that I am now following Truth alone, rather than the comfort of dogma and legalistic doctrine. Thank You for being willing, at great personal risk, to courageously step out there publicly. You have emboldened many of us who needed to see someone else do it first. Thank you for being a strong leader. Thank you for caring more about what is right than your own reputation and comfort. One other thing: I have found that I no longer believe in hell (that is to say: the traditional view of hell as a place of everlasting torment following death). What are your thoughts on this? Have you written any articles on the subject?
I have indeed written on this topic. I too have rejected the traditional view of God endlessly torturing those who are cast into the lake of fire (the second death). I believe it is one of the most horrendous, and even blasphemous, doctrines embraced by disciples of Christ. That view is NOT what the Bible teaches. I have studied extensively on this topic for over 35 years, and have written a great deal about it, as well as taught classes on it. For those who might be interested in hearing the latter, I have a two CD set titled "The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny," which contains all twenty of my Sunday morning classes (MP3 files, each lesson being about 45-50 minutes in length) and all twenty-five of my in-depth handouts. I also have a published debate on this topic: The Maxey-Thrasher Debate: "The Eternal Destiny of the Wicked: Perpetual Torment or Ultimate Extinction?" I have 27 Reflections articles on this which may be found on my Topical Index web site under the heading "Conditionalism." Last, my newest book is on this subject, with a Foreword written by Edward Fudge. It is over 300 pages in length, and is titled "From Ruin to Resurrection." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Washington:
I come from a traditional Non-Institutional Church of Christ background (even attended Florida College), and so thirty years ago I would have considered myself "apostate" if I even looked at, much less read, any of your articles!! Now, I find that I must challenge all of the standard beliefs and arguments that I was raised with, because much of that old teaching is opposed to salvation "by grace through faith." My oldest sister married into a family even more strict than mine, and all of their children are extremely legalistic and heavily CENI influenced. One of my nieces now wants to debate me because of some positive comments I have made about your work. I try not to get baited into debates anymore; we come from such different viewpoints now that it is almost pointless (as it would have been with me thirty years ago). Thanks again for your efforts, Al. They are not wasted!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I hope this finds you and yours in great shape. I bought your book "Down, But Not Out" years ago, but later loaned it out, and ... vamoose. So, I would like to order another signed copy, and please send a second copy also (I'm getting a spare this time!!). May God bless you continually.
From an Author/Publisher in Nevada:
Al, your article "Perplexing A Puritanical Patternist: A List of Things that Baffle Militant Legalists" (Reflections #720) is perhaps the finest review of the nature and scope of legalism to surface for some time!! I am making copies of it and handing them out to our Wednesday evening study group. Legalism is, without a doubt, the worst invention perpetrated in the name of religion of all time! In your article you have defined the parameters of that strictly man-made system very well. It is very much spiritually debilitating. Those who espouse legalism are truly stunted in their spiritual growth as a Christian, almost always placing their doctrinal system over heartfelt relationships with people made in God's image. The components of legalism (patternism, "one true" interpretations, punctiliar thinking, and doctrinal systems which make up an unwritten creed) are strictly of man. Legalism's phylacteries and long fringes do not cover a mind that refuses to entertain alternative views. Legalists have traded their humanity for a bag of humanly-devised doctrines that do not make them better people. This issue of your Reflections, brother, should be spread and shared far and wide!! It is imperative for people like you and me to see that legalism in our generation is kicked down the road to hell where it belongs. It has destroyed many minds and relationships.
From an Author in Kentucky:
Al, you wrote in your last Reflections ("Perplexing A Puritanical Patternist") of the evident problem Hugh Fulford, et. al., have in distinguishing between the Church of Christ universal and the Church of Christ denomination. I understand this difficulty Hugh has, because I too once suffered under the same delusion! It was only when I realized what I was doing that I truly realized what was wrong with this thinking, after which the whole Non-Institutional/Legalistic "house of cards" began to crumble for me. We "slip a cog" because of the assumption that we (the Church of Christ denomination) are the one and only, fully restored, 100% genuine New Testament church. Since the original first century church contained all the saved, then WE, the restored first century church, must also contain all the saved on the earth today. The essential problem with this idea is that those who accept this thinking institutionalize the church, perhaps not intentionally, but in fact nevertheless. In doing this, people take control of a relationship between God and the saved, people known only to Him, and attempt to standardize it according to our own understanding and interpretation of what "the church" must be. Thanks for all you do, brother.
From an Author in Arizona:
Al, my brother, there is so very much in your article "Perplexing A Puritanical Patternist" that is "right up my alley" = reality in its purest form, such as this statement you wrote: "It is not enough that they be free to live according to their own beliefs, they soon insist that others live by them as well. In the end, the liberty they demand for themselves, they simply are not willing to grant unto others. In their view, they (and they alone) are right in the sight of God, and all others are wrong (i.e., 'godless apostates')." Al, this pretty well describes many of us, myself included, in our adolescent days as we strove to "preach the Truth" to anyone who was not wearing the religious garments WE were wearing. But, praise the Lord, His grace and Spirit rescued us! Soldier on, brother!
From a Minister/Author in California:
Just read "Perplexing A Puritanical Patternist." I "marvel" at Fulford's "Hugh/hue and cry" over petty opinions and fixed faux dogma. Shudder.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I hope you have even a small idea of how much I appreciate your work!! In your last Reflections you wrote, "If people would just take some time, with open minds, and study the material." I think this statement goes to the very heart of the problem we have had in Christian circles. There was a time we did not have access to the enormous amount of material available for our learning, and so we learned to believe and trust those who taught us about God. We get too busy, and, as is so often the case, those of us employed or focused outside of "official" church preparation find it too easy to learn on the surface. Your Reflections came at a perfect time to open the minds of so many around the world, and with people like Bro. ----- (my mentor from childhood) knowing of you and your work, and sending people your way, the message of Truth is getting out. The humor I find in our past is that preachers and elders have encouraged the young to open and read their Bibles regularly, yet when some actually started doing so, and arriving at convictions different from those of these elders and preachers, the latter immediately shut down such independence of study and strongly "corrected" these young people, effectively putting an end to "unsupervised" personal study. Love you, brother, for what you do!
From a Reader in Georgia:
I'm really encouraged that you wrote this piece ("Perplexing A Puritanical Patternist"). I have long thought that instead of throwing rocks at each other, we should just lay out what we disagree on and then try to work through those items as best we can, realizing that on many of our differences we have an obligation to follow our individual consciences, and allow others to do the same. We are, in fact, responsible only for our own individual decisions and actions, not those of the entire congregation. Praise God! The problem with achieving this, however, is the dogmatic and arrogant nature of those who hold to a form of Christianity that more closely resembles the Law of Moses. Once one establishes in their mind that the perfect keeping of the law is necessary to earn one's salvation, then the "right" decisions MUST be made. To change one's mind on something is not easy to do when one considers how many the change would condemn who no longer have the opportunity to "correct their mistake." Those who have "passed on" are now seemingly condemned to hell because they lived "in error" on some issue. I simply can't imagine living under such a legalistic system of religion. If God's grace isn't sufficient, then we're all doomed! No one can be that perfect, and no one I know who argues for "keeping the law" will ever tell me how accurate one must be to get a passing grade!! Keep up the good work, and keep proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
From an Elder in Pennsylvania:
Happy Memorial Day, Al. I salute you and thank you for your military service. I am still going through your Reflections on what baffles the Puritanical patternists. The opening quote you used is spot on ("The Puritan's idea of Hell is a place where everybody has to mind his own business"). Having read your response to Hugh Fulford's "Baffling Thing #5," I wonder how he would respond to the following statement of mine: "As followers of Jesus we are saved by Grace alone, through Faith alone, with Christ alone as our only hope for salvation to the glory of God alone." I too refer to Ephesians 2:8-9, but I always add verse 10 in order to completely manifest the relationships of grace, faith, and good works to salvation and each other. The Greek (and English) prepositions leave us no doubt: Grace as the only basis or foundation of salvation (the atoning work of God in Christ), Faith the only means of salvation by which we receive this gracious gift of God, and our Good Works as a result, and only a result, of our grateful "no-strings-attached" free response to a lifelong fruitful partnership with God. Words cannot express how grateful I am to God (and you by association) for your encouraging ministry!! To God be the glory!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
As I sit here with tears in my eyes listening to our "National Anthem" and "Taps," while President Trump places the wreath at the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier," I can't help but remember my own son's burial at a military cemetery in Virginia. I also think about you and your service in combat in Vietnam, and of your granddaughter currently sailing into harm's way in the South China Sea aboard the USS Carl Vinson. That has to tug at your heart, both with pride and trepidation! I have to wonder if the Father experiences those same feelings? I'm pretty confident He does. I was also thinking about your last Reflections ("Perplexing A Puritanical Patternist"), and of Hugh Fulford and his ilk, and wondering how in the world these people, who are supposed to be schooled in biblical teaching, can get so screwed up in their thinking! They use the argument, "If it isn't written in the Bible, then it's a sin to observe it." The "law of silence," they say. I find it interesting that there is mention made of only one apostle baptized after the resurrection of Jesus, and that is the apostle Paul. Since the Scriptures are SILENT about any of the others being baptized, I suppose that means they weren't, right? "Silence prohibits," right?! So I guess they don't get into Heaven, right? I'm so sick of all this legalistic crap, brother!! Their "law of silence" just makes them look stupid. Oh, well. Thank you, Al, for your service in Vietnam! May God bless you.
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