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by Al Maxey

Issue #769 ------- March 27, 2019
For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.

Isaiah 28:20 [English Standard Version]

Procrustean Bed Theology
Sectarian Stretchings and Severings

I recently came across an interesting cartoon (see at left) and accompanying Dr. Seussian-like poem on the Internet: "My name is Ned. I do not like my little bed. This is not good. This is not right. My feet stick out of bed all night. And when I pull them in, oh dear! My head sticks out of bed up here! 'Relax, relax,' Procrustes said, and stashed his ax behind my bed. 'You may be short, you may be tall. But rest assured, one size fits all.'" I have no idea who penned this little poem, but it depicts a radical theological perspective all too common within Christendom. It reflects the misguided quest to conform all men everywhere 'til the end of time to a humanly inferred inflexible legal pattern. Salvation and fellowship fully depend, according to this view, on every person, regardless of time or place, conforming completely to the parameters of this pattern. Of course, few legalistic patternists agree on just how long and wide this "bed" should be: each little sect has its own measurements by which one is deemed fit for fellowship and secure in salvation. Each sect maintains militantly that the theological measurements of its "bed" cannot be altered, thus people must be altered to fit the bed, which involves a lot of stretching and/or chopping to achieve the desired "fit" upon this "bed." This is nothing other than sectarian uniformity masquerading as spiritual unity. It is a radical reforming of individuals to the set parameters of a sect's religious dogma, which history has shown can be both brutal and bloody!

It is unthinkable to such hardened sectarians that perhaps it is the bed that needs to be reformed, rather than the one reclining upon it. They would much rather stretch or sever one's limbs than modify the bed in any way. Jesus came to shake up the system, and the "righteous" of His day went ballistic, for He shifted the focus from the bed to the believer. This is seen dramatically in His teaching about the Sabbath and man's relationship to it. Jesus refused time and again to submit to the traditional parameters of Jewish Sabbath observance. Jesus, frankly, did not "fit" on this "bed." He was hanging off both ends, and the self-righteous religionists were more than willing to sever both head and feet of the Savior to make Him conform to their personal and party preferences and practices. Jesus, however, had this to say to them: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). I really like the way the New Living Translation has rendered this statement by our Lord: "The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath." Simply stated, Jesus is telling us that the bed can be adjusted to fit the needs of the people. His people take priority. It is their needs that constitute ultimate divine concern. Jesus came to remake the bed, and rigid religionists have lost a lot of sleep over it.

Jesus did not come preaching and teaching sectarian uniformity; He came preaching and teaching spiritual unity, and there is a world of difference between the two. The latter leaves room for unity in diversity, whereas the former regards such diversity among believers as anathema. One must fit perfectly upon their bed in order to be fit for fellowship with them, and in order to enter that eternal rest with Him, or so they insist. Their "gospel," however, is far from the "good news" our Lord proclaimed. The gospel of the sectarians is that "one size must fit all," and it is they, of course, who determine the parameters of that "one size" (and if someone is longer or shorter than that one size, then some chopping and stretching is required). The gospel of the Savior, however, is that God's grace is not limited; it embraces all sizes! "Come as you are, for in Me you fit." You and I may not "fit" on any of the world's religious racks, for we are truly diverse on a number of levels (believers come in all "sizes" and "shapes"), but these are not a consideration when our Creator calls His creation to come to Him for "rest." His "bed" can handle any and every size and shape. We don't have to be clones of any one particular theological perspective. You and I can be as different as night and day, yet IN HIM we both find redemption's sweet rest.

In the poem at the beginning of this article a name appeared with which many of you may be unfamiliar: "Procrustes." Who is this person, and what possible connection does he have with the topic at hand? According to Greek mythology, Procrustes (a name meaning "he who stretches") was a notorious bandit living in Attica (some versions of the account say it was in the vicinity of Eleusis). He had constructed an iron bed that was contoured perfectly to his own proportions. This bandit would not only rob his victims, but he also often captured them and tied them to his iron bed. Since he viewed himself as possessing the perfect physical proportions, thus regarding himself as the ultimate standard, he determined to "adjust" his victims to the "correct" physical stature. "If a victim was shorter than the bed, he stretched him by hammering or racking the body to fit. Alternatively, if the victim was longer than the bed, he cut off the legs of the victim to make the body fit the bed's length. In either event, the victim died" [The Encyclopedia Britannica]. According to this same source, the "bed of Procrustes," or the "Procrustean bed," soon became "proverbial for arbitrarily, and perhaps ruthlessly, forcing someone or something into an unnatural scheme or pattern" [ibid]. Other sources, such as the Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology and The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, state that this phrase, used metaphorically, "is any artificial means of measure that has no relation to the real meaning of a phenomenon; any forcibly imposed limitation." It refers to an arbitrary standard of measure imposed on others without regard to any objective truth. "A plan or scheme to produce uniformity or conformity by arbitrary or violent measures. A scheme or pattern into which someone or something is arbitrarily forced. A standard that is enforced uniformly without regard to individuality."

Let's be boldly blunt here: there are those within Christendom, and there always have been, who believe they and they alone (either individually or as a group) have perceived "the pattern" to which all men must conform and comply if they would be saved. This "pattern" consisting of rules and regulations and practices (largely associated with the "worship service" and "church organization and mission") is the Procrustean Bed of these rigid religionists and staunch sectarians. THEY, and they alone, "fit the bed" perfectly; thus, all others fall short of or go well beyond these parameters, and are thereby forever damned to a fiery Hell. The only way to "save" these apostates is to "stretch 'em" or "slice 'em" until they "fit" the pattern. Not a pleasant prospect, needless to say! Some of you have experienced such misery from the hands of sectarians as they strapped you to their Procrustean Bed; others reading this may still be on there. This is NOT what our Lord offers those seeking a relationship with Him. "Come to Me ... and I will give you rest. ... Learn from Me, for I am gentle, ... and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29). Our Redeemer offers us spiritual REST, not a sectarian RACK. If you are being sliced and diced and stretched to "fit" some arbitrary religious "pattern," then you need to flee from such Procrusteans as quickly as you can! They are NOT of God!! There are NO Procrustean beds within the household of our Father. In the Family of God you don't have to be my identical twin to be my brother! There is great diversity in our spiritual unity, and this oneness of many diverse members is by divine design. It is when some men proclaim that the One Body is an ear, or an eye, or a hand, or a foot that we find fatal dysfunction. I would plead with those of you reading this who find yourself in such a legalistic, patternistic group, and who are being forced to lie upon such a bed to be reshaped to some group's "pattern," to RUN, not walk, as far away from such false teaching as you can get! This "wisdom" does not come from above, and the path you are urged to take leads away from Life eternal.


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Readers' Reflections

From a Professor at Texas A&M University:

Al, I go to your Reflections often for all kinds of information. Recently, while searching for information on John 10:16, I consulted issues #57, #88, #560, #593, and #644, all of which provided useful material. In issue #88 ("The Bible Used by Paul: Analysis of the King James Version") you wrote how the KJV used "fold" in both places instead of the correct "flock" in one of them. You then added: "The NIV makes the same mistake here, by the way." On examining the NIV, I found the mistake was only made in the 1973 edition. The correct wording is found in all the editions of the NIV since that date. In fact, I've found many things that were questioned in earlier editions of the NIV (items suggested by Jack P. Lewis, for example) that have been corrected/accepted in the later editions. The NIV web site asks for input from readers: i.e., suggested corrections and/or changes for consideration in new editions. I think the goal is to update this version about every 5-8 years (most active translation committees have similar policies). I thought my comment on John 10:16 would be of interest to you, even though it is not a big deal in my mind. Thanks so much for your articles, Al. Just like so many others who respond to your work in your "Readers' Reflections" section, I find your articles thought-provoking, useful, easy reading, outstandingly written, timely, covering many subjects, and just plain fun!

From a Reader in Texas:

I think I remember you speaking to the issue of women serving Communion. If so, would you please let me know. We are having a discussion about that here and I would love to have your input. Thanks!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Hello from NC, Al. I haven't been in touch with you for years, and I'm sure that I have asked this of you in the past, but I can't seem to remember where your article is about suicide. I've looked through your Reflections Archives, but to no avail since you have almost a thousand studies there. So, I thought it would be easier just to ask you again. Also, and I've asked this before, I'm sure: are your CD's audio or video? Thanks, Al. I appreciate your time!

From a Reader in Unknown:

Dear Brother Maxey, I wrote to you quite awhile back concerning questions I had on baptism, and I thank you so much for your quick response! I have been a member of the "Church of Christ" since I was 17, and I am now 75. I think baptism is one of the most disputed topics in the Bible. I am convinced that someone is wrong in what they are teaching on this, and I am further convinced that it is US. I admit that in my earlier years I was guilty of not feeding on the Word daily for understanding and strength in my walk with God. However, through real study (not just reading the Bible through in a year) I have grown so much. Yet, I'm not able to reveal my growth on certain matters in the congregation where I attend. These are wonderful, loving people, but they are sooo set in their traditions. Brother Maxey, your writings have encouraged me so much over the years, and I just pray that someday I can step forward boldly about my beliefs, just as you have! May God bless you!

From a Reader in California:

Al, thank you so much for this Reflections ("Baptized Into Moses: Cloud/Sea Immersion Symbol" - Reflections #768). I think the crossing of the Red Sea is an excellent metaphor for baptism because it hits several items that are very important. To this day, the Jews (Orthodox and Conservative) baptize converts so that they might symbolically cross the Red Sea together with the Israelites of old. The old Church of Christ obsession with "the exact moment" of conversion is rather bizarre, however such a view is inevitable if one views baptism in water as a sacrament. I can see how they arrived at their intellectual destination, but they went down the wrong path! What I keep coming back to is: God is beyond time and space. So, when we mortals obsess over something like "exact moments," God either chuckles at our silliness or is angered by our presumption. To try and limit God to time and space is not honoring Him. Thank you very much for your writing ministry, brother. I have been greatly uplifted by it for many years!

From an Author in Arizona:

"Baptized Into Moses" is excellent, my brother! So plain, and so expressively written. No honest and receptive heart could misunderstand it. In fact, I am setting aside a section of your article to share in my next issue of "Reformation Rumblings." Blessings to you, brother.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Thanks for this article, Al. "Baptized Into Moses" is very illuminating. I am drawn again to the unique usage by Paul of such expressions as "baptized into Moses" and "baptized into Christ." It is interesting that three times Paul uses the word "spiritual" in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4. I think this is exactly the import of these verses, and that this baptism is spiritual in nature. Similarly, Mark 16:16 may well be an "hendiadys" (two thoughts converged into one), such as "he ate and swallowed" or "don't eat and run." This may well be the idea being conveyed in Galatians 3:26-27 also. God bless you, Al.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Great insight, Al (in "Baptized Into Moses"). It seems this passage by Paul and the one by Peter in 1 Peter 3:21, both of which are often used as "proof-texts" that baptism in water is salvific, fall on their face. Also, the only people who truly got immersed in water in both of these accounts (Noah and the flood; Moses and the Red Sea) were the bad people ... and they died!

From a Reader in Pennsylvania:

I don't always agree with you, Al, but I am always challenged by you. You truly go where angels fear to tread!!

From a Reader in Canada:

You are absolutely right, Al. We have made the message of God's revelation hard to understand by all the human additions that Jesus called "traditions of men" -- traditions which actually inhibit people from understanding the Truth. Surely William Tyndale had it right when he said he wanted to translate the Bible into English so plain that a plowboy could understand it. Indeed! I deeply appreciate all that you do for our many brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Messiah.

From a Reader in Missouri:

Excellent indeed ("Baptized Into Moses")! Here's another interesting symbol: prior to being able to form Adam from the clay from which he was made, that clay had to be made wet. In my mind, this is the first symbol of baptism, and it certainly is the foundational allegory for being "born again."

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