Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #806 -- September 6, 2020
New occasions teach new duties;
time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward,
who would keep abreast of Truth.

James Russell Lowell {1819-1891}

Two Old Authors on a Bench
Reflective Response to Robert's Review of
My Insights on Interpretive Methodology

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, was not only a well-known American diplomat, editor, and critic, but also one of the few American romantic poets who actually rivaled the popularity of the British poets of his day. In his work titled "A Fable for Critics," which was published in 1848, Lowell wrote, "I honor the man who is willing to sink half his present repute for the freedom to think; and when he has thought, be his cause strong or weak, will risk the other half for the freedom to speak." I identify quite strongly with these sentiments, and I have repeatedly over the decades placed both my reputation and my position on the line in order to ensure my freedom to think for myself independently of the herd and to speak out on my convictions regarding ultimate Truth. Needless to say, this did not always endear me to some within the religious herd, a few of whom have even strongly opined that I was in need of a "good trampling."

Anyone who dares to think outside the parameters of accepted religious understanding, and anyone who dares to speak out on his/her convictions and to act upon them, becomes an immediate target for aggressive "correction" by those who regard themselves as the divinely appointed watchdogs of the Shepherd's flock. They are quick to find fault with, and even quicker to reject, revile, and rebuke, anything and anyone who doesn't "bleat" as they do. In the same work cited above, Lowell observed, "Nature fits all her children with something to do; he who would write and can't write, can surely review." Anyone who writes successfully, and who is having a powerful positive impact upon his/her readers, will have encountered a good number of these "reviewers" and caustic critics. Some truly mean well (of this I am strongly convinced), but they just don't quite know how to go about offering constructive criticism. Others, however, just as clearly do not mean well, and their reviews and criticisms are thus destructive by design.

I will be perfectly honest here: over the many decades of my public ministry (in all of its various phases) some of my responses to and reviews of the teachings and practices of those who differed with my own understandings were far more destructive than they were constructive. Whether willfully intended or not, I was on occasion part of the "wrecking crew" instead of the "building crew." My guess is that many of you have seen the same within yourselves. It is an easy trap to fall into, and I still find myself doing so far more often than I would like. I can easily relate to the lament of Paul in the final verses of Romans 7. I've been there and will likely make a few "return visits" in the years to come. That said, I nevertheless welcome the challenges and criticisms of my work by others, even though at times I may not like what they say or how they say it. I also realize that such criticisms, especially when they are harsh, can be for me what a waving red cape can be for a bull in the ring. At the same time, I have come to realize over the years that if I am going to presume on occasion to review the teachings and practices of others in light of the Scriptures, then I must expect the same from others with respect to my own teachings and practices. Further, if I expect them to be courteous and respectful with me, then it is only right that I should be the same with them. Thus, I will seek to do just that in this present Reflections as I respond to a review of one of my earlier articles.

It is certainly no secret that I am not a fan of the approach to biblical interpretation often referred to as CENI. For those unfamiliar with this term, it merely refers to a specific interpretive methodology largely embraced by those who have a tendency toward legalism and patternism, the major tenets of which are: Command, Example, Necessary Inference. The primary problem with this one particular interpretive theory is the inherent tendency toward inconsistency with regard to application, especially with respect to the establishment of religious authority. Few disciples have any real argument with the use of divine commands contained in Scripture to ascertain the will of God. The problem arises with how, and to what extent, one employs biblical examples and human inferences to determine and establish binding decrees applicable to all of mankind throughout the ages. Does such selective, subjective use of examples and the accrued assumptions of fallible men have the right to assume the status of regulatory LAW over the disciples of Christ? And just who gets to determine which examples apply? Which person's assumptions and deductions are to be equated with divine decree, and which are not? And, once again, who gets to decide? Each group of patternists and legalists, each sect and faction within Christendom, of course, insists their deductions from Scripture are TRUTH, and that which is inferred and assumed and deduced by others is FALSEHOOD. It doesn't take a genius to see how such a hermeneutical approach to the establishment of one's convictions and practices leads far more frequently to the establishment of sectarian Factions than the building up of the Lord's spiritual Family.

Perhaps some of the greatest, and certainly some of the most godly and biblical, advice ever given comes from the pen of Thomas Campbell. Near the end of 1809 a document was distributed which is known as his "Declaration and Address." Notice in particular the following proposition contained in this lengthy and historically significant document: Proposition Six: "That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God's holy word, yet they are not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church's confession." Campbell knew only too well that if our authority was being established and affirmed, even though only in part, by the inferences, assumptions, and deductions from the Scriptures by fallible men, schism and factions were inevitable. Thus, there is an obvious subjectivism inherent in an interpretive approach to the Scriptures and the establishment of "authority" for our convictions and actions that gives such universal binding power to the mere assumptions and inferences drawn by mere human beings. I have written extensively about the inherent failings of this CENI methodology, and I would refer the reader to just a few of them:

Obviously, the above few studies do not exhaust the articles I've written on the topic, but they merely represent a few examples of just how fallacious the CENI model of biblical interpretive methodology is. For those who want to delve far more deeply into this field of inquiry, I would suggest going to my Topical Index page and perusing the studies I have done under the headings: Law of Silence (30 Reflections articles) ... Patternism (39 Reflections articles) ... Requesting Legalism's List (6 Reflections articles) .... Musical Instruments (20 Reflections articles). May I also recommend my Exchange with Dr. Stafford North on this whole topic, as well as my published debate on the failings of Legalistic Patternism and its CENI interpretive methodology: The Maxey-Broking Debate. This material should more than answer any question or concern anyone might have with respect to my views on what constitutes a more rational and reasonable approach to understanding the Scriptures than the woefully inadequate CENI methodology.

With the above information serving as background and foundation for my views on the matter, let me now turn to those two old authors on a bench (seen in the cartoon at the top of this current Reflections). I found this cartoon online (I'm not sure who originally produced it) and it caught my eye. I guess it could represent my brother-in-Christ Robert Waters and me (although neither of us has yet reached the "old geezer" stage of life). We both, however, have strong convictions when it comes to the Scriptures, our Lord, and the expectations of the latter for us as perceived in the inspired writings. And, as is true with almost all believers, our beliefs and practices often differ. This does not mean one is "right" and the other is "wrong." It doesn't mean one loves the Lord and the other doesn't. It doesn't mean one is fully accepted by the Lord, while the other is a condemned apostate. It just means we differ. You don't have to be my twin to be my brother. It is okay to be different. Robert Waters and I have known each other for decades, and during those years we have exchanged ideas online about our personal perceptions, preferences, and practices. We don't always agree. Part of this is because we have differing understandings about how to approach the Scriptures so as to discern God's will from them, and also how to apply those understandings to our daily lives.

Recently, in a Facebook group made up largely of those within the group denominated "Church of Christ" in the Yellow Pages of the local telephone book, a discussion was generated in response to one of my recent Reflections articles. On August 14th my article titled "Contentiously Contending for Silence: Hermeneutical Muddling by the CFTF Faction" (Reflections #804) was uploaded to several Facebook groups associated with Churches of Christ. On one particular group it triggered quite a discussion, especially from Robert Waters. In the course of his challenge of some of my statements in that article, the topic of our differing approaches to biblical understanding, and how one establishes "authority" for one's practices, came up. Robert feels rather strongly that the CENI methodology is a good one for achieving that goal, whereas I believe that CENI is a flawed methodology which ultimately results in a flawed theology and a fragmented spiritual Family. At one particular point in this discussion, I shared a Reflections article I wrote over 16 years ago: "Suggesting Another Hermeneutic: Inquiry into an Interpretive Methodology" (Reflections #126). In this article I suggested a hermeneutical methodology that I truly believe is far more effective in helping us better understand God's purposes as conveyed within the pages of the inspired writings. In that article I contrasted this other method with CENI, using the issue of musical instruments in worshipful expression as an illustration. I asked Robert to take a look at this study and then show me how this other model is contrary to Truth. Robert wrote a response several days later and posted it on his web site and on this group's Facebook page. It is fairly lengthy, but can be read in its entirety by clicking on this link: Robert Water's Review of Al Maxey's Reflections Article. I would strongly urge the reader, before he/she continues reading my response to Robert's review, to take some time and read what Robert wrote. I will be responding to various things he stated in that article, but obviously my response will make more sense to the reader if he/she knows the context in which his statements were made. I would also urge the reader to read the article I wrote that Robert reviewed. This article written by me ("Suggesting Another Hermeneutic"), and his review of it, will provide the background and context of my response in this present issue of my Reflections.

Robert's review is 16 pages in length (when printed out), and a good portion of that content consists of long quotes from my Reflections article that he was reviewing. A number of the concerns he raises are thoroughly discussed in the above listed articles and debate, all of which are available on my web site in their entirety. Clearly I can't include those hundreds and hundreds of pages here - it would turn this response into a book; thus, in the course of this response, I may at times simply refer the reader to the site where a full response has already been made to some issue or concern raised. In his first paragraph Robert states, "In his paper, Al condemns the idea that where God is silent (regarding our worship) we must be silent, while at the same time contending for the need for authority." We've probably all heard the old saying, "We speak where the Bible speaks, and where the Bible is silent, we are silent." I love the way Rick Atchley phrased it: "We speak where the Bible speaks, and where the Bible is silent, we have a whole lot more to say." Many of those who embrace the CENI interpretive methodology also embrace the so-called "law of silence," which, in their view, is usually said to mean biblical silence is prohibitive. Thus, Robert speaks of the idea (which he says I condemn) "that where God is silent ... we must be silent." Robert is right: I disagree with this. When the Bible is genuinely silent about something, that silence itself neither permits nor prohibits; it neither condones nor condemns. Silence simply means that nothing whatsoever was said about it. In those areas, and there are many, we are left to use the brains God gave us, tempered with our understanding of the principles and precepts that are specified in Scripture, to determine if that about which the Scriptures say nothing is either beneficial or detrimental to His cause and purposes if engaged in or refrained from. It is not that we must be silent; it is that we must evaluate the worth of ALL that we do so that it is consistent with what He has specified.

I have to disagree with this statement by Robert: "CENI is not a hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the science and methodology of interpretation. When one uses CENI he is not attempting to interpret Scripture. CENI is nothing but a commonsense way to establish authority." Hermeneutics has been called many things, the two most common being: "the art and science" of interpretation. Within both "art and science" are various methodologies and principles that aid us in our quest to more fully understand/interpret the text before us. Some, especially those who tend toward legalism and patternism, peruse the sacred writings for rules and regulations (primarily regarding our times of corporate worship). All we do in such settings (and in all of life, they add) must be "authorized." Thus, they seek to establish "authority" for their every action (singing, praying, teaching, Lord's Supper, etc.). Who, what, when and where are the boxes before them that must ever be correctly checked. My "authority" for my life and worship, however, does not come from the Scriptures. My "authority" is found in JESUS; yes, "HE the great example is and pattern for me" (as the hymn says). The 27 writings produced under the new covenant (what some call "the NT") is not regulatory, it is revelatory. It is not a rule book or law book; it is a revealing of the divine nature: of His love, grace, mercy; of His desire to transform us, and of the method He chose to accomplish that purpose. They reveal the very real struggles of mere humans to grasp this grace, and to become transformed into HIS image through the powerful indwelling of His Spirit. Jesus told the rigid religionists of His day that they were "searching the Scriptures" for the wrong reason: "thinking that in them you have eternal life." They were looking for all the rules, the laws, when LIFE stood right before them. Jesus said, "It is these that testify about ME" -- Life is in HIM, not the Scriptures (John 5:39-40).

Our view of these sacred writings will have a huge impact on the methodology we employ to better grasp their content and the relevance of that content to our daily lives. Some search these writings looking for authority for what they must do. I search these writings looking for the Author who shows me what I must be. There is a large expanse between these two perspectives, and this has much to do with the differences seen between Robert and me. This is also why Robert suggests that "when one uses CENI, he is not attempting to interpret Scripture." That simply isn't true, but one can see why he needs to make this distinction. One's "interpretation" (or "understanding") of a text will, almost of necessity, be somewhat subjective in nature, and this raises significant problems for those who see these writings as regulatory, with the ultimate outcome being Life or Death! No room for one's assumptions, or deductions, or interpretations, or (dare I say it) inferences. Yet, the "I" of CENI is that word. CENI is a methodology whereby not only commands of God but assumptions of mere men are used to determine "authority" to act or not act (primarily with respect to a "worship service" - a phrase never found in the Scriptures, by the way). This is why some will argue to their final breath over the regulatory aspects of the Lord's Supper (number of cups, who may pass the trays, may a song be sung during the passing of the trays), how we sing and whether there may be aids or accompaniment, who may teach a class, who may say a prayer, can we have a meal in the building, are kitchens "authorized," and on and on and on!

On page three of his review we read, "While Al, unlike some brethren who hate CENI, does not openly reject authority, he offers what he believes to be a better alternative to the use of CENI, which is THE means of establishing authority." My authority is found IN HIM, my "pattern" is HIM; He is my example. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Love God and love others. It is that simple. Love them and SHOW it. All the petty party particulars over which disciples of Christ fuss and fight and fragment are distractions of the devil; such does not come from God. Can we use a PowerPoint presentation to aid us in our teaching of Truth? Can we use song books to aid us in our singing? Can we use instruments of music to aid and/or accompany our singing of praises unto Him? Sure we can!! There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such peripheral matters associated with service and worship during our journey through life. All of these, in this new era of a new covenant, fall under the umbrella of LOVE, not LAW. If they help you to BE what the Lord has called you to BE, then employ them. If they hinder you from that quest to BE what He has called you to BE, then refrain from them. And remember: one size doesn't fit all; what works for you may not work for them, and vice-versa.

On page four of my printout of Robert's review he wrote, "Many brethren, from the Restoration days until now, have wanted to be like the denominations around them, and this appears to be what Al is seeking to accomplish. Rather than helping others to see the light ... so they can become one of US, many now seek to make US like others in virtually every way." Here we see the inevitable result of legalistic patternism: US versus THEM. We have it all figured out; we employed THE method for establishing "authority." WE are the "one true church" on planet Earth, while all other groups are damned "denominations." WE must show these poor lost souls "the light" so they can become one of US, for only WE are saved; THEY are all damned to eternal torment in a fiery hell. This is absolutely disgusting, and I oppose such heresy with all my being!! It is abominable arrogance, and it makes a farce of the Good News!!

On page six Robert writes that I "reject the command of God to sing." No, I do not. What I reject is those who teach that if one sings with any kind of musical aid or accompaniment then that person is sinning against God and His Word. These aids and accompaniments in no way negate or replace singing. PowerPoint can aid and accompany teaching and preaching, but a piano can't aid or accompany singing?! Seriously, Robert?! Again, I would refer the reader to my article (which Robert reviewed) in which I show the fallacy of the CENI methodology to truly grasp divine intent, and in which I show a methodology which many believe does grasp His grace far better on this matter of musical accompaniment. Later in his paper, Robert says, "The pitch pipe is authorized under the command to sing - it is an aid to help carry out that command." Some would say the same with regard to a guitar or piano. He also wrote, "VBS is authorized under the command to evangelize and teach." I have no problem with VBS. I don't have a problem with Sunday School either. But, there are those in the "anti" wing of our movement who, using this same CENI methodology, condemn both as "UNauthorized." As I propose in my article: there is a better way.

Later in the article Robert stated, "God SPECIFICALLY dealt with the music issue when He instructed Christians to sing." That is simply NOT true. First, those two passages in Paul's epistles don't even refer to a "worship service," as most biblical scholars are well aware. It also fails to note the fact of two audiences: "one another" and God. By overlooking this fact, a skewed view of the text is promoted. I demonstrated this truth in great depth in my study titled "Legalism's Twin Proof-Texts: Allowing Tradition to Trump Truth" (Reflections #454). I would plead with Robert, and those who think as he does, to PLEASE consider carefully and prayerfully my analysis of those two passages. Show me, Robert, where my analysis and exegesis is false or flawed. Robert opines, "An instrument built by the hands of men in no way edifies a congregation." Really?! You need to get out more, my friend! It may not be edifying to some brethren (in which case they shouldn't use it), but it most definitely is edifying to others. Why should their practice be judged by your preference?! You might want to take another look at Romans 14: "A Safety Valve for Steamed Saints: Biblical Advice for Avoiding the Big Bang" (Reflections #120).

Robert closes his article by stating that the interpretive methodology I suggest in my article which he reviewed "rejects commands of God." No, my friend, neither I nor this methodology reject any commands of God. What we DO reject, however, are the inferences, deductions, and assumptions of mere men who have elevated said conclusions to the level of divine LAW, and have then sought to bind them on their fellow believers as conditions of salvation and terms of fellowship. In the epistle to the Galatians, the apostle Paul has some very strong things to say to those who have placed human assumptions above (or equal with) divine assertions. We are free in Christ; we are no longer under law; we are under grace. Countless rules and regulations devised by disciples devoted to searching the Scriptures for "patterns" have not only weighed us down, but they have fragmented our fellowship into warring factions. Unity is slain on the altar of Uniformity. And, yes, I blame to a large degree the failed CENI methodology. I doubt seriously that I will ever convince Robert of this, and I can assure you that he will never convince me to return to the bondage of such an approach to the Scriptures. I have been where he is, and I didn't like the view! Robert, I truly believe you are a good man, and I wish you only the best. I also believe you are woefully misguided with respect to your approach to the Scriptures and your understanding of what they are teaching. I will keep you in my prayers, brother!!


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Pennsylvania:

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your Reflections articles. I just read one from 2019 ("A Cog-Slipping Leftist Preacher: Destructive Power of a Deluding Influence" - Reflections #777) where you described people floating on a river towards peril, and you are calling to them from the shore, throwing out a lifeline. I want you to know that I was one of those souls in danger on that river, and your lifeline saved me! I grew up in a very conservative Church of Christ, and was indoctrinated with judgmental, harsh, "self-righteous" teachings. I believed that the Church of Christ was the only group that was the true church. I believed that if people would just open their eyes to what we saw in the Bible, they'd realize their error and change. But now I see that I was the one who needed to have her eyes opened. What helped me the most were your articles about the "silence" of the Scriptures and the CENI model of interpretation. Reading your thoughtful analysis of these topics was literally life-changing for me. The things that had bothered me for years about what I had been taught suddenly had clarity. You gave me the words to express what my heart and mind knew weren't right. Thank you! Thank you a million times over!! You have helped to free me from the shackles of untruth that I had been bound by all my life.

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Al, your article "The Unshaken Kingdom: A Study of Hebrews 12:27-28" (Reflections #805) is indeed very timely. Thanks for writing it. There is another matter that has been on my heart the past few weeks. When is it appropriate for a Christian to take up arms against evil? I have puzzled for years on the statements of Jesus as the disciples left for Gethsemane. He asked if they had any swords. They said they had two, and He said that was enough. It seems to indicate that there is an appropriate use for the sword, but that it is limited in nature. The police should be protecting us, but if they are being told to "stand down," then when is it right for us to protect ourselves? Any light you could shed on this would be greatly appreciated.

From a Reader in Canada:

Al, your article "The Unshaken Kingdom" is another great one! I remember the first time I read Edward Fudge's book on Hebrews. It changed me forever. Yes, we live in a very dark time. I read the other day that there is no such thing as darkness, just an absence of light. That is what we see now in the world: a huge absence of Light. I do wish that my own light would shine more brightly, both for my sake as well as the lost. Perhaps that is part of the answer: to dispel all the darkness in the world, you and I, and all other believers, must begin shining a little brighter. Love you, brother!

From a Reader in Kansas:

The author Ayn Rand wrote, "When the Law no longer protects you from the Corrupt, but protects the Corrupt from you - you know your Nation is doomed." Is this not where we now stand in this country?! We must gird our loins for battle: it is coming; politically, physically, gradually. There has to be a rebound back to order through military or private civil action. I think that is why our Founders created the Second Amendment. "...against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

I don't know whether you remember me or not, but I am the guy who walked out of your worship service in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1993 because I felt they were too liberal. I have since had a radical change in my beliefs, and am a regular reader of your Reflections. I am now 87 years old with serious health problems. I'm in assisted living and am well aware that my time on this earth is limited. I have adjusted to this by simply not thinking about it. I am still interested in what the Scriptures teach, and some of my views are still changing. It seems to me that the Bible is vague on a lot of issues that many think are black and white. For example: the passage that says if you lust after a woman then you have committed adultery in your heart. My wife equates that with actual adultery. But is it? It seems to me that adultery in the heart is much better than the actual thing, which can break up marriages and cause all kinds of adverse consequences. Don't get me wrong, I can understand why God would not want you lusting after another person, for if you do it long enough it just might cause you to commit actual adultery. Any comments on this that you would care to make would be appreciated.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, I just finished episode #5 of The Maxey-Thrasher Debate on the topic of "The Eternal Destiny of the Wicked: Perpetual Torment or Ultimate Extinction?" It is very long, but so very worthwhile because of the relentless precision and coherence with which you have laid out your position and countered his. I won't do the obvious joke about Thrasher being "thrashed" by you, but I don't doubt that he did some squirming. Wonderful work you've done here, Al. I am looking forward to reading the remaining sessions a bunch! Take care, brother; stay well.

From a New Reader in Ontario, Canada:

Dear Brother, I was looking on the internet for data about Philip Bliss, and was directed to your article about him: "Philip P. Bliss: The Singing Evangelist" (Reflections #283). He was also the man who wrote the music to the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" (Reflections #331) and was part of the preaching/singing evangelistic team of Major Daniel Whittle (Reflections #399). Please add me to your subscription list for Reflections. I would like to read more of your thoughts and work.

From a Reader in Tanzania, Africa:

Thanks, Brother Maxey, for your article on "The Unshaken Kingdom." I have forwarded it on to 12 others in my little group.

From a Reader in Texas:

Thanks for another wonderful message ("The Unshaken Kingdom"). I think the downfall of this country started years ago when abortion was made legal.

From a Reader in South Carolina:

Bro. Maxey, you don't know me, but you know my dad, who was an elder in the church here. He left this earth to be with the Lord on Thursday. It was unexpected and sudden. You meant a lot to him, and you gave him encouragement knowing someone else had similar biblical thoughts. He often showed me your Reflections articles and expounded on your thoughts. Thank you for communicating with him over the years. It provided a spiritual outlet for his frustration with the Church of Christ denomination. Blessings to you!

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