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by Al Maxey

Issue #806a -- September 20, 2020
Don't be distracted by criticism. Remember,
the only taste of success some people have
is when they take a bite out of you.

Zig Ziglar {1926-2012}

Revisiting the Park Bench
Final Attempt to Reason with Robert

I don't often do an "addendum article," but in light of a rather lengthy response to my response to Robert Waters' initial review of an article I had written a number of years ago (a link to that review and my response may be found in Reflections #806), and in light of the amount of interest readers have expressed in viewing the outcome of that initial exchange, I decided to do one more Reflections in an attempt to reason with this brother in Christ who comes from a rather conservative wing of our faith-heritage. Clearly, Robert and I have differing convictions on a number of matters. This is far from uncommon, by the way, for it is rare to find any two people who agree 100% on everything! Differing convictions are the norm, even among the Family of God with respect to how one views, understands, and applies the inspired writings of the Bible to their daily walk with the Lord. Robert agrees, for in the opening paragraph of his response to Reflections #806 (that new response may be read on his web site by Clicking Here) he writes, "We must realize that people are not always going to see things alike."

Where we too often fall short of the ideal in this regard is when we begin to condemn and castigate our brothers and sisters in Christ who do not share our personal convictions and practices. There is nothing wrong with having strong beliefs, but we cross a line when we demand that others embrace those beliefs and convictions as Truth. Paul weighs in on this when he writes, "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God" (Romans 14:22). Our unity in Christ takes a beating when we seek to impose and enforce a uniformity of conviction. We are all different, and as such we often see things differently. The Lord has never called us to be uniform in our convictions, for it is not humanly possible. He has called us to be united "in Him," though, and that is a reality that is attainable. My approach to, and my understanding of, the Scriptures is different than Robert's. He is like the religious leaders of old, to whom Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life" (John 5:39). These rigid religionists were seeking law within their sacred writings; laws they could use to regulate the attitudes and actions of God's people. They believed that in the scrupulous observance of such divinely declared or humanly deduced laws, they could acquire eternal life. They were wrong then, and they are wrong today! Life is in the Son, and they were failing to see it because they were looking for that life in the Scriptures (vs. 40).

In the second paragraph, Robert declares, "Al denies that the New Testament church is guided by law. ... According to Al it is a lawless kingdom." Well, yes and no. In this new dispensation, we are under grace rather than law. This, of course, is not to suggest God's eternal moral law has been removed; far from it: morality has always been God's expectation for mankind. Indeed, Jesus even took it to the next level in His Sermon on the Mount. Thou shalt not murder - thou shalt not hate; thou shalt not commit adultery - thou shalt not lust; etc. The moral code has not been replaced. What has been replaced is the whole Jewish sacrificial and ceremonial system, characterized by laws and regulations. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary" (Hebrews 9:1). This was temporary, however. Such rules and rites and religious structures were never intended to be permanent. They would exist only until the time that their purpose had been fulfilled, as Hebrews 9:10 informs us: "They are regulations imposed until the time of the new order." That new order was brought in by Christ Jesus; we are now in that new order. Do we still have "law" today in the church? Absolutely. NOT laws governing our worshipful expression or religious rites and ceremony, but rather (in addition to the moral code) the royal law of LOVE. In other words, the church is no longer under the "rule of law," but the "rule of love;" no longer guided by the "letter of the law," but by the "spirit of the law." It is a law that is liberating (law of liberty), one that frees us to express our love in any and every way that glorifies the Father and edifies His people and conveys eternal Truth to the world. Is this a "lawless kingdom"? Far from it. It is a kingdom where LOVE reigns supreme in and through the lives of His people. It is not a "religious" community, but a "redemptive" community. Our obsession with a "worship service" is forever replaced by our devotion to the "service of worship" which characterizes our daily demonstration of the love of God to those around us.

Later in his article, Robert again asserts: "Yes, we are no longer under the Law of Moses, but this does not mean, as Al seems to suggest, that Christ's kingdom is a lawless kingdom." Once more I need to stress that I "suggest" no such thing! Just because the whole sacrificial, ceremonial Levitical system of the Old Covenant has been taken away, does NOT suggest that the church is a kingdom characterized by "lawlessness." On the contrary. Robert then quotes Romans 6:14-15, saying, "Note that Paul said, 'the law' (referring to the Law of Moses) - not just 'law'." Actually, Robert is not correct here. Paul, in fact, does NOT say "the law." The definite article is NOT in the Greek text. One will find a few translations that follow the lead of the KJV here, but most of the more reputable translations do not insert the definite article into the text in front of the word "law." Paul is not speaking of THE law; he is speaking of ANY law that would seek to regulate, restrict, or restrain our expressions of loving and worshipful service to God and others. Although, certainly, the Mosaic regulations would fall under this larger umbrella of "law," it was not exclusively so in the mind of Paul. Even the ASV of 1901 recognized this mistake on the part of the KJV, dropping the English definite article from the phrase: " are not under law, but under grace." For those who would like to hear more about this topic, I would suggest these two adult Bible class series that I taught, which were recorded and made available to the public on CDs: (1) "From Law to Liberty: Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ" and (2) "The Epistle to the Galatians: The Magna Charta of Christian Liberty."

For those who believe the Scriptures are our "source of authority" for the church and all it does, and who believe we must "follow the pattern" as precisely as possible in order to be accepted by God, the CENI hermeneutic is the approach of choice, for it works well with those who desire to compile all the "rules" needed to "regulate" the church. For example, Robert brings up the Lord's Supper, saying that we must "allow GOD to settle the matter (by approved apostolic example) of WHEN (what day) to take the Lord's Supper. The week has seven days, but since God specified the first day in this example, we're not left a choice. And we can be united on this. Then there is the matter of 'frequency,' or how often we should take the Lord's Supper. This is where NI comes into play." The event in view is Paul's weekend in Troas (Acts 20:7f). This, of course, is the great "proof-text" of the legalistic patternists for imposing inflexible eucharistic law upon all believers throughout the world until the end of time. The "example" is SUNDAY and the "inference" is EVERY WEEK. Observing the Lord's Supper on any other day, or any less/more frequently, is SIN according to them, and we, of course, can never, ever have fellowship with such "apostates" who DARE to remember the Lord through this memorial more than once a week or on any day but Sunday. Yet, their "authority" is on extremely shaky ground, for there is much about this text that is far less certain and absolute than they would have you believe. There has been much debate, for example, over whether Jewish or Roman time is in view in that narrative. Also, there is debate over what is signified by "breaking bread." Further, there is some indication in Acts 2, not to mention early church history, that there was some diversity of frequency employed in the apostolic church. A lot of assumptions are required to formulate the "Every Sunday, Sunday Only" LAW.

Also, where in the NT writings are we ever commanded by God: "Thou must observe the Lord's Supper EXACTLY like Troas did on that weekend almost 2000 years ago!!" We can't even say for certain what that was like, nor can we say for certain that the weekend in view was normative for Troas in the months/years before or the months/years following. Nor can we say that the practice of Troas was exactly the practice of every other gathering of disciples throughout the known world. Thus, in the absence of Command (C), and with an Example (E) that is open to various interpretations, and Inferences that are less than Necessary (NI), can we truly use CENI here to establish "authority" for our particular preference with regard to day and frequency? And what about TIME OF DAY?!! Are you aware that every instance of the Lord's Supper mentioned in the NT writings has this memorial meal being observed in the evening or at night?! Also, it is observed in an upper room!! WHY are THESE "examples" not elevated to LAW by means of the "authority" of CENI?! And what about the "Second Serving" for those who "missed it" during the morning assembly? Etc. And what exactly IS and IS NOT "commanded" (CENI) by the Lord with respect to our observance of the Lord's Supper?! You might be surprised!! The only regulation with respect to freuqency is: "As often as" you do it, do it in remembrance of Him (1 Corinthians 11). Seems to me that pretty much settles the frequency debate. It is left up to us (as I point out in one of the articles listed below).

By the way, in case you were unaware, there are factions of our own faith-heritage (in Churches of Christ), as well as in some other ultra-conservative denominations, who DO make evening/upper room observance LAW. And, yes, they appeal to CENI as their tool for establishing "authority" for such mandates. How does one determine which examples to elevate to law? Whose inferences are "necessary," and who gets to decide? I would urge a careful, prayerful reading of my in-depth studies of these matters in the following: (1) "The Lord's Supper: Focusing on Frequency" (Reflections #30), (2) "The Lord's Supper: A Brief Historical Overview" (Reflections #114), (3) "Breaking Bread: Meal or Memorial?" (Reflections #168), (4) "The Great Time Debate: Were the Events in Acts 20:7-12 Reckoned in Jewish or Roman Time?" (Reflections #173), (5) "Second Serving Controversy: Sins of Sunday Night Lord's Supper and Crimes of Carried Communion" (Reflections #196), (6) "Examining Eucharistic Expectation: What Did Jesus Christ Really Have in Mind When He Instituted the Lord's Supper?" (Reflections #351), and (7) "The Meaning of 'Do This': Seeking the Significance of Christ's Command During the Last Supper" (Reflections #553).

Another "biggie" with the "legal pattern" bunch is singing: specifically, whether or not one may use a musical instrument to aid or accompany our singing. Robert stated that those who understand the Scriptures as he does "will never disobey God's command to sing by adding instruments" (one has to wonder if the deaf are sinning, according to this view, if they SIGN instead of SING - and yes, there are some who believe they do, and they use CENI to "prove" it). A pitch pipe, however, according to Robert, is acceptable to God because it "does not replace the command to sing with another kind of music." Of course, neither does singing with the accompaniment of a musical instrument. It neither replaces nor negates. If I "command" my son to come up on stage and SING a song for the audience, and he comes up with his guitar and SINGS the song I requested while strumming his guitar, has he disobeyed my "command to sing"? Of course not. I said "sing," and he sang!! If I asked him to sing a song, and he came up and played taps on the trumpet, then Robert's crowd might have an argument for something "replacing" the singing. In another paragraph, Robert wrote, "The command to teach leaves us the choice of material and methods." Okay. I agree. So why doesn't the command to sing leave us the same choice?! Can I sing a song from a song book? What about singing the words projected on a screen? What about singing hymns written by a woman? What if the woman is a Presbyterian? May I accompany myself in my singing with a guitar or piano? After all, I am left with "the choice of material and method," according to Robert. So why is MY methodology sinful, but Robert's isn't? I find it interesting that Robert's very first sentence in his new article is this: "I agree with Al's statement that 'the primary problem with CENI is the inherent tendency toward inconsistency with regard to application'." AMEN, Bro. Waters!

At the end of his article, Robert boldly makes these assertions about me: "Al rejects commands, examples, and necessary inferences. He rejects the New Testament as being anything more than grace. He rejects key definitions ('hermeneutics' and 'edification'). And, in essence, he rejects the word of God." Wow! I feel like I need to disfellowship myself!! Seriously, Robert?! No, my friend, I do not reject the commands of God. Like Jesus, however, I do reject the traditions and teachings of mere men that they have sought to elevate to the status of divine commands. No, Robert, I don't reject the place of examples in the Bible. They do serve a purpose, but I don't believe that purpose is to establish "authority." The early disciples seemed to like greeting one another with "a holy kiss." Awesome. I'll stick with a hug or handshake, and I'll pass on washing feet as well. More "apostasy" from Al Maxey, right Robert?! Yet, even some commands and examples are NOT binding, and if you doubt this, see the following: "Foot-Washing, Kissing & Baptism: Comparative Contemplation of Water Baptism in View of Issues Related to Culture and Command" (Reflections #600). And yes, I deal with the matter of "authority" in this article, showing once again just how woefully inadequate the CENI model is for establishing any kind of regulative authority for the universal One Body of Christ until the end of time. As for assumptions, inferences, and deductions that you and/or other flawed human beings might have drawn from your reading of Scripture, and which you may deem to be "necessary," I may deem, on the other hand, to be anything but. So, again, which of our assumptions is LAW for all mankind? This is exactly why Campbell declared that inferences should NEVER be made authoritative over the church. I agree with him. Robert, if you infer something to be necessary, then for you it is necessary (as Paul points out in Romans 14); but, as he also points out in that chapter, that does NOT mean it is necessary for ME. And no, these are not just matters of "opinion," as you suggested, Robert; they are matters of faith and conviction according to the apostle Paul himself. Our convictions, strongly believed and practiced, do NOT have to be the same. God accepts us both, even though we differ. As I like to say: You don't have to be my twin to be my brother!"

Robert doesn't like my definition of "hermeneutics." That's okay. I don't care for his either. Robert believes hermeneutics has nothing to do with our effort to understand the Scriptures; rather, its purpose is to help us "establish authority" for what we do in the church. I think Robert will have a hard time finding reputable biblical scholars who take the same view. As for "edification," Robert again suggests that I reject "key definitions" of this term as it is used in the Bible. Perhaps Robert should take a look at my study titled "Body Building 101 - Edification: A NT Perspective" (Reflections #177). I'd be happy to have him show me exactly where I "went astray" in my understanding of this concept.

I could go on and on and on with Robert ... as he could with me ... but neither of us is likely to ever convince the other. It is not that one of us is good and the other bad; it is not that one loves God and the other doesn't; it is not that one has respect for the Scriptures and the other does not. It is simply that he and I approach the Scriptures from vastly different perspectives and expectations, and, as a result, our perceptions and applications will often be worlds apart. Thank God our acceptance by God is grace/faith-based rather than law/works-based. It is not our knowledge that will prove salvific, nor our performance. We are all sinners saved by grace through faith, and we then journey through life seeking to reflect His love, mercy, kindness, patience, goodness, compassion, etc., with the help of His indwelling Spirit, to the best of our abilities and opportunities in our daily lives. In the end, Robert and I will probably both be a bit shocked, but hopefully for only an instant, to see one another in Heaven, but once we get past that moment, and an embarrassed chuckle, I trust we will stand together and raise our voices together for a wonderful time of praise unto the One who loved and saved us both in spite of ourselves!! After that, maybe we can find a "heavenly park bench" and enjoy a discussion about God's love and grace!

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