HOW WE GOT TO WHERE WE ARE
A PERSONAL VIEW AT THE END OF WHICH I WILL ASK: “DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM SAYING?"
by James D. CoxSouth Jennings Street, Fort Worth, Texas, a vacant lot, an open air meeting, early August, 1950. That is where I met brothers Maurice Johnson and Bob Thompson. I was a second year student in the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. That meeting changed the history of my life. Having heard brother Johnson’s message on the “church which is Christ’s body”. Within two days, at my invitation, he and Bob Thompson sat down with me in my home, an apartment directly across from the Seminary. Burnadette sat with us. That was the setting which began our long history together.
After a few statements of introduction and determination that we were four IN CHRIST BELIEVERS and with the assurance that these men already knew the Baptist position on many biblical issues, I wanted to know their view of the Bible teaching on, of all things, BAPTISM!!!
NOW HERE IS WHAT I WISH HAD HAPPENED!! I wish I had heard something like this: “Brother James, is this of great importance to you?” My answer, “Yes, it is very important to me!!”
“We understand completely why that would be, but with your permission, before we attempt to answer that question we would like to tell you what is REALLY IMPORTANT TO US!! You heard the message given on the ‘church which is the body of Christ’ and from what we have seen, you were blessed and have shown some clear understanding of the value of knowing that truth. FROM THE DEPTHS OF OUR HEARTS we believe that we are more than family, brothers, we are members together with you in Christ’s body! It has been what we believe to be a very evident fact that agreement on doctrinal issues is a matter of INTELLECT. All four of us could be agreed and right on the Bible teaching regarding baptism and any one or all of us could at the very same moment be out of touch SPIRITUALLY with God and with each other!! And this being so, it is the hope of our heart that we will understand that perception and practice of the truth of the one “body of Christ” and our function together as members of it is WHOLLY, COMPLETELY AND ONLY SPIRITUAL!! We “live in the Spirit” and our proof of our membership in the “body of Christ” is always, only and beautifully known if we “walk in the Spirit”!! Brother James, this is a most PROFOUND THING. It means that the fruit of the Spirit is the manifestation of where we are living and walking! You were evidently deepy moved by what you heard at our open air meeting and I believe the Spirit of God was opening and developing some beautiful images, a vision of our new life in Christ in its fullness. We have come this far, could we continue a bit more?
“I had already seen in the way you have listened, what your answer would be and I am grateful.
“The “fruit of the Spirit”, let’s read it together: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness self-control. Against such there is NO LAW.” (Galatians 5:22-23 )
“What do I see here, Brother James? THIS IS NOT A ‘TO DO’ LIST!! We don’t look at this and think, ‘okay, I need to be more loving; and that word longsuffering probably means patient, and that is something I really do need to work on’!! No, none of this; this is FRUIT, not works. It is the rainbow of beauty that flows out of us because the LOVE OF GOD is shed abroad in our hearts. It is like the well of water that springs up within us. It just happens, it is just there, when we WALK IN THE SPIRIT. I think it is very significant that the first feature in what we are told is the fruit of the Spirit is ‘LOVE’.
“Since this is first in the list, I want to give some special attention to what is imbedded in that WORD OF WORDS, LOVE!! ‘FOR GOD SO LOVED…LOVE IS OF GOD FOR GOD IS LOVE…” Have we experienced that LOVE? Have we come to see that this is something that was bestowed upon us ‘WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS’, while there was nothing about us that was LOVABLE? Were we ever capable of knowing that LOVE before we - in great shame and consciousness of guilt, cried out “GOD BE MERCIFUL TO ME A SINNER’, as did that Publican in our Lord’s parable of the two men who went up to the Temple to pray?? That is the ONLY CONTEXT in which we can understand and experience THAT FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT! My dear brother, that is the only atmosphere, the only environment in which we can make spiritual progress in the discussion of what we call ’doctrinal’ issues. Please know that this is what I view as the supreme importance of what we are to pursue as fellow members of the ‘body of Christ’”.
Remember, the foregoing was what I WISH I HAD HEARD from brothers Maurice Johnson and Bob Thompson. But that didn’t happen! WHY DID IT NOT HAPPEN? I did not open the door for that!! I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT BAPTISM!! The ultimate result was that brethren were willing to study that subject with me, along with many other issues, and at length I came to agree with what I had heard. IN THIS CONTEXT, however, I came to believe that agreement on DOCTRINAL ISSUES was equivalent to, or at least had a super significant role in the development of SPIRITUAL UNTIY!! How many times did I preach, and heard preached, “we must all speak the same thing” whether we knew what the “same thing” really was!!! I blame no one for this…I came to that thinking on my own.
Before anything else is said about doctrinal issues themselves, I must tell ALL how I see that thinking has influenced much of our history through the years. None of the following statements are to be viewed as ABSOLUTES!! They are merely factors that have weighed heavily on and determined much about where we are in the context of NOW!!
First. WE DRAW TO OURSELVES THOSE LIKE OURSELVES!! They like what we are doing, before they fully know what that is, we spend more time with them and patiently pursue their approval and company. That being the case we must go over countless issues to persuade, repeating what has been heard many times before. Unfortunately, those seeking this kind of association often want to be sure everyone else is corrected, which results in controversy and crises. They come as doctrinal buffs; they remain doctrinal buffs!!
Second. Since agreement becomes the standard for “unity and fellowship” and intellectual consent is what needs to be sought, the most logical and persuasive are often the winners, or perhaps the majority will rule, others will be silenced and the appearance of UNITY will be attained!!
Third. The above two concepts and conditions feed upon themselves!! The more successful they become the more right they are viewed to be, with the result that>>>>
Fourth, Nothing else is ever considered as being a CORE VALUE, A VALUE OF HEART AND SOUL, to generate an environment that would put us on the path toward the beauty and truth of the “fruit of the Spirit”!!
Fifth. Outside a denominational affiliation is equivalent to being “non sectarian and spiritual”?? I cannot imagine our even giving the slightest credibility to that. I was a NON SECTARIAN BAPTIST MINISTER. THE PROOF? I went to an open-air meeting to hear someone who, it was clear to me, was not a BAPTIST!! In my time with brother Johnson he never showed the slightest disposition indicating that he viewed me as a sectarian!! He had even commented to me, after that naturally air conditioned meeting: “You are a good listener.” I often call attention to the fact that we sing inspirational songs of thanksgiving and praise most of which are written by people who were affiliated with a denomination!! What happens when I do that? I am never asked why I called that to our attention, rather, I often get the look of “what is that supposed to mean?” In that respect are we somehow “yoked together with unbelievers” because that musical genius comes from Christian brothers or sisters who may be affiliated with some denomination which, with a membership role, would admit the possibility of some admission of people who are not “in Christ” believers?
Sixth. DISAGREEMENT IS VIEWED AS PRIDE AND CARNALITY… Don’t disagree with me on that, it would be carnality and pride to do so!! Wouldn’t it be a beautiful and blessed thing to simply agree that disagreement could be the result of misunderstanding, a need for more clarity? Could agreement be the compromise of conscience, or brought about by FEAR? DISAGREEMENT IS OFTEN THE FIRE THAT PURIFIES THE GOLD OF TRUTH!!
Seventh. The easy solution to a problem is to get rid of the problem!! Something was said to me recently about being SEPARATED CHRISTIANS. That has possibly become the best definition of our relationship to what are now HUNDREDS OF CHRISTIANS!! They have either separated from us or we have separated from them establishing a kind of SUPER HOLINESS!! But they were a PROBLEM??? If that was a neighbor’s kid it would be one thing; if it is your own child, a brother, a sister, a father or mother, the options would change!!
Eight. IN OUR “UNITY” WE ARE ACTUALLY SEPARATED FROM EACH OTHER!! An artificial unity does not exist. If we really know we are ONE IN CHRIST, what will that do for us? Remember, this is CHRIST’S BODY OF WHICH WE SPEAK!! There are not words to describe the pain, sorrow, bewilderment, mental anguish, loss of spiritual orientation that has come to the lives of many whom we have known and now know in the faith of our LORD, JESUS CHRIST who have been put away in some frustrated judgment, essentially amputated, with the concept of “I have no need of you”!! If you don’t know this, I ask, why not? Has it not affected you? It wasn’t your family or close friend? They all deserved what they got? There are the careless and calloused who felt they lost nothing, but there are many more who have, with anguish of heart, wept bitter tears. Have we wept with them? If we haven’t what should that tell us about ourselves!! If that has done nothing, or has been easily put away, what can we conclude but that WE WERE NEVER CONNECTED to them in the LOVE OF CHRIST!! Here, I must confess that there have been times that I have deeply regretted ever inviting anyone to our meetings and, to this day, I would have to consider it very soberly!! What if we, in telling a visitor of our treatment of people who don’t get on board? What if we handed them a comprehensive recorded history of our treatment of each other? I think it would fix it with them; they would never be a problem!!
So what am I saying here? That the teaching of scripture is not important to us? To the contrary, we desperately need the map of the Bible to inspire us, guide us, protect us, increase our faith and identify our hope. But that connection for us must be more than intellectual, it must speak to our hearts. Pursuing a unity of understanding of scripture with our fellow in Christ believers, is a goal worthy of our best efforts, but unless this endeavor is made in the atmosphere of LOVE, JOY, PEACE, LONGSUFFERING…it may well be interesting, even a source of pride, but, “though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and HAVE NOT LOVE, I am become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And thought I have the gift of prophesy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and HAVE NOT LOVE, I AM NOTHING. And though I bestow all of my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned and HAVE NOT LOVE, IT PROFITS ME NOTHING”.
When I substitute the “I” that is me in those verses of 1 Corinthians 13, it often brings me to tears. What if we tried the “we” that is us, here: “Though WE speak with the tongues of men and of angels…”
On a few occasions, when I feel it is appropriate, after I have confessed my faith in our LORD, JESUS CHRIST, how that has transformed me, making me a “new creature” and a son of the living God, I may pause for a moment and then ask: “How will you know that I just told you the truth? You may regard me as a person of truth but how will you know? You will know only as you see that profession manifest in what I am and what I do.” We are the “body of Christ”? HOW WILL WE, AND THEY, KNOW? The proof is not just a QUOTATION from Scripture!!
There have been a few times when I have greeted and welcomed someone to our meetings and said: “you know, we make some fantastic claims about who we are; we are not worldly or sectarian, WE ARE loving members of the ‘church which is the body of Christ’. MAKE US PROVE IT!! DON’T’ BELIEVE IT UNTIL YOU SEE IT”.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM SAYING?? THAT’S OKAY, I WILL KEEP TRYING.
I know... you thought I was finished but I noticed that highly regarded word “faithful” ... of the “fruit of the Spirit”! That really establishes that LOVE is not the only thing to be observed there….after all, “faithful are the wounds of a friend”, right? Isn’t the best proof that we are a true FRIEND: we wound a brother? Let’s look at that without an agenda: If the wounds of FAITHFULNESS are imbedded in the whole basket of the fruit of the Spirit, it would never be illustrated by an AXE but with the SCAPPEL of a skilled surgeon whose ultimate purpose would be the preservations of life!!
Three Proverbs on FRIENDS:NOT EVERYONE WHO WOUNDS IS A FRIEND!!!!!!!!!!27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a FRIEND.”
18:24 “…there is a FRIEND that sticks closer than a brother.”
7:17 “A FRIEND loves at all times.”
Transcribed by Bruce Stevens 8/6/12 Return to Navigation