One Of The Hardest Biblical Positions To State

Neal Pollard

There are few statements or pronouncements that are clearer than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9, yet perhaps none, in our current culture, is more intimidating to state. Jesus contrasts His will on marriage, divorce, and remarriage with the already existent stance of the Law of Moses. He says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (19:8-9).  From this brief response (the Pharisees ask the question, testing Him in verse three), we see:

  • The teaching transcends time and culture—“From the beginning…and I say to you”
  • The teaching transcends all other authority—“I say”
  • The teaching transcends only believers—“Whoever”
  • The teaching transcends the caveats and conditions men have tried to place on the matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (not the specific law with its exception).

Yet, despite the clarity of Jesus on the subject, in the spirit of Christ we want to always approach this with utmost compassion, patience, and tenderness. Souls are at stake. Often, children are involved. Emotions are inevitably involved. A cold, callous treatment of people’s lives will surely draw Divine disapproval. That’s why Jesus’ stated position on this matter is one of the hardest to take. But, that cannot mean that we refuse to stand with Him in His teaching. However, we should ask why it is so hard to stand where the Bible stands on this matter?

—Learned men have stated different positions from this.
—Divorce is so prevalent in our culture.
—All of us have family members who are in marriages that violate Matthew 19:9.
—Marriage involves one of mankind’s greatest drives and needs (cf. Gen. 2:18-25).
—Leadership in more and more congregations refuse to deal with marriage, divorce, and     remarriage in the classroom, pulpit, or the hands-on shepherding of the local church.
—Few of us relish the role of being “the bad guy” (the one who has to break heartbreaking news to husbands and wives).

I could lengthen the list of reasons, and you could add several to it, but if the list grew to hundreds of reasons, we have one sobering, gut-wrenching question to ask, “Do any of them nullify the strength of Jesus’ teaching?” If Matthew 19:9 were not in the Bible, fewer preachers would have lost jobs, fewer elders would have lost favor, and fewer churches would have seen members go to congregations accommodating their marriages. But, Jesus warned that His way was difficult (cf. Matt. 7:14). He tells aghast disciples that discipleship requires whatever sacrifice is necessary to follow Him (Matt. 19:10-12). That message must be shared lovingly, gently, and patiently. There can be no other way (cf. Eph. 4:15). The harsh, unkind, or mean-spirited will deal with the Judge of all (cf. 1 Pet. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1). However, what will be the case for those who neglect, change, or distort what Scripture says to accommodate people? Perhaps there’s no way to ask that question without evoking a visceral reaction from those who have reinterpreted Jesus’ words, but in light of eternity it must be asked. Balance looks for biblical truth in between unbiblical extremes. However unpleasant a position that may put us in, that is the place we must always humbly stand. But, the only enduring place to stand is on the rock solid foundation of Christ (cf. Mat. 7:24-27; 1 Co. 3:11). God give us loving, but courageous, hearts to stand there.

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The Dilemma Of Discipleship: Doctrine Or Duty

Neal Pollard

Obviously, that’s not the dilemma. It is not either/or. It is both/and. But, as the church, we can find ourselves weighted one direction or the other. Some years ago, a close relative of mine was explaining why he had left a congregation that heavily emphasized doctrinal truth but were totally invisible to their community to go to a congregation heavily involved in the community but was not concerned with a distinctive message beyond the Deity and sacrifice of Jesus. Matters like women’s role, church music, the role of baptism in salvation, or even restoring New Testament Christianity were not even on their radar. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Which is worse? A church that teaches right but doesn’t practice, or a church that practices right but teaches wrong?” After a lengthy discussion, my question was, “Why can’t we strive our best to do both?”

Have we convinced ourselves that this is impossible, that one of the two have to be sacrificed upon the altar of faith? It cannot be! The early church impacted their community. They shared. They helped. They were known (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 17:6; Col. 1:23). But, their message was distinct beyond just a few vital facts about who Jesus is and what He did. There was an emphasis on teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3). The inspired writers didn’t say, “If you have to choose one, choose Jesus.” No, choosing Jesus meant choosing to follow all that He commanded (Mat. 28:20; Col. 3:17).

We need to challenge ourselves by asking, “What are we doing to reach this community? Do the people near the building know about Jesus through us? Do our neighbors, co-workers, and other friends?” Yet, in increasing our efforts to be known to our community, will we have the courage to stand upon the rock of revealed truth (cf. John 8:32)? It is possible to do both, but we will always have to check and challenge ourselves. We can remain reverent and relevant. But we will always be fighting a tension between isolation and indistinctiveness. Let us have the faith and boldness to make that effort. The church is in a prime position to grow, given the cultural climate. We must be there, seen and heard for Him. If they did it in the first-century, we can do it today! Let’s keep trying.

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Deadly and Dangerous

Neal Pollard

The book of Proverbs is divided into 31 chapters and 915 verses. So, nearly 1,000, divinely-authored truisms are packed into this one book penned by Solomon and others. In Proverbs 13, the writer begins by talking about what a wise son does, then describes a prudent man, a lazy man, a righteous man, a wick man, a rich man, and a poor man (2-10). Then, in verses 11-13, an alarm is sounded against three deadly behaviors.

A warning is sounded against dishonest wealth (11). “Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labor will increase.”  Financial scandals, surrounding company presidents and CEOs, often dominate current headlines. Not all swindlers, defrauders, embezzlers, and cheats are found out—in this life (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24). Cheating, lying, misrepresenting, deceiving, and otherwise acting unethically to get gain causes one to forfeit the riches of eternal life (Ti. 3:7). Be careful how you get what you get.  “…Attend to your own business and work with your hands…” (1 Th. 4:11; see Rom. 12:17).

A warning is sounded against deferred hope (12). “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” This verse is not about choosing instant gratification over delayed gratification. It recognizes a principle played out daily. Look at an elderly person, relatively strong in body but who has “given up hope.” Such do not usually live very long. Consider a couple whose problems so overwhelm them that they surrender in some way to despair. Divorce cannot be too far off in the distance. For the human spirit to thrive, it must have hope. Hope anchors the soul (Heb. 6:19). Paul, oft-imprisoned, oft-persecuted, muses, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19). What pulls the Christian through his or her troubles? It is the present help of hope. Those who throw it away often say goodbye to their faith, too!

A warning is sounded against despising the word (13). “He who despises the word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” Few physically take their disgust for God’s will to the point Jehoiakim did, the wicked king who cut out with a penknife the portions of scripture he hated (Jer. 36:23). Not everyone is so bold as their atheist, the satanist, or the pagan in expressing their disdain for the Bible. Yet, everyone who transgresses against it in willful, habitual, and premeditated ways, despises the word. The price for such rebellion is eternal (2 Th. 1:7-9).

Interestingly, these three verses deal with three pitfalls—of deeds, depression, and doctrine. As God’s people, we must guard against the wiles of the devil as he seeks to destroy us. Our souls are at stake. Don’t let him win. Let Christ reign!

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MIKEY, LIFE, AND POP ROCKS

Neal Pollard

Those of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s remember the infamous Life cereal commercial featuring “Mikey,” the finicky little boy who liked the taste of that cereal.  Somewhere along the way, the story got out that Mikey—whose real-life name is John Gilchrist—ate Pop-Rocks candy, washed it down with a Coca-Cola, and had the resulting chemistry experiment explode in his stomach, killing him.  How many mother’s absolutely forbad their children eat Pop-Rocks and drink Coke thanks to this story?  It turns out to have been a hoax, urban legend, or whatever you’d like to call the fabrication.  Today, Gilchrist, who appeared in a total of 250 commercials, is sales director at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Who knows how these silly rumors get started?  It has been said, “There’s a sucker born every minute” (stated by banker David Hannum rather than P.T. Barnum, as is popularly thought, by the way; R.J. Brown, editor-in-chief, historybuff.com). The idea is that people are gullible and many are trusting to a fault.  Cynicism is its own problem, and gullibility can be amusing.

Too many, however, have bought into ideas that could not be more destructive.  Consider the following sentiments:

  • “One church is as good as another”
  • “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere”
  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “Anything’s permissible between two consenting adults”
  • “Truth is whatever you think it is”
  • “If it feels good, do it”

Obviously, the list is rather long but these are illustrative of the point. How remarkable it is that such lies are nearly as old as the world itself.  The serpent lied to Eve, selling her on the belief that she would surely not die if she ate fruit forbidden by God (Gen. 3:4).  Jesus taught a group notorious for changing God’s Word, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

Who are we listening to? Are they telling us the truth?  “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Have We Misunderstood Grace?

Neal Pollard

Perhaps the subject of grace has been neglected in some pulpits and congregations.  Undoubtedly, it has been misunderstood and improperly taught since the first century (cf. Rom. 6:1; Gal. 5:4).  It is vital to properly emphasize and explain such a huge concept within the gospel message.  Why? Because of what it is—the completely free and undeserved expression of God’s lovingkindness and favor toward mankind, because of what it does—brings salvation (Ti. 2:11; Eph. 2:5) and comfort and hope (2 Th. 2:16), and because of what it cost to make available (2 Co. 8:9; Heb. 2:9).  Perhaps some try to restrict God’s grace, making the requirements of Christ more stringent than Scripture teaches.  If we forbid what God permits, we are distorting grace.

However, our age tends toward the other extreme.  Far more try to make God’s grace extend further than Scripture teaches.  This is not novel to our times.  From the time of the early church, some apparently wanted to make God’s grace embrace things it simply does not cover.  Jude contended against some who attempted to have grace cover excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure (Jude 4). By leaving Christ’s grace for another gospel, teachers contradicting the gospel message distort not just the gospel but also grace (Gal. 1:6-9).  Paul also contradicts the idea that continuing in sin, without repentance, is abiding in God’s grace (Rom. 6:1).  Passages like these serve as a warning not to make God’s grace cover what it simply will not.

Grace will not cover willful disobedience, a refusal to repent, a lifestyle or habit, or relationship that violates the expressed will of God.  Some in adulterous marriages defend the relationship, trying to hide behind grace. Some feed addictions, sure that God’s grace will sweep away the guilt of it.  Some refuse to follow God’s plain plan of salvation, claiming that they will ultimately be saved by grace on the day of judgment.  Such ideas and claims are tragic misunderstandings and ignorance of revealed truth.  The source of grace is Divine.  So are the explanation and terms of it.  Paul’s teaching is definitive when he says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).  The life in Christ is a new life (Rom. 6:4), a life characterized by turning away from sin, lust, and unrighteousness (Rom. 6:12-13).

Let us never restrict God’s grace.  By the same token, let us never redefine it—especially to excuse or validate a lifestyle of sin.  How that disgraces and cheapens the act that brought grace, Jesus’ painful sacrifice.  May each of us grow in knowledge and appreciation of this great Bible doctrine!

An Aggressive Agenda

Neal Pollard

They use every opportunity to make it a part of the conversation.  It is as if they have a one-track mind.  However they can promote their cause, they do.  They will not quit until they convince you that what they believe is right and that you should accept it, too.  They are bold and willing to risk and sacrifice to get their point of view not only heard but accepted.  That there are still several places in the world where what they are preaching is unacceptable does not daunt or deter them.  Say what you will, they believe in their conviction and will continue to spread it.  They are purpose-driven.

Can you imagine Jews and those of the Roman Empire saying this about the Christians in the first century?  Armed with a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), they, even in the worst times, “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).  They were accused of having “turned the world upside down” with their teaching (Acts 17:6). They had the reputation as “the sect…that [was] spoken against everywhere” (Acts 28:22). Yet, they would not stop until they had shared the good news everywhere (Col. 1:23).  They were not interested in popularity or even acceptance.  They were trying to get their point of view not only heard but accepted because it originated from the very mind of God.

Aren’t there people in this world who seem to have such a singular obsession? They are in special interest groups, and they have the cooperation and acceptance of rich and powerful people in the media, politics, education, and even athletics.  They are indefatigable, tirelessly and relentlessly pursuing their agenda.

What about the church of the 21st Century?  Do we have an aggressive agenda? Are we willing to share the Word of God, whatever it costs to whomever we can?  It necessitates this question. Do we truly believe it is both right and essential?  If it captures our minds, hearts and souls, we will not be able to keep quiet about it.  May we develop the reputation for steadfast single-mindedness!

SOLA SCRIPTURA?

Neal Pollard

Pythagoras is said to have been the earliest outside of Scripture (Isa. 40:22) to contend that the earth is round. He did not make the earth round with his assertions, but identified what already was.  Sir Isaac Newton certainly did not create gravity, but he is credited for our modern understanding of it.  Likewise, the term “sola scriptura” is not found in scripture (similar to terms like “trinity” and “omniscience”), but it was coined during the “Reformation Movement” as part of Martin Luther’s protests against perceived corruptions of the Catholic Church.  It was a “Latin phrase (literally ‘by Scripture alone’) describing the Protestant theological principle that Scripture is the final norm in all judgments of faith and practice. Church traditions and customs, pronouncements of church officials, civil law or any other purely human source, including human reason, must yield to clear scriptural pronouncements” (Reid, Daniel G., et al.  Dictionary of Christianity in America, 1990: n.p.).  Did the Protestant Reformers, who, incidentally, got unfortunately got so many things wrong, originate that idea?  Because they were wrong on many doctrinal conclusions, does that automatically make the idea of “sola Scriptura” incorrect? It seems to me that at least three questions are in order regarding this subject.

What does “by Scripture alone” mean?

It means that the Bible does not share authority with anyone or anything else.  One author says it meant “’the freedom of Scripture to rule as God’s word in the church, disentangled from papal and ecclesiastical magisterium and tradition.’ It viewed the Word as supreme over tradition and the sacraments” (McArthur, John. Expository Preaching, 1992. Dallas: Word Pub., 47). A creed book, discipline, or annual church conference may vote and decide about what a religious group’s view on a matter should be.  They may even change their view from a previously held, correct view.  Or, a religious group may claim to have received latter day revelation and may produce a book they claim to be co-authoritative with the Bible.  Or, they may say “the church” and “church tradition” is co-authoritative.  The idea of “by Scripture alone” rejects competing or co-authoritative standards.

It does not eliminate the need to “handle aright” or involve hermeneutics (the science of interpretation).  That is a cognitive necessity.  You cannot read even the simplest of instructions or follow the most basic of tasks without employing logic, reason, and deduction.  That is not the same thing as a person, group, or book that claims to rival or co-authorize with Scripture.

What is the alternative?

That question has really already been answered.  The alternative is to suggest that Scripture alone is insufficient or inadequate, that is not the sole authority on matters of truth and right.  Some would even call the idea of following only Scripture as destructive heresy. Yet, the alternative to Scripture alone is Scripture along with something else, whether a man, group, council, church, or governing body.

Why is it so important?

This is the crux of the matter.  Scripture is God-breathed, making one spiritually complete (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  If Scripture is sufficient, what need is there for anything beyond it?  On what basis would we accept anything more or less than or different from the Bible?  How could fallible man be equal to or co-authorize with the perfect law of the Lord?  Let us accept no substitute or rival to the Bible!

The reader is encouraged to consider some excellent thoughts on this subject from here: https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/557-what-is-sola-scriptura

 

IF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST WILL TRULY BE UNDENOMINATIONAL

Neal Pollard

The Restoration Plea is valid, vital, and victorious!  It urges every believer in Christ to throw off the shackles of humanly-devised traditions and beliefs that undermine and contradict the sole, supreme authority of Christ.  Religious division has been spawned through time because of men’s preference for their own creeds and doctrines.  Reason and rationale becomes, “We’ve always done this” or “We prefer this” rather than “Thus saith the Lord!”  With human nature, we are often prone to see such faulty thinking in others while being blinded to our own potential guilt.  This happens to us individually and it certainly can happen to us collectively.  Painfully aware of my own limitations and shortcomings, may I offer some cautions to us out of a sincere love of Christ and His glorious bride?

If the church of Christ will truly be undenominational,

  • We must build our faith and beliefs from the “text out” rather than assert our beliefs and then find verses to support it.
  • We must avoid blind loyalty to any individual, congregation, school, work, and the like.
  • We must determine not to press our inclinations, preferences, judgments, and opinions to the extent that such divides brethren or becomes matters of fellowship.
  • We must strive to preach and practice “the whole counsel of God,” even in unpopular matters or those we may have neglected (church discipline, evangelism, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, moral purity, first-century-like benevolence, etc.).
  • We must be patient and loving within and towards congregations, be they Thessalonicas or Corinths.
  • We must avoid unconditionally venerating and idolizing men above the Lord.
  • We must repent of our intensely “in-reach” philosophy and rededicate ourselves to intense “outreach” in our communities.
  • We must avoid convenient silence in our pulpits and classrooms regarding New Testament distinctiveness and doctrine.
  • We must increase our faith in the absolute, unqualified Lordship of Jesus.

This list is inevitably incomplete and imperfect.  How could it not be, since it is put forward by one who is certainly both those things?  Yet, it is put forward to emphasize that there is an urgent need for us to continually examine our beliefs and practices making sure our allegiance is to the Christ and not men—however great and noble they seem to us.  Our Lord said, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48).