Categories
Christmas scruples Uncategorized

A Passage I’ve Neglected To Apply To Myself

Neal Pollard

To be fair, there have been several passages I’ve neglected to apply to myself, but, given the time of year we are in, this is certainly one. Paul writes,

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:5-10). 

When we encounter a passage in Scripture, we are well-served to consider its practical application for daily life.

According to this passage, an individual is permitted to regard one day above another and another may choose not to do so. How might that apply to us today? What if one personally regarded December 25th over, say, August 17th (which, while it’s National Custard Day and National Thrift Shop Day, was an attempt to pick an ordinary day on the calendar)? Is that wrong? 

According to this passage, one may elect to observe a day (or not) and eat certain foods (or not) “for the Lord.” If they observe and eat, they aren’t wrong and should not be judged. Remember what Paul says elsewhere: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Is application restricted just to customs under the Old Law, or could someone today act as our judge regarding some or all of these things? Even in Colossians, Paul was dealing with more than Judaisers. 

According to this passage, we must consider our actions in light of how they impact each other. As a local church and even an entire brotherhood, we don’t act in isolation because we are part of one big spiritual family. It also means each member, every weak and strong Christian, should first apply this passage to himself/herself and not just project it onto others. It is a two-way street. If one wants to personally show homage to Christ on a specific day, should he or she be respected and left alone to do that? That seems a fair application of this text.

According to this passage, we must watch judging our brother in matters like these. Further, we must avoid seeing him with contempt. That’s a strong word, meaning “to show by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit or worth, disdain” (BDAG 352). Jesus reserved a scathing parable of two men praying in the temple for some because “they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Every weak and strong Christian, along with the rest of humanity, “will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” That should temper my spirit and speech, especially in matters which upon fair investigation turn out to be matters of judgment.

When I was younger, I sadly admit that I passed judgment on Christians who sent me religiously-themed Christmas cards or put up a nativity scene in their yard. Any sign that they attached religious significance to this season I attributed to their being spiritually weak and inferior. In light of Romans 14, I believe I was wrong to do this. This was a personal liberty granted to them by God through Paul in that text. If, as I presumptuously assumed, I was their “stronger brother,” then I should not act as their judge in the matter. I should set an example of patience, compassion, and acceptance.

This passage does not authorize the church to observe Christmas or to conclude, as one wise brother put it, “If I can do it, we can do it.” Scripture is filled with condemnation for the church, in its worship and teaching, setting up what God set down and setting down what He set up. Paul, in Romans 14, is talking about an individual Christian engaging in a personal observance. In a mountain of doctrinal and moral crises, let’s be sure to put this in proper perspective. More than that, let’s be careful to avoid being in either the camp which looses where God has bound or which binds where God has given liberty. And let it begin with me.

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Categories
Bible Bible study faith faithfulness humility Uncategorized

Examining Our Positions

Neal Pollard

Hans Kaltenborn was an ardent admirer and defender of Adolf Hitler and the “new Germany” ushered in with the Nazi regime. Despite diplomatic warnings of assaults upon Americans, Kaltenborn, an influential American commentator for CBS and NBC and of German descent, dismissed it as flawed and skewed information gathering by biased personnel. About to return home to the states to speak against such reports and warnings, his family went to downtown Berlin to do some last minute shopping. While out, the family found themselves in the middle of one of the endless S.A. parades. When his family refused to offer the Nazi salute, his son was physically assaulted and injured. Finally, someone intervened and the incident ended with no further harm. However, the transformed Kaltenborn was apoplectic. He made a report with the American Consulate in Berlin, but no charges were filed. As Eric Larsen writes, “the senior Kaltenborn ‘could remember neither the name nor the number of the Party identification card of the culprit, and as no other clues which might be useful in the investigation could be found’” (In The Garden of Beasts, 164). Despite this, Kaltenborn was now of a different mind!

There are many ways in which life can do the same thing to us.  We may be dead certain about marriage when we are single, about childrearing “pre-kids,” about our career when still in the classroom, about home ownership when in our parents’ home, dorm room, or apartment, and so on. But, life so often has a way of rudely awakening us from some well-meaning beliefs.

Sometimes, this can happen to us in the all-important area of religion. As we stay in our Bibles and gain wisdom and experience life, we may reaffirm but also clarify and even change certain positions we have long held. This can certainly be a dangerous affair, and some have allowed life to change their positions from what is true to what is false (what Jesus says about marriage, divorce, and remarriage because of a family situation, unscriptural changes in worship because of children attending church who have adopted such, etc.). But few of us will go all the way through life without reconsidering especially some conscience or judgment matters.

There are also a great many of our friends who have been taught religious error on God’s plan of salvation, the singular, undenominational nature of the church, what God wants in worship, women’s role in church and worship leadership, and the list goes on. This can be such a difficult challenge for anyone, to revisit long-held and deeply-believed positions in light of what the Bible says.

For all of us, there must be an abiding humility that approaches scripture without the blinders of prejudices, preconceived notions, and influences like family, friends, church, and so on. That is uncomfortable, but essential—for all of us!  We may come to find that something we’ve clung to so tenaciously must be rejected or that something we rejected must be embraced. If we ever get to that place, may we have the kind of heart that puts the will of God above our own will. Without such, we cannot hope to make heaven our home.

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Hans Kaltenborn
Categories
authority law and order police Uncategorized

Misguided Malice

Neal Pollard

I served the Livingston Police Department in Sumter County, Alabama, as a reserve officer for two years. I had a uniform and a badge, though the service I rendered was as chaplain.  The relationship between law enforcement and citizens there was very positive, but I remember talking with officers about the media bias and agenda of liberal politicians they witnessed locally and nationally. This was nearly a quarter century ago, long before the advent of social media and nearly omnipresent camera phones and videos which can be deceptive both for what they show and what they do not. In light of baffling events in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the last few weeks, as well as the inane calls to defund police, it is hard not to think that huge numbers of people have been duped by political rhetoric and a thoughtless mob mentality. While no profession can be completely free of corrupt individuals (who should be found out and prosecuted with full vigor), the existence of law enforcement and peace officers is a vital cog in the wheel of civilization and order in society. Eliminating these agencies is tantamount to removing a fence keeping a pack of bloodthirsty pit bulls from a neighboring playground full of children.

It is a characteristic of worldliness to disdain authority.  The Christian’s attitude and response is to be different. To Christians living in a world with not a fraction of the liberties we enjoy in society today, Paul instructed, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:1-5). There are sobering, inescapable truths here which should be revered by those who are servants of God. God is mentioned five times in these verses, and He is intrinsically tied to earthly authorities. They are from God (1), established by God (1), an ordinance of God (2), and ministers of God (4).

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul tells us the earmarks of difficult times. So many of these traits are evidenced in the growing anarchy of the present day—revilers, unloving, irreconcilable, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, and reckless (1-4).  In addition to such attitudes and actions being sinful, they are too often misguided. Police are symbols of law and order, and they are easy targets for those who commit or are effected by lawlessness. It seems that more of our passion and animus should be directed toward criminals and less toward our crime stoppers.

Let us take to heart Peter’s counsel to persecuted Christians and “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right [we] may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:13-15). If we can rationalize and argue away this Bible truth, why can we not do the same with any other timeless principle of Scripture? May God help us all to hold tightly to the Light of the Bible, that the world may see how it should respond in this troublesome world.

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Categories
gospel Gospel of Mark heart Uncategorized

Petrified!

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have seen the incredible collections of petrified wood in some of our National Parks or Monuments, or maybe you have seen individual examples in any number of other places. A geology site briefly explains how material becomes petrified:

Petrified wood is a fossil. It forms when plant material is buried by sediment and protected from decay by oxygen and organisms. Then, groundwater rich in dissolved solids flows through the sediment replacing the original plant material with silica, calcite, pyrite or another inorganic material such as opal. The result is a fossil of the original woody material that often exhibits preserved details of the bark, wood and cellular structures (geology.com/stories/13/petrified-wood).

There are a few interesting aspects to this process—the burial, the protection, the replacement, and the resulting appearance.

Twice in the gospel of Mark, the writer uses a term to describe the condition of His disciples’ hearts. In Mark six, they have seen him feed the 5,000 men and immediately thereafter they are in the boat in a strong wind when Jesus came walking on the water. They were troubled and fearful, amazed and marveling “for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (52). Ironically, the second incident happened in a boat following Jesus feeding thousands of people again. They misunderstand Jesus’ warning about the leaven of the religious leaders, and Jesus laments, “Is your heart still hardened?” (8:17).

BDAG defines this word, πωρόω, in this way: “To cause someone to have difficulty in understanding or comprehending, harden, petrify, make dull, obtuse, blind, close the mind” (900).  The truth was buried from their understanding, their preexisting, preset points of view blocking its penetration, and the result was their missing the important point. The truth couldn’t get through to their petrified hearts.

Why do we fail to understand basic, vital Bible truths, like the essential nature of baptism, the abrogation of the Law Of Moses (including the Ten Commandments), the emotionally difficult teaching of Jesus about marriage, divorce, and remarriage in Matthew 19, God’s law regarding sexual purity, and the like? Why do we struggle with worry, fear, and doubt? Why do we lack the courage to boldly share Jesus with the lost? Often, the answer to each of these and similar questions is the same as why the disciples feared and faltered.

We should pray for our hearts to stay soft, receptive, and moldable to Jesus. We cannot let our ignorance, resistance, or outside influences to harden our hearts. In fact, that very prospect should make us, well, petrified!

petrifiedwood

Categories
Lord's Supper worship

Is It Scriptural To Use Alcoholic Wine In The Lord’s Supper?

Neal Pollard

This is a question that occasionally comes up and is an important matter to consider since for some this is a test of a teacher’s soundness and a matter of fellowship.  As the church is global in nature, it is a matter to consider beyond the borders of our nation.  Various biblical arguments are made to defend and condemn its usage.

No doubt, the practice of “social drinking”—which is a different discussion altogether—has created such sensitivity to this matter of what kind of fruit of the vine is permissible for communion.  Achieving a biblical answer is vital, though, especially if the matter is framed as something that might be “scriptural” or, by implication, “unscriptural.”  If Guy N. Woods is right on this very matter, “To urge the use of one, to the exclusion of the other, on alleged scriptural grounds, is to make a law where God made none. It is a grave sin so to do (1 Tim. 4:3)” (Questions And Answers: Open Forum, 1976, p. 361).  Were his statement to be found true, those who malign the character of those whose position differs from their own should refrain and retract.  This is not a matter of what is preferred or deemed most expedient, but is a matter of what Scripture permits.

Arguments Against Its Use:

  • The Passover Meal.  Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during the Passover before His death (Mat. 26:26-29).  Drawing from the idea that during the Passover no leaven was to be in one’s house for seven days (Exo. 12:19), it is assumed that wine would be prohibited.  Even if such were to be proven true (and it cannot be), we should remember that what proves too much proves nothing at all.  During the Passover, they also ate roasted meat (Exo. 12:8) and bitter herbs (Exo. 12:9).  In addition, the “leaven” forbidden in the Passover was dough used in baking bread (Koehler, et al; The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament, 1999, n.pag.) and the prohibition is specifically “eating” that which contained leaven (cf. Exo. 12:15; Deu. 16:4). Wayne Jackson shows that “wine was ordinarily used at the Passover and is called ‘fruit of the vine’ in Berakoth 6:1” (https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/224-was-the-fruit-of-the-vine-fermented, citing Jack Lewis and John Lightfoot).  The Passover Meal cannot be used as grounds for prohibiting the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper.
  • 1 Timothy 5:23.  It is argued that since Paul had to tell Timothy to drink wine for  medicinal purposes, Timothy could not have, as a Christian who faithfully worshipped, consumed fermented fruit of the vine in partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  This assumes what the text of Scripture nowhere supports.  That Paul is condoning the medicinal use of alcohol, given the medical conditions of the day, is clear.  But, this text is neither in the context of the Lord’s Supper nor a judgment in any way on what should be used in it.  One flirts dangerously close to “twisting” the Scriptures who applies this passage to the communion (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16).
  • Causing A Brother To Stumble.  This is a legitimate concern and should factor into our judgment regarding the Lord’s Supper.  The church has recovering alcoholics and others who struggle with a sin problem regarding alcohol.  A newer convert or one whose conscience is sensitive in this matter should be respected.  Romans 14 is devoted to discussing such a matter as this. However, having scruples about a matter does not give one the authority to make his or her scruples law.  Choosing to impose fermented wine just because one can, ignoring the impact this has on a brother’s conscience, falls into the category of causing a brother’s stumbling.  However, difficulty in obtaining grape juice in many parts of the world at times makes necessary using alcoholic fruit of the vine.  In this case, the Lord’s command takes precedence over a brother’s conscience.  The church is commanded to observe the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-29), with the approved example of Acts 20:7 teaching us that such is to be done every first day of the week.

This article is not intended as advocacy to implement the use of alcoholic fruit of the vine in our communion services here in the states or developed nations where there is ready access to non-alcoholic fruit of the vine.  The bigger question is permissibility in situations where such is unavoidable or even where the autonomous judgment of the local church allows its usage. By extension, is it right to label a congregation liberal or sinful who chooses to use it in the Lord’s Supper?  At its heart, this is not a matter of what we might think is wiser, more expedient, or more comfortable.  The question is whether a congregation has the biblical right to do so.  In many of the world’s more remote and rural areas, the ability to get non-alcoholic fruit of the vine is a real problem.  For them, this is a real, practical concern.  Short of compelling information which I have, as yet, not seen, it seems clear that it is scriptural to use alcoholic wine in the Lord’s Supper.

Categories
conscience endurance

The Origin Of Scruples

Neal Pollard

Wes Autrey gave me an incredibly cool book by Charles Earle Funk.  The title of it is, “Thereby Hangs A Tale.” The book divulges the origin of words in modern usage, a study known as etymology. The fascinating explanations of many of our words is virtually endless, but the origin of our word “scruples” is particularly interesting.  Apparently, the Romans were prone to get sharp pebbles in their sandals.  They called those “pointed bits of stone” scrupulus. Funk says, “It is easy to see how the uneasiness one would feel from a pebble in the sandal gave rise to the figurative use of scrupulus for an uneasiness of the mind” (254).  In time, scrupulous has come to mean “extreme caution and carefulness.”  Scruples are “a feeling of doubt or hesitation with regard to the morality or propriety of a course of action.”

There is a connection between scruples and conscience.  It is the conscience that informs our scruples.  Our sense of right and wrong determines our caution, care, and even hesitation when we are in a given situation.  How sharp our conscience is effects how scrupulous or unscrupulous we are.

The Bible does not use the word “scruples,” but the word “conscience” is mentioned 27 times in the New Testament alone. Some people’s conscience forbids them to do what may be acceptable (cf. 1 Cor. 8:7), but others’ consciences allow them to do what is forbidden (Acts 23:1; 1 Tim. 4:2). Thus, the goal is for us to properly train and adequately sharpen the conscience.

What helps in this process is growing close to God by communing with Him in Scripture, application of Scripture, and prayer.  As we walk the narrow way, we want to feel the pain of those “pebbles” that may keep us from finishing the journey.  Is this not the idea conveyed by the writer of Hebrews, who says, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).  That rock in the shoe may be some ethical or moral practice that ultimately takes us off course.  Let us be careful to gauge the morality or propriety of any course of action, making sure it is in harmony with the goal of eternal life and not more likely to ultimately lead us away from God.