A 4-H Club No Christian Should Join

A 4-H Club No Christian Should Join

Tuesday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Were you ever in the 4-H Club in school? It is an organization teaching skills you might not learn at home, urging you to get involved in your community, and helping you with a wide variety of life skills from public speaking to caring for animals. The acronym stands for “head, heart, hands, and health.” Their slogan was that you learn by doing.

In Matthew 23, Jesus gives His harshest barrage of condemnation in the Bible. He didn’t aim it at godless, irreligious heathens, but to religious leaders. They were faithful churchgoers who professed faith in God, but Jesus calls them on some glaring problems that made God reject them . 

THEY WERE HYPOCRITES (3-4)

They told others to observe things but they didn’t do them (3). They laid heavy burdens on others but were unwilling to life a finger to move them themselves (4). While hypocrisy can be defined as being a spiritual chameleon, acting one way with the righteous and another way with the world, is also hypocrisy. Seven times in this chapter, Jesus says, “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” The world sees double standards and a person who says one thing and does another as a hypocrite. It doesn’t necessarily make them bitter or angry. It makes them not care. They are conditioned to expect that all Xians are hypocrites. Being hypocritical only reinforces and heightens the stereotype. But the Bible calls for us to have a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5). We are to possess pure and undefiled religion, which is objectively measured (Jas. 1:27). We have an opportunity to blow the stereotype by being the genuine article who reflects the attitude and speech of Christ each day with the world.

THEY WERE HOLLOW (5)

If there’s anything worse than beauty that’s only skin deep, it’s religion.  Jesus condemns those who did all their deeds to be seen of men. The world is repelled by professed Christians who don’t take time to see them as people. Often, they feel as if their only importance is as a potential convert or as a sinner to be judged. If we’re not careful, we fail to see every person as precious to God. That includes the immoral, the edgy, the rough, and the square peg. They see us doing or saying good things, but it’s hollow. We may do it be be noticed as a good, godly person, but we miss the opportunities to actually do good and be godly with those we interact with. Paul says, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:5-6).

 THEY WERE HAUGHTY (6-12)

They wanted honor, respect, and recognition. Jesus diagnoses their problem as one of self-exaltation (12). 2. It was the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable on prayer who thanked God for his perceived superiority over other people (Lk 18:10). The world sees smug, self-righteousness as a total turn off.  Jesus later says that these folks were like whitewashed tombs, beautiful outside but full of dead men’s bones (27).  This is not the religion and life Jesus calls His followers to live. He describes greatness as service (11) and self-denial (16:24). The world will never be won to Christ by proud Pharisees. It takes humble hearts and helping hands to point people to Christ. 

THEY WERE HARSH (13-15)

Christ says, “But woe to you, scribes & Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (13).  This is how the world sees all Christians, as Judge, jury and executioner. They don’t see the love of God and the grace of Christ.  They see exclusive, isolated people who have written off everyone else. Jesus suggests that those they reach are those likeminded (15). Some people are drawn to harsh and hateful rhetoric, but they don’t make good converts of Jesus—if they stay that way. Jesus told His disciples that their identifying mark should be love (John 13:34-35). This world is an unloving place and so sincere love will reach people. At first, they may not believe we could be the real thing, but persistent compassion and grace will ultimate reach the honest heart.

The world doesn’t need Christians who compromise the truth. But they do need to see transformed disciples (Rom 12:1-2). We can be righteous without being self-righteous; We can be courageous without being callus. Matthew 23 shows that this is a must, if we will practice true righteousness. 

via “freebibleimages.com”

What Does The Bible Say?

What Does The Bible Say?

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

Most people have very strong convictions, pro or con, about religious matters.  Many who claim to be religious form opinions and draw conclusions with very little if any biblical consultation.  How ironic is it to claim to follow God while ignoring and even rejecting His very revealed will?

Many religious people, church attenders and not, are guided by their feelings, desires, opinions, preferences, and consciences (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3; Prov. 14:12).  Perhaps they have a favorite preacher or other religious figure they implicitly trust.  Their religion may be submitted and subjugated to the message of the culture or even the media. It may be based on convenience and comfort.  Throughout time, man has attempted to serve God on his own terms and based on what he thinks is right.  Whether ignorantly or defiantly, he puts himself on a throne upon which only Jesus belongs (Mat. 28:18).

How long could religious error survive if potentially divided parties could lay aside personal interests and objectively study the sacred text?  So often, the religious world is divided because of man-made doctrines and traditions.  Instead of looking to the Bible to answer the important questions of time and eternity, men often come up with the answers they want and then go looking for Bible verses to support their predetermined views.  Consider that some of the most popular religious ideas—salvation by saying the sinner’s prayer, premillennialism, speaking in tongues, women worship leaders, once-saved, always-saved, and instrumental music—are not practiced or believed based upon their being taught in Scripture but instead their being the beliefs and views of mankind.  How thrilling it would be if we could unite every religious person in the desire to come to the text, the glasses of prejudice or sectarian beliefs removed, and let God tell us what to believe and how to live!  That is possible, but it begins with each of us humble, sincerely asking, “What does the Bible say?”

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New Testament Christianity

New Testament Christianity

Neal Pollard

  • The New Testament claims to be the source of authority for all we do of eternal importance, no matter when or where we live (Col. 3:17; 2 Pet. 1:3,20-21; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
  • The New Testament will not share authority with any other book or “revelation” (Gal. 1:6-9; Jude 3).
  • The New Testament reveals how a person becomes a Christian (Acts 2:37-47; Eph. 4:4-6).
  • The New Testament teaches us that the Lord adds Christians to His church (Acts 2:47).
  • The New Testament shows us how that church is organized and led (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1-12; Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).
  • The New Testament gives us the day the Christians met to worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).
  • The New Testament clarifies for us the various roles and responsibilities God has given to each gender of Christians in the work and worship of His church (1 Tim. 2:8-15).
  • The New Testament teaches the Christian how God wants to be worshipped (John 4:24).
  • The New Testament outlines the Christian’s purpose and work (Eph. 4:11-16).
  • The New Testament is dedicated to showing how one, as a faithful Christian, has eternal life and the hope of heaven (Ti. 1:2; Rev. 2:10; ch. 21-22).
  • The New Testament helps one understand how God wants marriage and family to function, to build Christian homes (Mat. 19:1-12; Eph. 5:22-6:4; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).
  • The New Testament urges Christian growth and thoroughly teaches how that is accomplished (2 Pet. 3:18; Ti. 2:11-14; John 15:1ff; etc.).
  • The New Testament constantly speaks of how the Christian needs to and benefits from developing an intimate relationship with the Godhead (1 Th. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15; John 15:14; Mat. 22:36-40).
  • The New Testament teaches that Christians prove to others their discipleship to Christ by loving one another (John 13:34-35).
  • The New Testament reveals that Christians are tasked with duplicating themselves by teaching the gospel to those outside of Christ (Mat. 28:18-20; Acts 8:4; Col. 1:23).
  • The New Testament asserts itself as the unfailing, universal guide regarding anything that will ultimately matter (2 Pet. 1:3; John 14:26; 16:13; etc.).

If what we are after is divine guidance for who a Christian is, what he or she does, and how God wants one to live, where else would we turn but to the New Testament? A God who engineered us for eternity and tells us we have but two eternal dwelling places would be cruel and unloving if He did not give us clear, thorough answers to any matter that is important to Him. How loving and faithful for God to give us such an unambiguous guide.

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HOW IS TRUTH DETERMINED?

HOW IS TRUTH DETERMINED?

Neal Pollard

Recently, I received some feedback on a recent article (Truth Is Truth, No Matter Who Disagrees With It). Negative feedback is not rare, but expected when we put ideas down on paper (or on electronic media like blogs). This feedback was not personal, nor unkind. Yet, it reflects the thinking of so many who shun the idea of absolute, objective truth. Consider the major arguments made by the one who wrote:

—No matter what you believe, the majority disagrees with you.
—You are no smarter or more sincere than those who disagree with you.
—Everyone is certain their religion is right, but this is a function of the brain and proof of nothing
—Conflicting views within the “Restoration Movement” shows the fallacy of being certain about truth
—Certainty is dangerous because it does not allow for change

The last three arguments seem more of a confrontation of certainty than arguments against truth, but consider each of these individually.

Does the inevitability of disagreement nullify the idea of absolute truth? If someone argues our answer that two plus two equals four, and were able to get a majority to side with them that the answer is five, does that nullify the truth of what two plus two equals?

If a person with demonstrable intellectual capacity and apparent sincerity nonetheless avers that two plus two equals five, do we rewrite the laws of addition and reprint the textbooks? If not, why not? Is it not because we can take two of something, add it to two more of the same something, like integers or apples or books, and find the inescapable, universal truth that now there are four?

Can any religion be certain that they are right, but be wrong? Universalists believe everyone will ultimately be saved. Those who believe that murdering those they deem “infidels” pleases their God and they teach others that this is truth. Cults often dub their leaders the Messiah. On what basis would we object or oppose any religious tenet, like these, without an objective standard of truth?

Does the imperfection of people in applying revealed truth impugn the reality of absolute truth? It will never be suggested that anyone is perfectly interpreting or applying the perfect standard of truth, including those trying to restore New Testament Christianity (which, incidentally, implies belief in a perfect, objective standard of truth). But, does that mean restoration can or should be rejected for ideas which clearly contradict what the New Testament says (i.e., “sinner’s prayer’ versus how the New Testament teaches people were saved)?

If there is a conflict between the certainty of New Testament teaching and the desire for change, which is to be preferred and chosen? The religious world has changed a myriad of things that the New Testament explicitly teaches must be done or taught a certain way. Isn’t it a faulty premise to choose change proposed by men, when it assaults a certainty revealed by God?

That there is religious confusion and division is indisputable. It is disheartening. The Bible warns that articulate, polished religious leaders would teach things contrary to the revealed truth of the New Testament (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11; Rev. 22:18-19). Let us never put confidence in man, but let us ever put confidence in the truth of Scripture.

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Alternate Realities

Alternate Realities

Neal Pollard

I don’t know when I first noticed it, but I’ve noticed that it has dramatically intensified in the last few years. We might call it the “CNN-Foxnews Dissonance” where a specific event is viewed, explained, and interpreted in such different ways that the observer is left believing that it could not be just one single event but two totally different events instead. The cultural divide in our country is distinctly felt, and it is baffling that the world could be seen in such different ways by people who coexist beside each other day by day. Environment partially explains it, where we grew up, who influences us, and what we value. However, what guides our life–our authority–is perhaps the biggest influence on how we see the world. All of us base our lives upon a premise, a purpose, and a prospect (i.e., where we came from, why we’re here, and where we’re going). This belief system materially effects how we see our world.

Your worldview effects:

  • The value you place on people, especially as compared to other living things (animals, plants, etc.)
  • The value you place on human life, especially the most vulnerable ones (the pre-born, mentally challenged, chronically ill, terminal, and elderly)
  • The value you place on other people, especially compared to your own rights, feelings, etc.
  • The value you place on objective truth (whether or not you believe it exists)
  • Your stance on moral and ethical matters involving human sexuality
  • Why and how you interact with people in your various relationships (work, school, family, friends, etc.)
  • How you think, talk, and act.

It’s no wonder that people see our culture and our world so differently from each other. It’s more a matter of perception than proximity.  What erases these typically harmful dissonances is a mutual willingness to submit to the supreme authority. If we let God through His Word tell us how to see the world and if we come to it truly determined to listen to Him without prejudice and hardened hearts, we can see eye to eye on anything that has ultimate meaning and impact. What divides us from each other may be ourselves as much as the other person–our view of God, His will, and our submission to it.

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THE CHRIST?ANS

THE CHRIST?ANS

Neal Pollard

I’ve seen the play advertised locally. Lucas Hnath, a 36-year-old playwright, has a background in religion. His mother attended seminary and he even sat in her classes. The New Yorker reveals that there were expectations early on in his life for him to become a “pastor,” a choice he forewent for the arts instead (“Divine Intervention,” 9/7/15, Hilton Als). The play is about a megachurch preacher who has come to believe there is no hell and who believes God gave him this revelation. The result of his divulging this in a sermon is a church split, led by the assistant pastor who does believe in the reality of hell. While doctrine lays at the heart of the split, the play is said to focus on the personalities and behavior of various folks making up the church. Alissa Wilkinson, in a flamboyantly titled review, says this play resonates because “schisms, church splits, or at least disgruntled storming-outs are familiar to virtually everyone who stays in a church long enough to be committed to its life” (Christianity Today, 9/23/15). At least in advertising I’ve seen, the play title appears “The Christ?ans.” The idea is that, judging from their behavior, it is questionable whether or not they are truly Christians.

There are heartbreaking stories of congregations of the Lord’s church whose internal battles became known to the community and the brotherhood at large. Some have resulted from battles over doctrinal issues, whether regarding morality, fellowship, worship, leadership, or the like. Some have resulted from dueling strong personalities, jockeying for power, position, and prominence. Some have boiled down to squabbles about money. In all of them, tragically, Christ has been relegated to the corner and forced to be quiet while His “followers” duke it out.

While the implications over a doctrinal dispute and a personality power play are different, too often the predominant feature is a show of the flesh.

Many with a background in religion will be able to relate to the theme of the play because they have seen schisms in churches before. The world is a divided place, full of rancor, backstabbing, infighting, and unfair fighting. The church, particularly the church of the New Testament, must never exhibit such traits. Corinth set off such an alarm with Paul for this very reason. He urges no division to mar them (1 Cor. 1:10-13) and goes on to address both doctrine and attitudes in the letter. Philippi had two quarreling women straining the unity of that church (4:2) and Paul goes right to the heart and the mind.

We must strive to conduct ourselves with one another in a way that is always exemplary before the eyes of the community, the brotherhood, and the world. I thank God to work with a church that has been around so long and been through so much and who have weathered those storms by sticking together. Yet, too often, people have aired their dirty, unsightly laundry out on the clothesline of public purveyance. This soils the reputation of the Savior! That fact alone should horrify every child of God. May we always strive to be a beacon of light (Mat. 5:16), shining a spotlight on the Sinless Savior and not squabbling saints!

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Everyone Can “Do” Evangelism

Everyone Can “Do” Evangelism

Neal Pollard

  • Pray, specifically, about having opportunities to share your faith. Think about the people in the various places you spend your time and ask God for inroads with these individuals specifically. Pray for courage, wisdom, and your words (cf. Col. 4:2-6). Pray for their hearts. Pray to pick opportune times to approach them.
  • Cultivate your fields. Spend time thinking about who you have or can build a relationship with. That will be your area of greatest success. Be involved in their lives (see below). Work at growing the number of people you could share Christ with.
  • Develop genuine interest in the lives of the people in your life. Learn spouse’s and children’s names, occupation, interests, hobbies, and passions in their lives. Ask about those things. File away and remember those facts, as your specific recall with them will impress them with your sincerity and concern. How is trust won? Time and transparency.
  • Be able to speak openly and wisely about religion with them. That means picking your battles wisely. You will hear people spout misinformation and false ideas when religion is being discussed. Always maintain control and calm, being gentle in discussing religious matters (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). If asked (and you eventually will be) about some specific, like salvation or church organization or what “denomination” you are a member of, be winsome and kind but courageous enough to give a biblical answer.
  • Work at working in your faith and the church into your conversations naturally. This may require prayer and thought, but practice turning your conversations with people toward the spiritual. Like anything, if you’ve not had practice, it may seem clunky and awkward initially but not ultimately. If something is going on at church that relates some way to what your friend is saying, bring it up matter of factly. If their issue or struggle concerns something you have come across in your recent Bible study, share the verse with them.
  • Be prepared to serve and help. So many of our co-workers, associates, neighbors, and other friends have messy lives. They are struggling and, without Christ, have no bearings on how to address their problems. As human beings, they inevitably struggle with the same things all people struggle with—relationships, family, finance, uncertainty, health, fear, etc.  Remind yourself that you are here, on earth, to serve (cf. Mat. 20:28; Gal. 5:13).
  • Watch yourself. Your example, especially under the pressures and fires of life, can make or break your evangelistic opportunities. Your temperament, reaction, attitude, and the like are a display case for the Lord or the world. Regularly remind yourself of this (Ti. 2:8; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:12).
  • Remember the mantra, “It’s not a matter of ‘who’ is right, but ‘what’ is right.” I received this counsel decades ago, as a young preacher, from David Sain. I have used it countless times in soul-winning circumstances. Truly, ultimately, all religious questions must be settled upon the foundation of Scripture. Feelings, opinions, what churches teach and practice, what religious leaders say, and such must be subjugated to what the Bible says. Those other standards may fail us. Scripture won’t!

Evangelism will always be intimidating because it ultimately calls for courage and conviction. Not every specific situation will be a success story, but if we can remind ourselves of our purpose on this earth and how much people need what we have learned we will act! And there will be success!

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The Brooks-Sumner Affair

The Brooks-Sumner Affair

Neal Pollard

In 1856, Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Senator, delivered an excoriating speech full of vicious name-calling and personal insults—especially against Senators Douglas and Butler—for their defense and advocation of slavery and especially the violence in Kansas in response to the actions of John Brown and his followers. The speech went on for two days, and shortly after its completion a man named Colonel Preston Brooks, a U.S. representative from South Carolina and distant relative of Andrew Butler, retaliated by beating Sumner with a cane. It was a serious enough beating that Sumner would take years to recover. Sumner would become an iconic hero to northerners and Brooks, who as punishment for the crime was fined $300, a darling of the south. Newspaper headlines of the time, in each region, painted their man a hero and the other man a demon (read a sample here: http://history.furman.edu/benson/docs/sumenu.htm). It is not the loathsome sin of slavery that I wish to highlight here, but the age-old tendency to blindly defend a person or position one feels inclined toward and the incredible efforts to vilify those on the other side of the issue—no matter what.

People are inclined to line up behind men rather than the Messiah. It is not just during political season or for certain social agenda items that this occurs, but more importantly in every season of the year when it comes to religious matters. Paul decried men’s tendency to be “of Paul…of Apollos…and…of Cephas” (1 Cor. 1:12). In the religious world, division has occurred because men have lined up behind some man’s teaching. Often, this teaching is a misconstrued view of a passage (for example, John 3:16, Acts 16:31, Mark 16:17, etc.) or a teaching without benefit of a passage (for example, having an experience of grace, saying a sinner’s prayer, infant baptism, etc.). As with politics, people can become blind apologists for their leaders and champions who promote what they already believe. Often, no amount of reason and logic can overcome the predisposed bias of the adherents. Lost in the cacophony of religious debate can be clear, simple biblical truth. Religious division is not the product or prompting of God (1 Cor. 1:10; 14:33). It is entirely of human origin. While there are some matters where God has not legislated, there are also some clear “right” and “wrong” matters in Scripture. Where God has spoken, we must take His word and will over that of absolutely anyone else. Otherwise, we will find ourselves guilty of elevating one above the One we must all ultimately give an account to. That would be an injustice and violation to top even “The Brooks-Sumner Affair.” May we keep our allegiance to God free from the taint of personal prejudices, even in the matter of our religious convictions. Psalm 119:89.

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Do We Need Permission?

Do We Need Permission?

Neal Pollard

For several years while in Virginia, I enjoyed going out with a couple of dear Christian brothers to hunt for Civil War relics.  Of course, hunting on federal property was a serious crime and was unthinkable. However, so many of the personal properties owned by residents in the Richmond area were treasure troves of those artifacts. Their woods and fields held bullets, shells, buckles, buttons, and the like. Dave Young, Jr., always followed the same procedure before our hunts. He would go see the homeowners where we wanted to hunt, people he had known, built friendships and done business with for years. If we got their permission—sometimes the thoughtless or unethical practices of other hunters made them inclined to refuse us—then we would go on their property and hunt for relics. It was their land and their right to permit or deny. If we had ever chosen to hunt one of those places without permission and got caught, it would have been a silly argument to say, “They did not tell us we couldn’t hunt here.”

This example is crude and imperfect, but I think it illustrates a principle most can understand. It is not natural to construe someone’s silence as permission. Yet, when it comes to matters of faith and practice in religion, we attempt that very approach.

When it comes to how we live and serve in this life, we have to have God’s approval for whatever we do (Col. 3:17). When He tells us what His will is on any matter, our response to that should be thoughtful, careful, and submissive.  To be otherwise would be thoughtless, careless, and rebellious—with God’s stated desires.  To think that God would give us physical life, generous physical blessings, incredible spiritual blessings, spiritual life, and powerful promises on a continuous basis and we could ever be callous or cavalier about what He wants reveals an unfathomable audacity. Frank Chesser once depicted such an attitude this way, saying, “It has no respect for either the sound or the silence of God’s voice. It only does what the Bible says in a given area because it happens to agree with the Bible on that point. At the first sign of conflict, it will have its own way ever time” (The Spirit of Liberalism 18).

Church music in worship often gets isolated from the larger principle.  How we worship God in song, whether with or without mechanical instruments, is just one specific of a much broader principle. God has told us what He wants for church music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Whatever we do must meet His expressed will. Projecting songs, using songbooks or shape notes, having a song leader, or singing in parts or four-part harmony still falls within the category of His command that we sing. But this same principle covers everything we do in worship as well as the specific commands He has for us regarding our work as a church, our response to His grace in order to have His salvation, and the like.

Our culture teaches us to ask, “Why can’t I?” It encourages us to say, “You didn’t say I couldn’t.” But, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The humble spirit of a grateful, grace-receiving child of God, when viewing the will of God, should always be, “Do I have permission for that?”  Such is neither cowering fear or abject slavery.  It is adoration and reverence for a Lord who gave everything that we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).

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Some of my relics from back in the day

Selling What You Don’t Own

Selling What You Don’t Own

Neal Pollard

One of the more ingenious and amusing entrepreneurial moves I’ve ever heard is the company that offers to sell you a star.  For a price, you can buy a star and name it for a loved one.  The company will send you a gift pack along with registering the star in the name of the one you, the buyer, designate.  I have never been able to figure out how that company earned the right to sell something no one will ever visit, hold, or otherwise show tangible ownership of.

When I think about some of the new, strange religious ideas along with some long held, established ones, it reminds me of the folks selling the stars.  Preachers and whole denominations offer salvation on their own terms, altering and subtracting from the Lord’s established will as if salvation was theirs to offer.  They urge people to pray a prayer or accept Christ in their hearts, guaranteeing them salvation by so doing.  Or they tell a seeker that the Holy Spirit will irresistibly come upon them, filling them and by so doing indicate an experience of grace.  Or they urge parents to sprinkle their babies, saving them from what they call inherited sin.  The problem in all these scenarios is that people are offering what is not theirs to give.  Christ has already established the plan that saves the lost person—hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believing it (Rom. 10:10), repenting of sins (Rom. 2:4; 6:17-18), confessing Christ (Rom. 10:10), and being buried in water in order to enjoy the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-4).

The same things occurs with worship.  People claim to stand in the place of Christ and tell others what is and is not acceptable to God.  They propose changes in who can lead in worship (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12), how worship music is to be done (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and when the Lord’s Supper can be taken (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7).  Some would say that dance, weightlifting, incense-burning, drama, and the like are acts of worship God will accept, though they do so without a scintilla of appeal to the New Testament.

When it comes to the will of God, He has exclusive rights over that.  Christ does not share His authority with anyone (Mat. 28:18).  He makes the rules and determines right and wrong.  Beware of anyone who is selling anything else (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17).