Coming Together, Coming Apart

Coming Together, Coming Apart

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Last Saturday, John Moore and I traveled a couple of hours over to Lexington, Kentucky, to see several places associated with the “Restoration Movement.” This restoration effort, coming at a time of spiritual awakening where people were rethinking their approach to the Bible as well as questioning religious teaching, led to independent movements of people who concluded it was not only possible but necessary to go back to the Bible for everything they taught and believed. Rejecting religious creeds, disciplines, and manuals, they sought to do Bible things in Bible ways, speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it was silent. While we should not revere or unduly exalt the people who led this effort, neither should we abandon their work. We should imitate their spirit of letting the Bible, not human tradition, be our sole rule and guide.

Two independent movements, most associated with Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell, began to conclude that they were of the same mind and judgment in desiring to get back to simple, New Testament Christianity. They met in 1832 in downtown Lexington on Hill Street. John and I stood at this very spot, now a parking lot for a major bank.

Untold numbers of people from the northern and mid-Atlantic United States to the southern and, at the time, western United States obeyed the simple New Testament message they and others preached. They established colleges, held lengthy evangelistic meetings to preach the gospel, had religious discussions and debates, began journals and periodicals, wrote books, and shared the gospel with their neighbors, family, and friends. More and more were leaving religious division to simply be New Testament Christians. 

John and I went from that place where great hope and renewal occurred just a few minutes north up to a little community called Midway. It is a quaint little town, with antique shops, trains, and a beautiful little college named for the town. We first went to a church building, built on the site of another building where in 1860 the well-meaning group of saints there, to aid what in their view was atrocious singing, accompanied their singing with a piano-like instrument known as a melodeon. The practice of adding mechanical instruments of music would spread to congregations throughout the state and ultimately out to the Lord’s church all over the country. Something lacking the authority and approval of Christ, but meeting with the tastes and preferences of men, was introduced and disrupted the unity and harmony of God’s people. It would take years to form a wedge wide enough to cause systemic division and disunity, but it happened alarmingly fast. 

Throughout history, the precious attribute of unity (Psa. 133:1) has required great effort to achieve and has proven difficult to maintain (1 Kings 12:1ff). However, God commands it (1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 12:16; Phil. 1:27). He is pleased when we pursue and preserve it, so how does He view when we viciously sever, undermine, and destroy it? History is a great teacher, if we allow it to be. May we have hearts desiring nothing else than God’s Word as the foundation of our teaching and lives, and pursue that with a spirit of harmony and oneness which permeated the church at its very beginning! 

Still Restoring

Still Restoring

Neal Pollard

The idea of restoring New Testament Christianity is “that God set forth His standard of acceptance in salvation, worship, church organization and daily living” and “to follow the teachings of God, revealed in the New Testament, to direct our lives in the same way as He did first century Christians” (therestorationmovement.com/about.htm). We can open our Bibles and find a pattern for what the New Testament church is to look like, not in customs and culture, but in commands and cause. Yet, a tendency we must guard against is a haughty spirit that portrays the idea that we have already arrived. Consider four areas where we need to keep at the restoration plea and overcome neglect.

  • CHURCH DISCIPLINE. For years, I have seen this referred to as “the forgotten commandment.” At times, people will say of it things like “it doesn’t work,” “it’s harmful,” “it runs people away,” etc. Were we to substitute that argumentation for subjects like women’s role, worship, or baptism, wouldn’t we cry heresy or apostasy? However, in far too many instances, we have simply ignored and failed to practice this plain, New Testament teaching (Mat. 18:15-17; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thes. 3; Ti. 3:10-11).
  • EVANGELISM. It is so much easier to focus upon ourselves, to devote all our resources to internal issues.  Is there a spirit of evangelistic zeal running rampant among us? Is this an area to restore, to be like the early church? Perhaps we may be intimidated by the culture of political correctness. It could be the risk of ruining relationships or even rejection that causes us to avoid efforts at soul-winning. It could even be that we need to build our conviction for or commitment to this imperative given by the resurrected Savior Himself (Mat. 28:18-20;Mark 16:15-16;  Luke 24:44-47).
  • CHURCH ORGANIZATION. It is very likely that the number of churches of Christ which have elders are in the minority. At times, the reality of a shortage of qualified men is to blame. At other times, preachers or others prefer not to have elders. But, even where churches are “scripturally organized” (i.e., having elders and deacons), there is room for restoration— Preachers preaching and evangelizing, elders leading and shepherding (pastoring), and deacons actively carrying out  and administrating the ministries and works of the local church.  At times, there is a need to restore the roles of each of these works so that the proper, appointed men are doing the work Scripture outlines for them.
  • BROTHERLY LOVE. This is difficult, in a world increasingly characterized by hate, discord, and general worldliness. In our culture, where it’s easy to become disconnected with others—even our Christian family—we must strive to restore the beacon and central identification mark Jesus urged when He said, “ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Isn’t there room for more concentration upon this command, which will be reflected in how we treat each other locally and in the brotherhood as a whole (1 Pet. 2:17)?

I love to spend as much time as possible talking about what the church is doing right. It is doing so much right. By following the New Testament pattern regarding salvation, worship, the church’s purpose, and the like, we stand out in a religious world that has lost its way. Meanwhile, however, let us stay at the business of restoring the church to the pattern revealed in Scripture, even in areas that are more difficult and demanding though just as necessary.

Making sparks

THE LAST LINK: FRANK BUCKLES

THE LAST LINK: FRANK BUCKLES

Neal Pollard

He died on February 27, 2011, having reached the age of 110 years and 26 days old. As author Richard Rubin set the perspective, if you go back 110 years from the day of his birth it was the year the United States ratified the Constitution (Last of the Doughboys, 439)! Video interviews abound for Mr. Buckles. As you watch them, you will be impressed with a dignified, articulate, meek, and thoughtful man. Though that generation is often a forgotten one and that war is often a forgotten one, they and their world really were the bridge from pre-industrial times to the modern world we enjoy today. It was the age of inventors, innovation, and intelligence. Memoirs, letters, and other correspondence from that war reveal highly literate, well-rounded men who could use their hands and their minds. The four million Americans, along with tens of millions of others from around the world who went to war, responded to the call to serve driven by valor, duty, and patriotism.  It is a fact that Veterans Day is observed on November 11, a holiday that began to commemorate the armistice that went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, signaling a cease fire for the Great War.

On August 14, 1917, here in Denver at Fort Logan army camp, Buckles was sworn into the U.S. Army. He was an ambulance driver. He went to France on the U.S.S. Carpethia, a ship sent to rescue the Titanic. Some of the officers and men who participated in that rescue were on the ship with Buckles, and they spoke freely with him about those events. He had a personal conversation with General John J. Pershing (via oral interview with Cadet Spilman Humphrey, VMI Archives Digital Collections).  Here is a man, an eager volunteer who had to repeatedly try to get accepted into the service (he was 15 years old when he began his quest and it took a year before he succeeded) in order to do his part.

We are intrigued, I think, by links to the past. They tell us a lot about who we are today. A fascinating aspect of history is that it is a living, ever-moving, and ever-changing thing. We are making history each day, a collective part of what will be tomorrow.  When I think about the Lord’s church, I cannot help but think in those terms.  I’ve listened to preachers who knew preachers who knew the likes of McGarvey, Lipscomb, Harding, and Lard. Those men would have been exposed to the work and even the lives of men like John Smith, Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, and others like them, committed to returning to the worship and doctrine of the First-Century church.

When we look at the church itself, congregations now serving the Lord from coast to coast and in nations around the world often owe their establishment to those now long gone but whose sacrifice and service led to the opportunities we now enjoy.  In another sense, by studying and seeking to follow the New Testament, we are linked more purely to the work of apostles, prophets, and disciples who walked with Jesus, knew Him, and were influenced by Him. As we try to follow the pattern of teaching on those pages, we become a living link to sacred history.

Perhaps you still feel pretty spry and young, but in pursuing the ideal of restoring New Testament Christianity, you are linked to the valiant work of those whose dress, appearance, modes of transportation, means of communication, and language are very different from your own but whose desire is just like yours: Doing the Lord’s will the Lord’s way!  In the way that matters the most, we resemble and reflect them.  Let’s keep that link alive!

“Let’s Go Throw Rocks At The Campbellite Preacher!”

“Let’s Go Throw Rocks At The Campbellite Preacher!”

Neal Pollard

That one statement was what introduced my great grandfather to the gospel and is a big reason why my mom was raised in the church and why I was, too.  A “Campbellite preacher” (so named because of Alexander Campbell, a leading figure of the 19th Century who pleaded with people to throw off the division of denominationalism and restore simple New Testament Christianity) was in their Mississippi community, preaching at the local school house.  Several teenage boys, including my then 19-year-old great-grandfather, conspired together to stand outside and throw rocks at the preacher.  The big talk apparently came to nothing harmful, but standing out there my grandfather was convicted by the preaching.  As the result, he studied more deeply and carefully the Scriptures and found that the denomination he was a part of did not teach the same plan of salvation he read in the New Testament.

Plain, New Testament teaching and preaching, which faithfully and accurately handles the Scripture, has a profound effect on an honest heart.  One who is already persuaded that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, who is convicted that it was faithfully transmitted through time, can see from gospel preaching what God’s will is for “matters of life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).  Such allow the powerful Word to operate skillfully upon their hearts, being persuaded of its penetrating truths (Heb. 4:12).  Even one who may start out angry at the messenger but who is “fair-minded” (cf. Acts 17:11) will “receive the word with all readiness, and [search] the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things [are] so.”  Such an unprejudiced, open-minded attitude will serve such individuals well not only in learning how to become a Christian, but also in how to live the Christian life.  We must keep an honest and good heart if we will be the “good soil” Jesus praises in His parable of the soils (Luke 8:15).

Whatever your age, position in life, race, education level, or physical address, are you teachable? Do you receive the word in humility (Jas. 1:21)?  James says that your soul’s salvation is ultimately at stake.  Whether it regards becoming a Christian or living the Christian life, keep an open and tender heart!  You’ll be eternally grateful that you did.  So may many of your descendants!

A LINK TO HISTORY

A LINK TO HISTORY

Neal Pollard

He was named after a World War I general, born in Los Angeles in 1918 just after the American doughboys went “over there.”  There are four men who played Major League Baseball older than Robert Pershing (“Bobby”) Doerr (Mike Sandlock in 99, Eddie Carnett and Alex Monchak are 98, and Carl Miles in 16 days older than Bobby), but his Major League debut was the earliest.  Unlike anybody else among the top 15 oldest living baseball players, Doerr was an everyday player who achieved some notoriety. He’s the oldest living player who is in the Hall of Fame.  But, making his debut in 1937, Doerr is a part of these interesting facts.  He played against Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Mel Ott, Hank Greenburg, Schoolboy Rowe, Lloyd and Paul Waner, and Pie Traynor, as well as many other all-time greats.  Jimmy Foxx and Lefty Grove were teammates. Lefty pitched to Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker. In 1925, his rookie season, Grove sat across the dugout from Jimmy Austin (age 46), Oscar Stanage (age 42) and Chief Bender (age 41). Sitting in his dugout, though, was Jack Quinn (age 42), who was a teammate of Austin’s on the 1909 New York Highlanders, a team that also included Willie Keeler and Jack Chesbro. We could keep going, but we’ll stop there. Doerr, a man still in his right mind, could tell you all about Lefty Grove and heard who knows how many stories Grove told about players who played in the 1800s, connections to the earliest days of baseball.  Doerr is a link to history (info via baseball-reference.com).

How many have pointed out the interesting facts from the Genesis genealogies, where it is possible that Noah’s grandfather, Methusaleh, may have known Adam?  They were most certainly contemporaries, and that covers a span of 1656 years (https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/timeline-for-the-flood/).  Noah and Seth, Adam’s third son, would have been alive together for 34 years before Seth’s death. To appreciate how incredible that is, consider that 1656 years ago was the year 359 A.D., 4 years before Constantine’s grandson, Julian the Apostate, becomes Roman emperor (http://www.fsmitha.com/time/ce04.htm).

It would not take a lot of digging around in our congregations to find individuals who provide us a link to church history.  Consider Bear Valley for a moment. Johnson Kell had Hugo McCord stay in his home one summer several decades ago, the two even going on a long run together.  Converted as a soldier during World War II, Johnson would have been in the church when great preachers like Marshall Keeble, N.B. Hardeman, and others were helping the church grow so much.  Harry Denewiler grew up in the church, and at nearly 90, could have been in the assemblies when great preachers of the 1920s were filling the pulpits of the midwest.  Two of our members, Jean Wilmington and Maurya Fulkerson, were baptized by Rue Porter when they were school-age girls. No doubt others have recollections of the church that reach back to the 1920s and 1930s, like Neva Morgan, Carolyn Barber, the Brennans, and others. Many conversations I had some years ago with Rooksby and Bea Stigers centered around their recollections of those who spoke of the establishment of the church in the Denver area.

As a lover of history, I am thrilled in my soul to think that we are linked to great men and women of God who helped start and build up the Lord’s church.  When I was seven years old, my family and I visited in the home of Zana Michael, a then 100-year-old sister in Christ who was a member where dad was preaching in Barrackville, West Virginia.  She was four years old when the church there was established. Some of the great preachers of the 19th Century traversed the bergs and valleys around Barrackville and sister Michael heard several of them. We got to hear her, regaled by her clear recollections, and linked through her to such wonderful history.

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Zana Michael is the lady in the middle

Isn’t it thrilling to think of ourselves as being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1), sometimes getting to hear from those who heard from those who take us further back in time toward the beginning of the church?  This afternoon, as Carl and I sit and watch the Rockies and Cardinals lock horns on the baseball diamond, we’ll get another chance to join the historical continuum of a grand old game. Every Lord’s Day, as we engage together in worship to God, we join in the grandest historical continuum of all, linked ultimately to Peter, Paul, John, and the rest. Until we exult in heaven some day, what could exceed that thrill?

IF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST WILL TRULY BE UNDENOMINATIONAL

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).

My Study With Armando

My Study With Armando

Neal Pollard

This morning, I had the opportunity to have an impromptu Bible study with a man who introduced himself as Pastor Dr. Armando.  He wanted to find a congregation who would allow his ministry and followers a place to work and worship.  Prayerfully, I listened to him and looked for my opportunity to turn the conversation from his program to the Bible.  After hearing him out, he asked if we would be interested.  I told him that he saw some great needs and had some intriguing methods of providing benevolence to our community, but the problem would come regarding what they taught and how they worshipped.  As gently as I could, I tried to show him what Scripture said about both–since both were matters he brought up in our discussion.  Judging from his facial expressions, he had never heard of a preacher or church approaching the plan of salvation or how to worship or anything else using nothing but the Bible. I told him we had no creed, council, synod, or earthly head who governed or gave us religious traditions to follow.  While he seemed very interested in the concept, his “pragmatic” side did not allow him to see how that would work with the group with which he already worked.  There were nearly 100 people, black, Hispanic, and white, who he said worshipped with him.  They believed how or when one is baptized was not important, and they were very drawn to their drums, guitars, and other instruments in worship.  Yet, as strident as he was about their beliefs, this idea of non-denominational, simple New Testament Christianity intrigued him.  We ended our hour-long discussion by agreeing to meet to talk further about these things in a more systematic way.  I’m optimistic and hopeful!

Perhaps we have bought into the idea that the “restoration plea” has been tried and has failed to find a following.  If Dr. Rangel is in any way representative of the religious world, and I have reason to believe he is, there are a great many who are totally unaware of that plea.  Could there be a whole world of religious people out there, disenchanted with mainline evangelical denominationalism, who would be open to New Testament Christianity?  Let’s pray for opportunities to share it and see what happens!

Protecting Restoration

Protecting Restoration

Neal Pollard

Jesus taught that moth, rust and robbers do their irresistible work upon our things (Mat. 6:19-21).  Anyone who has restored automobiles or houses knows the persistent challenge they face in keeping up with decay and loss in those projects.  In weather-torn Colorado, the elements can speed up the deterioration and destruction of items and especially those which are not protecting whether through painting, sealing, or whatever is needed to preserve them.

On a trip to the Lexington, Kentucky, area on this day in 2013, I visited a part of the world rife with restoration sites.  While I was there to speak on the Cane Ridge Lectureship, the Friday of that program is devoted to going to various sites associated with church history connected with the “Restoration Movement.”  Stephen Besson, a physician and a skillful church historian who has led these tours since the death of author Everett Donaldson, led us up to Mays Lick, Kentucky, to the site of the Campbell-McCalla debate and the graveyard of restoration leader Walter Scott.  The first time I was there, we went to the site of the Cane Ridge meeting house as well as the Lexington Cemetery.  That day, we saw the graves of Barton Stone, Raccoon John Smith, J.W. McGarvey, and others.  There is so much church history in that area that tourers can fill their day for many years with different restoration sites.  Once, when driving through Lexington, I found the house of Moses Lard.

The men I mention were intellectual and spiritual giants, men whose plea was not to be denominational or to form their own sect but to get people back to the Bible.  Their efforts paved the way for thousands to leave religious division and manmade doctrine in favor of New Testament Christianity.  That goal is ever-worthy of pursuit!  It is the only viable basis of religious unity, getting back to the Bible for faith and practice.

Dr. Besson pointed out something while we were at Mays Lick.  The church in that area is numerically weak.  Back in the division between churches of Christ and the Christian Church at the beginning of the twentieth century, most of the congregations went with the digression.  Thus, though there are some very strong congregations in the area, there are relatively few.  There are nine counties in Kentucky without a church of Christ.

The church is either sparse or non-existent in many of the cities we read about in the New Testament–Jerusalem, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Corinth, Rome, and others.  That seems unfathomable when we think of their august beginnings, yet it is not that unusual.  In our repeated trips to Israel, Kathy and I marvel at the fact that there is one known congregation, relatively small and in Nazareth. It is difficult to keep passing along to new generations the faith, reverence, and respect for the inspiration of Scripture.  Whether prosperity, education, worldliness, or another factor, people can begin to put their trust in something else while losing faith in God’s Word. When that happens, the restoration ideal is endangered.

Our job is to keep the idea of simple, New Testament Christianity not only in our hearts but instill it into the minds of the next generation.  We must take that plea into our communities and workplaces.  When we do, we will be placing our trust in the only source of power there is–God and His Word!

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Mulkey Meeting House in Tompkinsville, KY, visited by Neal and Kathy in May, 2019 (about an hour from our new home in Bowling Green)