The Church’s First Unity Test

The Church’s First Unity Test

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

One of the most chilling phrases to church leadership might be, “a complaint arose” (Acts 6:1). Unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or feelings of unfairness all threaten distraction and difficulty among the body of believers. We can quickly break down this problem this way:

  • The quibble. The Hellenistic Jews were being overlooked in the daily serving of food in the Jerusalem church (1). 
  • The quandary. Who should take care of this problem? The apostles responded, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables” (2). The proposal ultimately allows them to do just that (4-7). 
  • The qualifications. The apostles recommend finding seven men from among them, “men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom…” (3). The people chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas” (5). 
  • The quelling. “The statement found approval with the whole congregation” (5). The people were able to get back to the business of spreading the word and increasing the number of disciples (7). 

Every problem we face among us in congregations can be settled the same way today. Identify the problem, the biblical solution, and the right people to address it, then peace and success follow. Never again do we read about this problem arising within the Jerusalem church. 

It is interesting to see that the men who were chosen to deal with a physical or material problem were spiritual men. Stephen, one of the “table waiters,” is described as “full of grace and power” (8), a man “with the wisdom and the Spirit” (10), even a man described as having a “face like the face of an angel” (15). These opponents of Christianity are trying to undermine and put down the growth of Christianity (7), and they are willing to go to any lengths to do so (11-14). Yet, Stephen, who has already proven his worth by his compassionate, efficient handling of the Jerusalem church’s internal issue, is able to go on the offensive in sharing the Word.

Acts six does not call these men who wait tables “deacons,” but there are some strong parallels. They are both servants (6:2; 1 Tim. 3:8). They both needed to meet spiritual qualifications (6:3; 1 Tim. 3:8-12). They both could “obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” by serving well (6:8ff; 1 Tim. 3:13). 

Who does God want to utilize to solve the practical dilemmas that threaten the church’s unity? Spiritual men, servant-hearted men, and skillful men! Men like Stephen and Philip, who are multitalented–humble enough to get their hands dirty and holy enough to get the gospel out to those in need of it. 

Getting Along

Getting Along

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

How do you get along with people you don’t have anything in common with? 

I read an article on this very topic. It was a parenting article that was geared towards helping parents build a relationship with their kids. Honestly it was useless. Bottom line was “just love and accept them and show them you are willing and open to change.” This article teaches what most of the world is pushing for– “love and acceptance.” 

If you don’t morally agree with someone, do you just accept what they do? If you have nothing in common with them, do you just pick up some of their hobbies? These questions are important for the Christian to answer because our lives should be based on building relationships: Relationships in the world (so that we can hopefully save souls) and relationships in the church (so that we can have unity and growth). 

It’s no secret that the world is different from those in the church. They act differently, they think differently, and they speak differently. The world at its core is driven by sin and selfishness. The Christian is driven by a fear and love for God and His word. Our motivation is different, and our view of sin is different. No one in the church or even in the world, if they are honest, will argue that we are the same. With that in mind, we need to ask a very important question. How should a Christian Interact with the world? There are two extremes that we should avoid: Acting like everything is fine and treating everyone as a friend. And acting as if we are holier than the world and wanting nothing to do with them. 

The Christian life is balanced. We need to find the perfect balance between loving the world, but also having a clear set of morals that keeps us from joining them in sin. At its core, all of mankind has a sin problem, and God loves every person and wants us to be saved. So how should we interact with the world? God in His wisdom knew that we would struggle with this problem, so through His inspired Word, He tells us how we are to act. In Romans 12, Paul begins a section dedicated to the Christian and their relationships. In Romans 12:17-13:14, Paul talks about our relationship with the world.  

When it comes to our relationships and interactions in the world, Paul gives us five tips to help us in this task:

Don’t Treat Them the Way They Treat You (v. 17) 

“Repay no one evil for evil,”

Be Respectful (v. 17) 

“but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”

Seek Peace When Possible (v. 18) 

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all”

Don’t Take Revenge (v. 19) 

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

Overcome Evil With Good (20-21)

“To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The danger we face as Christians is that we can let the world rub off on us. In trying to get along with the world, we may become like the world. But keep in mind, God doesn’t accept the world as they are; there must be repentance and change. In our interactions we need to remember Who we are trying to please. And be cautious so as to not become like those we are trying to save. 

A December Look Back At Halloween

A December Look Back At Halloween

Tuesday Column: Dale Mail

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ale Pollard

For a long time it seems that every October when this ancient holiday comes around many issues come with it. Somebody will undoubtedly bring up their problems with this holiday, but are they right? If they are, I suspect there will have to be a major change in many Christian families around the US. The ancient holiday really did have some creepy and messed up origins. It was originally a day set aside for the dead. More specifically, the people’s deceased relatives (history.com). To try and communicate with their loved ones, they would perform many rituals. The idea of masks came later when people would try and ward off the evil spirits. They hoped that the masks would help them to blend in, or even scare them off. It’s understandable that this would make some people wary of this holiday. Claims have been made against this day that it is a “satanic holiday,” is this true?

In order to answer this question we need to look at what Halloween is today. I suppose there are those out there that may attempt to spend their halloween nights trying to duplicate the practices of the olden times. On the whole, Halloween is a day for kids. It’s a time for children to dress up, walk around the neighborhood and stuff themselves with candy. Like most things in this world, it can be a day that is abused. Any day, can be a day that is abused. Most people are not thinking about the devil, or trying to worship the devil. When it comes down to it, Halloween controversies are not salvation issues. It only becomes wrong when we try and force an unbiblical opinion on somebody else. This goes either way. If somebody’s conscience is affected by the celebration of Halloween, we should not be a people that try and convince them otherwise (Acts 24:16). We can explain if they’re interested, but that’s probably where we should leave it in order to maintain unity (Ephesians 4:3).

Three Keys To Better Bible Classes

Three Keys To Better Bible Classes

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard  

The Tompkinsville church family is blessed to have some righteous and knowledgeable elders. In the past week and in separate Bible classes these men have each shed some insight on three different biblical texts. One elder brought a passage of scripture to the table that clarified the difference between anger and sinful anger. Another elder gave a separate take on the dispersion of humanity after the language change at Babel. After a discussion surrounding the blessing that was promised to Jacob, one of the elders broadened the scope and showed how that promise played out in Jacob’s life and in the life of the Israelites. Though the insights they offered in class were contrary to some beliefs in the brotherhood, they navigated the disagreements with grace and tact. These were not matters of salvation and in some cases were simply a matter of opinion.

The biblical text is not always clear in the English translations since there is the cultural and linguistic barriers that must be taken into consideration. Since that’s the case, there are occasionally opposing views that could both be correct. To some degree, speculation and educated guess work will attempt to fill in the gaps. Is there a hard line in the sand that indicates when anger becomes sinful? Certainly. Could God have miraculously scattered the confused people after the Tower of Babel was completed? Yes. God could have also allowed them to naturally migrate to their respective regions. Are there several applications that can be taken from Genesis 32 where we read that Jacob wrestled with God? Definitely. A church family should appreciate an eldership with a heart and mind so immersed in God’s word that they have drawn their own conclusions based on their personal study. Godly men and women express their faithfulness in Bible classes in several ways. 

  • First, they understand that the truth must be spoken in love (Ephesians 4.15). They are able to tell the difference between matters of opinion and matters of salvation. 
  • Second, they are eager to maintain a unity of spirit and a bond of peace (Ephesians 4.3-6). Godly members are not purposefully divisive or quick to start heated debates. 
  • Third, the older Christians recognize the responsibility they have to share their wisdom with the younger generation and the godly youth respect the wisdom that is given from the older generation (Titus 2.2-12). 

When the body of Christ is unified it’s also unstoppable. The church family that respects those God-given rolls that we are all assigned will find that Bible classes, Biblical discussion, and relationships are enriched and strengthened. Knowledge is both shared and received in love and humility. 

Good Dirt

Good Dirt

Wednesday’s Column: Third Words

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Gary Pollard

Ephesians 4 describes some spiritual gifts. Their purpose is to allow the church to function as it should. A properly functioning church spends eternity with God. A functional church is on the same page (one mind), has spiritual depth, and is workable (more on that in a bit). 

Ephesians 4.12ff is about members’ roles. What are they for? Everyone serves to equip saints. Saints are people who have pledged allegiance to God. 

We train for morally good works and become stronger through encouragement (12,16). We work toward a unified mindset, knowing Jesus, spiritual maturity, and we pursue the highest standard (Jesus) (13,14). 

We work to avoid immaturity and gullibility (14). We pursue maturity until our mindset emulates Christ’s (15). He is described (multiple times) as the standard we have to imitate. There’s no room for spiritual laziness here. 

Jesus causes growth spiritually, but only if we’ve become soil that can be worked. If our minds aren’t mature, we aren’t workable. Elders are spiritual farmers, our hearts are the soil. If we use Jesus as our standard, we are workable. If not, we’re spiritually dead. 

So, what can we do individually? Make the church strong by pursuing unity, by having spiritual depth, and by being workable. If we work on those things we will spend forever with God. 

Handling Thorny Issues

Handling Thorny Issues

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

Christians live on planet earth and aren’t immune to social issues. The vaccine is one of them. This article is NOT about vaccination specifically. I am not qualified to write about it, but this wouldn’t be an appropriate forum even if I was.

However, this issue has influenced the church in a few timeless ways: misapplying scripture, creating division, and engendering hostility.

Misapplying Scripture: Applying Romans 13 to this subject is not appropriate. Nothing about the passage sheds light on which governing authority we should follow. What if federal law contradicts state or local law? Which do we follow then? I Peter 2.13-14 does address varying levels of governing authority, but does not specify which takes precedence. Both passages demand submission to everyone who has authority over us because it’s what God wants. As it stands now, neither passage applies to this issue. We cannot use God’s word to enforce or condemn issues that have no bearing on salvation. When state or local law is in conflict with federal law (or vice versa) and the issue at hand isn’t a salvation issue, it falls under the jurisdiction of Romans 14.

Creating Division: Differences in opinion aren’t new to the church. No reasonable person will call this a salvation issue, so it does fall under the purview of Romans 14. We need to remember the commands in this passage: accept those who have different opinions (1), do not think poorly of those who disagree (3), do not judge someone who exercises preference (3), make decisions based on conviction (5), do not condemn each other over opinions (13), don’t let opinions destroy relationships (15), and don’t let your decision become a problem (16). What does this mean for us? Respect your Christian family’s decision, do not think less of them because of their decision, make the decision you feel is best for you, don’t condemn someone based on their decision, and don’t let an issue that has no bearing on our Christian lives become a source of division.

Hostility: The previous point addresses this somewhat, but sinful behavior has come out of this. Thinking less of a Christian who gets the vaccine is sinful. Thinking less of a Christian who doesn’t get the vaccine is sinful.

Nothing about this issue is new or different. Controversial opinions over military service, firearms, holiday observance, or vaccination are not handled any differently. God expects us to put these kinds of issues in their proper place: the back seat.

“We have to love each other, because love comes from God and everyone who has love belongs to God and knows him. Anyone who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, because God is love” (I Jn. 4.7-8).

“Love each other deeply with a pure heart” (I Pt. 1.22).
“You must continue to love each other” (Heb. 13.1).
“Pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness” (I Tim. 6.11).

ACHIEVING UNITY THROUGH HUMILITY

ACHIEVING UNITY THROUGH HUMILITY

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

The late gospel preacher, George Bailey, was known for saying, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package.” Truly, there is a little “i” in Christ! Paul exemplifies the way a servant of Christ and steward of the gospel (1 Cor. 4:1) behaves. How can we humbly serve Christ and, through such, contribute to unity in His body? Let’s examine 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:13 for some important keys.

Do Not Deceive Yourself (3:18-23)

Paul draws on his contrast between wisdom and foolishness back at the beginning of the letter. The wisdom of this world is foolishness before God (3:19). Why does Paul say that here? In part, it’s to drive home the point that they should not boast in men (like himself, Apollos, and Peter). But it is also to remind them that their glory and worth are tied to their being in Christ and belonging to Him. We wrestle so much with pride in our earthly accomplishments and attributes, but none of those things, of themselves, get us into heaven or bring about unity. Paul drives the point home by quoting from Job and Psalms. Worldly wisdom is a dead-end street. 

Be A Faithful Steward Of The Mysteries Of God (4:1-2)

Instead of being spiritual heroes to be idolized, Paul says that he and other church leaders were servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1). The mysteries of God is the testimony of God (2:1), God’s once-hidden mystery (2:7) now revealed in the preaching of the gospel (see Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1ff). Paul wanted to be seen as a trustworthy steward (manager) of that unparalleled message (cf. 3:11-15). Here’s the point. Paul knew he had only so much time, energy, and other resources to spend on accomplishing his purpose, and he wanted to be the most effective worker for Jesus that he could be. If that’s how we see ourselves, our purpose and work, it will keep us from focusing on who we are and what we have done. 

Remember Who Is Examining Your Work (4:3-5)

The previous point is made more powerful by the fact that not only should we not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but we need to remember God is examining us. Ignore the idle critic or the armchair quarterback. Don’t spend a lot of time polishing your trophies and reading your “press clippings.” “Wait until the Lord comes” (4:5) and let Him acknowledge you and reward you. He will reveal all the secrets and He will disclose men’s motives. In other words, do the right things for the right reason and you will be richly rewarded by Christ in the end. God will praise you at The Judgment. 

Follow Good Examples Of Humility (4:6-13)

Paul and Apollos did not view each other as rivals, measuring who was more successful, more loved, or more influential among the Corinthians. He urges them to look at their example, and let God’s Word be the measuring stick of success and failure. The end result would be preventing arrogance and rivalry. These servants of Christ had been doing their service to Him at great personal cost–they were a spectacle to the world (4:9), fools  for Christ’s sake (4:10), weak (4:10), without honor (4:10), physically deprived (4:11), reviled, persecuted, and slandered (4:12-13), and, in summary, “we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (4:13b). Doesn’t sound like a condition to brag about, does it? Paul is not trying to portray himself as some spiritual superhero. Neither is he whining or complaining. He is trying to get the Corinthians to understand what matters. It’s not about jockeying for the top spot in the kingdom. It’s about being a faithful steward of the gospel and servant of the Christ. Focus so hard on that goal that you can ignore the praise and the persecution, and let Jesus exalt you at the end. A mindset like that kills division and disunity. 

 
Lehman members, led by our young people, putting songbooks and Bibles back in the pews last week.

Freedom Fighter And Traitor

Freedom Fighter And Traitor

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

In the following fictional scenario, an unnamed extremist country has defeated the United States of America (work with me, there’s a point to this). They established a puppet government and required survivors to pay exorbitant, unreasonable taxes. The country has dealt with oppression under their rule for long enough that rebellions start to take place, but aren’t very successful. 

Some are desperate enough (or simply weren’t patriotic to begin with) to work for the state controlled by the enemy. Worse, their job is to force an already oppressed people to pay tributes they can’t afford. The enemy has killed too many Americans. The enemy has humiliated the country – once the global power – in ways that may never be reversed. Any American working for the enemy is a traitor. 

Imagine we have two different individuals in this dystopia: one is a freedom fighter, dedicated to overthrowing the enemy, the other is a traitor (and fair game for the freedom fighters). Both of them somehow find God, follow His word, and end up working together in a congregation of dedicated followers. The freedom fighter would kill the traitor, except for something that changed his mind forever: Jesus. The traitor would abuse and absolutely ruin his own people before Jesus. 

If this seems far-fetched, consider that two of Jesus’ disciples were Matthew (a tax collector for the Romans and a traitor in the eyes of Jewish people) and Simon the Zealot (a freedom fighter sworn to kill people like Matthew). Their political and social views were radically different, but Jesus brought adjustments to their world views that changed them forever. They were no longer a freedom fighter and tax collector, but followers of Jesus (see Acts 1.12-14). 

While there aren’t likely too many Christians with national animosity at that level, we aren’t strangers to the political division that affects every aspect of our lives. You may have even seen it play out in your church. We have focused too much on politics! 

Many with good intentions (that includes me) have even said something like, “We should be able to get along, Republican and Democrat, if we’re in the same church.” That’s technically true, but misses the point. 

We are not republicans or democrats (or any other political party, for those outside of the States). Our identity is not tied to a political party. We are Christians. Our leader is Jesus, our country is Heaven, our flag is His church. Yes, we live in our own countries and must be good citizens (Romans 13). Yes, we’re going to have differing viewpoints on social issues. 

We have to stop blurring the line between our political parties and our faith! On both sides of the political aisle is immorality and incompetence. Christianity is beautiful because it shifts our primary allegiance and focus to God, not government. It’s a new allegiance that allowed former traitors and freedom fighters to work together for a greater cause! 

If someone asks us to describe our world view and our first thought is political preference, we’re wrong. We will only have unity and peace when God is our common king. We can say that He is already, but our actions confirm or deny that claim. If God is our king, we will be good citizens (Romans 13.1-7). If God is our king, we will love each other deeply (I Peter 1.22). If God is our king, our morality/worldview/outlook will come from His word and not from our preferred political party (principle found in I Peter 1.14-19; Romans 14; Acts 1.13; John 18.36). I struggle with this. Many of us do. We have to be Christians before anything else, and remember that our primary allegiance is to God! 

Division

Division

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

In this volatile political climate, many Christians face some uncomfortable dilemmas. Is party line a salvation issue? How do we handle seemingly irreconcilable differences? What do we do going forward?
 
Rather than delving into those questions, I’d like to focus on the attitude of the early church, which faced internal division–Jew/Gentile controversies like in Acts 15, opinions over cultural matters as seen in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, and external pressures.
 
In keeping with the spirit of the early church, let’s focus on the following list.
 
  1. We must focus on and grow our own spiritual culture, independent of our earthly nationality (while observing Romans 13).
  2. We must be faithful Christians who value being righteous, no matter the cost.
  3. We must manage our concerns and worries by spending MORE time with each other and developing our faith.
  4. We may need to see ourselves less as Americans and more as Christians. If we remember that our kingdom is the church first, we will be far more united.
  5. Be awesome citizens. When outsiders hear about us, it should be that we never cause trouble, we are loyal to each other, we are selfless, we help people, we have strong families, we rely on each other, we are pleasant to be around, we are dedicated to our faith, and we love people who treat us poorly.
  6. We must remember that priority number one is heaven. Everything else is second.
  7. We must avoid talking or posting on social media about non-salvation issues that can and do create division or offense, out of courtesy and respect for each other (Romans 14.1-4; 13ff).
 
If these are the things we worry about and focus on, no political division or any other heartburn-inducing unpleasantness can affect us. Besides being happier, we’ll be a stronger church!
The Unified Church

The Unified Church

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

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Carl Pollard

In a society of division and separation, many churches have begun to struggle with unity. Members are bickering with each other, elders are unsure of how to respond to the events that have unfolded in the past year, and deacons are struggling to maintain the proper relationship with each member.. All of these factors combined has caused several churches to split or lose the unity they once had. 

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:17ff  that some who came to worship would be hungry, while others would be drunk and incapable of edifying each other. His point? Far too many churches are split due to a lack of understanding. We fail to understand why it is that we assemble together in the first place. Having a unified assembly starts with the individual. No church will find harmony if each member is unwilling to submit to God’s will and to His church family. 

When we come to worship, there are key aspects that we must insure take place (1 Corinthians 14:12-25). We must make sure what we do edifies others (v. 12). Paul in the context of tongues and prophecy says,  “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12). 

Our actions must help build up the Christians around us. Our words must edify our brothers and sisters who are dealing with problems we may never even know about. And so the questions we must constantly be asking ourselves are these: How am I edifying? Am I being an encourager (making my fellow Christians stronger)? Am I building up others (boosting their confidence to help them deal with the world)? Am I promoting unity? 

As humans we thrive on encouragement.  We feel good when we receive a compliment. That’s because there is power in edification. As fellow brothers and sisters we should be actively trying to find ways to build each other up. 

This also means we must be sure to understand the power of our words and actions. Rather than spreading gossip or discord with our lips we must make it a priority to edify, encourage, lift up, serve, compliment, and look out for the good in our church family.