THE HUMAN CHAIN AND SALVATION

Neal Pollard

Incredibly, nine people in one family were in serious danger of drowning as they were swept into a riptide in Panama City Beach, Florida. It started with some little boys, but soon included would-be rescuers that included their mother and some other relatives. All of them were floundering in about 15 feet of water. The USA Today story seems to indicate that Jessica Simmons and her family thought of the idea of creating a human chain out to the imperiled family and towing them back to shore. About 80 people “started a football field-sized human chain to help bring them back to shore” (Mary Bowerman, 7/11/17, online ed.). The mother, Roberta Ursrey, summed it up well when she said, “I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here” (ibid.).

What a great story! It reveals the possibility of unity for profound purpose. It shows the power of working together. It says something about the best part of the human heart. It also illustrates the power of rescue and salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who saves (Titus 2:11). His Word is His power to save (Romans 1:16). His divine plan is the means of salvation (Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:21). But, the Bible makes it just as clear that He does His saving through the preaching, teaching, influence, and efforts of His people, sharing the good news with those who are languishing in the waters of iniquity. That’s suggested in “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47). It’s demonstrated in the constant efforts of New Testament Christians, taking the message of Christ with them throughout the world to those lost in sin (cf. Acts).

Think of the church as the God-given human chain, reaching out to the struggling, needy soul. They are drowning in sin and in desperate need of help. Unreached, they will drown (see the imagery of 1 Timothy 6:9). God wants you and me, as those who ourselves have been saved, to join hands and help others who need to be helped onto the shores of safety! We cannot delay! We must act while there’s time. Lives—souls!—depend on it.

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“Act Like You Like One Another”

Neal Pollard

Someone tasked with taking a picture of a couple or small group will coach them to stand closer together, maybe adding, “Act like you like one another.” They will typically chuckle and comply. How many moms have exhorted their squabbling children with a similar phrase?

A quick perusal of social media, with its all-too-often divisive rhetoric and pejorative comments, must frequently draw the same desire from the God of heaven. Whenever He sees His children at each other’s throats, complete with nasty put-downs, sarcasm, and venomous invectives, can we envision Him pleased? Regardless of whether one is motivated by defending the faith or some dearly-cherished viewpoint, he or she does not have to drown responses in hateful, provocative words. But, it happens many times over on a daily basis. For those of us who have non-Christian or new-Christian friends with privy to such comments from professed, mature Christians, we have to wonder if, contemptuously, they chide, “Act like you like one another.” More than that, Scripture convicts us on such a count.

  • “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22; cf. 4:8).
  •  “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:8-9).
  • “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:12-14).
  • “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:9-10).
  • “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (Jas. 3:8-10).
  • “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).
  • “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).

The noble pursuit of defending the faith and protecting the purity of doctrine can get lost or totally nullified when the most casual observer of our words cannot find the love or detect the genuine concern in the midst of the biting, devouring, caustic quips and one-liners. How we need to pause and be introspective. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 21:2a; cf. 16:2). I can easily rationalize and convince myself of my own unrighteousness, as easily as the adulterer, the one in religious error, the drunkard, and the like can do with their iniquity. Why not, as we sift through the complicated maze of “interpersonal dynamics,” deal with each other patiently, giving the benefit of the doubt wherever possible, letting lovingkindness lead the way? We are not compromising divine truth, relinquishing a scriptural position, or shying away from sharing God’s Word when we make the effort to act like we like one another. We are submitting to the ethical blueprint commanded in Scripture (see above). “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:4).

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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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A Divided People

Neal Pollard

As David let flow from his divinely-inspired pen the peaceful refrain, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psa. 133:1), he knew something of the absence of unity.  Though God through Samuel had anointed him king, “there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David”  (cf. 2 Sam. 3-4). This internal strife spanned seven years and six months (2 Sam. 5:5). While he would reign over a united kingdom for the next 33 years, his grandson would cause a rift within Israel that would never be repaired (1 Kings 12). Division weakened them, dividing brother against brother, diminishing their influence and making them more vulnerable. Israel was unique among the nations of world history, being both a physical people and the spiritual people of God. Their division was not just a geo-political problem, but also a religious one.

Our nation has known the pain and injury of division. An entire war was fought that put states and communities at odds with one another.  Currently, we are being reminded of how sharp a difference exists in this nation along so many cultural, philosophical, social, and ethnic lines. It is openly displayed with words and even protests. How that will be resolved only time will tell.

For many centuries, there has been division between people who all profess belief in and allegiance to Christ. “Denominationalism” is a word that inheres division. Because men have inserted their own will and dogma, transposing it onto Scripture, there has been massive division that has been a stumbling block for unbelievers pointing to disunity among those who claim the same Jesus as Lord. Unbelievers have seen division, often shown in ugly and worldly ways.

Among those seeking to restore New Testament Christianity, seeking to be the church of the Bible and be non-denominational or pre-denominational, there has also been so much division. Some have foisted division upon the church by introducing doctrines not authorized by Scripture or in violation of Scripture. Those in such doctrines cease to be Christ’s church so long as they continue in them. Others have created doctrines beyond what Christ has authorized, making themselves the standard and arbitrator of right and wrong instead of recognizing Christ as such. Sadly, these, too, have caused division among God’s people. It is truly difficult to get self out of the way and to be governed only by the will of God.

So it is with every matter that divides us. Self, with all its ugly, blind, poor, and wretched tendencies, so often becomes a wedge making biblical unity difficult. Paul laments that it comes in the wake of lining up behind men and following them (1 Cor. 1:10-13). If ever the world has needed to find repose from rancor, ridicule, and roiling, it is the present hour. If they ever needed a safe haven where they found people who love one another (John 13:34-35), are patient, tolerant, compassionate and forgiving with each other (Col. 3:12-13), and who treat others with respect and kindness (cf. Luke 10:30-37), it is now. Each of us needs to examine our own work (Gal. 6:4). Are we helping our community, our congregation, our friends and our family see the good and pleasant unity found in making Jesus Lord–Lord of our lives, our tongues, our jobs, our classrooms, our social media accounts, our positions, etc.?   This is a stewardship that demands tender care. May we ever be about the diligent work of destroying division! Jesus died to do the same (John 17:20-21).

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Who Is Behind This “Race War”?

Neal Pollard

I’m a child of the ‘80s, which, in south Georgia, seemed to be “post-racist.” Maybe it was the naivety of youth, but one of my closest friends, Greg Gwyn, was black. We were “Bird” and “Magic” (on the basketball court, at least in our minds). We were “Crockett” and “Tubbs.” We both rejected, out of hand, the notion of being “Wonder” and “McCartney” (too cheesy). While our High School had cliques, a timeless problem, they were determined more by interest than race. Sure, there was prejudice, as that is also timeless. But it was not the mainstream attitude.

I have preached full-time for three congregations, in Alabama, Virginia, and Colorado. All three are integrated, having not only “white-collar” (forgive the adage) professionals but also inner city representation among our African-American members. But, all three have wealthy and poor caucasians, too. Individuals in all three congregations probably struggled with making all kinds of arbitrary distinctions, including on the basis of race, but such attitudes have not been fostered. If uncovered, they are addressed with the power and authority of Scriptures like “God is not one to show partiality…” (Acts 10:34), “He made from one man every nation of mankind…” (Acts 17:26), “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), “Do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1; and, if you do, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives,” vs. 4), etc. Our elders, deacons, Bible class teachers, and general leaders in these congregations, men like Kevin Turner, Ron Herman, Bill Burton, Jimmy Reynolds, Ron Thompkins, Joe Cook, King Taylor, and Ronnie Royster, would not be thought of in terms of their race if not for the point of this article.

So, as we see fiery debate, protests, wagon-encircling, hatred, and acerbic rhetoric, scratching our heads as to how all-consuming it has become, do we stop to ask who would be behind such division and strife? No, I don’t mean Republicans or Democrats, protest groups or activists, or hobby horse riders among brethren.  I think it is more sinister and serious. Who is ever behind separating not just mankind, but the Lord’s bride? Who benefits from people building walls to keep out others on any arbitrary basis? Who wins in the face of such crushing losses? Maybe we need to be asking that question and focusing on that issue more!

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COMING TOGETHER

Neal Pollard
For twelve years, I lived in the eye of Civil War History. Not only were many battles fought in almost every community neighboring Mechanicsville, Virginia (our home), but two were fought at Cold Harbor. While living there, I became an avid relic hunter–a type of amateur archaeologist digging for buttons, bullets, and buckles. Thanks to Dave Young, Sr., and Dave Young, Jr., who “pulled” me into this hobby, I got to see history up close and personally. It was fascinating, in one sense, to stand on the very ground where such history-shaping events occurred. In another way, the very activity was a sobering reminder of the tragedy that divided a nation. It even divided households, with brother fighting against brother.

It has often been reported that after that awful war, when Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy and Ulysses Grant of the Union died, their widows, Varina Davis and Julia Grant, settled near each other and became the closest of friends (Atlas Obscura). What a remarkable story of how two people, from opposite sides, came together! Their husbands were philosophically and militarily opposed to one another, but their spouses overcame those hindrances.

I never cease to be amazed at the differences that are overcome in Christ. On foreign mission trips, we may go to places where our governments are antagonistic to one another and find our common bond in Christ. Race, culture, education, and finance are all surmountable barriers in Christ. Ephesians 2:16 reveals how Jew and Gentile were reconciled by Christ’s cross in the church. God intended the church to be the place where people, despite their diversities, can all submit to Christ’s authority and be one. Yes, even yankees and southerners. Even easterners and westerners. Even college grads and grade school drop outs. Paul also wrote, “For by one Spirit we were ALL baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have ALL been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:13-14). In a world that tries to draw us apart and divide us, politically, ethnically, and regionally, Christ wants us coming together! Through the church, we can.

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DIVIDING OVER POLITICS

Neal Pollard

“Rancor” is synonymous with hostility, bitterness, spite, and vitriol. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul warns the Christian against “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander [and] malice.” While it didn’t seem possible that this election cycle could produce more heat and saber-rattling than the last couple, it has already exceeded it. It is almost painful to watch the cable news networks, but we should expect the world to behave like the world. Yet, when I see brethren so vehemently defending their candidate and excoriating those who disagree with them, I am truly disheartened. Social media continues to pour gasoline on this already potent fire.

I try to imagine the apostles and early Christians, were they to have such an outlet, tying into one another and beating their chest as they debated each other over the merits of Claudius over Nero, devoting so much time arguing their points about which candidate would better favor the cause of Christianity.  Inspired writers had every opportunity to show such a participation and bias, but they are conspicuously silent. While I do not agree with the extreme that David Lipscomb took in his book On Civil Government, can we not, if we are not careful, veer toward the other extreme through blind allegiance to rulers who, when dispassionately and objectively viewed, honor and demonstrate evil over godliness? Whether it is foul language, deceit and dishonesty, and glorifying sexual immorality (a la Playboy!) or lying, pro-abortion, and criminal behavior, I am baffled as to why a Christian should get so invested in one candidate or exorcised at the other.  May we never prioritize America over our dear brotherhood or our heavenly goal. We gauge that priority by our thoughts, speech, attitude, and actions regardless of what we claim.

As a husband and father for whom the prospect of grandchildren may not be many years hence, I grasp with such personal investment the gravity of this year’s election and the current world situation. Yet, I can let the fear of that eclipse the infinitely bigger picture. What a glorious day it would be if we could steer our consuming passion toward Jesus and the mission He left us!

You may have a decided leaning toward the Republican or Democratic offering in this year’s election. Given this year’s choice, I don’t believe you can cling to either without your hands being very dirty. That being said, may we all be prayerful and imminently restrained in our interchange especially with our brethren and before the eyes of the world. Our unity in truth, our common mission, and our Christian example are eternally more important than politics. Period!

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Identifying The Source Of Trouble In The Congregation

Neal Pollard

One of my dad’s most memorable sermons, which he preached in more than one location, was actually a two-parter.  The first part was preached Sunday morning. Dad warned that he was going to identify the source of the problems in the congregation. He used a wipe board or chalkboard, and only put the first initial of each one up there as he preached. He said that everyone should come back that night and he would disclose the full names that went with the initials.  At one congregation, after the morning sermon, a large number of people came forward in response to the invitation.  Sure enough, that evening dad put the full names next to the initials:

  • Accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10)
  • Adversary (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Beelzebub (Mat. 12:24)
  • Belial (2 Cor. 6:15)
  • Devil (Heb. 2:14)
  • Enemy (Mat. 13:39)
  • Father of lies (John 8:44)
  • God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
  • Prince… (Eph. 2:2; John 12:31)
  • Roaring Lion (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Satan (Mat. 4:10)
  • Spirit that works in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2)
  • Tempter (Mat. 4:3)

Now, in no way am I discounting the free will choices people make. James 1:13-15 very clearly places the blame of sin on the individuals choosing to act on their lusts and desires. One is not possessed or overtaken by the devil to do his will any more than a person is overtaken by God and made to do what’s right. But Jesus calls the devil the “father” of sinful behavior (John 8:44). John tells us that the one who practices sin is “of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). Those who sin are doing his will (2 Tim. 2:26).

Satan is at the heart of national, congregation, familial, and individual sin.  We’re told to resist him (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9). The hopeful fact is that, with God’s help, we can always successfully do so.  Let’s be aware that the devil does not want God’s children or His work to succeed. If he can thwart our efforts as a church to be united, faithful to God’s Word, evangelistic, and productive, he will do so. Knowing this, we should be more determined not to let him win!

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What It Takes To Grow The Church In Our Culture

Neal Pollard

It was such a treat to be among the hearty, faithful Christian men of central Wyoming and the Bighorn Basin. By Bible-belt comparison, they come from small congregations. But their passion and desire to grow the church is humongous. Near the end of their men’s retreat, they divided into groups to discuss the obstacles to growth and suggestions for growth. What they came up with was incredibly insightful, helpful to especially anyone living in the current, western culture.

Among the obstacles they listed were:

  • Lack of commitment
  • Fear
  • Political correctness
  • Biblical ignorance
  • Sin
  • Apathy/indifference
  • Misplaced priorities
  • Lack of adequate leadership

For those in Alabama, Oklahoma, and California who would say, “Those are our obstacles!”, isn’t it interesting how common our struggle is.  The same factors are holding back our growth all over the nation.

Yet, I love the suggestions they came up with. I think they are key to tapping into our growth potential throughout the country and, to a great extent, throughout the world. They suggested the following:

  • Increase fellowship—The key to growth is being in each others’ lives more
  • Emphasize and empower Bible study—There can be no spiritual or numerical growth without growing our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word
  • Think outside the box—Staying faithful to truth, get out of method ruts and overcome fear of rejecting a different, scriptural method just because it is new
  • Challenge greater application of biblical truth—Every class and sermon must have a viable “so what”
  • Be intentional in our relationships—Realize that our jobs, community involvements, friendships, etc., are means to an end rather than an end of themselves. They all exist as opportunities to evangelize.

Our brethren in the deep south, the north, the Atlantic region, the upper midwest, the southwest, the far west, the northwest, and, in short, any recognizable region of the country share a desire to be relevant and meaningful in our communities. We want to honor Christ and grow His body. But it will take measurable steps. It won’t happen incidentally! We must act on our hopes and desires. We must personally engage ourselves in enacting these suggestions daily! In so doing, we’ll not only avoid being part of the problem but we’ll be part of the solution.

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The Difference Between Unity And Union

Neal Pollard

When I was a little boy, I heard my dad contrast these two ideas, union and unity, with an interesting illustration.  He said, “You can tie two cats’ tails together and hang them over a clothes line. You may have union, but you do not have unity.”  Recently, political pundits have been making a somewhat similar contrast concerning the European Union. They are bound together economically, socially, and geographically, but there is at times a lack of unity.  These ties have not led to effective communication and information sharing in dealing with terrorist threats. Distrust, the ambitions of individual EU countries, and autonomous business dealings with nations outside its union all contribute to an uneasy synthesis between themselves.

There is great misunderstanding in the religious world and, at times, in the Lord’s church about what biblical unity is.  While there are those who believe that unity demands agreement on matters that ultimately are not established and determined in Scripture (how/if Bible classes are divided, whether to extend an invitation after a sermon, whether or not to meet on Sunday night, order of worship services—i.e., Lord’s Supper or sermon first, etc.), there are many others who believe that unity is possible where union is really what is attempted.

Scripture is the basis of unity! Jesus defined the oneness He wanted His followers to have as reflective of the unity He shares with the Father (John 17:20-21). Through His inspired writer, Paul, He emphasizes the importance of unity, saying that we are to “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Unity is clearly defined as existing within a diligence to preserve the truth of “one body…one spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…one God and Father of all…” (Eph. 4:4-6). The New Testament tells us in specific terms what’s involved in each of these. Attempting to be tied and bound to those who reject or attempt to change what Scripture says about these is not biblical unity. It amounts to tying together what’s incompatible and incongruous. That’s just inconceivable!

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