“Let’s Go Back To Church”

“Let’s Go Back To Church”

Neal Pollard

A law enforcement officer interviewed on a Chicago news station was commenting on the most recent, tragic shooting, this one in the Windy City’s northern suburb town of Highland Park. He began talking about root causes of these shootings, comparing these shooters to weeds that pop up various places. In the midst of this, he made an incredible statement: “Let’s go back to church.”

I got to thinking about what, if any, connection these shooters had with organized religion. Is there a trend? In 2018, John Lott, President of Crime Prevention Research Center, wrote, “What is most shocking is how few of these killers appear to be religious, let alone Christian. Just 16 percent have any type of religious affiliation at the time of their attacks, with a slight majority of those being Muslims” (https://dailycaller.com/2018/05/26/religion-of-mass-public-shooters/). His criteria was a mass public shooting in which at least four people were killed. He counted 69 killers in 66 shootings from 1998-2018. Just four of these identified themselves as Christians and just three were “clearly regular church goers” (ibid.). 

On the other side of the coin, The New York Times shared the results of a study done by the University of Kentucky of 3000 participants in 13 countries. The lead paragraph by writer Benedict Carey states, “Most people around the world, whether religious or not, presume that serial killers are more likely to be atheists than believers in any god, suggests a new study, which counters the common assumption that increasingly secular societies are equally tolerant of nonbelievers. Avowed atheists exhibited the same bias in judging sadistic criminals, the study found” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/07/health/atheists-religion-study.html). 

But, truly this is not about finger-pointing. For those with a biblical worldview, we can see a connection between society’s that violate God’s will and a great many consequences (Prov. 14:34). That is perhaps a needed point for a different article. Instead, consider something about the wisdom of God in how He intended the church to function and behave. From the very beginning, the church was established to be a place of community and fellowship (Acts 2:42). It was also designed to be a place of internal accountability (1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). In Christ, the individual is given a better, more positive view of self (1 Pet. 2:5,9; 1 John 3:1-3), of fellow-believers (John 13:34-35), and even those who are different than them and even persecutors of them (Mat. 5:38-48). 

I would argue that there are so many more reasons why one should consider attending church. There is an eternal gain that makes anything which happens in this life bearable (Rev. 2:10). There are spiritual blessings in such abundance that it’s hard to count them all (Eph. 1:3ff).  There I a joy in serving with others and in the serving of others (Gal. 5:13; John 13:12-17). Yet, there is also an antidote to isolation and the frightening results of the echo chamber that occurs in the absence of others to help balance and challenge us to be better and live better. Isolation and loneliness seem to be occurring in epidemic proportions. This certainly is a scourge on mental health, but it also has social, emotional, spiritual, and even physical consequences. Perhaps that law enforcement expert is right. Maybe the answer is as simple as, “Let’s go back to church.”

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25).

via Flickr (creative commons)
The Age Of Rage

The Age Of Rage

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

For the last few years, it has become vogue to refer to the current state of incivility as “the age of rage.” The British newspaper, The Guardian, featured an article in 2019 by Oliver Burkeman, entitled, “The age of rage: are we really living in angrier times?” Janie Watkins wrote the book, “The Age of Rage”: This is a mad, mad world, in 2005. While it’s written in the context of America, it points back to examples like Nebuchadnezzar, Ahab, and other Bible characters, alongside modern dictators and megalomaniacs. At least one source, Science Focus, wisely observes, “The Age Of Rage: Why Social Media Makes Us So Angry…And What You Can Do About It” (3/20). Writers in Australia, Ireland, and other countries are all observing the same disturbing trend of people who disagree being willing to amplify their indignation with intimidation and violence. Outrage has simply become rage.

Any number of current events in the last few years would serve to prove that we’ve gone that far in our society. Civilization depends on civility. More than that, Christianity, as Jesus and His disciples teach it in the New Testament, requires us to “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” as He sends us out “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mat. 10:16). You see, it doesn’t matter how the world acts. God expects us to assuage the rage.

The Bible identifies what qualifies as rage. The main word translated “rage” in modern translations is thumos, and it is found eighteen times in the New Testament. The NASB renders it “rage” (Luke 4:28; Acts 19:28), “indignation” (Rom. 2:8), “angry tempers” (2 Cor. 12:20), “outbursts of anger” (Gal. 5:20), “wrath” (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Heb. 11:27; etc.), and “passion” (Rev. 14:8; 18:3). This word means the “intense expression of the inner self; a state of intense displeasure” (BDAG 461). Louw-Nida says, “an intense, passionate desire of an overwhelming and possibly destructive character” (290). Kittel explains that the verb from which this noun comes originally conveyed “violent movement” and “to boil up” and “smoke” and the noun came to mean what is moved–desire, impulse, disposition, thought, and anger (TDNTA 339). Picture a person’s temperament as a potentially seething volcano. Rather than controlling it, the person allows what’s inside to freely boil over. That is rage!

With intensifying rhetoric from those in the world who threaten harm in expressing their rage, what does God call you and me to do? First, at the basic level, we are not to sin in our anger (Eph. 4:26). Second, never take your own revenge (Rom. 12:19). Third, replace quarrelsomeness with kindness, patience (even when wronged), and gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Fourth, malign no one, but be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:2).

Warning: This is not how the world thinks nor what the world will do, in many cases. But in the age of rage, we have a higher law. Simply put, it is, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). It’s not a matter of what that may or may not do for our personal causes, but what will it do to advance the cause of Christ. It’s why He has us in this age, to help the world see His way. Those who follow it will experience eternal joy, the antithesis and antidote to this age of rage!

Disturbed

Disturbed

Neal Pollard

The ISIS beheadings so frequently in the news and readily available on the internet are terrifying to behold and consider.  If terrorism is, as the Mac Dictionary defines it, “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” such would be terrorist activity.  The latest spectacle, involving 21 “Coptic Christians” (Egyptian Orthodox religion), seems to show the Islamic State organization is eager to isolate and persecute those seeking to follow Christ.

Do you ever wonder if there will come a day where New Testament Christians in this country may face the threat of death for standing up for Christ?  It has certainly happened to God’s people in the past, especially when the church was first established.  We read about the persecution that started with Stephen then extended to the saints at Jerusalem in the book of Acts.  We read of individuals like Paul, who suffered for Christ on many occasions (2 Cor. 11).  Then, there are the statements made to encourage Christians who might be rattled or scared at the prospect of such treatment.  Twice, writing the Thessalonians, Paul was concerned they would be disturbed by trouble (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Th. 2:2).  He wrote about how persecution was, at times, inevitable (Ph. 1:29; 1 Th. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pt. 3:14).  Of course, Christ showed us His way includes suffering (1 Pt. 2:21ff).

The Bible also gives us great encouragement in the face of the disturbing prospect of suffering for our faith.  Consider a few highlights:

  • We can rejoice if counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41).
  • Those who suffer with Him will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).
  • Suffering can give one a clearer perspective and priority (Phil. 3:8).
  • Suffering is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that we’ll be counted worthy of His Kingdom (2 Th. 1:5).
  • It finds favor with God if we are faithful through our sufferings (1 Pt. 2:19).
  • It is better to suffer for doing right than doing wrong (1 Pt. 4:17).
  • We can entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pt. 4:19).
  • The God of all grace will comfort those who suffer (1 Pt. 5:10).

I don’t think any of us relish or welcome the thought of suffering under any circumstances.  Yet, God has communicated these truths to us to help us decide in these potential trials.  Perhaps it will help us be less disturbed and more determined to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).