THE CHURCH OF CHRIST

Neal Pollard

Within five minutes of the Bear Valley church building, you will find Atonement Lutheran, Landmark Tabernacle, Bear Valley Church of God of Prophesy, Bear Valley Fellowship, Christ Congregational Church, Hope Crossing Church, and Light of Christ of Anglican.  Expand the search by just a mile or so and that number increases quite a lot.  For the casual passerby, who observes our plain, ordinary facilities, they likely consider us just another in a series of churches or denominations.  In fact, to them, the words are exact synonyms.  Were they to visit each of the churches listed, including us, these observers would conclude that we all share a certain number of things in common while each having uniquenesses that set us apart.  Their deduction from this would run the gamut of perplexity, amusement, curiosity, inquisitiveness, and even, perhaps, disdain and hostility.  When we all meet in large, four-walled edifices with foundations and roofs, with classrooms, an auditorium, some sort of rostrum, a foyer, and even some type of baptistery or “font.”  So, just seeing us from the road or even stepping inside of our building is not enough to tell them who we really are.

If we are serious about the belief that we are trying to be the church of the New Testament, pre-denominational, and apart from Catholic or Protestant ancestry, what is our responsibility?  What is our responsibility to God, one another, and the culture at large?  Are there principles or precepts that should guide us in seeking to be faithful to the pattern the Lord left for His church to follow?  If so, here are some priorities we must emphasize:

  • Identity.  Are we known to our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family? If so, what are we known for? A deacon here recently related a conversation his boss made about her nephew, who she contemptuously related was a member of the “church of Christ,” an “ultraconservative” group that “doesn’t believe in instruments and women preachers.”  Certainly, her statement said a lot about her, but is that how we want to be identified?  What I mean is, when someone thinks of the church of Christ, wouldn’t we rather be known for what we do believe in and what we are for?  Remarkably, Jesus impresses His disciples with this command: “”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 early church exemplified this (see Acts 2:42-47).  Their loving way did not make them popular of universally beloved.  That is not the goal of discipleship or the intention of our Savior (see Matthew 10:37), but we are to demonstrate love.
  • Authority.  To the untrained eye who visits our assemblies, the male leadership, the a cappella singing, the every-week-observance of the Lord’s Supper, the sharing of a “plan of salvation” that necessitates baptism, and the like may or may not evoke serious consideration.  Elsewhere, in denominational churches, they will see choirs, rock bands, “tongue-speaking,” women preachers, babies sprinkled, priests officiating, and liturgical recitations (maybe in a different language).  The thrust of evangelism, not to mention a periodic, thoughtful explanation of why we do what we do in worship and teaching, is to explain why we do (or don’t do) what we do (or don’t do).  Essentially, it boils down to the principle spelled out in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  He has all authority (Mat. 28:18).  He is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23). He guided His apostles into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13).  Thus, our concerted, ongoing effort is to honor and submit to His will wherever He specifies a matter (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).  If He has specified it, we do it exactly and only that way.  If He has not specified it, we use our best judgment and the most expedient way to carry it out.
  • Practicality.  Synonyms might be “applicable,” “relevant,” or “relatable.” Our mission, first of all, is to enact the truth of God’s word in our everyday lives. This is a matter of example or influence.  Many a member of the body has given the Head a black eye by not following what the church teaches we believe.  Our mission is also a matter of trying to build a bridge to the community around us.  In matters that do not equate to “right and wrong,” can we establish rapport? To the extent that we do not violate Scriptural principles like modesty and decency, does our dress make it easier or harder for us to reach others? So long as their message is biblical and fulfill the criteria of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, do our songs’ melodies and words help “outsiders,” younger members, and new Christians understand His Word and will? Or do they need an lexicon for archaic words? Do our Bible School materials, tracts, bulletin boards, and visual aids seem 21st Century or like a first edition work of Gutenberg’s press? It is possible that there are some who pant for every new, trendy, shiny thing that comes along, hoping it will lure the unsuspecting unchurched one into our midst.  That extreme should not drive us to be obtuse or mysterious in terminology, outmoded in approach, and outlandish in frugality or form.  To be clownish or undignified is unacceptable, but neither should we be cold or unnatural.

This is not the irreducible minimum, the end all of the discussion.  But, if we will take who we are, whose we are, and who we are here for seriously, the uniqueness of simple, New Testament Christianity will shine through us and cause us to impact our community and our world for Christ.  Isn’t that what we should desire?

A VISIT TO A TEEN’S RELIGIOUS WORLD

Neal Pollard

I love the World War II generation and the enormous impact they have had on our nation!  Perhaps no generation has had a greater challenge since them than the one presently coming to maturity.  Last night, at Teens In The Word, we asked the teens to describe the religious philosophy of their peers as they interact with them at school, their jobs, and their extracurricular activities.  It was heartening to see and hear our teens’ conviction, knowledge, and heart, but disheartening to discuss the fruit of a couple of generations of our culture’s social experiment to reprogram the thinking of people, especially this burgeoning generation.

Our teens attend schools in Douglas, Jefferson, and Denver Counties, go to large High Schools, charter schools, private schools, and homeschools. Despite these diversities, what they encounter is remarkably similar.  It might surprise you that many of their peers believe in a Higher Power and would consider themselves spiritual. More than anywhere else, these peers attend community churches.  Whatever the church growth gurus and experts claim, the teens that go to these churches tell our teens something very different.  Their religious experience is heavily dependent upon entertainment, doing fun things with a party atmosphere, not motivated or influenced by much biblical teaching, segregated from adults, hard-rocking music, dancing, and overall a very tactile experience.  What impact does it have on “faith”?  If speaking in terms of growing closer to God and learning more about Him, not that much. The prevailing worldview of many of our teens’ friends is “what’s right for me may not be right for you,” that God and the devil, heaven and hell are mindsets more than realities (really just your conscience inside of you), and that essentially the only or worst sins, the “objective wrongs,” are offending others and judging others.  When our teens seek to assert objective truth from scripture, they sometimes encounter scorn or rejection. While our teens know a varying degree of peers whose faith and beliefs are more concrete and committed, perhaps the most frequently observed comment last night was that many of their peers “believe in God but not the Bible or Christ.”  They see the Bible as a book of myths or fairytales and not the revealer of truth or a standard of authority.

As we closed our class last night, I was left awestruck.  Our teens are among my most cherished heroes.  They are on the frontline of faith, battling in a world more opposed to truth than that of any generation now living which preceded them.  We were struck with more than admiration, though.  We felt determination, the need to redouble our efforts to establish and defend the trustworthiness and integrity of the Bible, the existence of God, and from that the authoritative nature of Scripture.  Not only will this bolster the faith of our teens, but it will help them in dialoging with those among their peers possessing good and honest hearts (cf. Lk. 8:15).

Here are four things you can do right now for our teens.  (1) Pray for them. (2) Live Christ without hypocrisy before them. (3) Actively encourage them. (4) Help equip them.  Look for heroes where you will.  I have found mine!

Our teens recently feeding the homeless (photo credit: Lexi Hoagland)

A Runaway Ford

Neal Pollard

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is eating up news headlines these days, from admitting “to smoking crack cocaine, buying illegal drugs, and driving after consuming alcohol” (Allison Martell, Reuters, 11/18/13).  His profanity-laced tirades, graphic sexual remarks, domestic incidents, and general godless behavior are all marquee letters on a sign that reads, “No self control here!”  His appearance, speech, and videotaped conduct are all primary witnesses to that end.  He appears to be one gigantic-sized scandal.  Though Toronto’s City Council has voted to transfer his power to the deputy mayor and otherwise curtail his ability to serve, Ford has utterly refused to resign. Mr. Ford seems like more of a symptom than a cause of debauchery and indulgence in western society however larger than life he demonstrates it.

Self-control is an oft-touted virtue set forth by God in His Word.  It was important enough to be a part of Paul’s three point outline to Felix (Acts 24:25), to be an important point in Paul’s counsel to Corinthians about godly marriage (1 Cor. 7:5,9), to be a “slice” of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23) and to be one of the Christian virtues (2 Pet. 1:6).  Paul paints a grim picture to Timothy about spiritually-difficult times to come, talking about men who are “without self-control” (2 Tim. 3:3).  He says to avoid such men as these (2 Tim. 3:5).

What is so important about self-control?  It is impossible for one to submit to the Lord whose passions and desires are not under control.  Paul says, “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).  An out-of-control person is out of harmony with His will.

One without self-control is prone to have a negative influence upon others, too.  For a Christian lacking self-control, there is the crisis of turning others off from Christianity.  There is the equally damaging effect of swaying impressionable people to follow out-of-control, sinful behavior.  Either way, a lack of self-control pushes other people further away from Christ.

Ford’s behavior has been described as repulsive, offensive, and flabbergasting.  Perhaps he is an uncomfortable, if exaggerated, picture of tendencies we all have in our own lives.  Hopefully, seeing how negative a picture a lack of self-control paints will motivate us to take care in this regard.

 

“SACKCLOTH UNDERNEATH”

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Neal Pollard
The first time I recall understanding the significance of the story in 2 Kings 6:30 was sitting in a class taught by Wendell Winkler. He called the lesson “Hidden Cares.” He told us to remember that sitting in the audience each week we preached would be any number of folks carrying around hidden cares. In over twenty years of full-time preaching, I become more aware of that every day. Recently reading about the woman in Mark five who had been suffering for twelve years, I was reminded of this as I thought about the faces of individuals I see all the time suffering in a variety of ways. While we usually know some of the burdens our brothers and sisters are bearing, there are still many others whose troubles are not as widely known.

Jehoram is no Old Testament hero, but is rather a wicked Israelite king. He does not make the cut for the Hebrews eleven list and he does not even behave properly regarding Elisha after the event mentioned in the verse above, but he does illustrate the many who walk around with hidden cares. The verse reads, “When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes-now he was passing by on the wall-and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body.”

The sackcloth was coarsely woven cloth, often made of goat’s hair. It was worn to show mourning and submission to God. No doubt, wearing one of these for any length of time would bring itching, irritation, and discomfort. The garment was apparently meant to reflect outwardly the feelings of the heart and affliction of the spirit of the wearer.

Whether we are preaching or teaching or simply dealing with one another, may we keep a few things in mind. At any given point, the person with whom we are dealing is likely wearing their own “hidden sackcloth.” We may not be able to tell this by looking at their facial expressions or through any verbal cues when we converse. Further, the hidden cares they carry may affect the way they respond to us. Let us not assume they are upset with us or that it is even about us at all. Finally, keep in mind that people cope with their hidden cares in different ways. It is no reflection on the quality of our friendship or relationship if they do not share it. Each of us must determine how, when, and with whom we disclose these things. Let us pray for family, church family, coworkers, neighbors, and others with whom we have relationship as they wear these unseen cares.

To those with sackcloth underneath, remember that God has made us family. There are those you can trust to help bear the burdens. Pray about this and then act. Let these cares refine your relationship with God and sharpen your focus on the place where there will be no such cares. Remember that God is gracious and will not give you more than you can bear. This may seem doubtful at times, but on the other side of the sorrow it will be clear.

No matter how “spiffily” or “slobbily” one is dressed, be aware that underneath may be that figurative sackcloth. May this drive us to be more compassionate and understanding in our dealings with one another.

THE UTTER INSUFFICIENCY OF THEORIES AND QUESTIONS AS THE “ANSWER”

Neal Pollard

As a teenager I once had a Bible class teacher who found it appealing, as a teaching style, to raise questions but give no answers. Some students thought it was cool to keep things theoretical.  It is interesting that his class never really arrived at absolute truth but stayed hypothetical.  I remember feeling frustrated that he raised doubt and uncertainty for some of my peers who might have entered the classroom sure and certain.  Who knew that his sort of “style” would become more popular here in the post-postmodern and emergent age?

It seems that some want in the realm of theology what no one would want in the worlds of auto mechanic-ing, accounting, real estate or medicine—theories and questions in lieu of ironclad, definitive answers. Yet, the realm of theology deals with something more important than automobiles, money, land, or physical health.  When it comes to God and the Bible, eternity is at stake depending on the answers given and the practice encouraged.

Before we allow some smug, condescending professor, preacher, or pundit to conclude that there are no conclusions or absolutely tout the non-existence of absolute truth, let us humbly ask, “On what basis should we reject the Bible’s authoritative position or exchange it for the point of view of the theorist or inquirer?”  Some religious leaders would like us to join them in “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).  When the Bible contains a significant number of statements clearly defining right and wrong, we should be wary of those who seem intent to put question marks where God put periods and exclamation points.  That is not to say that there are not “some things hard to be understood” (2 Pet. 3:16), but let us be careful not to toss into that category what God has already explained.

Precious Fellowship!

Neal Pollard

Kathy and I were privileged to speak in Price, Utah, at the Carbon Emery lectureship.  This program affords brethren in that state a chance to be challenged by a specific topic while enjoying each others’ company.  Never has the saying been true for us that we were the ones blessed for the time spent.  Those in attendance were kind and complimentary, but we felt as though we saw something of what first-century Christianity must have been like.  Brothers and sisters from about a half-dozen of the state’s total of no more than 17 churches (including two tiny house churches comprised of 1 family each and at least one congregation whose membership is 7 people) came together to consider faithfulness as well as evangelism against great odds.

The Christians in Utah understand great odds.  Mormonism has a stranglehold throughout much of the state, even holding a decided financial and social advantage.  So, typically, the Lord’s church, if it exists in a community and owns a building, meets in small, modest meeting houses that may feel grateful to have two dozen people present.  The distance between most congregations, with the exception of Salt Lake City, is vast.  Yet, though some traveled several hours to attend these lectures, they seemed to savor each moment together with fellow-Christians.  Observing these brethren as they ate and visited together, I had the distinct sense that they cherished the likemindedness and common bond that truly drew them closely together 

I am not saying that this depth of treasuring one another is missing in parts of this country where the church is numerically strong, but I wonder if being shunned and rejected by the majority of the community does not actually strengthen the tie that binds.  As an “outsider,” made to feel very much a part of their spiritual family in the course of less than 48 hours, I left with a renewed gratitude for the relationships at my disposal with God’s people.  

Attending worship is chiefly about praising and honoring God.  Perhaps there is a level of duty associated with coming to various church functions and activities.  Yet, our time together holds great potential as spiritual glue to bond us closer to each other.  Does God want that?  He must.  Jesus taught the disciples, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

 

A Beautiful Tribute

Neal Pollard

Kathy and I attended the funeral of Mildred (Millie) King, Larry’s mom and relative to several Bear Valley members, this morning at the Loveland church of Christ.  Ron Lauterbach, the local preacher there, delivered a fine tribute to the godliness of this woman.  So many kind things were said by Ron as well as family members about her faithful Christian life.  It was all very inspiring.  However, the crowning moment of the service was her widower’s words in her honor.  Ron saved these words for last, and they were touching.  He spoke of his “sweetheart” of 62 years, reflecting on how she put Jesus Christ before anything and anyone else.  Then, he spoke about what a devoted mother and wife she was throughout these many decades.  It was touching to hear about this wife who dedicated her life to raising faithful children and standing faithfully behind and beside her man.  When the service was over, Kathy whispered to me, “I don’t know her, but I want to be just like her.”

Is there any better tribute that can be paid than a life lived well?  She served at times as a preacher’s wife, but mostly a school teacher’s wife.  She made many a meal and sent many a card to others.  Her service was very well attended, especially for a late Thursday morning.  All of this honored her, but nothing more than the ones closest to her lavishing such praise about her spiritual maturity and service.  And the one closest to her of all people, Leland King, spoke most tenderly, fondly, and cherishingly.  No praise outshines the genuine admiration and affection of one’s spouse, the person with the most intimate knowledge of that one.  This kind of legacy lives on, even after that one dies (cf. Heb. 11:4b).