WHEN GOD PAID A VISIT TO ISRAEL

Neal Pollard

The Bible tells the beautiful story about the day God visited earth as a human being, coming as a baby by way of the virgin Mary (John 1:14). Because He came here, we can hope to go to His home (John 14:1-3). But one day, He’s going to pay another visit, a visit that will be welcomed by the saved but horrific for the lost (2 Thess. 1:7-10). But, there have been times when God has come in judgment of people on earth, and Amos’ day was one of them (3:14). The prophet wrote, “That in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him I will also visit the altars of Bethel; and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground.”  Some versions have the word “punish” instead of “visit.” Punishment was the purpose or nature of the visit.  Why did God pay a visit to Israel?

  • Life had become very cheap (2:6). Two different classes of people were viewed cheaply by Israel—the righteous (spiritually rich) and the needy (physically poor).  This could refer to those who were innocent of crimes who were found guilty through bribery and corruption. Apparently, a ridiculously small amount was required to purchase the poor. Throughout the history of mankind, evil people have found ways to devalue human life (slavery, abortion, euthanasia, prostitution, pornography, etc.). When God pays a visit and sees such an attitude toward life, He is not pleased (cf. Prov. 6:16-17). I should ask, “Do my everyday dealings with others reflect my high regard for human life? Do I see others as pawns in my hand to be manipulated, as those I can take advantage of for my selfish gain, or as those who can meet my needs?” This applies to fellow-Christians, too. Do I value them or devalue them (cf. Phil. 2:1-4)?
  • There was immorality (2:7).  God did not hesitate to enter the bedroom when He paid a visit. It was God who created sexuality, and what He made was good. Since the fourth chapter of the Bible, people have tampered with His design. By the time God visits Israel in Amos’ day, the condition of things in this area of life was disgusting and perverse. It violated the Law of Moses (Lev. 18:8). But it also violated the laws of common decency. It was that way in New Testament times in the church of Corinth (1 Cor. 5:1). Woe unto the people who, when God visits, He finds full of immorality. God created human sexuality and He lays the ground rules for it (Heb. 13:4).
  • There was ingratitude (2:9-10). It’s not clear whether the feasts in Amos 2:8 were legitimate and therefore abused worship to Jehovah or if these were pagan practices to idols. We know there was drunkenness and probably fornication during the course of these festivities, whatever the intended object of worship. But the root of the problem was a failure to acknowledge God’s hand in their protection and deliverance. These people failed to give God the credit for their success. They had been so blessed by God, but they ignored Him. It’s the problem of the nine ungrateful lepers in Luke 17:11-19. They appealed directly to God, He healed them, then they forgot Him. I believe that in our land of plenty, we must guard against ingratitude and even a sense of entitlement. We have running water on demand, clean water, hot water, air conditioning, dental plans or at least dentists, clean hospitals with the world’s best doctors and nurses, no malaria, cholera, or typhoid epidemics, retirement plans, and more. But we’re the most ungrateful people on the planet. As a Christian, I have even more than that. Am I grateful for it?
  • They closed the mouths of the prophets (2:12). They had aready tempted the Nazarites to break their vows (11). They were hard at work on the prophets, too, trying to stop them. When God visits a people, He had better find faithful messengers. Later, in Ezekiel’s day, God was hard pressed to find them (cf. Ezek. 22:30). Paul warned about this (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Woe to the preacher who has a price, who markets his message to the highest bidders. A man who sells out to his paycheck and a people who love to have it so will neither one fare well when God pays a visit.

These weren’t the only things God saw when He paid Israel a visit. They were out of step with God (3:3). Their women lost their spirituality (4:1). They corrupted their worship (4:4). They were rebellious (4:6). They had divorced religion from righteous living (5:21). They were at ease at Zion when they should have grieved over it (6:1). At the judgment seat of Christ, many people’s works will go up in flames. We must be ready when Christ pays a visit.

Some Things That Will Not Be At The Judgment

Neal Pollard

What will the throne of judgment look like? What will Christ, the Judge, look like? Will the Judgment be experienced through the sense of sight? What will be different there from this life? What will be changed?

The Bible speaks often about the moment of reckoning, when the righteous and wicked dead (John 5:28-29) and all living (Mat. 25:31-33) will stand before the King of kings to give account for the conduct of the body (2 Cor. 5:10). As we attempt to paint a mental picture of the Judgment Day, some things shouldn’t be envisioned because they won’t be there.

  • There will not be an unbeliever at the Judgment (Phil. 2:10-11). With an introduction only heaven could produce, John says Jesus will come with clouds, every eye shall see Him, and all nations of the earth will wail because of Him (Rev. 1:7). No person will be able to continue in unbelief. Faith will be permanently past tense. Evidence of God’s power and the power of His promises will be beyond the realm of the hopes for and in the arena of the finally seen (Heb. 11:1). Jokes scoffing the Divine will not slip off the sin-darkened hearts of the defiant. No skeptics, no agnostics, no doubters, and no infidels will be at the Judgment.
  • There will not be a material possession at the Judgment (2 Pet. 3:10). The inhabitants of this planet seem to be more engrossed with things daily. The Lord calls things “corruptible” (1 Pet. 1:18) and inferior treasure (Mat. 6:19). People seek material things to provide them a life of joy, peace, and comfort. We will give an account for our stewardship of material things. We will answer “yes” or “no” when asked if we robbed God (Mal. 3:8). But no person will bring his possessions or amassed wealth into the venerable court of justice.
  • There will not be a mistrial at the Judgment (Acts 17:31). Each of us will appear before the Judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10). We will each “stand trial” (2 Cor. 5:10). Christ, the “true” (John 8:16), universal (Acts 10:42), righteous (Acts 17:31), God-ordained (Rom. 2:16) and ready (1 Pet. 4:5) judge will sit to hear the case of every mentally accountable person to have lived. Jesus will judge without bias (Eph. 6:9) by relying on heaven’s unabridged record of the individual’s life (Rev. 20:12). He will judge according to the perfect law of liberty (Jas. 1:25). No one will be able to legitimately cry “foul.” When the law book is closed and the last judgment is handed down, no one will be able to find a loophole or mistake in the proceedings that will allow them to go free or be retried. There will not be any miscues or oversights.
  • There will be no secrets at the Judgment (Rom. 2:16). God now knows every man’s secret sins (Psa. 90:8) and He shall bring such things to the Judgment (Ecc. 12:14). God sees every secret place (Jer. 23:23). He reveals the deepest, darkest secrets (Dan. 2:22). At the Judgment, such things will judged (Rom. 2:16). “…All things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13b).
  • There will be no baptistery at the Judgment. Most people will go into eternity not having been washed, sanctified and justified (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11). As Christ divides the sheep from the goats, it will matter whether a person has fully obeyed the gospel (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12; Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:27; Acts 22:16; Mark 16:16). Perhaps people will cry out for another person to baptize them. The angst of many who bargained for a later date to be baptized will be realized when they stand before Christ without His blood covering their sins.
  • There will be no invitation song at the Judgment. When the trumpet sounds, no sermon will be preached to convince the lost to obey the gospel. There’ll be no pleading with the lukewarm and unfaithful Christians. No song leader will stand before that numberless crowd to appeal to the lost and erring. Legions of hearts will be melted by the power of God. Fearful realization will fill those unready to meet Christ. Perhaps many will cry out for another chance, but the last opportunity will have passed.

There will be a righteous Judge who will give a fair trial to every individual. All will give an account. An eternal sentence will be handed down based upon one’s life and acceptance or rejection of Christ’s sacrifice. There will be no parole, stay of execution, or pardon for the lost. We all will need abundant grace to be able to stand at His right hand side, but Scripture tells us how that is extended. We must prepare for that in this life (Heb. 9:27). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How Do You Spell “Cross”?

Neal Pollard

  1. “SEE”– Look at Calvary. Don’t turn away. I know it’s not easy. What is done to Him is shameful. I know. But, look closely! Past the spittle. Beyond the blood. There. In His eyes. Friend, that is love. It is love for you! See the nails in His hands and feet, fastening Him to a tree He created for man’s use. Look at the love He has for you!
  2. “ARE?”–Are you able to see that He bled and died for you? Are you willing to admit you’re lost without Him? Are you ready to submit to His will, to obey Him, and to live for Him? Are you prepared for eternity? Are you convinced?
  3. “OH”–Hear His cries of pain and agony. The death of a thousand deaths. Bitter moans of His disciples. The gasp of heaven’s angels. The sorrow of a Father for His only begotten Son! The gasps and exclamations of a hateful mob.
  4. “SS”–That’s the hiss of the beguiling serpent. The one who is bruising the heel of the perfect One, putting God the Son in the tomb. This is his moment of triumph. Though resurrection will soon spell victory for Christ and hope for man, at the cross the devil must be enjoying his front row seat at Calvary. Doesn’t he anger you? Disgust you? Motivate you? Live for Jesus, the Lion of Judah. Don’t live for the roaring, devouring lion.

Friends, the cross spells the difference between heaven and hell, hope and hopelessness, joy and sorrow, night and day!

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Things That Get The Church Excited

Neal Pollard

I grew up in the church, and something I learned long ago is that the majority of God’s people want to serve and please the Lord. There are sin problems we fight, doctrinal confusions we must confront, personality issues that arise, and distractions that sidetrack us far too often, but many times we fail to recognize and acknowledge that, with proper direction, a great many Christians are ready to mobilize and be about our Father’s business.  While the elders, deacons, and preachers have been frequently meeting together for the last couple of years to plan and organize the work here at Bear Valley, we have discovered so many positive things about each other. We are closer to each other and more excited about the church’s work.  We care more about the lost and the saved, and we are eager to prove it and spread that attitude congregation-wide.  As we have met and excitement has continued to build, I have been reminded of some basic, vital things that creates such an environment.  Here are three needed things I believe that still get the Lord’s people excited.

Purpose.  Have you ever heard a sermon on the church’s work and purpose? Of course! And bulletin and periodical articles, Bible classes, and gospel meetings and seminars. We talk a lot about purpose, but when you take tangible steps to accomplish the saving of souls, non-Christian and Christian souls, and meeting genuine needs you get excited knowing that you are partnering with God to do His will on this earth. Often, you have to measure progress in baby steps, but when you can look over an increment of time and see progress, it is absolutely exciting!  When Barnabas worked with Antioch, he “encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (Acts 11:23).  Purpose of heart still encourages the church!

Unity.  I’m not talking cheap union that is built upon nebulous, conviction-less coexistence, but unity built solidly upon the bedrock of truth!  That kind of unity is forged by having the difficult discussions, teaching the whole counsel, and striving together to fulfill the will of God.  When you couple doctrinal conviction with the aforementioned purpose, the net result is a unity that excites!  Joining with others who have the faith to take God at His word emboldens and propels you forward to do great things, right things, that glorify Him.  The inspired David point this out, saying, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1).  Tell me that is not exciting!

Leadership. Who sets the pace in articulating purpose and urging unity? Leaders! We know who leaders are. They are the ones leading.  They know where they are going and how to get us there, too.  We hear their voice and are eager to follow.  We are not willing to blindly follow those who are not right behind the Chief Shepherd, but those who are, in word and deed, we are willing to follow even through thickets and brambles. We trust them. We believe in them.  In fact, “We esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Th. 5:13).  God has designed elders to be those “senior leaders,” and He expects us all to be growing our spiritual influence and example.  It’s exciting to be a part of a church full of people conscientious about their influence!

I’m not unrealistic or purely idealistic.  I know that the Devil is unhappy with the church who is actively working to fulfill God’s purpose, being united in truth, and possessed of church leaders who have Christ as their pattern. We can let selfish ambition and improper motivation undermine the Lord’s will.  But, let’s not be unmindful of how great the work is and how great our opportunity to partner together with Christ and Christians to do it. It’s exciting!

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EXCUSES OR MOTIVATIONS

Neal Pollard

Saving for retirement. Exercising and losing weight. Mending a broken relationship. Daily Bible reading.  Many are the objectives, goals, and needs we all have in this life, but just as many are the excuses we often give for not addressing them.  We fall back on lack of time, how we feel, whose fault it is, and generally why we cannot do what we know we should be doing.  It seems that until we are convicted of our need to do something, we will always find ready excuses.

But, when we are motivated to do something, we will not let anything stop us.  We find the time, muster the will, and channel the discipline necessary to keep plugging away until the objective is achieved.

Living for Christ is the greatest objective there is.  It fulfills the very purpose for our existence. It benefits everyone around us. It is imperative to gaining heaven as home.  It positively influences those closest to us.  But, when it is not our greatest priority, we will come up with a bevy of excuses. These run the gamut from sports activities to work to hypocrites to personal weakness to whatever else may come to mind.  Until we are motivated, we will find excuses.  So, what should motivate us to live for Jesus?

  • His sacrificial love (Gal. 2:20).
  • Fear of judgment and eternal punishment (Mat. 25:31-46).
  • The debt we owe (Rom. 1:14-17).
  • The love we have for Him (2 Cor. 5:14).
  • Our love for our family and others close to us (Ti. 2:3-4; Eph. 5:25).
  • An understanding of our purpose (Phil. 1:21-24).
  • The hope of heaven (John 14:1ff).
  • A sense of obligation to our spiritual family (1 Th. 5:11; Mat. 18:12ff).
  • A desire to do what is right and serve Jesus as our Master (1 Pe. 2:20; Mat. 7:21).

All of these (and more) are excellent motivation for enduring the difficult in order to successfully overcome in this life. They will help us to eliminate every impediment that stands in our way.  As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).

BEING SANCTIFIED WITHOUT BEING SHELTERED

Neal Pollard

Sanctification is one of those words used in more than one sense in the New Testament. It usually means the state of having been made holy (Rom. 6:19,22; 2 Th. 2:13; 1 Pt. 1:2), but it also is used in the sense of moral purity (see especially 1 Th. 4:2ff).  There is no doubt that God calls us to live pure, godly lives in Christ.  Because of this, we must watch the company we keep (cf. 1 Co. 15:33; 2 Co. 6:16ff).

How do we balance this need of keeping ourselves “unspotted from the world” (Js. 1:27) with the ability to reach out to those who are not followers of Christ?  David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, in their book UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why It Matters, discuss several factors that lead two generations—they call them “Mosaics” (born between 1984 and 2002) and “Busters” (born between 1965 and 1983)—to be more radically disconnected from and antagonistic toward “Christianity” as they perceive it.  One of the factors is their view that Christians’ lives are too sheltered for them to relate to it or find it desirable as a lifestyle choice.  We’re often thought of as living in our own world, providing too simplistic answers for our complex world, being ignorant and outdated, speaking our own, exclusive language, and our outrage and offense at being putdown and mocked by the world. I don’t know how this hits you, but perhaps it gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves.

The authors make a great point worthy of our consideration: “Christianity begins to shift its sheltered reputation when Christ followers are engaged, informed, and on the leading edge, offering a sophisticated response to the issues people face” (132).  The answer is not to replace congregational singing with rock concerts, recruit women, homosexual, or hard-edged shock-sermonizers who are foul-mouthed and irreverent to replace faithful gospel preachers, or the like. The answer is much more New Testament, more aligned with what the early church was.  The answer is “engagement.”

That means we engage people in the world.  We create opportunities or enter environments where “outsiders” (non-Christians) are to be found and we become salt and light, opening doors for the gospel through relationship-building and our genuine concern for people’s (often messy) lives.

It means we engage ourselves in “active faith.” We let faith have arms and legs. We move from being “believers” to being “doers” (Js. 1:22). We urge, encourage, and enable people to actively serve and live out faith in their daily lives.

It means we engage people like those Jesus and His disciples targeted.  That means the woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus, the lame man, Blind Bartemaeus, the 10 lepers, the Samaritan woman, and others like them.  We cannot forget what Paul said, that God has chosen the foolish, weak, base, nothing, and despised types to be His people (1 Cor. 1:27-28). The people God chose to be heirs are not the pretty, popular, influential, and wealthy (Js. 2:5).  The authors of UnChristian specify groups like “loners,” “self-injurers,” and “fatherless” people (135-137). We can add to that list, but people like these do not often top the “prospect lists” we might make.

Divine Truth must prevail and guide us in matters of salvation, our teaching, our personal morality, our worship, etc.  If it will guide us in reaching the world with the Word, we had better stop sequestering ourselves and our faith from a world in desperate need of the only message with eternal implications. Reflect on how Paul’s words apply to this, when he says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). We’re not just meant to prove that to each other. God wants us proving it to those outside of Christ.

Bear Valley youth feeding the homeless in downtown Denver

Why Christ Became Flesh

Neal Pollard

The writer of Hebrews exhorts that Christ should be faithfully served, not abandoned, because He is a superior messenger to all other heavenly messengers (chapter one). Then, he gives another reason for holding fast to Him in chapter two. His readers were apparently struggling in their faith and gradually slipping back into the religion they had left. They lacked incentive, but the epistle gives reason after reason for why it should be restored.

In chapter two, he refers to Jesus’ humanity. Through it, He perfectly fills the role of High Priest in a way no Levitical priest could do under the old law. He enumerates the reasons why Jesus became flesh, and each reason was for each of us as individuals.

  • He became flesh to taste death for every man (9). He exercised God’s grace on our behalf. He was willing to make God’s understanding of our frailties empirical (experienced by human senses) by tasting death in a human body.
  • He became flesh to render the devil powerless (14). Before the cross, where Jesus gave up His physical body in death, the devil had the power over man. All mankind sinned and there were various sin offerings provided by God in the different ages. Yet, they could not “take away” sin (10:4,11). But, when Jesus died and was raised from the dead, He rendered the devil powerless over those who faithfully obey Christ and remain faithful unto death.
  • He became flesh to deliver the enslaved (15). Knowing no hope of deliverance from the horrible state of sinfulness makes for a miserable experience (Rom. 7:25). Christ came to deliver us from the awful slave master of sin (John 8:34).
  • He became flesh to become a merciful and faithful High Priest (17).  12 times in Hebrews, Jesus is called the Christian’s High Priest–the High Priest of our confession (3:1), in Heaven (4:14), sympathetic and sinless (4:15), appointed by the Father (5:5), without predecessor or successor (5:10), who went before us (6:20), holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (7:26), seated at the Father’s right hand (8:1), an offering priest (8:3), and offering His own blood (9:11). His service in administering His blood on our behalf is merciful (kind, forgiving, protecting) and faithful (trustworthy and sure).
  • He became flesh to come to the aid of the tempted (18). He well remembers what it is like to suffer in a human body. Not just that greatest moment of suffering, up on the tree, but the daily discomforts (Mat. 8:20), abandonment (John 6:66), and betrayal (John 18:27; Mark 14:45). Therefore, He can help me right now with my problem. Nothing is too big, too mysterious, or too difficult for Him.

Five reasons from Hebrews two are given for why Jesus became flesh, but all of them are for me (and for you)! What a thrilling though. Let’s serve this wonderful Savior!

Ancient, But Temporary

Neal Pollard

The oldest buildings in the world are found in Turkey, France, Italy, Scotland, Malta, England, Ireland, and Iran. All of them date back to at least 3,000 B.C.  They include tombs, temples, settlements, houses, sanctuaries, and plazas. They are historical treasures, revealing the earliest dental procedures, burial habits, religious ceremonies of pagans, societies and more. Some are remarkably preserved for their age, and many are visited by tourists after having been meticulously studied by archaeologists and other students of history.  It fires the imagination to think about what life was like for people who lived contemporary to Noah’s sons, Abraham, and perhaps Job. The fact that any part of these edifices still stand is incredible. When you consider that the oldest buildings intact in the United States are Puebloan houses and villages located in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, dating only as far back as between 750-1000 A.D., the existence of the aforementioned structures in Europe and Asia is all the more impressive (information via taospueblo.com, wikipedia, et al).

History and archaeology buffs revel at the thought of visiting such sites, and who could fail to marvel at such testaments to durability?  We can hardly fathom buildings that have stood for several thousands of years.  However, they are all comparatively temporary.

Peter writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Pet. 3:10-12).  When Christ comes again, all the works of earth will be destroyed with fire. Such a promise is meant to motivate us to live in view of the unseen and the eternal.  Specifically, Peter says such knowledge such cause us to be holy and godly, watchful and anticipating.  Ancient buildings can be seen with the eyes of flesh.  Future destruction must be viewed through eyes of faith.  May we remember, as we live each day and build our lives, that nothing in this life is worth surrendering eternal life.

THE MASTER’S MATERIAL

Neal Pollard

A while back it was popular in the religious world to talk about Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The emphasis has often been on the disciples’ experience. I believe the biblical emphasis is on the character of Jesus. The disciples are contemplating Him even as they encounter Him. They describe Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). Notice three reasons why He was so mighty in word before all the people.

JESUS KNEW HIS MATERIAL. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Truly His knowledge is perfect and ours is not, but there is no excuse for failing to study–both on our own and for a class we are teaching or sermon we are preaching.

JESUS KNEW HOW TO RELATE ITS MEANING EFFECTIVELY. The men journeying to Emma’s, after walking with Jesus, said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). The dismal method of too many Bible classes is to essentially read and paraphrase in verse by verse fashion. Preaching can too often be disorganized in delivery or vague in message. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV).  Robertson says of “rightly handling” that it means “cutting straight…Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor?” (Vol. 4, 619). As presenters of truth, tell what it meant then and in context, and then apply it!

JESUS KNEW HOW TO MAKE THE MATERIAL LIVE IN HIS STUDENTS. Luke 24:45 says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That is just what we are after as teachers, preachers, and proclaimers of the Word. We are not just fact-reporting. We are trying to get into the heart. Remember that Jesus sought to change lives with His teaching.

Only Jesus was the perfect teacher. But we can always be better and great. Let us mimic the Master’s approach to His material!

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?