The Brooks-Sumner Affair

Neal Pollard

In 1856, Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Senator, delivered an excoriating speech full of vicious name-calling and personal insults—especially against Senators Douglas and Butler—for their defense and advocation of slavery and especially the violence in Kansas in response to the actions of John Brown and his followers. The speech went on for two days, and shortly after its completion a man named Colonel Preston Brooks, a U.S. representative from South Carolina and distant relative of Andrew Butler, retaliated by beating Sumner with a cane. It was a serious enough beating that Sumner would take years to recover. Sumner would become an iconic hero to northerners and Brooks, who as punishment for the crime was fined $300, a darling of the south. Newspaper headlines of the time, in each region, painted their man a hero and the other man a demon (read a sample here: It is not the loathsome sin of slavery that I wish to highlight here, but the age-old tendency to blindly defend a person or position one feels inclined toward and the incredible efforts to vilify those on the other side of the issue—no matter what.

People are inclined to line up behind men rather than the Messiah. It is not just during political season or for certain social agenda items that this occurs, but more importantly in every season of the year when it comes to religious matters. Paul decried men’s tendency to be “of Paul…of Apollos…and…of Cephas” (1 Cor. 1:12). In the religious world, division has occurred because men have lined up behind some man’s teaching. Often, this teaching is a misconstrued view of a passage (for example, John 3:16, Acts 16:31, Mark 16:17, etc.) or a teaching without benefit of a passage (for example, having an experience of grace, saying a sinner’s prayer, infant baptism, etc.). As with politics, people can become blind apologists for their leaders and champions who promote what they already believe. Often, no amount of reason and logic can overcome the predisposed bias of the adherents. Lost in the cacophony of religious debate can be clear, simple biblical truth. Religious division is not the product or prompting of God (1 Cor. 1:10; 14:33). It is entirely of human origin. While there are some matters where God has not legislated, there are also some clear “right” and “wrong” matters in Scripture. Where God has spoken, we must take His word and will over that of absolutely anyone else. Otherwise, we will find ourselves guilty of elevating one above the One we must all ultimately give an account to. That would be an injustice and violation to top even “The Brooks-Sumner Affair.” May we keep our allegiance to God free from the taint of personal prejudices, even in the matter of our religious convictions. Psalm 119:89.



Neal Pollard

—“A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
—“A worthless person, a wicked man is one who…spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12,14).
—“There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: …one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16,19).
—“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions” (Prov. 10:12).
—“Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly” (Prov. 26:26).
—“Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Prov. 20:3).
—“Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (Prov. 13:10).
—“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out” (Prov. 17:14).
—“He who loves transgression loves strife…” (Prov. 17:19a).
—“Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:21).
—“An arrogant man stirs up strife, But he who trusts in the Lord will prosper” (Prov. 28:25).

Suffice it to say, the Lord has not been silent on the matter. Our age is marked by the manufacturing and fanning the flames of controversy, endless argument, and divisive issues. Men seem to take pride in starting strife and stirring the pot. When we share the gospel, in gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24) and love (Eph. 4:15), it can still be met with devastating disagreement and vehement vituperation. But, thanks to mediums like social media, some among us have seized the platform to spread division where they could as easily work to promote love and unity among brethren.  I cannot presume heart or motives, but the fruit has been to start brotherhood brawls and to stratify schisms. It is worrisome that while we manufacture outrage on politics, race, law enforcement, “guilt by association,” nitpicking the church, or constantly bringing up the latest “what’s wrong with the church” scenario, 151,600 people die around the world every day (via! Most of that number will have traveled the broad way that leads to destruction. Surely we can redirect our passion and conviction away from divisive diversions and do our part to stem the tide of such an eternal tragedy!

Meanwhile, we can resolve to see people, not skin color, God’s sovereignty, not party affiliation or uniform, the local church’s autonomy, not an opportunity to be a busybody, and with every other, similar scenario, not major in the minors. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier provisions of the law, justice, mercy and faithfulness while scrupulously focusing on matters comparatively minor (Mat. 23:23).  We have a brief time to use our talents and influence on this earth. Will our cause be social justice, brotherhood policing, or political activism, or will it be building up the kingdom through evangelism, edification, and benevolence? May God grant us all the wisdom to “not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27). Be a builder, not a basher!


Poking The Bear

Neal Pollard

It’s not a Social Media phenomenon, but those platforms have proliferated this problem.  Begin by making a provocative statement about race, religion, politics, other social issue, matter of judgment, or the like, then step back and watch while the unrestrained and undisciplined scratch and claw at one another. Soon, the issue is obscured by hateful remarks as combatants escalate the rhetoric. The tactic is utterly worldly, yet too often it is brothers and sisters in Christ with the sinister stick in their hands jabbing at the hibernating grizzly! My consistent question is, “Why?”  What is the purpose? Certainly, we should all be more critical thinkers, but such tactics as these generate much more heat than light. Rather than logical, rational points and counterpoints, they usually produce ad hominem attacks, reductio ad absurdum, and other Latin diseases!

When you consider how the New Testament governs our speech and guides our conduct in dealing with each other, you have to ask where the above-mentioned ploys fit in.  Here is a sampling of admonitions and instructions the Holy Spirit gives us through Scripture:

  • “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19).
  • “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6).
  • “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
  • [God hates] “one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:19b).
  • “Pursue peace with all men…” (Heb. 12:14a).
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mat. 5:9).
  • “Love does not act unbecomingly” (1 Cor. 13:5a).
  • “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
  • “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul…” (Acts 4:32).

Be careful. In an attempt to be clever, relevant, and cutting edge, could we instead be alienating, divisive, and polarizing? There’s a big difference. May we all pray for the wisdom to differentiate. Especially in a divided world that is watching how those who claim to be Christians speak, interact, and treat them and each other, may we “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mat. 10:16).  Be dove-imitators, not bear-pokers.


“Let Them Alone”

Neal Pollard

It is a commendable mixture of righteous indignation, conviction, and affection for the Lord and His church to want to answer all the critics, rebut all the troublemakers, defend all the reputations, and fight all the false teaching out there.  Knowing how best to deal with the pot-stirrers or the novel-doctrine-peddlers can cause quite the consternation.  Do we answer every allegation and oppose every little quibble?  Are there times where the best answer is to simply ignore “one who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19) or those who attempt to “preach any other gospel” (Gal. 1:9)?  That requires great wisdom and judgment as to the specific situations which arise, but it is clear that the Bible has given disciples the counsel to just let some things lie.

A NEGATIVE EXAMPLE: The Pharisees Of Matthew 15.  These religious leaders elevated human traditions (1-2,6,9), made their own rules they bound others to follow or else (3-6), had heart problems (7-9), and spoke defiling words (11).  They intimidated the disciples, who were concerned that Jesus offended the Pharisees (12). Jesus pointed ahead to the judgment that would determine the nature of their work (13), but counseled His followers to “let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (14).  So often, those who strive and divide, as well as those swayed by them, experience the fruit of their work in this life.  Others, unheeding of cautions and pleadings to the contrary, find out in the end (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24-25).  While the Pharisees ultimately nailed Jesus to the cross, His view of their divisive tactics was to simply “let them alone.”

A POSITIVE EXAMPLE: Peter And John In Acts 5.  Gamaliel, a respected teacher of the Law and member of the Sanhedrin Council, weighed in on the work of Peter and John, two faithful gospel preachers. He looked at past movements of those claiming to be someone, Theudas and Judas, and compared them to these followers of Christ. His advice, “stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:38b-40).  While we have no indication that Gamaliel’s advice is inspired, as Caiaphas did (John 11:49ff), it is hard to find fault with his logic.  In the case of the apostles in Acts five, their plan and action was of God. In the case of the other two “leaders,” it was of men.  Time typically tells.  Inspect the fruit.  Listen to the words.  Watch the attitudes.  Discern the actions demanded and urged. Examine it all in the light of carefully studied Scripture.

Apathy and indifference can lull us to sleep.  The antagonistic or the agents of unscriptural change can both serve to wake us up, get us to reexamine our stand, get into our Bibles, and work to ensure our message and our methods are “by the book.”  But do we have to accept every challenge and dare?  Jesus once drew in the dirt in the face of those who demanded an answer from Him.  There are some times when the best answer is silence.  As for those who make demands of us? Sometimes, we’re best to just “let them alone.”

Avoid Foolish And Ignorant Disputes!

Neal Pollard

A man is about to be put to death for preaching Christ.  He is composing the last known words he left to history, and it is addressed to another, younger preacher.  The entire letter is less than 2,000 words, making each sentence all the more meaningful.  In the middle of describing “an unashamed workman,” Paul makes this statement, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul has just discussed the vitality and value of being a vessel of honor in God’s house (20-21). One is cleansed and prepared for His use who flees lust and pursues the Lord (22). Paul follows the admonition in verse 23 by describing the characteristics of a good workman and vessel of honor.

Social media has got to be one of the devil’s greatest tools for tempting God’s people to violate the principle of 2 Timothy 2:23.  One has got to wonder how many confidently asserted statements and vehement arguments are properly categorized as “foolish” and “ignorant.”  We’ve all seen the disputes and strife they generate!  Brethren speak ugly to one another and venomously about the object of their scorn.  I cannot remember how many times I heard the late Wendell Winkler say, “You can be right and be wrong. If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind.”  Do we ever stop to consider that we can neutralize our effectiveness by un-researched, unstudied, and uninformed statements nevertheless brashly and confidently stated?

And what about those who “innocently” start these bash-fests? As a young boy, I remember having a football card of Conrad Dobler.  For some reason, I thought he was so cool…until I saw him in a commercial. He’s sitting between two fans and he pits one against the other until the whole crowd is in an uproar.  The commercial ends with him grinning as he leaves the middle of the fracas. Was he innocent in all this? Of course not!  That’s the point of using Conrad Dobler, the meanest man in football, in the commercial.

Remember what Paul tells the Romans.  “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (14:19).  The next social media mudslinging you chance upon, ask yourself this.  Am I looking for peace or longing to take a virtual punch? Am I actively seeking to edify, or am I looking to don my orange demolition jacket? Hear the inspired words.  “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes!” When you come upon one, just keep moving.  You are not likely to help the cause of Christ, but you may hurt it!



Neal Pollard

1979 was the year I discovered sports, developing a fledgling interest in my home state’s greatest football team, the Georgia Bulldogs, watching Dale Murphy and Bob Horner, young stars on a woeful Atlanta Braves team, learning names like Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews, and Greg Brazina. I started collecting baseball, football, and basketball cards.  But my clearest memory and biggest sports’ memory in that seminal year of sports-fan-man-ship came when I walked into our living room in Cairo, Georgia, at the end of the Daytona 500.  I can’t remember how many laps I watched, but I watched them all in utter fascination—including the historic final lap.  The suspense, drama, and excitement was palpable, climaxed by Cale Yarborough coming down the inside in an attempted “slingshot” move and triggering a crash between himself and Donnie Allison.  The maneuver cost them both the victory as Richard Petty took the checkered flag.  But what I remember was not Petty’s win, but the altercation between Cale and Donnie’s brother, Bobby, who had stopped to check on his brother.  Cale hit Bobby in the face with his helmet, then, as Bobby famously recounted, Cale went to beating Bobby’s fist with his nose.  That moment (“the fight”) is credited with putting NASCAR “on the map” and leading it into the mainstream of American interest.

While it’s ultimately a matter of indifference that a fight led a sport to success, it’s profoundly sad that the religious world is often known for its division and difference rather than its being united in truth.  One of the biggest arguments against Christianity is that “Christians” (as the world sees them and understands the term) argue with each other.  As world religions spread and as secularism and atheism grow in our world, the strife and division among us is more negatively noticeable than ever.

This fragmentation could not be farther from heaven’s desire.  Jesus prayed for His followers to be united (John 17:20-21).  Paul condemned religious division (1 Co. 1:10-13) and called for the body of Christ to be one (1 Co. 12:13; Eph. 2:16; 4:4).  The world is heading toward eternal punishment and religious people who follow manmade doctrine are said by the Bible to share that tragic fate (Mat. 7:21-23; 15:8-9; John 12:48; Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 22:18-19).

When the world looks at those professing to be Jesus’ disciples, what should they see?  I know what Jesus wanted them to see.  He said, “”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).  Let’s be known to the world as lovers, not fighters!


Neal Pollard

The Restoration Plea is valid, vital, and victorious!  It urges every believer in Christ to throw off the shackles of humanly-devised traditions and beliefs that undermine and contradict the sole, supreme authority of Christ.  Religious division has been spawned through time because of men’s preference for their own creeds and doctrines.  Reason and rationale becomes, “We’ve always done this” or “We prefer this” rather than “Thus saith the Lord!”  With human nature, we are often prone to see such faulty thinking in others while being blinded to our own potential guilt.  This happens to us individually and it certainly can happen to us collectively.  Painfully aware of my own limitations and shortcomings, may I offer some cautions to us out of a sincere love of Christ and His glorious bride?

If the church of Christ will truly be undenominational,

  • We must build our faith and beliefs from the “text out” rather than assert our beliefs and then find verses to support it.
  • We must avoid blind loyalty to any individual, congregation, school, work, and the like.
  • We must determine not to press our inclinations, preferences, judgments, and opinions to the extent that such divides brethren or becomes matters of fellowship.
  • We must strive to preach and practice “the whole counsel of God,” even in unpopular matters or those we may have neglected (church discipline, evangelism, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, moral purity, first-century-like benevolence, etc.).
  • We must be patient and loving within and towards congregations, be they Thessalonicas or Corinths.
  • We must avoid unconditionally venerating and idolizing men above the Lord.
  • We must repent of our intensely “in-reach” philosophy and rededicate ourselves to intense “outreach” in our communities.
  • We must avoid convenient silence in our pulpits and classrooms regarding New Testament distinctiveness and doctrine.
  • We must increase our faith in the absolute, unqualified Lordship of Jesus.

This list is inevitably incomplete and imperfect.  How could it not be, since it is put forward by one who is certainly both those things?  Yet, it is put forward to emphasize that there is an urgent need for us to continually examine our beliefs and practices making sure our allegiance is to the Christ and not men—however great and noble they seem to us.  Our Lord said, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48).

What Does The Bible Say?

Neal Pollard

Most people have very strong convictions, pro or con, about religious matters.  Many who claim to be religious form opinions and draw conclusions with very little if any biblical consultation.  How ironic is it to claim to follow God while ignoring and even rejecting His very revealed will?

Many religious people, church attenders and not, are guided by their feelings, desires, opinions, preferences, and consciences (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3; Prov. 14:12).  Perhaps they have a favorite preacher or other religious figure they implicitly trust.  Their religion may be submitted and subjugated to the message of the culture or even the media. It may be based on convenience and comfort.  Throughout time, man has attempted to serve God on his own terms and based on what he thinks is right.  Whether ignorantly or defiantly, he puts himself on a throne upon which only Jesus belongs (Mat. 28:18).

How long could religious error survive if potentially divided parties could lay aside personal interests and objectively study the sacred text?  So often, the religious world is divided because of man-made doctrines and traditions.  Instead of looking to the Bible to answer the important questions of time and eternity, men often come up with the answers they want and then go looking for Bible verses to support their predetermined views.  Consider that some of the most popular religious ideas—salvation by saying the sinner’s prayer, premillennialism, speaking in tongues, women worship leaders, once-saved, always-saved, and instrumental music—are not practiced or believed based upon their being taught in Scripture but instead their being the beliefs and views of mankind.  How thrilling it would be if we could unite every religious person in the desire to come to the text, the glasses of prejudice or sectarian beliefs removed, and let God tell us what to believe and how to live!  That is possible, but it begins with each of us humble, sincerely asking, “What does the Bible say?”



Neal Pollard

A few years ago fifty miles southeast of Indianapolis in Andersonville, Indiana, two neighbors were found dead of gunshot wounds.  The bizarre finding of police investigators is that they fatally shot each other.  Indiana State Police Sargeant Noel Houze Jr. explained, “They just shot each other in an exchange of gunfire and both of them died of fatal gunshot wounds.”  She was 29 and he was 64.  They knew each other, but no one has come forward with any details about motives or explanations.

The imagination runs wild, though facts do not follow behind it.  What makes two neighbors mad enough to draw guns and engage in a gun battle?  What could be serious enough to escalate a dispute to this level (AP wire, 8/17/07)?

Conflict is an inevitable part of human relationships.  Normally, the better we know someone the more likely disputes will be and the more heated or passionate they can become.  The hope is that civility and courtesy can prevent hostility and homicide!

Luke records a dispute among the apostles, that “an argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest” (Lk. 9:46).  The same Greek word translated “argument” in that passage Jesus  modifies with an adjective to teach that “…from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries…and defile the man” (Mk. 7:21,23b).   Arndt and Gingrich, since this noun is used, suggest that the idea is stronger than merely bad thoughts, but “evil machinations” (186a).  Thus, schemes and plots that begin in the heart, that are fed, nursed and stoked, can play out in all the ways Jesus enumerates in Mark seven.

From these two passages come a warning about two areas of life–motives and heart.  A bad motive and evil heart open the door which allows conflict to escalate and grow.  These conflicts may not end in shotgun blasts, but estrangement, divorce, isolation, division, or character assassination.  In trying to deal a hurtful blow to our opponent, we may find ourselves mortally wounded, too.   What a needed reminder to guard our hearts, watch our motives, and control ourselves!


Neal Pollard

One of my favorite bands (Tony Raburn’s definite favorite) is Rush.  One of their songs, “Subdivisions,” talks about how much peer pressure is a part of life.  Conform and be cool or be cast out, they sing.  The world certainly works that way.  I went to high school in coastal Georgia, a very large school in a military town.  Did we ever have “groups.”  We had goths, headbangers, preps, jocks, rednecks, geeks, and a large number of ethnic groups.  While some were harder to pigeon hole and felt at home in multiple groups, there was much “subdivision” in the high school halls and shopping malls.  The worldly way of thinking is to divide, group, alienate, and pit one against another.

Through the cross, Jesus died to eliminate enmity and division. Jews and Gentiles were divided, but the cross was God’s tool of reconciling them back together.  This place of unity is called the “one body” (Eph. 2:16).  That “one body” is identified as the church (Eph. 1:22-23).  This means that God designated a place where subdivisions do not belong.  The church is to be a people who are united (Eph. 4:1ff).  We come into Christ from so many different places.  Perhaps we were goths, headbangers, preps, et al, but when we come into Christ we are one body.  This can be uncomfortable and unnatural, but it is what sets apart God’s “set apart” from those who conform to the world.  In Christ, we are transformed (cf. Rom. 12:2).  Our effort is to be toward oneness.  It must be to eliminate all barriers, race, education, income, background, and whatever other distinctions the world is prone to make.

It is one of the great blessings of Christianity!  Let the world prejudge, make distinctions, and isolate.  The church is to be a welcoming, loving, and uniting group!  May this ever be our focus and desire.  Jesus was willing to die for that ideal (cf. John 17:20-21).