Why Has There Been A Decline In Public Responses?

Neal Pollard

While I am certain that there are those who will say that they are still seeing as many public responses in their assemblies as ever, most will observe what I have observed.  As I think back to my childhood, public responses to the invitation were commonplace—nearly every service.  When I first began preaching, public responses requesting baptism or public repentance by members very regularly occurred.  Steadily, particularly in the last five to 10 years, such responses have declined. The burning question is, “Why?”

One might point to the growing influence of the world and its impact on the heart of hearers.  One may point to weaker, less distinct preaching.  One could talk about how potential responders will feel judged or condemned by the others present.  One could speak of the philosophies and world views of the age, whether secularism, naturalism, postmodernism, or emergent theology.

Though these are no doubt factors, I am not fully satisfied with them.  Weren’t these stumbling blocks in place in previous generations.  The names of the philosophies may have changed, but they were there. Consider another theory.  Are we losing the traditional, real social connection and fellowship of days gone by as we lose ourselves in the virtual world of social media (some of the same desensitizing factors could apply to TV and movies, too)?  Before you dismiss this theory, consider some reasons why I promulgate it.

  • Some use social media as their “confessional” or front pew, where they confess their failings in marriage, attitude, speech, or actions.
  • On the other hand, social media outlets—particularly those having photos as part of their makeup—create an artificiality.  We don’t post unflattering pictures (and may plead with those that tag us in them to delete them), don’t generally admit to weaknesses of character or anything that may make us seem inferior to others (financially, socially, intellectually, etc.).  Image replaces integrity.
  • Increased time on social media, cultivating that virtual world and its relationships, may be robbing us of real-time, real-life relationships.  We often neglect those in front of us for those we’re “visiting” by phone or tablet.

How might this impact public responses?  Are we meeting the needs of James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 via the virtual world? Are we afraid to show vulnerability, need, or weakness, lest we be deemed “inferior”?  Have we desensitized ourselves, losing the ability to be “real”?  There may be huge holes in my theory, but I suspect there is at least some truth to it.

What can we do to reverse the trend? Hopefully, giving it some serious thought is a start.  We cannot reduce ourselves to mindless minions who are consumed with the superficial while disconnecting from the authentic.  We must renew a dedication to fellowship and relationship, now more than ever!  The people on Pentecost were disturbed enough by clear, divine teaching to make that known in the clearest terms (Acts 2:37).  Let’s help the church be a place of real connections and relationships so we can help each other when spiritual needs exist.

Have We Misunderstood Grace?

Neal Pollard

Perhaps the subject of grace has been neglected in some pulpits and congregations.  Undoubtedly, it has been misunderstood and improperly taught since the first century (cf. Rom. 6:1; Gal. 5:4).  It is vital to properly emphasize and explain such a huge concept within the gospel message.  Why? Because of what it is—the completely free and undeserved expression of God’s lovingkindness and favor toward mankind, because of what it does—brings salvation (Ti. 2:11; Eph. 2:5) and comfort and hope (2 Th. 2:16), and because of what it cost to make available (2 Co. 8:9; Heb. 2:9).  Perhaps some try to restrict God’s grace, making the requirements of Christ more stringent than Scripture teaches.  If we forbid what God permits, we are distorting grace.

However, our age tends toward the other extreme.  Far more try to make God’s grace extend further than Scripture teaches.  This is not novel to our times.  From the time of the early church, some apparently wanted to make God’s grace embrace things it simply does not cover.  Jude contended against some who attempted to have grace cover excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure (Jude 4). By leaving Christ’s grace for another gospel, teachers contradicting the gospel message distort not just the gospel but also grace (Gal. 1:6-9).  Paul also contradicts the idea that continuing in sin, without repentance, is abiding in God’s grace (Rom. 6:1).  Passages like these serve as a warning not to make God’s grace cover what it simply will not.

Grace will not cover willful disobedience, a refusal to repent, a lifestyle or habit, or relationship that violates the expressed will of God.  Some in adulterous marriages defend the relationship, trying to hide behind grace. Some feed addictions, sure that God’s grace will sweep away the guilt of it.  Some refuse to follow God’s plain plan of salvation, claiming that they will ultimately be saved by grace on the day of judgment.  Such ideas and claims are tragic misunderstandings and ignorance of revealed truth.  The source of grace is Divine.  So are the explanation and terms of it.  Paul’s teaching is definitive when he says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).  The life in Christ is a new life (Rom. 6:4), a life characterized by turning away from sin, lust, and unrighteousness (Rom. 6:12-13).

Let us never restrict God’s grace.  By the same token, let us never redefine it—especially to excuse or validate a lifestyle of sin.  How that disgraces and cheapens the act that brought grace, Jesus’ painful sacrifice.  May each of us grow in knowledge and appreciation of this great Bible doctrine!

The Vicious Cycle Of Pornography

Neal Pollard

Dr. Les Parrott III, in the book Helping the Struggling Adolescent, discusses the four-step cycle of pornography addiction. It is (1) preoccupation (with thoughts and a search for sexual material), (2) ritualization (the specific, immoral routine), (3) compulsive sexual behavior (the culminating act), and (4) despair (utter hopelessness or powerless about one’s behavior).  It is not just adolescents, but also teenagers, young adults, and the middle-aged who are caught in this vicious cycle.

Sin is described as a powerful, but deadly, attraction (Js. 1:13-15). It is described as an entanglement that can overcome one (2 Pet. 2:20).  Sin is destructive, though it promises life and pleasure (cf. Ecc. 9:18; 2 Pt. 2:19).  Pornography is one of the devil’s sharpest tools, slashing and cutting hearts, lives, marriages, families, and other relationships.  It destroys trust, can actually hurt natural, healthy desires, desensitizes the user, and alters how the user views other people.  Many experts say it leads some to act out on desires kindled by feeding the addiction.

The thing about Parrott’s observation is that the hunger so deeply felt by one addicted to pornography is ultimately followed by the acidic reflux of remorse.  However, the pain of remorse is forgotten the next time the hunger pangs are felt.  Each gluttonous indulgence in dark desires risks internal and external trouble like that already mentioned.

Like any other addiction, to food, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, etc., success comes in breaking the cycle.  That means changing habits, retraining thinking, removing temptation, and clinging more closely to one’s relationship with God.  He will help those who humbly and honestly come to Him for help.  Anyone who has struggled with an addiction knows that the low that follows quenching it is lower than the euphoria that precedes it or occurs during it.  Sin simply cannot fulfill.  It can deceive, but it hollows out and leaves a wake of harm and destruction.  True satisfaction is built only by channeling our hunger and thirst for that which is righteous (Mat. 5:6).  If you are struggling with this (or any) addiction, break the cycle!