Politics, Religion, and Race: An Interview with John DeBerry

This interview is from the latest issue of The Quarterly, available here. To subscribe, visit CobbPublishing.com/Quarterly

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[John DeBerry has served as Tennessee State Representative for 26 years, and has been a gospel preacher for over 50. He lives in Memphis.]

What I’ve got in mind to talk about are three non-controversial topics: politics, religion, and race.

[Laughter] Okay, it don’t get more uncontroversial than that!

Personal History

Where did you first hear the gospel?

I’ve heard the gospel all my life. My dad was a gospel preacher. I was born into the church twice. I was born into the church as a child in my parents’ family. My great-grandparents, brother and sister Enos and Mary Garrett were Christians, my grandparents, Starling and Susie Hall, and my mother and father, John and Pearl DeBerry were Christians, so the church was just part of my life from my first waking moment.

Being a preacher and a Christian was just part of my normal desires in life. I wanted to preach the gospel ever since I was in first grade. So I was introduced to the gospel as a child in my parents’ house. There was reading of Scripture in the evening before we went to bed. The prayer at the table. The talks my mother and father gave us about what’s right and wrong, and what was moral and not moral. That’s my introduction to Christianity.

When did you start preaching?

I actually started preaching in 1967 in the 10th grade. I gave my first formal sermon in the 9th grade, but I had been preparing to preach the majority of my life.

I tell folks all the time I had a little church in one of the big closets in my momma’s house when I was growing up. My grandfather built me a little pulpit, and I say my little church broke up because my brothers and sisters and cousins said I preached too long [laughter]. So that was my first church.

But I started preaching, I think my first sermon was at the Lincoln Street church of Christ in Alamo, TN, 1967. And I’ve been in the pulpit almost every Sunday since then.

Civil Rights and Protests

What do you remember about your personal interaction with the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s?

I remember my first interaction with the Civil Rights Movement, again, from my family. Civil rights, as the way it was taught to me, with the leadership of my family, was really a continuation of what we taught as Christians. My father did not believe in violence. He marched in Memphis with Dr. King. He went to the speech that was made in Washington DC in 1963. My family, I understand, raised money for him to go; he was going to be the representative of the entire family. So civil rights was the right to have the constitutional rights that my father, as a Korean War veteran, had fought for and had stood for. We were always taught to give respect so that we receive respect. We were never taught that anything was free. We were never taught that everybody had an entitlement. We were taught that we had to work, but that the country had to be fair, to give us a chance to work, a chance to achieve, to learn, to educate ourselves, and to be successful. That’s what our parents taught us—they never taught us that anything was free, that there was a free lunch, that we were supposed to wait on anyone to take care of us. We were always taught that we had a right to the opportunity to work and achieve and find success. So civil rights was not a “We’re kicking the door down because of something that we want,” Civil rights was peaceful protest, saying that it was time for the country to change. It was time for us to grow up, to mature, to realize that we have various cultures and ethnicities, and give everybody a reasonable and equal chance. That’s what it was about.

Do you think, had it been violent, the
changes would have happened?
Or do you think it was the “peaceful” part
that made people willing to listen?

Well, peaceful protest changed the world. I did an interview earlier, and I said that America is a child of controversy. We began in controversy. America began in revolution. So revolution, change, protest is part of our DNA as Americans. We change things that are wrong—we fix things that are wrong. That’s why our constitution is so malleable. There were a lot of things that weren’t necessarily up to speed and right in America. We had our flaws, our failures, our faults, but America’s faith always carried its problems. We had the Constitution, the greatest document written by man, because it was based on the greatest document ever written—the Word of God. Therefore, because we were Christians, peaceful protest was the only thing we knew; the only thing we would accept; the only thing we would be part of—we would not be part of anything else, because it wouldn’t be Christian, and it wouldn’t be Christ-like. So if more folks would think, first of all, before you protest—which is an American right—before you have your free speech, before you do what you have to do to change things in in America, because America has been in change and revolution and growing and maturing for 200 years—folks have to first of all check their faith, look introspectively, and ask themselves, as the Lord said one time, “Are you building or are you tearing down?” If you’re not building up, then you’re tearing down. If you’re not being peaceful, if you’re not being respectful, then you’re being destructive.

I think that folks need to realize that peaceful protest ends peacefully, and when there is anarchy and chaos, it only breeds more anarchy and chaos.

You had a well-publicized speech against the rioting going on in several cities.

That speech was entirely because of that issue, of watching what was happening in Chicago, and Washington, and Portland, and other places around the country. Watching the anarchists tearing down statues, defacing public property, burning down people’s livelihood, burning down their stores, their cars, their homes—that was what initiated that speech.

That speech was no more than a continuation of some of the things that I had said in the past that led [my former party] to the decision that I couldn’t associate with them anymore. [My ouster] was about my vote on the heartbeat bill and my vote on parental choice.

Do you attribute the violence today in
the riots to a removal of God from
the public sphere?

I’ve said over and over and over, we have the most spiritually illiterate, the most historically illiterate generation in the history of this country. We have folks who don’t know who Jesus is, don’t know who Adam or Moses or David or Solomon are; and they don’t know who George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Mary Bethune Cookman, Dr. [George Washington] Carver, or even really who Martin Luther King is—they don’t know either, because they’ve been taught not to have allegiance to America. Not only has God been put out of the marketplace, but American history has been put out of the marketplace, the Pledge of Allegiance has been put out of the marketplace, true American history that shows the heroic value of men and women who put everything they owned, and everything they were on the line to get this country started—that has all been thrown away! Now our monuments are offensive—the Washington Monument is offensive, the Lincoln Monument is offensive, the Jefferson Memorial is offensive. Why? Because they haven’t been taught to love the country—it’s just the opposite! We have allowed foreign teachers and professors in our colleges and teachers in our schools who have no allegiance to America to change an entire generation of young people into anarchists instead of patriots. That’s what we are suffering right now.

What is the remedy for that?

One of the things we have to do is start opening our mouths, stop sitting by the wayside and allowing the atheists, the agnostics, the evolutionists, the revolutionists from other countries who want to create their own revolution in America—it’s time for folks to open their mouths and speak up. Speak up by their vote. Speak up by their activities. Speak up by the rearing of their children. Speak up by being strong in their faith. And speak up by electing men and women who fight for what we fight for and what we believe. We have sat by the side of the road, and just as the Lord said in His parabolic teaching, “While men slept…” We have slept. And all of us know the old adage, “The only thing it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.” And that’s what we’ve done—we’ve done nothing. Folks say, “Well, I’ll pray about it.” Well, the Lord prayed, but the Lord also got up from His prayers and changed the world, and that’s what we’ve got to do—we’ve got to change the world. The Lord didn’t send us to go along to get along. He didn’t send us out to say “don’t rock the boat, don’t shake the tree, don’t cause no problems, don’t make folks mad at you—the Lord sent us out to change the world, and we are not doing that. We are letting the world change us, and we need to change that before it’s too late.

It seems like we think we ought to be meek, quiet, not saying anything when challenged.

You do not help a man when you tell him he deserves something that he has not worked for.

I’ve preached this for 50 years: meekness is not weakness! Meekness is power under control. A horse with a bridle is not weak, but he is under control—that power is under control. When the Lord tells us to be meek, He isn’t telling us to be weak, He isn’t telling us to be docile, He isn’t telling us to lay down and let folks walk on us, He’s not telling us to allow folks to poison the minds of our children with propaganda, He’s not telling us to allow the greatest country that has ever been created to just be given away to those who don’t love her, who want to simply dismantle her, and who want to take all of her resources. The Lord never told us to do this. He told us to be wise as serpents, harmless as doves—meaning you need to know when to fight, and you need to know when to run. We have just been running, and we need to turn around and fight.

Politics and Entitlements

What caused you to want to
enter into politics?

It’s my upbringing in general. It’s my mother and father’s activism. My great-grandparents and grandparents’ self-sufficiency—they were all business people, they owned their homes, they went to church, they worked every day. I never had a hungry day, because somebody was cooking, making biscuits, making pies, or whatever. In other words, I saw what character, what virtue, what faith was first-hand. And then I, as an adult, I see the country in a totally different direction. I see children being unraised, I see families falling apart, I men absent from the homes, I see mothers who are doing the best they can to rear the children with their meager resources, but unable to do everything that a man and a woman would be able to do. I saw politicians become corrupt—smiling, styling, and profiling instead of doing the people’s business. I watched this as I grew up, and worked in television, and preached the gospel, and at a certain point, I felt like I had to be part of the change, just as my daddy made that decision in the early 60’s. He had to be part of the change, [and] I could not just stand by the side of the road any longer.

Why did you choose the Democratic Party when you went into politics?

My grandparents and great-grandparents were Eisenhower Republicans. My parents were the first to depart, when John Kennedy ran. They were a young couple, fresh out of the military. And Kennedy won the debate, and so they voted for Kennedy. Over the years, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party were only split by style of government. Remember a lot of folks who are Republicans now used to be Democrats back in the day. So it was style of government, big government, little government. It’s not what it is today. Now the split is over social issues, the belief in God, the belief in life, the belief in the family, the belief in marriage—all of those things. So, when I ran in my district in 1995, it was an extremely conservative district. It had been a Republican district up till 1995—that was the first year it was a Democratic district. It was drawn Democratic, but there was a very good, healthy mix of Democrats and Republicans, and the majority of them were very conservative on these issues. So that was fine, but all of that started changing about 12 years ago [2008].

Do you think the lack of entitlements brought you up into the person that you became?

The trickiness of that subject is that the media, the liberal politicians, and (in my opinion) the propagandist and the poverty pimps—excuse the expression—have styled it toward people. What they have done is wrapped up a loss of self-sufficiency, a loss of self-esteem, a loss of self-worth—they have all wrapped it up in a nice pretty package of entitlement. And that’s wrong, because one thing that characterized the people of the last generation—whether they were black or white, Native American or whatever they were—one thing that characterized them was they believed in working for what they got. They got up in the mornings, many of them in the farms or the factories, some put on white uniforms or blue uniforms or green uniforms, caught the bus, many of them in the rain, went and worked. They built nice communities, nice schools, raised their children, and a whole generation, like my generation, were the first to go to college. Why? Because they believed in working and pulling themselves up and being self-sufficient. You do not help a man when you tell him he deserves something that he has not worked for. You do not help a person when you tell them to expect someone else to take care of them if they are able to take care of themselves. The sad thing about it is this: that our elderly, our sick, our disabled, our veterans who have been injured and hurt in war, many of the children who are born with birth defects—these are the people who suffer when the money is going to able-bodied people who could get off their sorry ends and go to work every day, instead of sitting around expecting someone else to take care of them. Nobody’s saying that people who need help shouldn’t get help—and that’s what help used to be. That’s what the projects used to be. That’s what the food handouts used to be. That’s what welfare used to be. It used to be a hand up, “We will help you; we have a great country, and we will help you while you’re down so you can get up on your feet and make it on your own.” I have so many friends that those programs helped get on their feet. They eventually became homeowners, business owners, educated their children. You know why? Because they used the help, the food, the projects, whatever the government offered to stand up on their own feet, and they were proud that they didn’t need it anymore. That’s not what we have right now. Now we have a perpetuation of entitlements where we have generation after generation after generation that have never had a job. We have created a subclass, and we have created a permanent underclass with these entitlements.

Have Christians turned over their responsibility to help people to the government?

Let’s talk about something novel. What if every family took care of their own family the way it was; where if a person had a fire, lost a home, if they lost their jobs, the family came in and took care of that person? What if the church did like it used to do?

I remember our house burned down when I was in third grade, and the church surrounded us with love. They brought us clothes and food, and they helped my parents get back on their feet while the house was being rebuilt. They brought furniture, the women made curtains—it was wonderful! What if we went back to the family of the church and the natural family that God gave us?

Because of the breakdown of the family—both in the church and in the home—we see folks out there with no safety net, no teaching, no upbringing, no counseling, no religion, no faith—they’re lost. The walking wounded. If the church would go back to the preaching of the gospel, the way the Lord said—the Lord told the folks to sit down, He fed them, and then He taught them. In His teaching, He taught them how to love themselves—He said “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He taught them to love themselves, in other words, I will help you. If you’re sick, I will heal you. If you’re ignorant, I will teach you. And when I’m finished, you get up and take care of yourselves.

And I hate to prolong this, but remember when the Lord protected the woman who was caught in sin? She had a death sentence; in a few minutes they were going to bludgeon her body with stones, and she was going to die that day, because of her own sin—caught in the very act. Jesus saved her life, and then said, “I don’t condemn you.” But the words he said at the end of this are often forgotten from some of our contemporary teachers. Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” In other words, You go change your life. Don’t let me find you in this position again.

What if we helped people, taught people, strengthened people, encouraged people, gave them skills, and taught them how to fish—what if we did this and said, “we don’t want to see you in this position again,” and actually gave the tough love that the Lord gave?

What do you think brought the changes
in social policies within your old party?

I think what brought it on was what was happening with the national issues. With the legalization of abortion in 1973—that sent a signal throughout the country that America was certainly not the same place anymore. I remember my mother campaigning against abortion until her death in 1970, when I was a freshman at Freed-Hardeman College. I remember some of the things they were saying about abortion. I remember learning how Planned Parenthood started, who the people were that started it, and what was behind them starting Planned Parenthood. I learned all this stuff in the late 60s and in the 70s. So when abortion was approved in 1973, that signaled that America was gradually changing, right then and right there. Twenty years before, or let’s say 1963, in spite of all the turmoil that might have been going on in the country, when MLK made his speech in Washington in 1963, I guarantee you the majority of the people—black and white—would never have thought that ten years from now, we would be killing the unborn. I guarantee the majority of them never would have thought that would happen. But it did happen ten years after that speech, in 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States of America took away the constitutional right of life from the unborn. And now millions and millions and millions and millions of babies have suffered for it. Because of this, we have categorically changed the culture and the faith and the religion and the character of this country to where now, it’s all about whatever we want. It’s not about what the Bible says, it’s not about what’s right, it’s not what faith dictates, it’s just whatever we can get the majority of the vote for. That’s why we have that, we have the desecration of marriage, we have the killing of children, and the disrespect for parenthood and the home, and our aged and the veterans because of it.

Christians as Politicians

Do you think more Christians ought to serve in public office?

Oh, I absolutely do. Especially now. There was a time when you had the Dwight D. Eisenhowers, and you had men of character, the Ronald Reagans, the Jimmy Carters—whether you agree with them, Republican or Democrat, whether you agreed with them on everything or not, you knew they were good men who loved the Lord, who loved the country, and you knew they were going to do their best. That’s not what we see now. We see politics turning into the biggest racket in town, and the racketeers are those who run for office, the propagandists who feed people what they want to hear, not what they should be told.

Christians need to take a long look—in my opinion, of course—take a long look at Ephesians chapter 6, when the Apostle Paul was saying to the church at Ephesus, in the middle of the Roman Empire, with all that the Caesars and others were doing—Paul said fighting people, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” What was Paul’s solution? Stand! Somebody needs to stand in the legislatures. Somebody needs to stand on the board of education when they’re trying to push these books and all of this rotten education upon our children. Somebody needs to stand in the Congress, stand in the Senate, when it’s time to put people on the Supreme Court who will make a decision based not on what is popular, but on what is right. Yes, I think Christians need to stand wherever the Lord deploys us so that we can fight the fight that we’ve got to fight. The Lord wasn’t killed at church. The Lord was killed on a garbage heap on the outside of Jerusalem as a political obstructionist by a Roman politician and a Jewish politician. Why? Because He stood against their politics, and for that reason, they put Him to death.

If a Christian decided to run for office, how would he prepare himself mentally and spiritually for that, and what are some dangers he would need to look out for as he is running and then serving?

First of all you got to prepare your mind, meaning, you’ve got to be a Christian. If you’re not a Christian, don’t do it. You got to be someone who has a fortified faith that is rooted and grounded. A tree is rooted, a building is grounded, and neither one of them are shaken very easily. A Christian who has a faith that is going to lead them, that’s going to give them sight, that’s going to give them vision, that when it is time to sit down and make the tough votes, you can decide between character and popularity. And those are hard decisions. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they’re not, but I had to make decisions on voting for the heartbeat bill, I had to make decisions on voting for education that gave parents the right to educate their children as they see fit. I understood the implications, I understood the consequences. I knew that the very next day I would be called everything but a child of God in the newspaper, on radio, on billboards, or wherever they could stick my name with something negative—and that’s exactly what they did. But I was ready for it. I was ready for it, not because of my strength, but I was ready for it because of the strength of the Lord. Because He fortified me to know what is really important, and what is really lasting.

I encourage young people to educate themselves, know what a great country this is, understand, don’t listen to the folks that are trying to teach you a changed history. They’re revisionists who want to make our country something that it is not. I was talking to someone the other day, a teacher, who said “Well you know, Christopher Columbus was this, that, and the other.” I said, “Ma’am, in 1492, if my memory serves me right, when Christopher Columbus sailed and found that new land, there wasn’t a democracy on planet earth—no such thing as democracy. America created this democracy. They created the one-man, one-vote, everybody-can-speak, free-speech, right-to-religion, right-to-have-your-doors-locked, right-to-carry-your-weapon system—America created this! So when the revisionists want to tell you how sorry America is, we need to go back 300 years—go back 250 years—and you won’t find anything on the planet earth like America. What’s the relevance? It’s worth fighting for.

I was like a lot of folks. I was ready to throw up my hands and say, “You know what, it’s not worth saving. It’s too far gone. I’m really tired of these crooks and politicians and liars and propagandists.” I was in that boat, brother, and you know what God did? He put a grandchild in my hands. And when that grandchild wrapped her little hand around my finger, I went back to the day that my first child and my second child [were born], and the energy I had about giving them a life, and I said, “My grandchild deserves the same thing that I had and my children had—I gotta fight for this.” And I wish more grandparents and big sisters and big brothers and uncles and other family members decided, “You know what, the children have a right to a good country. We need to fight for this country or we’re going to lose it.”

What dangers do elected Christians face?

You have to make sure you don’t sell out. It’s takes a lot of money to run for office. When people send me money, I have a pretty good war chest. You know why I have one? Because first of all I lay it back. I have learned from the church to lay by in store. At the same time, I war a good warfare, so people send money—[people] who I have fought on the floor, because they know I fight with integrity. They know what I’m fighting for. So don’t be a sellout. There are a lot of folks who want you to sell your principles, to sell your virtue, sell your morality, sell your faith. They want you to sell out. And if you don’t know who you are, what you are, and whose you are, that temptation will be there. They know one thing, they can send anything they want to, I’m going to put it in the bank, and use it to get reelected so I can come back and fight you again. My vote is going to stay the same. My character is going to stay the same. If I fought against your bill in 2019, I’m going to fight against it in 2020. It doesn’t matter what you send. So people have got to have a resolute, rock-solid understanding of who they are, and what they intend to be, whatever the changes [around them] are.

Another thing is, you have got to have some tough skin. I’ve had billboards put up with my face on it, with curse words, big electronic billboards with curse words and my face on it. I’ve had mail-outs, nasty mail-outs, one with me on one side and President Trump on the other. And at that particular time, I had not even met President Trump. “DeBerry and Donald: Too Conservative, Too Dangerous.” And they sent that out all over my district. I’ve had all types of attacks on radio. I’ve been called an “Uncle Tom,” or “Stepin Fetchit.”[1] I’ve been called all those things on the radio. But you know what, each time, when I don’t flinch, don’t change, don’t alter, don’t capitulate, don’t compromise, my people reelect me and send me right back up there to continue to stand. That’s what they’ve done thirteen times, regardless of what they’ve called me or said.

So I say to young people, have a tough skin. Know who you are. Because right always wins. Light always overcomes darkness. And God has already promised, Jesus has already promised, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” I lift up Christ in my life, in my politics, and wherever I am, and they’ve got to do the same.

Choosing a Candidate

What do you feel a Christian should focus on when choosing a political candidate? (And you can pass if you want to on this)

Oh I’m not going to pass on that. What we have allowed the American media to do is bombard us with personality. “Oh, you don’t like this person, do you. You don’t like the way they talk. You don’t like the way they dress. You don’t like their hair. You don’t like their mouth. You don’t like their wife. You don’t like their children.” We have allowed the American media to make these [elections] issues of personality instead of issues of principles and platform. What I advise a Christian to do is remember what God has commanded: Don’t allow yourself to be part of another man’s sin.

First of all, we know that we’re not electing saints. Many times, they’re not even members of the church—we know that. But at the same time, the Lord commanded us “Judge a tree by the fruit it bears.” What’s the fruit when you look at a political office and a political candidate? The fruit it not how well they speak or dress or look. The fruit is the platform. What’s the platform they’re standing on? Are they for abortion or against it? Are they for the biblical standard of marriage or against it? Are they for parental responsibility in the home, parental choice, or against it? Are they for a strong military? Are they for First-Amendment rights? Are they for Second-Amendment rights? Look at the platform—that’s all you can do. We aren’t electing men to be elders of the church, we know there’s a totally different standard there. But when you come to politics, the Lord let us know, in Romans chapter 13, “I’m involved, and there is no authority that I do not ordain.” So what God is saying is, as a godly person, look at that platform and decide who you want to run your country. Because God has commanded us—He has commanded us—you go on and elect the fool if you want to, but every foolish law they pass, you’ve got to follow it.

Is this the reason you were…not retained…in your former party?

Oh absolutely. I don’t represent them anymore. They kicked me out because I don’t represent them. They said it very plainly. They had a Zoom call in the middle of a pandemic, with 24-hours’ notice that they were going to talk to me about throwing me out of the party, a 26-year veteran with a good record, with good rapport on both sides of the aisle—they decided they didn’t want me associated with their party anymore. That was their decision. It wasn’t based on I’m a wretched, no good person, or that I’ve done something that was crooked or slanderous, it was because they said, and I quote, I “don’t uphold the virtues of the Democratic Party anymore, i.e. abortion, and other social issues.” So therefore, I am running as an independent because of that.

Race in the Church

Getting away from political topics…

In some cities, there are both black and white congregations, and (in what experience I’ve had), it is often the case that the white congregations have no idea when the black congregations have an event (gospel meetings, singings, etc.), and vice-versa. I’m sure you would agree that this shouldn’t be the case. What can we, who all agree we are one body, do to bridge this racial divide that sometimes makes it feel like we have two different brotherhoods?

My answer is probably going to sound rather strange after the narrative you just gave—and I agree with you wholeheartedly on the things you said: I think we need to continue to do what we’re doing. In other words, we are opening up doors—maybe not as fast as some folks would want—but we are opening up our doors. When people visit us, they are welcome. When folks come to Coleman Avenue [church of Christ, in Memphis], whether they’re black, white, red, yellow, or polka-dot, they are welcomed with open arms and loved, and they are treated well, and they leave and say “I had the best time I’ve ever had.” You know, they may not come back for a while; they may just have been passing through, but we open our doors.

Where we were in America, we were separate; we closed our doors, we made it law, we made it legal, we had two separate societies because the law said so. When we changed the rules, the laws, the morays, open the doors, build the bridges, open our arms and say “You’re welcome,” then you just have to let what happens happen. We integrated the schools in Crockett County in 1968. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Now, just my family, just us, one black family, went to that integrated school for the first time in that entire county. After we went, the next year I think five or ten other black kids came. Then the next year maybe fifteen or twenty. When I go up there now, they have a whole new consolidated school—both of the segregated schools are no more. I think one of them may be an elementary school, and the other one may be an adult class school. But the fact of the matter is, once the doors were opened, people of right mind and faith welcomed each other, and the natural progression of integration happened.

The worst thing we did in America was force bussing. That was the worst thing we could have done. Instead of simply removing the laws, saying, “You can go to whatever school you want to go to, you can be educated wherever you want”—and guess what, people of like faith, of like desires, of like economic means, logistics—the schools would have been naturally integrated, and they would have been in a lot better shape than they were [by] throwing kids on busses, riding them out to the end of town, dumping them out, and making them lose all their culture, and all their background, and all their history.

So what do I think the church ought to do? People need to be Christians. They need to be Christians. If you send an invitation to one congregation, send it to all congregations [in your area]—black or white. Send them and let them know they’re welcome. If they didn’t come, you can say, “We sent you an invitation. We’re looking for you.” Invite preachers over. “Can your preacher come and preach for us so we can get to know you? I’ll go to your church so you can get to know me.” Just act like Christians. And if we did that, that would be something that hopefully our children won’t be talking about these same issues that we’ve been talking about for fifty years.

I know some who don’t like the black
preaching and worship style, and balk when anyone even comes close to it. On the other side, I know a black preacher who wanted his youth to visit a white congregation so they would understand that just because a congregation worships or sings differently doesn’t mean they aren’t Christians.

It goes both ways. I heard in the 1970s from many so-called “elite preachers” that there was a white theology and a black theology. There is a way white people sing, and there’s a way black people sing. There’s a way that black preachers preach and a way that white preachers preach—I heard all this from black people, from black preachers, from black churches, from black elders and deacons. “There’s just a difference, there’s a cultural difference, and we prefer this style.” That’s the way it is.

The problem is it’s been styled as just one-sided. That the church is not integrated because white people don’t want black people to come into their churches. Well, that’s equally the other side. So, the churches have not been integrated because both sides have become comfortable with their culture, with their way of doing things, their way of singing, their way of preaching. But at the end of the day, all of us have got to preach Christ and Him crucified. All of us have got to let brotherly love continue. All of us have got to be forbearing, longsuffering, and love our brethren. You can’t get around it. You can’t build walls where the Lord built bridges, and still claim to be Christ-like and Christian. So all of us, black white, red, yellow, polka-dot, pin-striped, whoever we are, we’ve got to do an introspective examination of ourselves, and ask: Am I being what the Lord wants me to be, for the betterment and the strength of the Kingdom? Because right now, the church of Christ is shrinking. We’re the last man standing. Everybody else already sold out. They sold out to the abortionists, they’ve already sold out to women in positions that are against the Scriptures [elders, preachers, etc.], they’ve already sold out to the destruction of marriage, the removal of parental responsibility. The majority of these churches have already sold out. The church of Christ is the last man standing—and if we don’t stand together, then they’re going to pick us apart and tear us down. The one thing the apostles preached over and over and over before they were all martyred and died, with the exception of John (but John preached it too), was unity. “Let there be no division among you.” And when there is division among us, we set ourselves up for the devil to destroy us.

We have had a “Round Robin” gospel meeting, with a different congregation hosting each evening, both white and black congregations.

That’s the way it ought to be. I do more gospel meetings at what we have deemed as “White congregations”—I’ve gone places that were known as the hotbeds of segregation, and prejudice, and hatred, maybe 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago, and found the absolute friendliest, most loving, kind people—and many times, I’m the only black face in the room! Why? Because of that community. I’ve gone to places where there are no black people there. If not, there’s only a handful of them. Am I supposed to say, “You know what? You don’t have any black folk in here, I’m not going to come and preach”? No sir, I go and preach the gospel, and have had some of the best experiences that I’ve ever had. Many times [it is in] farm country, and little rural churches, little up-in-the-woods churches. Folks love on you, love the gospel—cook, man, like nothing you’ve ever seen. You know, good vegetables, cornbread, and I leave there feeling refreshed. At a certain point, you don’t see black and white, all you see is Christians—that’s all you see. And that’s the way it ought to be.

You spoke about one of the main reasons America is in the shape it is in being that they’ve forgotten their history. Do you think that the church does its members a disservice by not teaching about the history of the church, especially in this country?

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I think we need to know more about the history of the church, and we need to know more about the history of the country, because if you just go back 300 years, you find religious oppression. You still find folks able to go to church as they see fit, even with denominationalism becoming so prevalent, folks still had a religious choice. And that originated here in America. I think it is important for folks to know about their country, and to know how many things were first in America. They also need to understand the history of the church, the sacrifices that were made, the men and women who gave their life, Jesus who gave His life for us on the cross—that this thing [the church] didn’t just happen. It was planned in the mind of God. The scheme of redemption was fulfilled and perfected by our Lord’s suffering, by our God’s love, by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration—and we need to embrace it. God provides, we possess. And a lot of us are not necessarily possessing the wonderful blessing that God provided.

Systemic Racism

Do you believe there is systemic racism in America? If so, what are some examples, and how can it be changed?

We created race. In other words, when you go to the Bible, race had to do with various cultures and land, you know, you talk about the Philistines, and the Ethiopians, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and the Danites, and the Levites—and none of those signified color, none of them did. We created color prejudice. Color prejudice is only about 500-700 years old at the best.

“Systemic racism” has been used to say that there’s a problem that can’t be solved, a breach that can’t be bridged, a break that can’t be fixed—I don’t believe that for one second. When I went to Alamo High School in 1968, there had never been a black kid in that school. Never, ever. I was the absolute first, me and my brothers and sisters. At the end of my 3 years (10th-12th grade), the principal of that school, who had never educated a black child in a formal fashion at his school, he came to me and he shook my hand. His name was Mr. Strange. And another young man named Conley said the same thing to me. He said, “Everything that I have ever thought or believed about colored children,” (that’s the term that was used at that time), “you have changed it in two years.” In essence, regardless of what that man may have thought about black children before I got there, my daddy said, “You give respect, you’ll get respect.” He said, “You carry yourself like a man.” I’ll tell you exactly what he said, he said, “You don’t scratch your head when it ain’t itching, you don’t grin when it ain’t funny, you just be a man. If you act like a man, folks will treat you like a man.” And that’s exactly what happened.

So what if folks stop scratching their head, and grinning, and lying, and using excuses like “systemic racism”?—Yes, there is racism, but it is racism whenever there are folks who choose to pre-judge a person rather than getting to know them, regardless of what color they are. If we stop doing that, we’ll end this racism, and we’ll start judging each other by the content of character, and not the color of skin.


[1] Stepin Fetchit was the first black actor to earn $1Million, and was a star during his heyday, but his career slowed dramatically when many black Americans began to view his persona as echoing negative stereotypes. –Editor.

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A Response to “Are Babies Born in Sin?”

In a past Bible Q&A, the question of “Are Babies Born in Sin?” was addressed. This past week, a comment was left by a reader named Joseph, disagreeing with the content of that article.

Hello Mr. Bradley,
I have read your article and I was a bit taken aback by your statement that babies are born sinless. Then [at] what age [do] they become sinners? what makes them sinners anyway?
if so, could you explain to me why then is the virgin birth of Jesus?
I am sure you may want to reconsider and edit this article, thank you

The following was my response in the comments of that article, but because others may have the same questions, I thought I would post it here as an article of its own.

Joseph,


Let us examine a few things.


(1). consider Ezekiel 18, which says clearly – “The son does not inherit the sin of the father.”


Either you believe this, or you don’t. If you believe it, then the idea that babies are born in sin, somehow inheriting the sin of some forefather, is obviously wrong.


If, however, you believe that Ezekiel was wrong (even though these are God’s words to him), then you either believe he was (1) lying, and thus nothing he wrote is trustworthy, (2) mistaken, and thus nothing he wrote is trustworthy, or (3) telling the truth about what God said, but that it was God who was lying, and thus nothing Ezekiel wrote is trustworthy.


That passage in Ezekiel – even if there were no other passages to go along with it – is enough to prove that babies are not born in sin.


(2) Consider that David, who was a man after God’s own heart, said that he would see his infant son again. He said this with confidence. He said, “He shall not come to me, but I shall go to him.” 


If babies are born in sin, then die in sin (which would have to be the case with all babies who die), then the only way David could see his infant son again was for David to go to hell.


Do you think, given how David is called “a man after God’s own heart,” that he would willingly reject God so he could go to hell?  I really hope that the idea sounds as stupid to you as it does to me.


The only way David could have the confidence of seeing his dead son–while still being a “man after God’s own heart”–would be if he knew his son was going to be in heaven.


And the only way that is possible is if that baby was sinless.


(3) The promise of forgiveness of sins comes ONLY after repentance. This is true in the Old Testament (God never forgave unrepentant sinners), as well as the New Testament (God never forgave unrepentant sinners).
The only way someone can repent is if they have the mental capability to (1) recognize their sin, and (2) make the decision to change.


I am certain you would agree that babies do not have such capability.
Since babies cannot repent, only two options exist: (1) they are all eternally lost–no exceptions (for God is no respecter of persons), or (2) they are not guilty of sin.


(4) Consider the judgment verses in the New Testament. Each and every one of them speaks of a basis for judgment. Each one speaks of people being judged BASED ON THEIR OWN ACTIONS. “According to their works.” “On the deeds they have done in the body, whether they be good or evil.” “I was naked and you clothed me, etc.”


Never once in the Bible is someone told that they are being condemned because of the actions or sins of someone else.  Why? Because that would be completely unfair and arbitrary–something God is not.


(5) The apostle Paul clearly states that before he knew the law, he was “alive,” that is, spiritually alive before God–he had not sinned and separated himself from God. But after he learned the law, he “died” because he sinned.


Either Paul was a liar, thus nothing he wrote can be trusted, or Paul was mistaken, thus nothing he wrote can be trusted, or God lied to him, thus nothing he wrote can be trusted, or else Paul spoke the truth, and anyone who disagrees with his statement cannot be trusted.


Either you agree with Paul that he was once “alive” prior to learning God’s word, or you believe Paul was wrong.


(6) A person becomes a sinner–when they sin.  Sins done in ignorance (such as not realizing it was wrong) are always classified differently than sins done with intent. Hebrews 10:26 – “If we sin WILLFULLY…” Hebrews 9:27 – “the sins DONE IN IGNORANCE…”

Someone becomes a sinner when they (1) learn right and wrong, and (2) choose to do wrong.  Babies do not know right from wrong, and thus cannot sin.
 – – 
So, from all the above, the Bible teaches that (1) each person sins when they learn right from wrong and choose to do wrong, (2) that no one can inherit sin from their father, let alone their great, great, great, great, great, etc. grandfather, Adam, (3) that babies are sinless, and will be in heaven.
– – 
Why is there a virgin birth? Because in order for Jesus to be “God with us,” and to be “the Son of God,” then God had to be the Father.  No human father could exist to bring about the Son of God.
In order for it to be completely clear that God was the Father of Jesus Christ, the mother had to be a virgin–someone who had never been with a man.
Thank you for writing, and I hope this gives you some more things to consider.
-Bradley Cobb

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This Pizza Shortage Can Be a Good Thing!

(NOTE: This article is the featured editorial in the latest issue of The Quarterly, which you can download here for free).

My kids are tired—very tired—of hearing the word “Coronavirus.” I think they’ve got a goal to go an entire day without saying or hearing that word. So, for whatever reason (I’m not quite sure what it is), they’ve made up their own euphemism for it. Instead of “Coronavirus,” they have taken to saying “Pizza Shortage.” I guess (and this is only a guess) that perhaps they view a pizza shortage as being truly the worst thing that could happen to this country, which (if you accept the analogy) makes a good parallel to how COVID-19 is being portrayed. (And those who know me know about my penchant for pizza…) So, for the rest of this editorial, I’m going to follow their lead and whenever you see “Pizza Shortage,” it means “Coronavirus.”

For the next few minutes, I’d like you to consider some ways in which this “Pizza Shortage” could be a good thing.

It has forced congregations to get creative

It has been said sarcastically that the church has two standards of faith and practice: the Bible, and “what we’ve always done.” There are some who, because they think any change in how we do things is a deviation from the faith, oppose anything and everything unless they’re already doing it. Back in the 1800s, there were people who got very upset because of the introduction of songbooks to be used in worship. They’d argue, if you’re reading it, you can’t be singing it from the heart. Alexander Campbell himself published a songbook—but was quite opposed to including the music, because if the notes are there, you will focus on them instead of what you’re singing. I’ve heard of members who opposed overhead projectors as sinful (and later on, PowerPoints as well).

But with the Pizza Shortage going on, there is an almost-universal (at least as far as I’ve seen/heard) willingness to try new things in following the Biblical pattern. For example, I can’t tell you how many congregations have jumped headfirst into live-streaming their worship in order to reach members who are unable to make it to services. I count the church in Charleston, AR (where I preach), to be one of those. We’re live-streaming the worship on Facebook, and also posting them on our YouTube channel (which we also just created since the Pizza Shortage started).

I know of congregations who are having “drive-in” services in the parking lot. Each member/family stays in their car, tunes their radio to a specific frequency, and with a rather inexpensive radio transmitter, the song-leader, prayer-leader, announcement-maker, and the preacher can all be heard by the members in their own “socially distant” vehicles. The Lord’s Supper is distributed by men wearing gloves and masks, and handed to someone in the car, who then passes it to his passengers. Think for a moment about how crazy and liberal you would have sounded if you had suggested that on a specific Sunday, everyone worshiped from their car. People would have thought you were an out-of-your-mind change agent! But today? People look on this creativity with admiration, because it makes it possible for people to meet together while also keeping them safe from catching the Pizza Shortage. And they realize that it isn’t sin—it’s just a different (though definitely not ideal) method of obeying the same command to assemble together to take the Lord’s Supper and encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Corinthians 11:17-30). I don’t think anyone would suggest that this should be the new model of how we worship, but given the situation now, most would agree it is an acceptable plan until the crisis passes.

It can bring the congregation closer

Perhaps this one doesn’t register right at first. After all, how can being forced to be further apart bring us closer together? When people are isolated at home, sadness, depression, or just plain “cabin fever” can take over. We are so used to being able to go where we want, when we want, that when it is taken away from us, it can become disorienting. We crave connection with people, but often we don’t think about it because we see people throughout the day. Right now, phone calls, text messages, and social media conversations are greatly increasing—because people want to be able to interact with others.

Here, we have a great opportunity. The Pizza Shortage has made this need abundantly clear. The challenge is, are we going to take the initiative to meet it?

  • If you’re going to call someone, because you need something to break the boredom or the sadness, make it a call to a brother or sister in your congregation.
  • If you’re going to text someone, why not text one of the older members who can’t get out or have visitors?
  • If you’re going on Facebook (or any of the other social media platforms), why not make it a point to comment on posts by members, or send them a message—or better yet, create a group (or a group message) made up of members of the congregation where you can just chat about whatever you want to chat about (like how much you wish there was no Pizza Shortage).

In doing this, you will do three things:

  1. Relieve your own boredom (so, for selfish reasons, go ahead and interact with members).
  2. Make them feel important, appreciated, and cared for at a time when people are more prone to anxiety and depression (so, because you care about your spiritual siblings, go ahead and interact with them).
  3. Bring a closer bond of connection between members of the church (so, for Christ’s sake, interact with them).

It can help us evangelize

The church here in Charleston (as far as I’m aware) is the only religious group in town that is still having Sunday morning services right now. The numbers have been way down (though most of the members who aren’t there in person have been live-streaming the worship, singing the songs and taking the Lord’s Supper at the same time), but we did have a denominational visitor come because his church wasn’t meeting until further notice. Additionally, we have had non-Christians tune in to our live-stream on Facebook (as well as Christians from across the country, who are in the same predicament).

I recall reading a bulletin article about a Southern town during the Civil War. There had been battle and bloodshed, and most of the churches in town stopped meeting. When the North overtook the town and declared martial law, there was “peace” (absence of fighting), and the churches wanted to re-open. The military leader refused, saying (in essence), “When in the middle of a great trial, you decided to shut your doors instead of gathering to petition the Great God of Heaven. But now, when there is no longer conflict, you want to come back. That is not real Christianity.” He refused to allow them to gather. However, there was one church who had continued to meet throughout the conflict—the church of Christ. The military leader had great respect for their dedication, and though he didn’t obey the gospel, he gave them—and only them—the permission to continue meeting.

I fully understand why some members during this Pizza Shortage may feel the need to stay home. We have members who work in hospitals where there have been confirmed cases, and there is a much higher chance that they could be carriers—and out of concern and love for their brethren, they don’t want to infect them. There are others whose immune system is already compromised, or who are older and prime candidates for suffering the worst if they catch it. Each person needs to make their own decision after prayer and contemplation.

But those who are able to worship with the saints should worship with the saints. You can still meet together, and if precautions are taken by all the members (“social distancing,” perhaps wearing masks and gloves, hand-washing, etc.) you will be just as safe as when you go to the grocery store to pick up essentials.

But for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of someone in your community. This person perhaps realizes he isn’t in control, and that he needs to “get some God” in his life. Now imagine this person decides to visit a church. He wants to find one with dedicated Christians who truly put God first. So he does a bit of looking around, and he finds that during this Pizza Shortage, only one church was dedicated enough to still have services. Which one do you think he’ll choose to visit first?

It gives us an opportunity to show grace to our brethren

Let’s state it as it is: people are freaking out. They are scared. They are anxious. And that’s understandable. But there is a big problem that comes as an outgrowth of this fear and anxiety—two of them, actually.

There are those on one side, who think that the Pizza Shortage is being way overstated, that it is making a much bigger deal about it than is justified, because there are other things that regularly cause more deaths (car wrecks, the seasonal flu), but we don’t shut down the economy and wreck millions of people’s lives for those. These people can (and I’ve seen it happen) look down on others and treat them like ignorant wimps for being worried and scared and anxious. They will accuse them of believing anything they hear, of not being able to think for themselves and objectively look at the evidence, and of having no faith in God.

On the other side, you have the people who think the Pizza Shortage is extremely bad, something which has no definite cure yet, and that it must be taken seriously with extreme measures in order to keep it from growing. These people can (and I’ve seen it happen) look down on others and treat them like clueless morons because they aren’t worried. They will accuse them of thinking that they know more than the experts, of being only interested in money instead of people, and of being guilty of “tempting God” (Matthew 4:7).

Neither one of these attitudes matches what God wants from us. Instead of being judgmental, we ought to empathize with our brethren. We are told to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). This means we are to try to share in the emotions of our brethren. If our brethren are anxious, we need to identify with them, empathize with them—and then help to calm their fears if possible. If our brethren think that the cure (closing the economy, causing—at the time I write this—16 million people to lose their job) is worse than the disease, we need to identify with them, empathize with them—and then help them see reasons why this might be a necessary (though painful) step.

Brethren who are speaking out about the job losses aren’t out there worshiping some golden calf called “capitalism.” Instead, they are concerned about the real-world impact on millions upon millions of people whose world just came crashing down because their business shut down, their job is gone, and they are struggling to support their family.

Brethren who are focused on “social distancing” and the related precautions because of the spread of the Pizza Shortage aren’t mindless sheep who feed on whatever the media gives them. Instead, they are concerned about the real-world impact on thousands upon thousands people whose world just came crashing down because they’re dying in a hospital, or because their spouse, or father, or mother has just died.

I hope that everyone who reads this can agree that both sides have legitimate concerns, and show grace instead of judging brethren for being more vocal about one section of those suffering instead of the other. This is an opportunity to show love and unity—and to have actual dialogue with brethren who might come at this issue from a different perspective than you.

Final Thoughts

Satan wants to use this time of crisis to separate the body of Christ. He wants people to remain isolated from their spiritual family, feeling alone and scared and depressed and anxious. He is the enemy here.

Is what you are doing in the midst of the Pizza Shortage helping his cause? If you don’t reach out to your brethren to offer connection, encouragement, and comfort, you’re aiding Satan. If you lambast your brethren for which group of suffering people they express more sympathy for, you’re aiding Satan. If you chastise your brethren for taking this seriously and staying home out of love or fear (especially when they are watching the services online), you’re aiding Satan.

But we can fight Satan and bring glory to God by simply doing what we can to help our brethren stay connected to each other and to God. We can show grace and empathy for all those who are affected by the disease and the steps taken to slow its spread.

We have great opportunities afforded to us, and if we take them and use them to God’s glory, this Pizza Shortage can bring about good things.

[NOTE: I assume that the readers understand I am not saying that people dying is a good thing, but that God can use this international crisis to bring about good things, if we look for the opportunities and take them.]

And just like that, WOW… on April 17, an article was published about how there is now a pizza shortage because of the coronavirus. https://popculture.com/trending/2020/04/17/us-running-out-frozen-pizza-amid-ongoing-coronavirus-pandemic/  

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Thankfulness isn’t Real Until it Addresses and Expresses

It’s amazing how shallow and cheap thankfulness is today.  As the person on the street, “What are you thankful for?” and they will likely rattle off several things. Maybe it’s family, or job, housing, health, etc. It doesn’t matter if that person is Christian or Atheist, Buddhist or Hindu—they can (and most likely will) give you at least a few ideas of what they are thankful for.

But the big question that never seems to be asked—or even considered—is this: “Okay, you’re thankful for these things, which is great—but what are you thankful to?” Just that one word, that change of a small little preposition, changes the whole discussion. Why? Because it isn’t real thankfulness until it is addressed and expressed.

Hear that again: It isn’t real thankfulness until it is addressed and expressed.

Take a look with me at Luke 17:11-19.

The Setting

Jesus is heading to Jerusalem (possibly for the last time), and He’s got a strange crew of disciples (17:1), apostles (17:5), and Pharisees (17:20) following Him around.

As part of the journey, He walks near the border area of Samaria and Galilee—neither of which had the best reputation among the “real” followers of God. Remember the amazement of the Jews when Galileans began speaking in foreign languages, and preaching in the temple? (Acts 2:7). Remember the time when the Pharisees hurled the insulting epitaph, You are a Samaritan, at Him? (John 8:48). You can be sure that the Pharisees weren’t too happy to be in this area—they usually made it a point to cross over a river (twice) and spend several more hours walking on the journey from Judea to Galilee, just to avoid walking through Samaria.

So, other than for Jesus, this wasn’t a comfortable excursion.

Maybe some of you have a class of people, a type of people you don’t want to reach, don’t want to talk to, don’t want to help. Maybe you’ve written them off as a Samaritan. Maybe it’s because they’ve been on drugs (or still are), or maybe it’s because they struggle financially and have needs they need help with. Maybe their clothes are tatty and worn, or they have tattoos, or they’re black, or Latino, or Republican or Democrat, young or old, atheist or Pentecostal. And maybe you’ve convinced yourself that it’s okay.

Jesse and a friend one time attended worship in Columbia, Missouri. The class discussed reaching people with problems (drugs and prison history), and one woman admitted, “I don’t want to deal with them because I’m afraid they will need more of my time than I’m willing to give.”

But Jesus worked hard, both in His teachings (the good Samaritan) and His actions (see the woman at the well in John 4) to humanize, to elevate the Samaritans as being worth reaching, worth the time it takes to engage them. In other words, Samaritan lives matter. Are there types of people you have written off as unworthy of the gospel? Jesus says their lives—and souls—matter too!

The Request

If being that close to Samaria wasn’t bad enough, things got even more uncomfortable. Lepers! Ten of them! Ten men with a flesh-eating disease, bodies gnarled and misshapen, faces unrecognizable, unable to interact with normal society, stood at a distance and called out in a harsh squeaky voice,[1] “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

These men felt the crushing weight of oppression. This disease mocked them. It said, “You aren’t worthy to come to the city. You can’t live near real people. You can’t worship with the real followers of God.” They felt this loss, this shame—brought on through no fault of their own—day after day after day after day after day… And instead of pity and help, they usually received a cold should of indifference from people they saw at a distance.

But then they saw Jesus. A crowd around Him, yes, but they saw Jesus. They cried out with that barely-human voice, “Master, have mercy on us!”[2]

Why didn’t they address the apostles? After all, these twelve men had been given the power to heal lepers (Matthew 10:8). So why not call for their help? Maybe they had heard that some of the apostles wanted Jesus to obliterate an entire Samaritan village with fire from heaven (Luke 9:51-56). That could really undermine their influence, right?

Maybe you’ve let your tongue get out of control and killed your influence and credibility with some people. Maybe it was a racist joke, a harsh attitude, or just a cold shoulder of indifference. What might it be that causes people to not want to talk to you about their hurts, problems, and needs?

See, Jesus was well known as someone who helped people. These lepers knew that if they were going to get mercy, sympathy, and help from anyone, it would be Jesus—He has proven it over and over again. He cared then and cares now for the marginalized, the oppressed, the forgotten, the ignored. He takes the time to show they are important to Him.

The Answer

Jesus responds to these hurting and ostracized men with compassion and a command. Now don’t let this fact get by you. Jesus told them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And when they acted in faith, God acted in love. Hear it again, When they acted in faith, God acted in love.

They weren’t healed immediately—it was only when they started their obedience, started on their way to the priests, that they were cleansed. Had they stayed still, the leprosy would have stayed. Had they hobbled into the city, they would have kept on hobbling.

The principle, When man acts in faith, God acts in love, is seen all throughout the Scriptures. “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8-9). “By faith, Noah…built an ark to the saving of his family” (Hebrews 11:7). “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Acting in faith is obeying what the Lord commands, trusting that He will keep His word (and He always does).

God never tells you to do something impossible. He loves you, and wants you to spend eternity with Him. But in order to do that, you have to act in faith, and trust Him that the rewards of faith are greater than anything you’ve ever experienced!

The Thankfulness

Now we get back around to where we started this lesson. One of those ten men, when he saw that he was cleansed (and remember that Jesus’ healings were complete—so his whole body would have changed: from gnarled to normal, from bent-over to upright, from hobbling to running)—when he saw that he was cleansed, he turned around and almost certainly ran to Jesus.

I love what Luke says next. “He praised God with a loud voice.” Leprosy would have destroyed his voice—it would be like permanent laryngitis.[3] But now he has a “loud voice,” and he uses it! The Greek here is awesome. The word “loud” is mega, and the word “voice” is phone. Mega-phone. This man was loud and proud—he wasn’t scared to let anyone and everyone know that HE HAD BEEN HEALED! And that it was THANKS TO GOD! Then he “threw himself down at Jesus’ feet” (NIV).

Remember what we said at the beginning, It isn’t real thankfulness until it’s addressed and expressed. There is no doubt that he was thanking God (not just “being thankful” in general) for his cleansing. And he clearly expressed it in his words and actions.

Those other nine were “thankful,” I’m sure, in the way our modern society uses the term. They were happy about it (they asked for it after all, so they obviously wanted it), but that’s about as far as it went. No smile and a wave at Jesus in recognition of this kindness. No hollering “Thanks Jesus” over their shoulders as they stand upright for the first time in months or years and walk away. No praising God for His great love and mercy.

If a reporter from the Jerusalem News or the Samaritan Post had asked the nine ungrateful men, “Are you thankful you’re not a leper anymore?” I’m sure they’d say, “Yes.” But they didn’t show it. They got what they wanted from Jesus, and that’s all they needed Him for. That’s not gratitude. One writer said “…ingratitude was a worse leprosy than the physical disease.”[4]

Do we treat God the same way? We go to Him in prayer and ask for stuff, for outcomes, for guidance, and when we get them, we conveniently forget to even give lip-service thanks to Him.

The Ingratitude

If the story ended here, it would still be worthwhile by seeing the example of a truly grateful person. But it doesn’t. Luke adds a brief little sentence: “And he was a Samaritan.” Of all people, a Samaritan is the only one who was truly thankful. The one most looked down upon shines as the brightest example of the ten!

Jesus points this out when He asks the disciples, apostles, and Pharisees, “Weren’t there ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” I know a guy who, when he was a teenager, got a card from a member of the church. His mom asked him if there was any money in it (because this member had a habit of doing that), and he said, “Yeah, but only $20.” If you had given that money, and you heard that response, how would it make you feel? That gives you an small inkling of how Jesus felt at the complete ingratitude of people whose entire lives had just been changed.

Then He says, “Only this stranger [allogenes, literally person from a different family] returned to give glory to God. Most commentators agree that this means the other nine lepers were Jews. Zerr says, “The mere mention of this man’s nationality, in connection with his exceptional conduct of gratitude, was intended as a rebuke for the Jews.”[5]

The man could have said, “I’m thankful to be healed,” but that wouldn’t have been true, real, authentic gratitude—because gratitude, thankfulness, is directed towards someone or something. Why do we tell people “thank you”? Because we all realize, whether we act on it or not, that thanks is something given (“thanksgiving” anyone?), and if it is given, it must be given to someone. It isn’t real thankfulness until it is addressed and expressed.

The Reward

Jesus looks down at the incredibly grateful man and tells him to “Go your way. Your faith has made you whole.” Now I want you to take careful note here. He had already been cleansed of his leprosy, as had the ungrateful nine. So what Jesus gives him here is something different. The Greek word for “made whole” is sozo, which is usually translated “saved.” Young’s Literal Translation says, “Thy faith hath saved thee.”[6]

Faith—true, authentic faith—expresses itself in gratitude. If gratitude is missing, then how can you claim to have faith? (“In everything, give thanks” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.)

The Questions

Are you thankful for your home? Your family? Your friends? Yes? Then to whom are you thankful? To whom is that thanks given?

Are you thankful that God sent His only begotten Son so that we might be saved from sin? Yes? Then how are you expressing that?

Remember, When man acts in faith, God acts in love.

Show your thankfulness, your gratitude, by coming to Christ for healing of the sins that eat away at your soul. Whether that’s through baptism to put on Christ, or prayer as a Christian seeking forgiveness, show your gratitude today.

When you act in faith, obeying His loving Word, then you can take the words of Luke 17:19 to heart: “Arise… your faith has saved you.”

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] “…the lepers’ bronchial tubes are dry and the voice is high and squeaky.” J.W. McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel, p. 530.

[2] The word translated “Master” means a commander, overseer, or one who has authority. In the New Testament, it only appears in Luke.

[3] “An almost total failure of the voice is one of the symptoms of leprosy.” Burton Coffman, Luke, p. 376.

[4] The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 298.

[5] E.M. Zerr, Commentary Vol. 5.

[6] Smith’s Literal Translation does as well, and it appears in footnotes/marginal readings in several translations and study Bibles.

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Methods for Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 7): The Preterist Method (part 2)

Last week, the Preterist Method of interpreting Revelation was introduced.  It says that the book was meant for the first-century Christians, and had a direct application to them.  It says that the events in Revelation were things that they would experience (see 1:1, 3).  It takes God at His word when He said that Revelation was “to show His servants things which must shortly come to pass” (1:1, 22:6).  But as with almost everything regarding the Bible, there are those who oppose this method.  Let us consider their main objections:

  1. This method makes the book ONLY have meaning for the original recipients, and has no message for us today.”

This is the most common argument, and those who use it claim it is the most powerful.  In the Old Testament, there were prophetic books written about impending destructions upon a specific people during a specific time.  Oddly enough, no one ever makes the claim that Jonah or Nahum or Obadiah ONLY had meaning for the original recipients and has no meaning for us today.  If the Old Testament historical books can still have a message for us today, then so can the book of Revelation.  If the Old Testament prophetic books can still have a message for us today, then so can the book of Revelation.  If the gospel accounts and Acts can still have a message for us today, then so can Revelation.  After all, each of them was written about things which have already taken place.

There are many lessons that can be learned and applied from Revelation when one interprets with the Preterist Method.  We can learn about the nature of God and of Christ, how God views rebellion, that faithfulness is rewarded and unfaithfulness is punished, etc…  This first objection is overruled.

  1. This method implies that the church – a spiritual kingdom – would be concerned about the overthrow of a physical kingdom.”

The church – God’s kingdom – was undergoing severe persecution from a specific physical nation.  This physical nation was trying to destroy Christianity, trying to get Christians to leave the faith and trying to coerce them to enter (or in some cases, re-enter) into a religious system that God did not approve of.  In other words, this physical kingdom was trying to steal Christians’ very salvation from them.  The book continually encourages Christians to remain faithful in the midst of this persecution.  The very fact that a book was necessary to encourage them shows just how brutal the persecution was.  This book is God’s way of saying, “I’ll take care of things; you just stay faithful.”  It is God who rules in the affairs of men, and who controls the rise and fall of nations.

One last thing to consider regarding this objection is this: Jesus was concerned about the overthrow of a physical nation (see Matthew 23:34-24:34).  If He—who was more spiritual than anyone else on earth—was concerned about it, why is it strange that His people also be?  This objection is also overruled.

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Methods for Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 6): The Preterist Method (part 1)

Imagine yourself as a Christian in the first century, under constant persecution, even the threat of death.  Things seem to keep getting worse instead of better.  And in the midst of it, the thought enters your mind, “I thought we were supposed to have an abundant life.”  The truth was, for most Christians of the first century, dark times were ahead; times that would try the souls of even the most dedicated Christian.  There were those that began to have doubts about Christianity and were going back to Judaism (see the book of Hebrews).  There were others who—because they loved the present world—forsook Christ and His servants (II Timothy 4:10).  Some left Christ out of fear. Then, in the midst of this turmoil, you are presented with a letter written down by the apostle John.  The letter begins in a way that lets you know it applies directly to you: this letter is about things which are about to happen – the time is at hand! (Revelation 1:1, 3).

As you read through the letter, you read about congregations that have lost their first love, and you recognize the signs.  You have seen Christians undergoing persecution to the point where they finally decide Jesus isn’t worth it, and though they may not have openly renounced their faith, you can tell a difference – they aren’t trying to tell others about Him at all.  You read of other congregations, small ones, that have almost nothing, but they are holding on to Jesus for all they are worth.  And as you read this letter, you realize that it is Jesus Himself who tells these faithful Christians to keep holding on, and they will receive a victory crown of life.  As you near the end of John’s letter, you understand that Jesus will overthrow those who oppose Him, and that His faithful saints will be rewarded for not giving in to the persecution.  As you finish reading it, the final words are a reminder of what was said at the beginning: this letter is about things which are about to happen – the time is at hand! (22:6, 10).

The main questions to ask regarding the book of Revelation and the approach one should take in interpreting it are these:

  • Was the book really written about “things which must soon take place” (1:1, ESV)?
  • Did the Christians who first received the book understand it? (see 1:3)
  • Did the book deal with things pertaining to the first century Christians? (see 22:10)

The Preterist Method of interpreting the book of Revelation says that the book had a direct application to the persecuted Christians who first received it.  It takes God’s word at face value when it claims to be about “things which must shortly be done” when it was first written (in the first century).  As such, anyone who wants to understand the book of Revelation must first understand what the book meant to the people who first received it.  As a result of this common sense approach, the Preterist believes that the specific events described in the book have been fulfilled.  This is the only method of interpreting the book which is in harmony with John’s inspired introduction (“things which must shortly come to pass…the time is at hand” – 1:1, 3) and his inspired conclusion (“things which must shortly be done…the time is at hand” – 22:6, 10).

-Bradley S. Cobb

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Methods of Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 5: The Spiritual Method)

You open up the Bible, go to the most difficult, confusing book, and you can’t really understand what it is saying.  You know that somewhere in there, victory is promised to those who stay faithful, but beyond that nothing makes much sense.  So, instead of trying to figure out what it is saying, you decide to take a novel approach: the book really isn’t about anything specific!  No, the book is all about spiritual principles, the battle between good and evil, and the only thing the book teaches is that eventually, ultimately, good will triumph over evil.  Not surprisingly, this method is called The Spiritual Method.  Those who take this view claim it is the only one that makes Revelation have application to the church in all ages.

It has been accurately said that the Spiritual Method is the lazy way out of interpreting Revelation.  Anything in the book that doesn’t make sense to you, just claim it doesn’t really represent anything!  Some people who take the Spiritual Method have described it this way: “Many of the symbols are nothing more than extra details like props on a stage during a play.  They are completely unimportant, except to add to the scenery.”  One question must be asked in light of this: Are you willing to say that God placed completely unimportant things in His word?

Those who take the Spiritual Method have quite a difficult time explaining how Revelation isn’t referring to any specific events when the very first verse says otherwise.  “The Revelation of Jesus Christ…to show His servants things which must shortly come to pass…”  That verse shows that Revelation discusses events which were about to happen, but had not happened yet.  Did the spiritual battle between good and evil somehow not exist until shortly after Revelation was written?  Of course not.  Anyone who reads the Old Testament can see the battle between good and evil has been raging from the beginning.

Their claim that Revelation represents spiritual principles (good vs. evil) within the church in all ages runs into an interesting paradox at this point.  The church began over 30 years before the book was written.  Since the things described in the book hadn’t happened yet, it couldn’t apply to the church up to that point.

To simply “spiritualize” away the details in Revelation ignores the fact that there were real people discussed (such as Antipas, 2:12-13); real congregations addressed with their own real problems (chapters 2 and 3); real cities mentioned (Jerusalem, 11:8); real rulers mentioned (the kings of chapter 17); and an overthrow of a real “great city” that would cause the real blood of the real apostles and real prophets to be avenged (18:20-19:2).

Are there spiritual principles about the battle between good and evil to be learned from Revelation?  Absolutely!  But is that all that is under consideration?  Absolutely not!

-Bradley S. Cobb

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Methods of Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 4: The Historical Method)

Imagine yourself living almost 2,000 years ago, and you’re undergoing heavy persecution, the threat of death, for being a Christian.  You worry about your own life and the lives of your family members who are also members of the church of Jesus.  You are in need of comfort in the face of affliction.  So, God sends you a letter of comfort, telling you that the whole church is going to fall away and turn into one large denomination, but that in 1500 years, Martin Luther is going to start another denomination.  Are you confused yet?  Welcome to the Historical Method of interpreting the book of Revelation.

This method was very popular from the time of the Protestant Reformation (1500s-1600s) until the early 1900s.  Martin Luther, John Wesley (Methodist founder), Charles Spurgeon (famous Baptist preacher), Matthew Henry (famous Presbyterian preacher), William Miller (founder of the Seventh-Day Adventists), John L. Hinds (author of the Gospel Advocate Commentary on Revelation), and many others used the Historical Method of interpreting Revelation.

This view says that the book of Revelation is a continuous, chronological record of “the church” (most of it referring to the Catholic Church) from the time of John until the final judgment.  Most who take this view will say that the book describes the apostasy of the church into Catholicism, the rise of the popes, the attacks which destroyed Rome, the rise of Islam, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, Napoleon and Mussolini, among others.  Some in the Lord’s church who take this view teach that Alexander Campbell and the restoration of the Lord’s Church are referenced as well. It is noteworthy that no two Historical Method commentators can agree on which historical events are described in each section of the book.

Now, before we go any further, we need to ask some questions.

  1. What comfort does it bring to Christians who are suffering for their faith to say, “don’t worry, in a couple hundred years, pretty much the entire church is going to go into apostasy and become one large denomination”?
  2. How can this book be said to be made up of things which “must shortly come to pass” (1:1) if the overwhelming majority of the book is interpreted to be at least a thousand or more years away from when John wrote?
  3. Could the people who originally received this book have understood its meaning if it was about specific people and events—some of which were at least 1700 years away?
  4. If, as most who take this view will agree, we are living in the last section of the book before the judgment scene in chapter 20, what happens if there’s another 2,000 years of the church?

Another problem with this interpretation is that the birth and ascension of Christ are mentioned in the middle of the book (Revelation 12:1-5).  In 12:10, the kingdom is said to come with power.  If Revelation is a chronological record and Christ’s birth doesn’t even show up until chapter 12, exactly what is recorded in chapters 4-11?

While this view still has proponents within the church, it does not match up with the purpose of the book, nor the time which God said it would take place (Revelation 1:1, 3, 22:6, 10).  As such, this method cannot be the one God wants us to use in interpreting the book of Revelation.

-Bradley S. Cobb

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Methods of Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 3: The Futurist Method 02)

You are hurting, being persecuted by a group of people that really don’t care that you’re trying to obey God and that you’re trying to live your life the best way possible.  These persecutors have no mercy on you at all.  While you’re trying to avoid being killed, you receive a letter.  It’s a letter of hope, a letter designed to bring you comfort…or so you thought.  You open it up, and you find out that it is a letter that really has nothing to do with anything you’re going through.  This letter instead contains predictions of governmental, political, and religious situations in the 41st century.  How much comfort will you get from that letter?

You may think the above paragraph far-fetched, but that is exactly what the futurist interpreters of Revelation want you to think God was giving to His people in the 1st century.  God’s people, the Christians, are going through horrible persecutions at the hands of uncaring, vicious men when the book of Revelation was written.  The book of Revelation was to give comfort to the Christians undergoing persecution.  Yet, according to the futurist interpretation, the book deals with things that wouldn’t happen for twenty centuries (at the very least) in the future.  Such a book would have no meaning for the people who John wrote it to.  Would God write a book, address it to specific people, and then make the contents of that book meaningless to them?

Another thing to consider when examining the futurist interpretation is that God promises a blessing on those who keep [obey] the things written in the book (Revelation 1:3).  If it is composed of things—none of which have yet happened—that means it was impossible for anyone, for the last 2,000 years, to be blessed by this book.

Taking this view also makes God a god of confusion.  With every generation, the futurists must re-interpret Revelation to fit the current world events.  Some futurists have seen Germany and Adolph Hitler in Revelation.  When that didn’t work out, it was Russia.  Then Iraq and Saddam Hussein.  Then Barack Obama.  And in another ten years, they will point to someone else.

Taking this view also ignores that John wrote down the Revelation for seven actual churches in the first century (Revelation 1:4).  As you read chapters 2 and 3, you will see that Jesus addressed actual problems that actual congregations were actually going through in the first century.

Hopefully it has been made clear that the futurist position (that all—or even most—of the events in Revelation are still in the future) is in opposition to clear statements from God’s word, from the book of Revelation itself, and—as such—the futurist position must be labeled as “false doctrine.”

-Bradley S. Cobb

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Methods of Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 2: The Futurist Method 01)

The most popular method of interpreting the book of Revelation today is the Futurist method.  Popular books are written about it, movies have been made about it, and it has pervaded the modern mindset more than we even realize.  Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s a sign of the apocalypse”? Or perhaps, talking about something being part of the Battle of Armageddon?  These have been popularized by those who employ the futurist interpret the book of Revelation.  But what is this method?  Is it possible that it is the correct method of interpreting this last book in the New Testament?  Is this the way God would have us understand the book?

The futurist method of interpreting Revelation says that everything in it is still in the future, and that none of it (or very little of it) has been fulfilled.  Does the Bible have anything to say about this?

One of the biggest keys to understanding the book of Revelation can be found in the first verse of the book.  It is such an important key that it actually is made clear twice in the first chapter, and twice in the final chapter.  Revelation 1:1 states very plainly that the book of Revelation was written to “show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass.”  Two verses later, God’s inspired word says that “the time is at hand.”  Now, perhaps that might grab your attention.  If John the apostle came to you today, and before getting to his message said, “I’m going to tell you things which must shortly come to pass,” and then said, “the time is at hand,” would you imagine that he was really saying “I’m going to tell you things that won’t happen for at least 2,000 years”?  At the conclusion of the visions and incredible imagery of the book, we have John reminding us of how the book began.  He says that the things in the book were “to show his servants things which must shortly be done” (Revelation 22:6).  He’s also told, “don’t seal the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand” (Revelation 22:10).  Now, John has told us ahead of time that the things in the book were about to happen, and then at the end of the book reminds us that the things in the book were about to happen.  What do you think he means by this?

The futurist method must ignore or disregard the fact that God said the things “must shortly come to pass.”  Oh, some will say, “but to the Lord, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day!” Explain that to Paul, who was told by Jesus “Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem” (Acts 22:18).  The word “quickly” in this verse is the same word that is translated “shortly” in Revelation 1:1.  Was Jesus really telling Paul, “hurry up and get yourself out of Jerusalem sometime in the next 2,000 years”?  Of course not.

My friends, do you think God knows how to tell time?  God told Daniel to “seal up” the prophecy because the time was still “many days” away (Daniel 8:26).  That prophecy was fulfilled less than 400 years later.  But God told John “don’t seal up” the prophecy of Revelation, because “the time is at hand.”  God knows the difference between near and far when it comes to time.

-Bradley S. Cobb

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