Category Archives: Articles

Is the Church a Denomination?

James Bales wrote a tract with the above title many years ago (my copy is so brittle that is didn’t survive the scanning process).  We present it here for your enjoyment and consideration.

Is the Church a Denomination?

We are faced with religious divi­sion and the denominational conception of Christianity. These various denominations did not always exist. Secular history records their origin and they are not mentioned in the New Testament. They exist in spite of the New Testament, for Christ prayed for unity which would be based on His Word (John 17:20). Yet when people today discover that you are a Christian they ask you to what denomination you belong. They cannot conceive of one who is just a Christian without being some particular brand of a Christian. This is in contrast to the fact that in the days of Paul if one said that he was a Christian no one would then ask him, What denomination do you represent.

I. Denominationalism: Its Meaning, Cause, Curse, Naming and Cure

The Meaning of Denominational­ism.

Denominationalism as it exists among professed Christians is the organization of professed Christians into different religious bodies. These bodies do not claim to be the whole church, but only a part of it. It means that people regard the church as something which is divided, with various groups with different faiths and practices in many instances. Denominationalism conceives Christianity as divided into sects.

The Causes of Denominationalism.

First, the party, self-centered, spirit which attempts to build up a certain group instead of the church as a whole. These look away from the Bible and walk more or less by their own wisdom. Second, mis-interpretations of the scriptures which are pressed and bound on others to the point of divisions. Third, a division over personalities. People form groups around certain individuals (Acts 20:30). Some in Paul’s day tried to form parties around various preachers and Paul condemned that condition (I Corinthians 1:1042). Fourth, some do err and form denominations because they are ignorant of the Scriptures and of the power of God. Fifth, others build a sect on one passage of the Scripture, or one doc­trine, to the neglect of other passages and doctrines. Sixth, at the root of all denominationalism is sin in one form or another. Once a denomina­tion is formed it is perpetuated by the ignorance of its adherents of Bible teaching, by pride and by the party spirit. Children often take the religion of their parents without even once comparing what their denomination teaches with what the Bible teaches.

The Curse of Denominationalism.

First, it opposes the prayer of Christ for unity (John 17:20). Second, it is a cause of infidelity and brings reproach on Christ for people discredit the Bible by saying that it cannot be right and teach so many conflicting doctrines. However, the conflict is in the ignorance of the people and not in the Bible. Jesus prayed for a visible unity on earth that the world might believe (John 17:20). Third, such division is condemned by Paul (1 Cor. 1:10-12). Fourth, It is a mark of carnality (1 Cor. 3:1-4; Gal. J :19’21). Fifth, it consumes time and money because of the duplica­tion of work. Sixth, it hinders world evangelism because each tries to build up his own sect rather than convert the world.

The Source of Denominational Names,

First, names of persons. Second, names of countries. Third, names of ordinances. Fourth, names drawn from forms of church govern­ment. Fifth, some are named from a certain doctrine which they stress.

The Cure for Denominationalism.

First, the proper respect for Christ and for the word by which we are to be judged (John 12:48; Acts 17: 30). Second, a sincere effort to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where it is silent (1 Pet. 4:11). Third, a study of the New Testament to determine what constitutes the church. Fourth, a study of our own faith and practices in the light of the New Testament with the willingness to change wherein we fail to abide by the New Testament. Fifth, love and forbearance which do not press and bind differences of opinion (Rom. 14).

II. Is The Church of Christ A Denomination?

The Meaning of the Term “church.”

The Greeks used the term to design­ate an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by legitimate author­ity. In the Gospels, Christ said that I will build my church (Matt. 16: 18). The term is used, when speaking of His church, with reference first to individual congregations (Acts 8:1; 9:22, 26; Rom. 16:1, 4, 5; Gal. 1:2) and second the whole body of believers or Christians (Matt 16:18; Eph. 1:22; 5:10; Heb. 12:23). (Samuel W. Barnum, Smith’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the Bi­ble, 1868, p. 175).

The unbelieving Jews referred to it as the sect of the Nazarene and as the sect which was everywhere spok­en against (Acts 24:5; 28:22). They believed it was a division which had been cut off from the Jewish faith or church. However, that which they regarded as heresy (Acts 24:14), and as everywhere spoken against, constituted God’s church and God’s only church in this dispensation. The church, it is true, was named and cut off, separated, from all other reli­gious bodies. However, it was not a denomination in the modern sense of the term which defines a denomina­tion as a religious organization con­taining a part of the saved; a group which constitutes a part of the church instead of the whole church. What the Jews called a sect was in reality the church.

The church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:18, 24; Eph. 1:22, 23). The saved are in Christ’s body, in His church, and they got there by being baptized into Christ (Eph. 5:23 Rom. 6:1-4; Gal. 3:27; Acts 2:40, 41, 47; John 3:5). They are born into it (John 3:5). The church of Christ is not a part, it is the whole. It has done nothing to break itself off from those who are Christians and Christians only. It is not a denomination because: First, it is the body of Christ, composed of the saved, and there are no saved people outside of it. One cannot be a Christian with­out being a member of Christ’s church. Second, it was founded by Christ’s apostles and it is the only church founded by them. Third, it is characterized by the names which are set forth in the New Testament. Fourth, it does not preach a denominational message. Fifth, its head is Christ. Sixth, its creed is His word. Seventh, its wor­ship is in spirit and in truth. Eighth, it is entered by the new birth (John 3:5). Ninth, it is both undemoninational and anti-denominational.

There are those who deny that it is possible to be only a Christian. They assert that one must be denom­inational Christian. However, the disciples of Christ in Paul’s day were Christians only and we today can be Christians only by following God’s word. The seed, which is God’s word, when planted by itself in a heart, produces a Christian only (Luke 8:11). It takes something more or less than the Word of God to make something else.

It is true that some Christians have wandered into denominations. All who have been born of water and the Spirit have been added to the church by God Himself (Acts 2:38-47). However, those who have wandered into denominationalism ought to forsake it and be just Christians. They ought to come out of Babylon (Rev. 18:4).

It is true that members of the body of Christ often fail to live perfect lives. Thus at times they may adopt a denominational attitude and fail to respect both the voice and the silence of the Scripture. However, such shortcomings do not mean that de­nominationalism is approved or that the goal and message of the church of Christ is wrong. It means that in­dividual Christians fall short and that they ought to try to do better.

Friend, why not be a Christian and a Christian only? This is possi­ble, desirable, necessary and scriptural.

Restoration Moments – A Lesson in Giving

You have only a dollar to your name–and no food to feed your family.  Then a man comes to your door, deeply in need, begging for help.  What do you do?

Today’s Restoration Moment comes from Memoirs of Abner Jones (by his son, A.D. Jones), which will appear in the upcoming Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 2).  Enjoy!

How often I have heard the good old man relate this story, which, however, it might affect others, never failed to bring tears into his own eyes:

On Saturday morning, as I was sit­ting in my study, pondering the poverty of my condition, my wife came in with her accustom­ed inquiry of “well, Mr Jones, what shall we have for dinner?” Adding, “we have not a grain of meal,”—flour was out of the question—”nor a particle of meat of any kind in the house. Then the sugar is out, there is no butter, and in fact there is nothing to eat, and tomorrow is Sunday.”

So saying, she quit the room, leaving me in such a state of mind as may well be con­ceived, when I say that a solitary one dollar bank note was the only money I had on earth, and no prospect whatsoever appeared of getting any until the accustomed weekly contribution should be put in my hands. And what would a single dollar do at the prevailing high prices, towards feeding seven hungry mouths for two whole days? I saw no way of escape, and in the agony of spirit which may well be guessed, I lifted up my heart in supplication to Him who feedeth the ravens when they cry. And a sin­gular answer to my prayer I seemed speedily to attain.

I had just risen from my knees, when my wife again appeared at the door, all unconscious of the struggle which was going on within me, and ushered a gentleman into my study. His whole appearance was of that shabby genteel which betokens a broken-down gentleman.  And from the first moment of beholding him, I took him to my confidence as unfortunate but not debased. “Sir” said he, “I am a stranger to you, and you are utterly so to me, save that I once heard you preach in ______.”

My home is in that place—if indeed I may now claim a home. I sailed from that port nearly a year since, with all my earthly possessions, and embarked in a promising adventure. My ship fell into the hands of the enemy and I became a prisoner, my property of course became lawful plunder. After suffering many hardships and much indignity, I effected my escape on board a vessel bound to St. John. From that place to this I have worked my way along with incredible fatigue and pain. I have suffered much from hunger, cold and wet, and have slept many a night in the open woods. And here I am, in one word, Sir, penniless, and altogether too much worn down to proceed further without aid. I have friends in ________, to whom I am pressing on as fast as I can, and who will relieve my necessities when I reach them. I am an utter stranger in your town, and you are the only person I ever knew or saw in the whole place. I cannot beg, and I feel entirely reluc­tant to ask a loan of an utter stranger.”

Here was a struggle. I was poor, very poor; but here was one poorer than I. I had a hungry family to feed—so had he. And even more, a heart-breaking fact, his family was even now mourn­ing him as dead. I could hesitate no longer. I thrust my hand mechanically into my pocket, and pulling out my last dollar, which I pressed upon the unfortunate mariner—for he could hardly be persuaded to take it, when he knew how low my finances were,—I blessed him in God’s name, and he left me with no words of thanks; but I knew that, had I from a full purse bestowed a liberal sum, he could not have felt more grateful.

When he had gone, and absolute hunger for me and mine, stared me full in the face, I be­gan to doubt the propriety of my act in taking the very bread from my children’s mouths to feed a stranger. But it was now too late to repent. The last dollar was gone and my chil­dren must go dinnerless and supperless to bed. For myself I cared nothing, but how would my family bear this unusual fasting? I seized my hat and cane and rushed into the street to escape from my own thoughts, which had become too painful to endure. I knew not—cared not whither I should bend my steps.

As I walked moodily and mechanically on, thinking o’er all the bitterness of my situation, suddenly the thought came into my mind: — why should I despond? Have I ever gone hun­gry, even for a day—me and mine? Has not the Lord provided hitherto? And will he not in time to come? —in the present time?  I had scarcely concluded this soliloquy, when one of my neighbors, whom I knew to be a Universalist, and whom I had occasionally seen at our meetings—the members of his family came frequently—accosted me with, “good morning, Mr. Jones. I have been thinking for some time past that I ought to discharge a debt I owe you.

“I was not aware,” I replied, “that you had incur­red such an obligation.”

O, but I have,” said he, “my family goes occasionally to hear you preach, and once in a while I go myself. Now as the laborer is worthy of his hire, and as I wish no man to labor for me without pay, I beg you will accept this trifle as in part a liquidation of the debt.

The “trifle,” was a five dollar note, which I received with feelings that I will not mock by attempting to describe. I returned to my house, and after again falling on my knees, hum­bled under a sense of my lack of confidence in God, and grateful for his goodness to me, all unworthy as I felt myself to be; I sallied forth to the market, and soon came back ladened with the things necessary to our comfort.

Bible Q&A – Is the Bible Incomplete?

I heard someone say that our Bible is incomplete because we don’t have the “real” First Corinthians (I Cor. 5:9) or the “Letter from Laodicea” (Col. 4:16).  Is our Bible incomplete?–A.Y., from Oklahoma.

Thanks for the question.  This goes along with the question we discussed last week as well on the so-called “lost books of the Bible.”  It’s true that some people say we have an incomplete Bible because it appears we might be missing some letters written by the apostles.  By saying this, they try to cast doubt on God’s revealed word.  After all, how can you know you are going to heaven if you don’t even have the complete Bible?  What should the Christian’s response be to such charges?

First, we need to understand the seriousness of the charge these people are making.  To say we have an incomplete Bible is to question everything we know about God’s word.  Imagine for a moment that there are parts of the Bible that were lost to time, and they included specific commands regarding worship or salvation that we simply do not have anymore.  We couldn’t know whether or not we were pleasing to God.  We couldn’t know if we were saved.  We couldn’t be sure about anything!  II Timothy 3:16-17 says Scripture is given so that we may be equipped for EVERY good work.  But if part of the Scripture is missing, are we still equipped for EVERY good work?

Also, this charge goes directly to the core of God Himself!  To say God’s message to mankind (the Bible) is incomplete is to say that God is not all-powerful.  Ask yourself this: Can God make sure His word is available to all mankind through the ages (see Mark 13:31)?  Would a loving, all-powerful God allow His message to disappear to where it is impossible for people to follow it?  Of course not!  God providentially made sure that we have all that we need to be pleasing to Him (Romans 10:17, Hebrews 11:6, II Peter 1:3).

Are we missing any inspired writings?  It is very possible that the apostles wrote letters which we do not have today.  After all, can we say for certain that Andrew, James, Phillip, Thomas, Bartholemew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the zealot), Thaddeus, and Matthias never wrote a letter to Christians?  Can we say for certain that in over 30 years of preaching and traveling that Paul only wrote 13 letters total?  That Peter only wrote two letters?  That John only wrote five (including Revelation)?  While it might indeed be true, you would be hard-pressed to make a convincing argument that says the majority of the apostles never wrote anything.  But, what we do have is what the all-powerful God of heaven decided was necessary for us to have.

We do not have recorded for us all the words and acts of Jesus Christ.  In fact, John said it would be impossible to write everything that Christ did (John 21:25).  But do we have what we need?  Absolutely!  Even if we do not have everything written by each apostle, we still have those things we need to get us to heaven.  The all-powerful God has given us what He decided we need.  Other letters would not give us anything new or different than what we already have.

So, if someone tries to claim that the Bible is incomplete, let them know that the all-powerful God has made sure we have everything that we need to get to heaven.  The Bible, therefore, is perfect and complete.  God included everything we need.  If God wanted other books in the Bible, they would already be in there.

-Bradley Cobb

Preconceived Notions

There are many times in life when mistakes are made because one has preconceived notions that prove to be false.  People bring their own biases to the Bible when they read and study it.  Perhaps they view it through the lens of Calvinism, Pentecostalism, or even atheism.  Whatever it is, these people have preconceived biases or notions.

The same thing was true in biblical times.  Throughout the Gospel accounts and Acts it can be seen that people had preconceived ideas of what the Messiah would be.  Therefore, they read all the prophecies with that lens, expecting the prophecies to back up their biases.

That the Israelites expected an earthly king is obvious.  Jesus refuted the idea by stating to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world…” (John 18:36).  It was not just the common Jews or even the overly strict Pharisees that thought this.  This view even permeated into Christ’s own chosen apostles!  One would think that after three years of teaching, they would understand the nature of Christ’s kingdom, but still they did not!  Even in the last moments of Christ’s time on earth before the ascension, they still expected an earthly kingdom.  Acts 1:6 says, “they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”  Even Jesus’ closest disciples had preconceived notions and biases.  Can Christians today possibly be so bold and brash as to say they do not?

All throughout the first part of Acts, it is apparent that Peter and the other apostles had to deal with people’s preconceived notions.  He proclaims,  “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know (Acts 2:22).”  Peter was telling them: LOOK!  This was happening right in front of you!  God was showing His approval of Christ in that Jesus was working miracles through Him, and you saw it!  In preaching to the crowd of onlookers, he said “Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you…which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:20-21).”  Peter is basically telling them: God has been telling you about the Christ since the beginning.  You should have known Jesus was the One.  Earlier in the chapter he acknowledges that they were ignorant of the true meaning of the scriptures (Acts 3:17-18).  Peter convicted them, saying that their preconceived ideas kept them from recognizing that Jesus was the Christ.

Jesus is called “the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become head of the corner (Acts 4:11).”  This is a reference to the Jews rejecting Jesus.  It is strange that the Jews were looking forward so much to the Messiah that when He came, they didn’t recognize Him.  The reason for this was that they had preconceived ideas of what He would be.

If they would have let the Scripture speak for itself, they would have known Jesus as the Christ from the beginning.  Christians today also need to let the scriptures speak for themselves.  There are many doctrines in the religious world that people assume (preconceived idea) are in the Bible.   Ideas such as “faith only” and “once saved, always saved” are not found in the Bible.  But when some read the scriptures, it is read through that lens.  In doing so, the truth that is plain to see is missed.  All should learn from the lesson of those Jews.  Preconceived ideas should be left behind and the Holy Spirit should be allowed to plainly speak the truth to all through His Word.

–Bradley Cobb

Restoration Moments – Samuel Rogers’ Surprise

He’s cold, wet, and completely at the mercy of total strangers.  And when he sees their faces–he learns something very important.

Today’s Restoration Moment comes from the pages of Toils and Struggles of the Olden Times: The Autobiography of Elder Samuel Rogers, available in print or as an eBook from Cobb Publishing.  Enjoy!

It had been raining on me most of the way, but it now suddenly blew up from the North and be­came quite cold. I crossed a small river about dark, near Madison, called Indian Kentuck. I learned of the ferryman that my way led up a small stream, and that the nearest house was about five miles distant. I suppose I could have found lodging with the ferryman, but, being anxious to get home, I determined to pass on to the five-mile house. I found the way very rough, and, I think, in going the four miles, I crossed this stream, which I was following, at least a dozen times. I now came to what proved to be the last ford I had to cross until I arrived at camp. There was a thin ice upon the water, and my horse seemed unwilling to cross. I struck him with my whip, and he plunged into the water, which covered horse, saddle and all; but Paddy, being an excellent swimmer, landed me safe on the shore; but I was completely drenched up to my waist. I had gone but a short distance when I discovered that my clothing was frozen stiff upon me. I now traveled at a rapid gait until I came to the house alluded to, and saw through the window a large, blazing fire. Never in my life had a fire appeared so inviting. I hallooed, and a gentleman came to the fence to learn what I wanted. I soon told him my condition, and was not slow in making known my wants. “Light,” said he, “and go in to the fire; my wife will assist you in drying your clothes, while I will attend to your horse.”

I was soon by the fire, and the woman of the house was very active and handy in waiting upon me. To my astonishment, I discovered that she had a black face. When the gentleman came in, I saw that he was of the same color, but I felt that this was no time for drawing nice distinctions. They were kind, their fire was warm, their house was comfortable, and I was made welcome.

The whitest faces could do no better.

In the course of the conversation, the woman found out that I was a preacher, and that I had obtained my first license from Barton W. Stone, at Cane Ridge, in Bourbon County. “Why,” said the woman, “my father-in-law lives there now; and we are all members of that church.” Upon inquiry, she told me her father-in-law’s name was Charles Mason. I knew him very well. We now seemed almost like kinsfolk. A good, hot supper was soon prepared for me, and I enjoyed it very much. We then had worship. They then left me for the night, to enjoy to myself a warm room, nice, clean bed, and refreshing slumbers. They were up before daylight; had a blazing fire for me to get up by; had my horse fed, and an excellent breakfast prepared, which I ate with a relish. I offered to compensate them for their trouble, but they would not receive anything. After a morning prayer, I thanked them, and went on my way for sweet home. I shall ever remember with gratitude the kind­ness of those people, and I hope they may be abundantly rewarded— here and hereafter.

NO, NO, NO!!!!

I am completely sick and tired of the constant barrage of sin being bandied about on TV, movies, and everywhere else you look.  The media, the politicians, and the court system are repeatedly pushing homosexuality in our faces.

Christians, it’s time to STAND UP and do something about it!

The latest attack is being thrown our way courtesy of a movie that the Cobb family HAD been anxiously awaiting.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 has been on our “must-see” list for months.

Then today we read that the director of the movie has decided that one of the main supporting characters (Gobber) is a homosexual.  It wasn’t initially planned that way, but the voice actor made a joking statement while recording his lines, and the director decided it was going in the movie, and has already begun making plans to further explore Gobber’s sexuality in the third movie.

The idea of a homosexual viking is stupid to begin with, but this is being done as part of a push to so normalize homosexuality (aka SIN) that our kids will think it’s acceptable.

The line in the movie goes like this, “And this is why I never married.  Well, that and one other reason.”

That, obviously can be open to interpretation, but the director has come out boldly proclaiming exactly what it means.  Here is the report from FoxNews.  A quick Google search will bring up dozens (if not hundreds) of identical reports.

Some might just shake their heads and say, “I’m not surprised.”  No, sin isn’t a surprise.  But is that an excuse for sitting on our backsides and doing nothing about it?

Friends, the homosexuals have the momentum, and if Christians keep shaking their heads, acting like nothing can be done, then they will keep making more headway.  This isn’t going to stop.  They’re already promoting this abomination in schools.  They’re putting it front of the kids at every opportunity.

WAKE UP!

Make your voice heard.  The only way to slow them down is for a massive backlash to come from those who stand for the truth.  We have witnessed this in the last year with the “Chick-Fil-A Day.”  We saw it with the massive backlash at A&E when they tried to get rid of Phil Robertson for speaking the truth about homosexuality.

Write letters.  Send emails.  Make phone calls.  Spread the word.

The movie is made by Dreamworks Animation, and their contact information  is below:

*100 Universal City Plaza Dr.,
Bldg. 5121*
Universal City, CA 91608
Phone: *(818)733-9300*

Bible Q&A – Lost Books of the Bible?

Question: I keep hearing about “Lost Books of the Bible.”  Should these books be in our Bibles?—anonymous.

Thanks for the question!  I, too, once had the same question.  I have a book in my library that claims to be “Lost Books of the Bible.”  It sounds sensational, but the title is misleading.  When you hear about supposed “lost books of the Bible” on TV, radio, magazines, or internet, that’s also quite misleading.  Here’s why:

First, these books were never part of the Bible to begin with.  Books like The Gospel of Peter, or The Gospel of Judas, or any of a hundred more with similar titles were never considered part of the Bible.  There is no historical record—none whatsoever—that these books were ever put on equal standing with the Bible.  No Christian in history ever believed these books were actually part of God’s word.

Second, these books were written far too late to be an actual part of the Bible.  With only a few possible exceptions, every one of these supposed “lost books of the Bible” were written in the mid-second century or later.  Jesus told the apostles that He would guide them (the apostles) into all truth by means of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).  When we read what the apostles wrote, we will have the same knowledge that they had (Ephesians 3:3-5).  The apostles were all dead for close to 100 years before these so-called “lost books of the Bible” were written.  Any books written after the apostles died are not inspired by God.

Third, these “lost books” weren’t ever really lost.  They were known and mentioned by writers for hundreds of years after they were written.  The fact is, they weren’t really of any value, so people eventually stopped reading them or even mentioning them.  So, after a while people basically forgot they existed.  Then hundreds of years later, some archaeologists found some of these books in Egypt.  They were never “lost.”  They just got put away and never used again.

Something else you might find interesting regarding these no-so-“lost books” is this: One of the reasons Christians knew these books weren’t really from God is that a lot of them are ridiculous.  Take, for example, this quote from the book called The Gospel of Thomas:

Simon Peter said to them, “Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “Look, I am going to invite her to make her male so that she too might become a living spirit like you males. For every female that makes itself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Women must become men in order to get to heaven?  Now you can see why it was never considered to be from God.

So, the things that people claim as the “Lost Books of the Bible” weren’t ever really lost, and they were never part of the Bible to begin with.

—Bradley Cobb

The Angels Pecked on Me?

One of the funnest things to hear is a child reciting song lyrics, because you know that inevitably they will have misunderstood some of the lines.  And honestly, which one of us hasn’t ever misunderstood the words of one song or another?

In the 70′s there was a song called “Drift Away,” and when I was a kid, I thought the guy was saying, “Give me the Beach Boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.”  It took a long time before I realized it said “Give me the beat, boys.”  One of the most famous examples is Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.”  You know the line, “there’s a bathroom on the right,” except it actually says, “there’s a bad moon on the rise.”

This misunderstanding of song lyrics isn’t confined to popular music.  I knew a little boy who was scared of angels because of the song which said, “the angels pecked on me from heaven’s open door.”  Some people have wondered why we sing “peas, perfect peas.”  Others question “Who is Father Along, and why will he know all about it?”  The list of misheard hymn lyrics is actually quite extensive.

When children misunderstand things, it is cute.  When adults misunderstand things, it’s not.

If you are married, then you have had this discussion:  “I told you ___________.”  “Wait.  I thought you meant ____________.”

I guarantee that the response from your spouse wasn’t, “Awww, that’s so cute that you misunderstood.”  Many times, the response is “No, I said this,” or some other such thing that shows they don’t find your misunderstanding cute, humorous, or anything remotely like it.

There are so many areas in which we need to work harder to understand.

Most importantly, we need to work harder to understand God’s word.  Most of the religious division in the world comes from people misunderstanding parts of God’s word—sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, and sometimes it is just because they don’t bother to try.  But wouldn’t it be great if the religious division disappeared and we all began to unite with a proper understanding of God’s word?

We need to work harder to understand our spouses—what they think, what they are saying, what they mean, what they need.  A large number of the arguments between spouses are because they weren’t on the same page [aka didn’t understand where the other was coming from].  Wouldn’t it be great if the arguments in your marriage began to disappear?

We are going to misunderstand things from time to time.  Let’s do our best to make sure that it isn’t for lack of trying.

–Bradley Cobb

Restoration Moments – The Conversion of Blue Dick

A miserable drunk.  A congregation who wanted nothing to do with him.  And the power of the gospel.

Today’s Restoration Moment comes from the book, The Life of Knowles Shaw: Singing Evangelist (by William Baxter).  This book is available as a free download from the Gravel Hill church of Christ (scroll down to “Biographies”).  Enjoy!

Knowles Shaw was holding a meeting at some point on the Ohio River, where it was necessary for him to cross frequently. The first night of his meeting, he went down to the river, but found the only ferryman to be a poor, ragged, besotted wretch, no hat on his head, his hair matted, his whole person filthy in the extreme, and giving evidence that he was even then under the influence of drink. His appearance was so forbidding, and his condition such that Shaw was doubtful as to whether it would be safe to entrust himself in a frail skiff with such a ferryman. And had there been any other and safer means of getting across he would have availed himself of it. But there was no other chance, and with some misgivings as to the result, he entered the boat. He soon found that, though under the influence of liquor, the ferryman knew how to manage his skiff, and feeling at ease on that matter, he began to talk with him. He asked him his name.

“Blue Dick,” was the reply.

“But,” said Shaw, “that is not really your name.”

“Well,” said he, “if I have any other, it has been so long since I heard it, I have almost forgotten what it is.”

Changing the subject abruptly, he asked, “Why don’t you quit drinking?”

“I can’t,” said the poor wretch.

“Yes, you can,” replied Shaw.

Wondering that a stranger should take any interest in him, he said, “Mister, do you think I could?”

“Of course you can,” said Shaw, in a kind and assuring manner.

The poor fellow sat for some time in silence. It was long since any word of sympathy, interest or encouragement had fallen upon his ear, and the kind words of the stranger reached the heart which all his neighbors thought had ceased to feel. Deeply moved, he looked up and said, earnestly:

“Mister, do you really think I could quit drinking?”

“Have you a wife and children?”

In a voice choked with emotion, and weeping bitterly, he said that he had. The way was now open. Shaw told him he was a preacher, and asked him to come and hear him.

“Why,” said he, “you would not let such a one as me come; and if you were willing, others would not like to see me there.”

Shaw urged him to come, assured him that he should be welcome; that instead of being out of the reach of mercy, that it was such as he that Jesus came to save. Tenderly and earnestly he besought him to change his course, until the poor ferryman began to think that there might be hope even for him. On reaching the other side, Shaw paid him his fare, and, as he did so, he pointed to a saloon that was near, and said, “I do not like the idea of this money going to such a place as that; can’t you promise me that you will not drink any tonight, and I will come back, and you shall take me over the river again.” Blue Dick gave the required promise and they parted; the preacher going to the house of God, and the ferryman, with emotions such as had not stirred in his heart for years, standing in deep thought by the rapid river under the watching stars.

After meeting, Brother Shaw went down to the river, found Blue Dick waiting for him, showing by his manner that he had kept his promise not to drink. He gave him a few words of encouragement, and obtained his promise that he would come and hear him preach the following night.

Great was the astonishment of many to see Blue Dick at church, and greater still to see the preacher, who had seen him come in and drop into the first empty seat that he found near the door, come up to him, take him by the hand, speak a few kind words to him, and ask him to come again. Night after night he came, and the warm hand of the preacher never failed to give that of Blue Dick a friendly grasp, and the fitting words spoken did not fail to strengthen the new purposes that were beginning to take shape in his mind.

The coming of this one, and the marked attention shown him by the preacher, led some of the brethren to fear, yes fear, that this poor outcast might offer himself for membership. They even expressed their fears to Brother Shaw, and predicted that it would ruin the church if one such as he should attempt to enter the fold. Brother Shaw, however, did not fail to show, in their loveliest colors, the tenderness and compassion of Him who came to give hope to the hopeless, to seek and to save the lost. The lost sheep, and the wayward, wretched, ruined prodigal seemed to point to Blue Dick, and Blue Dick himself began to think they meant him; and one night, when the preacher, with even more than his wonted earnestness, urged the despairing and lost to come to Christ as their only hope, Blue Dick rose to come forward and accept the gospel offer. The preacher went half-way down the aisle to meet him; angels doubtless, too, at that moment gave expression to their joy in glad song, and He who died to save the lost was, doubtless, glad to see that the lost was found.

But, alas! while there was joy in heaven, the coming of poor Blue Dick to confess his Lord, to strive to lead a better life, did not send a thrill of joy through the church; some there were who, like the elder son in the parable, thought that the returned wanderer would never be other than a disgrace to the family, thought that Blue Dick had gone too far to retrace his steps, and that his newly-formed resolutions would be broken on the very first invitation to take a drink, and that he would soon sink to even a lower depth, if possible, than before. Such was the feeling of opposition with regard to him that Brother Shaw did not take his confession and baptize him for several days, feeling, doubtless, that until he could change their views on the subject, that their coolness would repel and discourage, rather than help and save.

Before the meeting closed, to the wonder of the whole community, Blue Dick made a public confession of his faith in Christ, was baptized, and by his consistent life soon disarmed whatever of objection remained, and was regarded as a standing proof of the power of the gospel.

Years passed by; the faithful evangelist revisited the same place. Blue Dick was no longer there; he was transformed into Brother George M., one of the best members of the church.  He was living in a comfortable home, surrounded by a loving and happy family, with every mark of neatness and thrift about them. As soon as Brother Shaw had entered this happy Christian home, the one who had been Blue Dick said: “Brother Shaw, kneel down and thank God for what he has done for me, that I, who when you met me was a poor, miserable, drunken sinner, have been lifted up, and, by the mercy of God, am what I am today.” Down they knelt; preacher, husband, wife, and children, all, all wept; but they were tears of joy; and when they parted it was in the glad hope of meeting in that blessed land where no partings shall be.

Bible Q&A – God is Very Pitiful?

Why does the Bible say that God is “very pitiful”? (James 5:11).  Doesn’t “pitiful” mean “pathetic”?—T.P., from Oklahoma.

Thanks for the question!  As I’m sure you’re aware, over time, some words can change meanings.  The word “pitiful” originally meant “full of pity.”  That means, you took pity, or compassion on someone’s condition and circumstances, and helped them.

On the other side of the coin, if you were that person who was in a horrible situation, you were to be “pitied.”  You’ve heard people say, “I don’t want your pity”?  They’re saying they don’t want to be viewed as someone who’s having a rough time who’s needing help.

Over the 400+ years since the King James Version came out, the word “pitiful” has come to be used to refer to the person who is to be pitied instead of the one who has pity on them.  In fact, people would think you were quite strange if you used the word properly and announced to the world, “I am very pitiful!”

So, while it is common for people to use the word “pitiful” as a synonym for “pathetic” or “to be pitied,” that’s not what the word actually means.  And that’s not what it meant in James 5:11.

If you want to know something really cool about this verse, then you’ll love this: The Greek word that’s translated “very pitiful” literally means “much-hearted”, or to say it in a more modern way, “has a big heart.”

Isn’t it great to know that God has a big heart when it comes to His people?

–Bradley Cobb