Tag Archives: David Bragg

The Relationship Between Love And Unity — David Bragg

Many people in the Lord’s church today have a presence on Facebook and other social media. It can be a helpful way of keeping in touch with friends, literal, and “friends” of a less personal nature (they have no interaction outside of the online community). Part of our online presence is, on Facebook at least, often summed up in a single word: single, engaged, married, separated, divorced. One of the relationship options is “widowed.” That single word, according to an article dated December 29, 2017 on Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, raised the suspicions of Florida authorities leading to the eventual charges against a man accusing him of attempting to murder his pregnant wife.1

There were other clues. Among them, according to reports, the 32-year-old man warned his estranged wife to not allow a child to touch the knob on her front door. When his wife mentioned this odd request to her step-father, he went over to her house to investigate. After looking over the scene the woman’s step-father contacted police who discovered a battery charger connected to the inside knob of the front door in such a way that to insert a key into the lock would complete the electrical circuit sending a shock through the person seeking to unlock the door and enter the home. Another hint: the accused had changed his Facebook status to “widowed.”

Relationships are important, especially when it comes to Christian fellowship. Healthy, scriptural fellowship in all its various facets is the result of the careful balance of two vital traits that lays at the heart of New Testament Christianity: love and unity. This precarious balance can be clearly seen in John’s portrait of Jesus. In John’s gospel account, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7 and 21:20) provides his readers with a unique look into Jesus as He interacts with His disciples on a level not pictured in the synoptic Gospels. John describes in depth Christ’s words to the chosen twelve on His final night with them prior to His arrest and execution. Part of that final conversation included Jesus’ prayer. High among the thoughts occupying the Lord’s mind on this agonizing night was the idea of unity (John 17:20-26). It is vital to keep in mind that in this portion of Jesus’ prayer, our Lord was praying for us, the then future Christians who “will believe in Me through [the apostles’] word” (John 17:20). What we learn from Jesus is crucial in establishing and maintaining fellowship.

Love for Christ produces unity. As Jesus’ thoughts progress in His betrayal night prayer from the chosen twelve to the multitude of yet unborn believers it becomes clear that the unity of this body will rest in their mutually shared love for Christ. The very basis for a single body of believers stretching across the centuries is their love for and obedience to Jesus Christ. Listen to His words: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:20). It is the mutually shared faith in Jesus as the Christ, the God ordained Savior and the God appointed Head of the one true New Testament church that provides the very basis of our unity in the church of Christ.

Jesus prayed specifically “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:4). That same love which eternally exists between the divine Father and Son must also exist between believer and Lord (14:15 and 15:14). It is on this very basis that unity among believers of this common faith is possible: “that they may be one just as We are one” (17:22).

Love for the truth protects unity. The events of the closing chapters after Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17) move quickly. In just the next chapter Jesus is betrayed and arrested, brought before Annas (a former yet still influential High Priest; 18:13), denied by Peter, taken before the current High Priest Caiaphas (18:24) and then He was finally brought before the Roman Governor, Pilate (18:28). Forced to hear the case against Jesus (John 18:29-32), the reluctant judge questions Him. “Are You the King of the Jews?” (18:33) “My kingdom is not of this world” (18:36). “Are You a king then?” (18:37) This last question prompts this response: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (18:37).

It was this final declaration that elicited the infamous response by Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) We know the truth to which Christ referred. In fact, it is that “truth” which protects the church from the eroding influence of division. We have that truth preserved for us in the inspired New Testament (“Your word is truth” —17:17). This powerful Word of God protects the body of believers by laying down the boundaries of the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). Preserving our unity in Christ goes hand in hand with keeping or obeying God’s Word (John 17:4).

Love for our brethren preserves unity. The preserving effect of love is powerfully declared by Jesus as He concluded His prayer in John 17:26: “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” When the church’s fellowship is infused with a love “like” God, the love of Christ will sweeten that fellowship. However, when that fellowship is broken we can be assured that someone’s love for God has faltered. A failure to love God, His Son, and the inspired Word of God is certain to create the fissures of division of which Jesus, who prayed that we be one (John 17:21), and Paul, who condemned division in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 1:10), warned.

Love is indispensable to unity. Unity is impossible without love. Yet when these two qualities are properly balanced fellowship is enriched and God is glorified. Maintaining that balance is crucial in our efforts to evangelize. In His prayer, just hours away from the cross (John 17:4), Jesus emphasized the opportunities for outreach, evangelism, love and unity will create (“that the world may believe that You sent Me” — 17:21; cf. 17:23).

On May 11, 1811 twin sons were born in Meklong, Siam. These were no ordinary twins. The brothers were tightly joined together as few brothers could experience. They were literally connected at the chest by a narrow band of flesh. Coming to America in their late teens, the brothers, whose original birth names are lost to history, toured North America as Chang and Eng Bunker (Chang was the Chinese word for “left” and Eng meant “right”)2 and would become known as the original “Siamese twins.”

After touring for years with P. T. Barnum, the brothers met and married sisters in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where they would retire and raise large families. Although the brothers sought to be surgically separated, their wives were opposed to the idea and convinced the brothers to not undergo the surgery.

The families eventually settled in Surry County, NC. Chang became addicted to alcohol and, in early January 1874 contracted pneumonia. On the night of January 17, 1874, Eng awoke to find his brother dead. There are conflicting stories about what happened next. According to one account the family summoned a doctor to the farm to perform an emergency surgery to separate the brothers. But by the time the doctor arrived Eng had died. Another account claimed that Eng refused the families’ pleas to be separated and, knowing death was quickly approaching, stood vigil next to his brother’s corpse until he died three hours later. The brothers are buried in the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery near Mount Airy, NC.3

Regardless of which account squares with the truth, the reality is that on that January night one thing was clear to everyone involved, the death of Chang Bunker was a death sentence to Eng Bunker. While he remained connected to his twin brother it was certain that Eng could not continue living. The same thing is true regarding the relationship between love and unity within the New Testament church. They are inseparable. The death of one spells certain death for the other.

Dave serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.

1 Seth Robbins, Palm Coast man rigs door to electrocute pregnant wife, deputies say, Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, Dec 29, 2017.
2 Chang Chun Bunker, Eng Chun Bunker, http://www.geni.com, Burbank, CA. The information used in this article is not endorsed by or affiliated with Geni.

3 Eng and Chang Bunker, The Original Siamese Twins, Surry Arts Council, Mount Airy NC, 2018; http://surryarts.org/siamesetwins/index.html

Having To Say Something Or Having Something To Say — David Bragg

Mark Twain is credited with saying that the “difference between the almost right word and the right word is…the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning” (www.goodreads.com). A similar dilemma faces the preacher trying to make the decision of what to preach on Sunday. The terrifying answer, from the viewpoint of the pew, is that the preacher simply comes up with something to say. The exhilarating answer, from the viewpoint of the pulpit, is that the preacher will have something to say that will help, bless, and challenge others to walk closer to God.

If there are exceptions, they are rare. No preacher should be frantically searching on Saturday night to decide what they will preach on Sunday morning. To do so, especially habitually, is to reflect a gross lack of understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a gospel preacher. The speaker who struggles from week to week to come up with “something to say” is not only destined for frustration, but will be doing a disservice to those whom he seeks to serve. Of even greater significance, he will be failing God by not becoming the man and the minister God wants him to become.

To be fair, the struggle of a preacher over the conundrum of what to preach may not be so easily dismissed as inadequate training or poor time management. The fact is that Sunday rolls around every week. In many cases, that means the preacher is required to prepare a lesson for Bible class and present two sermons. Then there is the mid-week Bible class. To properly prepare a Bible class lesson or sermon requires a greater investment of time and energy than many people expect. Add to these expectations other tasks such as hospital and home visits, personal evangelism, counseling, benevolence calls, editing and preparing the church bulletin, weddings, funerals, youth events, following up on visitors, keeping tabs on members who have become lax in attendance, mending friction, concerns and complaints that arise between members, and a multitude of other expectations placed upon the preacher. These can contribute to the preacher’s struggle with sermon preparation. In addition, the preacher must not neglect his family, a delicate balance especially as his children grow older. A sensitive eldership and observant church leaders should do what they can to make sure the preacher has adequate time for sermon preparation.

Ultimately, however, the preacher is responsible for how he uses his time in sermon preparation. Fortunately, there are some important steps to progress from needing to say something to having something beneficial to say.

First is to develop a healthy devotional life. When it comes to the Bible, familiarity breeds spiritual maturity. If the preacher is not growing spiritually, how can he expect such growth from those he teaches? If as a young preacher one adopts the disciple of reading through the Bible once a year, imagine the blessings he would reach after twenty years. There is much to be said for such devotional practices in which one does not read the Bible looking for a lesson to preach but rather to gain insight into drawing closer and enriching his relationship with God. Such deepening knowledge of God’s inspired Word will pay rich dividends.

One of the best ways for the preacher to avoid the turmoil of staring at a blank piece of paper on his desk, desperately willing that an idea will come to him so he will have something to say as Sunday morning rapidly approaches, is to adopt a workable plan or timetable for his sermons. The preacher who etches out a proposed plan, even if it is only a month ahead, alleviates a tremendous amount of pressure. Extending out further to three, six, or even twelve months of proposed sermons will allow the preacher to have more “breathing room” from the frantic stress of last minute sermon preparation. Such an approach will allow the preacher to chart out his lessons to ensure that his sermons have a more balanced representation from all various divisions of the Bible (Acts 20:27), provide him more time to “live with” the text or topic while accumulating insight into the deeper meaning of God’s Word, look for and collect relevant and memorable illustrations, and make personal application to his own life before challenging others to do the same.

A third suggestion is for the preacher to demand of himself never to step into the pulpit to preach a sermon without a clear, practical purpose. Except for delivering a lesson at odds with sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3), few things will be more unfair to those in the pew than to walk away from a sermon asking, “So what?” What does God expect to result from the study of the text or topic the preacher has selected? A clear purpose statement will serve the preacher well as a guide to what the lesson should accomplish and a measure for how well he has achieved that purpose. With these thoughts in mind, the preacher can step into the pulpit with greater confidence that he has prepared something worth saying that will bring a blessing to his hearers and glory to God.

One of the great privileges in life is to stand before a congregation of God’s people and proclaim the Word. He does not proclaim a message of his own making. If he has done his job properly he will stand as a herald proclaiming God’s truth. The herald is only a middleman speaking on behalf of one with greater authority. He speaks on behalf of the king. When the preacher stands before a congregation to preach, he is not speaking on his own authority, but on the authority of the King! Therefore, the preacher takes onto his shoulders a tremendous responsibility as he dares to stand and deliver a lesson from the eternal King (Jas. 3:1).

David serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.

 

The High Cost of “Cheap” Grace – David Bragg

God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense! Unmerited Favor! Every major branch of “Christianity” believes in it. Countless minions blindly trust it. Sadly the day will dawn to the sad realization that few accurately understood it. So what is grace?

The Definition of Grace

 Translated from the Greek word charis, grace describes a display of favor, especially from God to man. Grace is the tender heart of God through which the plan of salvation was extended to an unworthy humanity. The gospel is, Paul argued, offered by grace and is accepted by faith (Ephesians 2:8).  While the denominational world is deeply divided by what Paul wrote next (“gift of God,” “not of works”), his words effectively capture the essence of grace. It is a gift for which no explanation can be given but that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It is His gracious heart.

How does one personally access God’s grace? Paul’s answer is, “through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). From the very beginning of Christianity the gospel message was preached and the recipients of God’s grace were instructed to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Throughout the remainder of the New Testament believers marched through the portal of grace by simple obedience in baptism (Acts 16:22; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21). It is in baptism that obedient faith embraces divine grace resulting in the confidence of salvation (1 John 5:13). Those who thus obey and faithfully live in Christ claim God’s divine offer of salvation and are vested with grace’s confidence to access the very presence of God (Hebrews 4:16).

Denominations Have Misapplied Grace

Centuries ago Chinese rulers constructed their famous wall. It was built high and thick to discourage invaders. Yet during the first hundred years of its existence China was invaded several times. Their enemies didn’t go to the trouble of climbing across or breaking through, they just simply bribed the gatekeepers.1 Those gatekeepers are like the trusted religious leaders who “sold out” those they professed to protect by offering them a cheap substitute to God’s amazing grace.

The best way to pervert the divine plan of salvation is to redefine grace. This was accomplished within Roman Catholic theology by their identification of two classes of grace: sanctifying (involved in conversion) and actual (individual divine intervention).2 Of course, the Roman Church claims power to restore the loss of even the sanctifying grace provided the fallen Catholic complies with the specified ordinances and the directives of the Catholic priests.

Grace was further adulterated by Martin Luther and John Calvin in what would become known as the Reformation Movement, leaving a lasting influence on doctrine of total depravity, the belief in original sin, the idea was advanced that mankind is unable to contribute anything to their salvation. They asserted that God’s grace was extended to only a preselected portion of the human race, those predestined by God.3 This new doctrine was contrary to the inspired teaching of Paul (Titus 2:11). True grace is available to all.

This redefined “grace” becomes a kind of “Get Out of Jail Free” card for spiritual security. Religious leaders insist that grace’s sole purpose is to protect the believer. Sit back. Relax. Let grace drive you straight to Heaven without any effort on your behalf. “After all, isn’t grace ‘the gift of God,’” they say pointing to Ephesians 2:8-9 as they decry “works salvation.”

It is obvious that no amount of obedience will ever be sufficient to earn one’s way into heaven (Ephesians 2:9). If such were possible Christ’s sacrifice on the cross would have been unnecessary. Grace is a divine gift that must be accepted by a living faith of active obedience (James 2:21-26). It may also be lost (Galatians 5:4). Many who object to the requirement of “works” in accessing God’s grace mainly object to the one “work” most clearly identified with salvation in the New Testament, baptism (although the one doing the baptizing is the one actually “working”).

 How Has Their Definition Influenced the Church?

While it may be tempting to resist the idea that the perversion of God’s grace by others has any impact within the church, it is nevertheless a fact. Consider this partial list of controversies that have rocked the Lord’s church in recent decades:

  • Instrumental music.
  • Marriage-Divorce-Remarriage.
  • The Unity Movement.
  • The New Hermeneutic.
  • Female leadership roles.
  • The necessity of baptism for salvation.

Each of these cases mimic the abuse of grace perpetrated by the denominational world. What pattern have they followed? Simply this: the best way to pervert the divine plan of salvation is to redefine grace. The easiest course for anyone seeking to do what the Bible specifically forbids is to embrace this denominational tactic. In their hands the inspired guidelines become simply “love letters,” the divine pattern is drained of its power, and even the clear boundaries between the New Testament church and the denominational world come crumbling down.

God’s true grace does not grant freedom for anyone to live their lives as they wish while still claiming grace’s protection. Grace in fact does the exact opposite. It “teaches” believers to live righteous lives (Titus 2:11-13). Grace is a spiritual “safety net” below the obedient believer, a safeguard for active faith when the inevitable falls occur (1 John 2:1-2). However, those who have grown complacent through a misunderstanding of grace will tend to use it as a hammock! Grace is not an excuse for complacency but an incentive to grow. It offers hope to sinners (Romans 5:1-2). It gives power to prayers (Hebrews 4:16). It draws Christians close to the very heart of God.

In the end “cheap” grace doesn’t save, it costs!

 

Endnotes:
1Pulpit Helps, No Security in High Walls. (Date unknown).

2 CatholicCulture.org, s.v. “Actual Grace,” http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=31646
3 While the word predestination does appear in the New Testament, Paul utilized it to describe all those who would be saved through the New Testament church, a predestined “class” rather than individual predestination.

David Bragg is the Associate Minister at the Northwest Church of Christ in Greensboro, NC