Category Archives: Brotherhood brawling

Talking About What We Don’t Understand

I rarely read those group e-mails that get sent out. If someone wants to send me something, they can send it to me personally. I especially avoid anything that says “Fwd:” in the subject line.

But the other day I read an article that a brother was sending to a lot of us who work among Spanish speakers. When I got to the bottom of the article, I realized that it had merely been copied from a web site.

The writer was attacking the “modern versions,” especially focusing on Acts 20:28. He was defending the 1602 Valera version in Spanish and the 1611 King James version in English — not realizing, of course, that these two versions disagree with one another on the translation of this particular verse. The article railed against Westcott and Hort and the Alexandrian texts that they followed, praising the integrity of the Byzantine texts. It accused later versions of wanting to deny the deity of Jesus by changing “church of God” to “church of the Lord” in this verse.

Unfortunately, whoever wrote this particular piece apparently hadn’t done their homework. Several Alexandrian texts read “church of God” in this passage. Several Byzantine texts read “church of the Lord.” And there are lots of variants from there. In English, it’s the King James that reads “church of the Lord” and the modern texts which read “church of God.” It just so happened that that trend was reversed in Spanish.

What I find sad is that people can be so intent on arguing about something that they will argue even when they have little understanding of the subject they are arguing about! I especially tire of this when it comes to versions, as accusations are thrown around about “they made this change to promote ___.”

I have long said that I in my years of study I have only found one version that made intentional changes while translating: the New World Translations produced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Admittedly, there may be some that I haven’t seen. And I know that the Conservative Bible Project is doing their level best to produce a “translation” that will match their views. But in general, translators are trying to do just that: translate.

I’m going to try and do better about giving people the benefit of the doubt, especially those that disagree with me. I hope you’ll do the same.

The war that almost was

mapJoshua 22 tells an interesting story of how civil war almost struck the nation of Israel at the time of its very founding. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had chosen land east of the Jordan for their inheritance; however, they agreed to cross the Jordan and help the other tribes secure their land. Once the conquest was “finished” (although it really wasn’t), Joshua dismissed these tribes and allowed them to go back to their lands. Joshua sternly warned them to keep the Lord’s commandments.

After they crossed the Jordan river, these “easterners” erected an altar. The other tribes were scandalized to see that their kinsmen had fallen into idolatry so quickly. They determined to erase this blight once and for all, so the Bible says “the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.” These men were battle-hardened veterans; they knew what war was, and they were ready to fight.

Fortunately they saw fit to send a delegation ahead of the troops. This delegation learned that the altar had been erected not for the purpose of sacrifice, but as a sign of unity, reminding the people on the east side of the river of their connection to those on the west and reminding their occidental brothers that they too were part of the people of God. (They said that they would be able to say “Behold, the pattern” to any who doubted their connection to God’s people, meaning that their unauthorized altar was a replica of the authorized one. Ironically, that saying became the title of a book against “unauthorized” things in the church.)

The visitors were satisfied with the explanation. The delegation returned to the waiting troops and told them it had all been a misunderstanding. A civil war was averted.


I see a powerful lesson here. We can’t judge by appearances alone. When we see something that looks wrong to us, we should investigate, not accuse. We should always be ready to think the best of our brothers in Christ.

Do we give our brothers the benefit of the doubt, or do we prepare for war? How many Christians fall due to “friendly fire”?


 The Cookie Thief
by Valerie Cox

A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shops.
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be.
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”

With each cookie she took, he took one too,
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, as he ate the other,
She snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother.
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude,
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude!

She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.

She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.

If mine are here, she moaned in despair,
The others were his, and he tried to share.
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.


“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” (III John 9-10)
I fear that many of our brethren have not paid much attention to the story of Diotrephes. Our brotherhood has been plagued for years with “finger pointing” publications, those that feel the need to try and point out every speck in everyone else’s eye. Brother maligning brother, filling their pages with venom instead of ink. I guess what really saddens me is to see the pleasure that some brethren take in finding error in others. It seems so ungodly.
Another sin of which Diotrephes is accused is refusing to welcome the brothers. It’s sad to say, but this has been seen in our brotherhood. One congregation refuses to accept another because they have a fellowship hall. Or have a paid preacher. Or have Sunday school. Or use multiple cups to take the Lord’s Supper. Or support orphan’s homes. Or… well, you probably know the stories better than I. Some brothers take pride in drawing ever more exclusive circles, bragging about being part of one of the few “faithful congregations that are left.” I’ve never talked to anyone who was a member of one of those “faithful congregations” who didn’t also claim to be one of the dwindling number of truly faithful Christians within that congregation. It was said of one brother: “He only fellowshiped the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost… and he had his doubts about the Holy Ghost.”
Diotrephes is also described as wanting to prevent others from fellowshiping certain brethren and for putting them out of the church for doing so. I was reading something recently on the Internet in which one brother was denouncing several others for having appeared on a lectureship with “false teachers.” The writer said that if these men didn’t repent, they should also be marked as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Diotrephes would have been proud.
I fear that the spirit of Diotrephes is alive and well in our brotherhood. It brings discord and division. It also distracts us from our main mission of seeking the lost. Our eyes turn inward instead of outward, and we waste precious energy fighting amongst ourselves instead of fighting for the Kingdom. There are false teachers around, and we need to beware of them. But we also need to beware of the spirit of Diotrephes, the divisive, judgmental spirit that ravages churches across our land. If we allow it to take root in our congregations, it will destroy the body.
May God grant us the desire to fight for the unity of His church. For it is a godly fight.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

Singing strife

I’ll confess to having unusual tastes in church music. Far and away my favorite hymn writer is Isaac Watts (“Joy to the World,” “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” etc.). Most of my favorite songs were written before 1900; these are songs that have stood the test of time.

It wasn’t until the last few years that I learned that Mr. Watts was actually a little controversial in his day. In his day, many churches taught that the only approved lyrics for singing in church were found in the book of Psalms. Watts found the traditional songs stale and irritating and set out to create new ones. He resolved to write at least one song a week for the church where he attended, and he produced over 700 hymns in the next few years. Hymns that many Christians refused to sing because of their unscriptural nature. Watts was accused of having left the faith, and some churches actually split over whether or not to sing his songs. One traditionalist complained, “Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired psalms and taken in Watts’ flights of fancy!”

I’ve gained a new understanding of one of his songs, because the meaning becomes clear when you read the words in light of these fights. The words are familiar, yet take on a new meaning when you see the challenge Watts lays before his detractors:

Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
Join in a song with sweet accord
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne.

Let those refuse to sing,
Who never knew our God;
But children of the heavenly King,
But children of the heavenly King
May speak their joys abroad,
May speak their joys abroad.

If you love the Lord, join in this song. If you never knew God, feel free to refuse to sing. Children of the heavenly King will join in. Folks, them’s fightin’ words.

It’s a good thing people don’t squabble over such things today.

Labels, labels, labels

“I never call Christians or others ‘anti’s,’ ‘digressives, ‘ mossbacks,’ ‘tackies,’ or ‘trash.’ I concede to all, and accord to all, the same sincerity and courtesy I claim for myself, as the Golden Rule demands…” T.B. Larimore

As I’ve taken another look at Restoration History the last few years, I’ve become a fan of T. B Larimore. I’d love to be known as a man who refuses to take sides and who refuses to label others. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the church where I grew up in San Angelo, Texas, was basically started through a one-month gospel meeting by T. B. Larimore. I guess some of his views were imparted to me from very young. One of those views is a deep-set distrust of labels.

Conservative. Liberal. Change agent. Anti. Progressive. Digressive… who wears what label depends on who is speaking. It’s rare that someone applies a label to himself. I’ve been called sectarian. I’ve been called liberal. I’ve been called a legalist. I’ve even been called evil (I’m sure that e-mail was sent in Christian love!). And all for expressing basically the same ideas. It just depends on where the other person is standing. In the big scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter what others say:“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Cor 4:3-4) Still, I hate to see people resort to labels. There are several reasons why:

  1. When we resort to labels, we’ve stopped viewing the other person as an individual. We judge them in terms of other people, not according to what they actually think and believe.
  2. When we resort to labels, we stop listening. “Everything you’ve got to say, I’ve heard before from others just like you.”
  3. When we resort to labels, we tend to fall back on preset ways of reacting. “Post-modernists think this way, and here’s what I always say to them.” If I were to accept anything that a “post-modernist” says, I’d be accepting everyone else to whom I’ve given that label.

So here’s one suggestion for preserving the integrity of our Lord’s church: stop the labeling!

If you want to heal wounds in the Lord’s Church today,
Gather all of your labels and put them away.
If you have to use labels, I suggest these and few others:
Christians, fellow saints, disciples and brothers.