Reflections of Recent Events by Mark Mayberry
Brothers Kyle Pope and Doug Burleson engaged in a public discussion at the Freed-Hardeman University Renaissance Center in Dickson, TN, on November 15, 2019. Hundreds of brethren attended this event, many traveling considerable distances. The event was also live-streamed by Freed-Hardeman University and also the CEI Bookstore/TruthBooks.com. This face-to-face discussion followed a written exchange between these two men that was published in both Truth Magazine and The Gospel Advocate in October 2019.
I am deeply grateful to brothers Greg Tidwell (editor of the Gospel Advocate), Randy and Jodie Duke (owners of the Gospel Advocate), David Shannon (president of Freed-Hardeman University), along with the two participants, Doug Burleson and Kyle Pope. Doug and Kyle dedicated considerable time and effort into their written exchange, and the subsequent verbal dialogue.
The spirit manifested by all who were involved in this discussion has been admirable. Indeed, I sincerely appreciate the genuine warmth and brotherly affection that has been evident, not only in preliminary discussions, planning, and preparation but also in the actual presentation.
An open and honest discussion of differences that exist among brethren is good. Even debates can serve a beneficial purpose—revealing differences, defining positions, helping participants and interested observers to clarify their thinking, and, hopefully, come to a common understanding of God’s will.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Sparks can result in such circumstances, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In our passionate commitment to truth, we must also speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:14-16). Such a spirit prevailed in these recent efforts, not only between Doug and Kyle but also those who worked behind the scenes to make these written and oral discussions happen. A heartfelt thanks to Doug and Kyle, Randy and Jodie, along with Greg and David. I count you all as brethren and friends. — By Mark Mayberry
Summary of the Pope-Burleson Discussion by David Halbrook
On November 15, 2019 in Dickson, Tennessee at Freed-Hardeman University’s Renaissance Center, Kyle Pope and Doug Burleson met for a public conversation. This was not formatted in the style of a typical debate, but instead like a living room meeting, where both sides could ask a question, receive an immediate answer, ask follow-up questions, and offer/request clarifications.
This summary of that discussion will naturally not include many points and counter-points. Please view the entire discussion online at the website of the Olsen Park church of Christ (http://olsenpark.com/Video/Burleson-Pope-Discussion.mp4)
Both men began by expressing appreciation for every effort involved in the process that produced this meeting. They also expressed mutual respect and desire for unity. Among his introductory remarks, Kyle commented that while we cannot ignore differences, our conduct in working through them must be “as brothers,” citing 2 Thessalonians 3:15. Doug stated that he received some negative feedback about this discussion, being urged in one email not to “tear down fences we built,” but he explained his desire for brethren to understand whether we must live in “parallel universes,” teaching and doing many of the same things but never together. Doug emphasized the importance of understanding whether this controversy and division are primarily due to modernization or the will of the Lord.
Individual Benevolence (23:00)
Doug began by asking what kind of individual benevolent work is being done by non-institutional brethren. Kyle described how the needs of strangers who visit the assembly and request help are met. After some assessment of the request and need, various individuals volunteer to help. Also, Sacred Selections helps to meet the needs of orphans. Regarding the church’s work, Kyle contrasted Acts 11:28-30 and Philippians 4:14-16, showing churches relieving the benevolent needs of other churches by delivering funds to the hands of the elders while the needs of evangelists were met by sending funds to the evangelist, not to the elders. Doug then asked whether the practices of fasting, laying on of hands, confession of Christ in the water, and eating the Lord’s Supper in the evening are also binding or whether the principle of cultural context proves them to be permitted but not binding (Acts 13:3; 14:23; 8:35-39; 20:6).
Doug then focused on the treasury, asking what passages govern its formation and use. Kyle submitted 1 Corinthians 16:2 as identifying one purpose for the funds collected on the first day of the week. He added 2 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 9:1; and Romans 15:26 to identify the link between “fellowship” and the funds collected or distributed. Regarding the use of the funds, he pointed to the principle that any command that is given to the church authorizes the church to use funds for that purpose.
Christians and Churches (35:48)
Discussion of the treasury led to a more general discussion of “What defines the [local] church’s work?”. Doug expressed that the difference between Sacred Selections (SS), Florida College (FC), and Freed-Hardeman University (FHU) is “cloudy” because he saw no significance in “who” money is given through, as long as each church remains autonomous in its giving. Then he asked Kyle for an example of a missionary society. Kyle identified any institution that solicits money from churches as a missionary society, which also identified the primary distinction between SS, FC, and FHU.
After a brief question and answer regarding the principles involved in other divisions (no Bible class, “one cup,” etc.), Doug asked “Don’t y’all have institutions too?,” allowing Kyle to again clarify that they are all separated from the churches.
Principles of Benevolence (53:03)
Kyle asked Doug to define how authority is known in any matter. Doug pointed to Bible examples and declarative statements in the area of benevolence, starting with Galatians 6:10. He explained that the focus is on the saints but not to the exclusion of non-saints. He added that we must understand the historical context, theological context, literary context, genre, etc., as well as our “Post-Enlightenment” view of individualism, which was not shared in Galatia. While acknowledging that there are some things the corporate body can do that an individual cannot do, Doug said division on this topic not only involves authority but also is about 20th century Americanism, requiring us to consider Paul’s intent in what he wrote. Without these considerations, he believes we view our church buildings, money, and social activities in a way that is far more restrictive than Paul did. Based on their agreement that the distinction between the corporate body and the individual is not merely cultural, Kyle identified the failure to let Scripture define that difference as one of the causes of division.
This led to a more detailed discussion of Galatians 6:10. Doug asked several questions related to the culture and problems in Galatia prompting Paul to write to the churches. Kyle noted that the problems described affected many churches but some problems were individual (not congregational) in nature, such as the practice of circumcision.
Doug pointed to the way Paul addressed the Galatian saints in 6:1, 6, 9, and 11 as evidence of a congregational application of all that is said, including verse 10. Kyle said verse 10 could either be a statement identifying individual responsibility or was to be applied distributively, describing the general conduct of all Christians. I encourage you to view this section of the video.
Then Doug asked how restrictive 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 is–may the funds thus collected only be used for disaster relief? Kyle identified this passage as identifying how and when churches collect funds, and that other passages show how churches use what they have. Doug said that position is difficult to sustain being based simply on two verses in 1 Corinthians 16. For example, should a church accept a widow’s estate if it is officially turned over to the church on a Tuesday? Kyle acknowledged there are difficult circumstances but that does not change the original plan, adding that some people would say the practice of only singing (not playing) songs to God is based on two passages. Doug said “That’s different.” Kyle said “I don’t think so.”
The Treasury and Fellowship (1:13:04)
In Kyle’s observation, Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27 have become “gridlock” passages, often ending this discussion. So he asked how Doug explained the consistent use of the term “saints” in connection with the purpose of the collection and how the treasury, being frequently associated with koinonia (fellowship), could be offered to non-saints since fellowship with non-saints is forbidden. Doug stated that 2 Corinthians 6:14ff, being very individualistic in nature, must be considered alongside 1 Corinthians 5:11 where we are told we must associate with the world. Thus he concluded that koinonia is not always financial. Additionally, he noted that other passages include love, prayer, and service as fellowship. He then asked whether love, prayers, and service must also be withheld from non-saints. Kyle stated that other passages expand on love, prayer, and service for non-saints, but none do so regarding the church’s funds.
The church, the individual, and our identity in Christ (1:23:38)
Kyle returned to the difference between the church and individual, as illustrated in 1 Corinthians 11:18; 14:28, 34-35. Doug acknowledged that such differences exist but asked, due to our ongoing identity in Christ, how we can limit our benevolence since Jesus never did. Kyle stated that Jesus’ unlimited benevolence was as an individual. Kyle added that the limits of Jesus as our pattern is illustrated in the fact that Jesus followed the old law, requiring discernment in our appeals to His example.
Doug expanded on the Christian’s ongoing identity in Jesus, adding that Christ in us means the kingdom of God is always in us (Luke 17:21). Believing this, and that benevolence is tied to evangelism, he finds it hard to believe that the body of Christ cannot corporately serve the way Christ served. Kyle identified this as a false comparison because Jesus did this work individually and at times even turned people away (John 6), warning that shifting the church’s work beyond Scripture, shifts its purpose. Doug said this does not align with Jesus’ ethics or practices, which included benevolence to children (Mk. 9-10). As this discussion ended, Kyle stated that being acceptable to God means doing what we read in Scripture, following the examples given there. Doug replied that Jesus is our approved example.
Doug transitioned to the topic of institutions by asking whether there are any circumstances in which an unbaptized person could benefit from church funds, such as an unbelieving spouse married to a Christian or children. Kyle clarified this as a reference to benevolence, stating that the general New Testament teaching about the care of saints may incidentally involve unbelievers who are in the same household as believers. He then asked how this proves the church may fund another institution.
Doug pointed out the similarities between FC and FHU and asked Kyle to explain the differences, adding that the claim there is no relationship between the college and church is difficult to maintain. Kyle returned to the distinction between acting as a church and actions which do not represent the church, noting that there are no “church-affiliated institutions” in Scripture. Doug agreed that there are no “church of Christ institutions,” and added that the primary difference between he and Kyle is that he uses money from the treasury for these institutions and Kyle uses money that is not from the treasury. As a result, Doug concluded that, in the end, we are all supporting institutions. Their discussion is summarized by these questions: Kyle asked “Is everything we do as individuals, acting as a church?,” and Doug asked “When am I not representing the church of our Lord?”.
Kyle stated that if we are going to be united, we must figure these things out. I believe Doug would fully agree.
Closing remarks (1:53:06)
Both brothers expressed mutual love and desire for unity. Doug urged us all to do better in that effort. Kyle optimistically noted that though we disagree about where there is a pattern, at least we agree that there is a pattern. The evening concluded with prayer by our brother Greg Tidwell.
Of course, there were many other Scriptures and points made that are not included in this summary. I have no doubt that I left out some things that both men would want you to hear. Whatever your convictions are on these topics, I hope this summary and their discussion will be occasions for us to exercise our senses to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:12-13).
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EDITORIAL: Bible Authority, by Mark Mayberry
MEDITATIONS: “Perverted Persons” in the Temple, by Kyle Pope
WOMEN’S INSIGHTS: Purify Us, by Sherelyn Mayberry
DOCTRINE: Reflections on Romans: God’s Good News, by David Flatt
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST: The Church in Prophecy, by David Dann
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: The Brothers of Jesus, by Bobby L. Graham
ARCHAEOLOGY: I’ll Grind These Stones to Make My Bread, by Luke Chandler
THEME: BLESSINGS OF TECHNOLOGY
Article 1: Beneficial Online Resources, by Tim Matheny
Article 2: Review of Logos, by Steve Wolfgang
Article 3: Review of Accordance, by Jared Saltz
Article 4: Discussing Spiritual Issues Online, by Matthew W. Bassford
Article 5: Keeping in Contact, by John Mayberry
Article 6: Teaching the Bible by Video Conferencing, by John Gentry
Summary of Contents
In my editorial for the January issue of Truth Magazine, I focus on “Bible Authority.” When the chief priests and the elders asked Jesus, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” (Matt. 21:23), they acted with ulterior motives. However, the question is, indeed, vital.
In his meditations column, Kyle Pope addresses, “Perverted Persons” in the Temple.” While the homosexual lifestyle is widely promoted today, it has always been inconsistent with God’s plan and purpose. Kyle surveys this subject, noting that the ancients (like moderns) sought to justify such behavior as sacred and holy.
In the Women’s Insights column, Sherelyn Mayberry meditates on the hymn, “Purify Us” (Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs #576). Purification is a life-long process to which we must be consistently committed: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
In the Doctrine column, David Flatt offers “Reflections on Romans: God’s Good News.” The gospel is God’s good news to humanity. It was anticipated by the prophets but revealed through the person of Jesus Christ.
In a new column devoted to studying “The Church of Christ,” David Dann considers “The Church in Prophecy.” Many disparage the church, treating it as inconsequential. Yet, Scripture declares that it reflects God’s manifold wisdom—formulated before the foundation of the world, foreshadowed in the prophets, and fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
In the Q-n-A column, Bobby Graham fields the question, “Were the brothers of Jesus, mentioned in Matthew 12:47, His natural brothers or His cousins?” Bobby explains how flawed assumptions of Roman Catholicism have created confusion on this subject.
In the Archaeology column, Luke Chandler writes an interesting article, entitled, “I’ll Grind These Stones to Make My Bread.” Grinding stones were used in the most mundane of activities, preparing one’s daily bread. Yet, the differences between then and now are fascinating.
The theme section of the January issue of Truth Magazine is entitled “Blessing of Technology.” Serving as a follow-up to the November issue on “The Internet Generation,” we offer the following articles:
“Beneficial Online Resources” by Tim Matheny. This article highlights online resources, which are very usable and low-cost, that Christians can access to be more effective in their personal Bible study and publicly presenting the word of God.
“Review of Logos” by Steve Wolfgang. Logos Bible Software is promoted as “Your Personal Bible Study Assistant.” Many students of God’s word rely upon Logos for quick access to 100s or 1000s of resources and performing in-depth study of Sacred Scripture
“Review of Accordance” by Jared Saltz. The Accordance Bible Study Software provides powerful, primary-language capabilities and a host of other tools and resources for those who want to study the Bible better, faster, and more deeply.
“Discussing Spiritual Issues Online,” by Matt Bassford. Even though online conversation about spiritual issues has gained a bad reputation, when we approach it with the proper attitude, we can accomplish great good.
“Keeping in Contact” by John Mayberry. Let’s explore how brethren can use modern tools to improve group communications within the local body.
“Teaching the Bible by Video Conferencing” by John Gentry. Teaching the Bible by video conferencing allows for efficient use of money, time, and reach when studying with someone in person is not a viable option.
Considerable planning and preparation have gone into this collective effort. We trust that you will be admonished, instructed, and uplifted through reading this good material. If you have not yet subscribed to Truth Magazine, we encourage you to do so. The magazine is available as a printed monthly journal, and also accessible through a variety of digital platforms (Amazon Kindle, ePub and PDF versions, and also accessible through your web-browsers).