In my last epistle to you I was discussing what a sorry state "our brotherhood" is in. Rumor mills are busy spreading gossip that the church is not growing. Not only that, Charles, but our great and good leaders do not know what to do about it. They are all the time having these "elder" and "preacher" workshops and get togethers to figure out things and get the church back on track. The cost of the meals alone must be unbelievable. It would probably pay our "missionary" bills for a year.
Sam O. Serious is going to make the sacrifice and tell the entire brotherhood the truth and what to do about it. Now, Charles, don't get excited. No one is going to appreciate the diagnosis, much less the prognosis! But at the risk of being burned at the stake like one of the King James hereticks, I am going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The chips are going to fall where they may and the unvarnished truth will be revealed!
We have two problems; however, that are monumental. We are 1) carnal and 2) lazy.
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST CARNAL, you say? How is this possible? Do we not have an annointing from God as the only true church? We are God's chosen people. Have we not "prophesied in God's name," "cast out devils in God's name," and done many "wonderful works" all in the name of the one and only true God? Charles, we are living on the glory of our ancestors. We have done none of these things. God can only profess that he "never knew" us.
Today we have become fat, sleek, comfortable, faring sumptuously every day. We care not for the things of God. Our God is our belly. Oil prices fell. The church of Christ is seriously crippled, if not totally destroyed. I do not know what kind of prayers went up from Texas and Oklahoma in this time of distress but from the reports that I read in the papers they were all carnal prayers. God, please see our distress and give us more money. Lord, the work of "the church" is going to be hurt if you will not give us some showers of blessings. (But, God, especially send money.) Spirituality is gone and has been replaced by the love of the material. Among some of our brethren it is called "human secularism." There are no greater adherents in this great evil than CHURCH OF CHRISTERS. We are on the march. Brethren are proud to be on the "march" and you had better not stand in their way. But someone must ask "Where is this march taking us?" It has taken us to the doorstep of every promoter in the United States. Millions have been raised for everything except the preaching of the gospel and the feeding of the poor.
I personally feel sorry for every brother who lost a job or money in the bust of the oil and agriculture economy. But is it possible that God is giving us another chance to repent? I do not know the answer to these questions. They are asked rhetorically, but one thing I do know and that is this: It is not a shortness of dollars that plagues our "brethren" or nation. It is starvation for the "Word of God"!
There was a church in New Testament times afflicted with the problems we have today. You can read about it in Rev. chapter 3. The place is Laodicea. They were "neither hot nor cold." They were only puffed up. We hear a lot about church growth today. A swelling or a "puffing up" is not growth. It is an abnormal condition due to a lack of soundness. It is an ailment. It is nothing to be proud of but needs treatment; in this case with the healing effects of the gospel. These people boasted that they were "rich." Instead they were "poor." They were "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked." These people had swelled heads, bodies, pocketbooks...THEY WERE PRIDEFUL. Inspiration's advice was "to buy from me (Christ) gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich: and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see" (Rev. 3:18 NIV).
Charles, what powerful advice! It staggers the imagination that the Bible, being completed almost 2,000 years ago, could see us so clearly today. The metaphors are precise. For the unlearned, let me paraphrase. We are advised to buy Gold (truth), so that we may become rich (have the true blessings of life), and have white clothes (personal purity), to wear to cover our shameful nakedness (our sins and transgressions), and salve to put on our eyes (knowledge, not superficial but real), so that we may see (understand).
We go before the world in our arrogance instead of humility. We are to know "the truth and the truth will make us free." But truth never produces arrogance, only true humility. So we must not have much truth today.
But there is a second sin...laziness. It is possible that the first sin produces the second. Great wealth and pride frequently produce indolence. A few years ago, brethren were told that if they would just put up enough money that the world would be converted in a few years and the Lord could come back and praise us for our work. The promotions started. National radio programs, bigger college programs, greater homes for the indigent, television, and millions for Manhattan. Brethren put up the bucks but nothing happened. Well, almost nothing happened. A decline set in. Things started downhill fast. But then the promoters had an answer.
Give us more money and a little more time and we will show you results. We went downhill faster. The promoter had another answer. If we would only give him a lot of money and a lot of time then everything would come out all right in the long run.
Charles, this may have escaped your attention, but this has not worked. The only thing that has been accomplished is the making of some good soldiers lazy and a whole new vocabulary. Today the great promoters are sponsoring the "building of bigger and better churches." Jesus did not send his disciples to build "bigger and better churches," Charles. He did send his disciples out to make other disciples and, as a result of this, congregations appeared everywhere...but he did not send his workmen to do anything except "disciple all nations."
Jesus said, "Go disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19). Charles, I submit to you that the grammatical construction of that text demands that the discipling process is two-fold: 1) baptizing and 2) teaching. When people are baptized and taught then they are Christ's disciples "indeed." What are they taught? They are taught to repeat the process.
The process of discipling simply goes on and on. This is one of the things that we are not doing. If I am a disciple of Christ then I will have fruit. This fruit will include meekness, gentleness, and all of the teaching of Christ but it will also include something else...and that is adding others to the body of Christ.
The Jewish Christians had the truth forced on them by Paul. You may read the entire text in Romans 7 if you desire but the conclusion is all that interests me in my present pursuits. "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God." One of the functions of marriage is the population of the earth. Marriage is used here for the purpose of illustration. The woman dies to husband number one to be married to husband number two. The children of Israel died to the old Law (husband number one) so that they could be married to Christ (husband number two) that they might produce fruit (have children). The conclusive force of this reasoning is that those of us who are married to husband number two (Christ) must produce fruit. I say MUST because it is one of the purposes of this marriage. It will put an end to our laziness. It will make us fruitful. It will bring us showers of blessings.
Charles, the truth has been told. I know that you don't like it but the truth has been told anyway. The question is what can be done about it? God's way is the only way that Sam Serious is interested in. It is the only way that will work. So first we must begin a new spiritual life. I say begin a new spiritual life because most of us do not have one at the present time. Those who do should only renew the one they have. How is this done? This is done by putting our faith in God and His Holy Word. God's Holy Word reveals the blueprint for the growth of the early church. It worked. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42).
THE APOSTLES TEACHING OR DOCTRINE; the Bible must be studied. Made an integral part of our lives. It must be studied daily, systematically, and thoroughly. There is no substitute for a knowledge of the Bible...there are alternatives but there are no substitutes. God's people "perish for a lack of knowledge." We understand all things except the word of God. It tells us of sin, redemption, salvation and heaven. It will tell us how and to whom the Word is to be preached and will reveal to us how to do it. It is the beginning of all spiritual life...LIFE IN CHRIST.
FELLOWSHIP is one of the most neglected aspects of Christian living. We spend all of our time figuring out who we can stand and whom we cannot. When we are through all that is left is me, my wife, our son John and his wife, us four and no more. Spend time with Christians in all of the efforts that are pure and wholesome. Encourage one another. LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Brother Charles, as you said so eloquently in an editorial..."we are all in this together whether we like it or not. We are diverse and we are brethren."
THE BREAKING OF BREAD or the Lord's supper is a regular necessity for all of us. Many are so discouraged that they no longer participate in this. With the lack of spiritual nourishment many have become weak and "some are fallen asleep."
PRAYER MUST BE THE CENTER OF DEPENDENCE ON GOD. Some churches are starting regular prayer periods for all people. Praying around the clock and sometimes days at a time. Charles, these churches must grow. They are placing the emphasis in the right place...they are asking for God's help and guidance. Many more of us practice what we preach. I saw a statement from Carl Ketcherside the other day to the effect that he was praying more and enjoying it more. Charles, that is the idea. "The world has lost the right of prayer and saints have failed to pray" and they have been defeated at every turn. IS GOD TRYING TO TELL US SOMETHING???? Maybe we should listen.
Charles, there are things you and I can do. Encourage those capable of discipling to teach others. Ask yourself and your readers to participate in the work of the Lord. There must be places that are weak that could use such help. There must be places that are dying that need such help. There must be places that are barely hanging on that need such help. Charles, we both know such people and God may hold us accountable for not doing all that we can. Men and means can be found for such work and it should be done.
The diagnosis is in. What is the prognosis? If we will trust in the Lord and work His plan it will succeed. God's will and its plan will succeed, our will and our plan will fail. It is a simple matter. Do we fail or succeed?
Samuel O. Serious