Problems And Answers
Terry J. Gardner
It is easier to find problems than to arrive at solutions. It is easier to find fault than to see the answers. It is easy to find the tiny "speck in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye" (Matt. 7:3). It is easy to complain yet never do. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?" (Jas. 2:14).
The "Church of Christ denomination," generally speaking is a mess. This is clear to everyone. Indeed, as the old time preachers would say, "A blind man at midnight could see it!" Our congregations are dividing and our membership divisive. We not only do not love each other very much, we don't even like each other. Those in the world have watched our "denomination" fight its' own Civil War as brother has been divided from brother over "issues" like can a church from its' treasury take one dime and give it to a man in need who is not a member of "our denomination''! Jesus said:
"Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand" (Matt. 12:25).
The life of a Christian begins and ends with love. It was because God loved us, that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us. Paul taught that without love he was but a "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbol" (I Cor. 13:1). John in describing our heavenly Father said simply: "God is love" (1 Jn. 4:8). Jesus said the two "great commandments were love commandments. John summarized it this way:
"If a man say,I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also" (I John 4:20-21).
In most of "our" churches, not only do we not love our brother, we don't know our brother. Our worship is ritual with a heavy dose of formalism. The moment the "service" ends we rush out the back door, pat the preacher on the head, say "nice sermon" and ten minutes later have forgotten most of what was said. Love is the heartbeat of the Christian life, yet we have created a monstrosity of loveless disciples.
Money Is Our God
Most of us have plenty of this world's goods and have either forgotten poverty or never knew it. Our age could aptly be called the Laodicean age. We feel self-sufficient with little need for God and less for our brothers and sisters. John wrote:
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing: and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked..." (Rev. 3:15-17).
Truly, there are many latter day Laodiceans.
How many of us are working for financial security without a thought to spiritual security? How many families toil and slave to "leave something" financially for children who will waste it on their lusts? How many preachers rise up against these ungodly attitudes when Jesus taught, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth..." (Matt.6:19). Not many, because it is hard to condemn these anti-Christian attitudes when many preachers wait in line to sign up for get rich quick pyramid schemes from Slender' Now to extortionately expensive insurance. How many families are watching their children's morals disappear as they use drugs, marry and divorce at will, and are immersed in ungodliness while financially they are without want? Jesus said, "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven..." (Matt. 6:20). If our treasures are upon the earth then money becomes our God.
Sheep Without Shepherds
"The followers will never excel the leaders" the preacher noted when asked why the disciples he preached for grew little. He spoke the truth, but not to the leaders. Many Elders (Shepherds) have "kept house for the Lord." This group was no different. They had men called Elders, but it was an empty title. These elders taught no one although they were supposed to be "apt to teach" (I Tim. 3:2). The members would joke (behind the Elders backs) that the Elders were apt to teach any day now! These Eiders were not "hospitable" (I Tim. 3:2), with one exception. The Elders spent their time in the pursuit of money even though Elders are not supposed to be "a lover of money" (I Tim. 3:3). The members followed the lead of their Shepherds (Elders). The members taught no one, were not hospitable and pursued money. The Elders were blind shepherds of the blind, oblivious to the destruction of the ditch that awaited the Shepherds and the sheep.
The preachers publicly soothed the conscience of the Elders and members by teaching that fruit bearing by converting the lost was essential to neither Elders, members, or preachers. Hospitality toward strangers and love of the brethren were ignored. Considerable time was spent telling the congregation in public how wonderful the Elders were, indeed per the preachers, they were the finest in the land.
The Elders (Shepherds) said but did not. They led not by example but by their position. They were lords like the Gentiles had and "exercised authority over them" (Matt. 20:25), even though Jesus said "not so with you" (Matt. 20:26). Jesus taught that there were men that "appear to people as righteous but on the inside" are "full of hypocrisy and wickedness" (Matt. 23:28).
Godly Elders (Shepherds, Bishops, Overseers) are doers of the word not hearers only. Too many Elders today are occupying a position to "exercise authority", not to do a work. Jesus himself "did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matt. 20:28). Our modern leadership wants the sheep to serve them while they do nothing. These Elders have left the sheep without shepherds.
When we lack love for our brothers in Jesus where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? We will not seek the lost because we do not love the lost. We have come to believe that Jesus' command to "make disciples" (Matt. 28:19) is assignable to the preacher who often makes whatever disciples are made without the help of members or Elders. The tragedy is that the disciple thus made is brought into an environment without love or leadership; one that places emphasis on how much money you have, and with legalistic attitudes of which the Pharisees would be proud.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Hell as you are" (Matt. 23:15).
How do we members react to all of this? We observe it. We do not like it. We pass it off with "It's always been this way;" and "I'm just one person - what can I do?" We are lukewarm and miserable. We are afraid to quit and too timid to try. We have enough religion to make us miserable and not enough to save our souls.
Each of us must recognize that we are SINNERS! "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8). Since we all have sinned we each need the love of God. Paul said: "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 6:8).
Since Christ loved me I must love my brothers. "Let brotherly love continue" (Heb. 13:1). "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another" (Rom. 12:10). The famous commentator, Dr. James MacKnight wrote of this verse:
"The force of the original word, can hardly be reached in any translation. It is compounded of a word signifying that affection which animals by instinct bear to their young, and so teaches us that Christian charity (love) must be warm and strong, like that which near relations bear to one another."
This is the way Jesus loved us and God loved us. If we will be made in the image of God we must love our brothers and sisters the same way.
In order to accomplish this goal, time is essential. If we don't spend time with each other we will not know each other. What should we discuss? What would you discuss with your Father, Mother, Brother or Sister? We should discuss our fears, hopes, weaknesses, strengths, success, failures, triumphs and sins. We need to bear each other's burdens, yet carry our own fair share. We should weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We need each other.
We are family and love for each other should be so strong that it is obvious to those who are not Christians. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another"' (John 13:35). We must meet each other's needs...spiritual, physical and material. Are we doing these things? Does this love pervade the congregation where you attend? How strong should it be?
"Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." (Acts 4:34-35).
The Apostle John summed it up this way: "This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for our brothers" (I John 3:16). "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (I Cor. 13:13).
The Earth Is The Lord's
"People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction" (I Tim. 6:9). We must recognize that our American culture is very materialistic. This materialism permeates the church from Preachers to Elders to members. In many churches of Christ it is publicly taught that the amount of money you make is a reflection of you spiritually. Such a doctrine dishonors the poor and feeds our materialistic attitudes. Jesus said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15).
We are too happy with this earth. But it is not ours. We are just Pilgrims that are here ever so briefly. James said, "You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14). All of our efforts to amass this world's goods are wasted effort. What the moths do not eat, rust and corrosion will destroy.
"Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days" (James 5:2-3).
We need to drink in the spirit of those old time men of God who "were longing for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:16). This world is not my home, thank God. The Psalmist said, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell herein" (Psalms 24:1).
Seeking The Lost
There is no more impossible task to accomplish, without love, than seeking the lost. It is hard work in an age where we want everything to be convenient, quick and easy. J. D. Tant summed it up this way: What would you think of a man who climbed a mountain, sat down and waited for a hole to form on the mountain, then waited for rain to fill the hole? Then...waited for fish to fill the hole before he ever began to fish? How many fish would he catch? About as many as we catch today...very few!
How often do we invest vast amounts of money in a building and justify it on the basis of reaching the lost in the community? "They won't come visit us if our building isn't nice!" They will not come visit us because we MUST SEEK them. Jesus taught that we should go out into the highways and the hedges and compel them to come in. Those attracted by our nice real estate will feel more comfortable joining a good health club than by 'joining the Church of Christ.' Jesus taught that all who live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution...Hardly an appealing thought to those carnal enough to be attracted by our nice building. Jesus, though a carpenter by trade, never built physical buildings...he was more interested in spiritual buildings...
We must recognize that we can't pay anyone to do our personal work for us anymore than we can pay someone to do our praying for us. No matter how honest and hardworking a preacher may be, he is doomed to fail if each Christian isn't seeking the lost. Even the Son of God needed workers to help bring in the harvest, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Luke 10:2). Jesus could not do it all himself, the harvest was too great. No man can do the work of an entire congregation today either. There are people that each of us can influence that no preacher can reach. There are those that each of us can reach that no other Christian can reach. Will we meet the challenge?
Laziness And Leadership
These twin problems are at the heart of our trouble. Those in the pew have followed the lead of Elders and Preachers and done very little. Those who are leading must realize that they can't settle for being apt to teach "any day now," they must teach NOW! There are no guarantees about tomorrow. TODAY is the day of salvation. This will take effort. We must get out of our air conditioned, padded pew and gold chandaliered buildings. It will mean knocking doors, meeting people in the streets, searching downtown; yes, SEEKING the lost! How many have grown proud? We've said, "I can't knock on doors." (What we mean is we WILL NOT knock on doors.) We have said these methods do not work. Yet they work for Jehovah's Witnesses. Indeed, they work much better for those with the Good News of salvation, if we will use them.
People are being met and converted to Jesus in Indianapolis on an almost daily basis. This is done by zealous Christians who love the lost and are not afraid of work. They pray to God who gives the increase and then work knowing that God's word will not return void. It is best to have older Christians who will lead in teaching, hospitality and prayer, but if they are not present we need to work anyway. It will not be acceptable on the judgment day to excuse our failure to seek the lost by blaming Elders who did nothing. If we seek to excuse our failure by blaming the leaders then we are the blind who followed blind "Elders" into the pit.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is we must drink of the spirit of the early Christians who loved each other and the lost more than they feared rejection or even death. These early disciples loved Jesus with all their hearts and sought to imitate his example of seeking the lost. God's word is still POWERFUL today, but we are lazy and afraid and don't let the WORD out of our expensive buildings. Can you imagine what would happen if each one of us would tell others what Jesus had done for us as easily as we discussed yesterday's ball game? What would happen if those from the outside came into our meeting and saw that we loved each other instead of barely tolerated each other? United in love with a prayerful mind to work for Jesus we CAN turn the world upside down. If we will but plant and water, God will give the increase. We must recognize the problems, but we can't dwell on them. The Solutions are what we must be doing.