In my last epistle to you I was discussing the sorry state that our "Brotherhood" is in. Rumor mills have been working overtime to prove that we are, as a people, not growing! Some have even suggested that we are divided!? For several years I have heard these rumors but have not been inclined to believe them. I do not know whether this is due to my "pure heart" or "my simple mind." However, I now see "the light." Divisiveness calls for the "deep spiritual insight" of Sam O. Serious...I studied this subject...The height, breadth, and depth of it. I look at the religious periodicals published by "churches of Christ" or those connected in some manner. Charles, that was indeed a revelation! For the last couple of decades there has been NOTHING written that could produce unity. This subject is not even understood by any that I could find. It is a good thing that SOS came along!!!!
Inspiration 2,000 years ago understood this problem just like it was yesterday, Charles. "What causes fights and quarrels among you?" Now that is a question that nobody seems ready to answer. James has the answer in Chapter three.
"Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." (NIV)
These principles apply to a local feud or the great World Wars. AND, BOY, DO THEY APPLY TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD! Abraham Lincoln borrowed from the Bible the great phrase, "A house divided against itself cannot stand" It was true when first spoken by Jesus. It was true when spoken by Abraham Lincoln. IT IS TRUE TODAY AMONG THE "CHURCHES OF CHRIST."
OUR HOUSE IS DIVIDED, CHARLES. We must recognize this. Some don't. Some feel that others are divided but not them! If this is your attitude, brother, you have been asleep longer than Rip Van Winkle. Does one "church" fellowship another "church"? Does one preacher fellowship other preachers? True fellowship? Not without a lot of "disclaimers." We just don't like one another. How sad it is to observe people made in the image of God who apparently cannot stand to be around one another. Charles, you and I are children of God TWICE. Once by creation and once by re-creation. These feuds are coming from those who have been born again. We have a veneer of respectability but lack a "good and honest heart." And we do not even know it. We think that we are united to "our group" and instead we are totally isolated.
Paul wrote about lots of folks in Ephesians 2:12. He said:
"Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promises, without hope and without God in the world."
These people were totally alone...EVEN WITHOUT GOD. WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD is a terribly frightful situation. Are we different today? How many Christians go to worship at the last minute and depart immediately afterward? Are these people deeply attached to anything or anyone? But I am told that some brethren, elders, and preachers stay until the "last dog dies." That probably expresses it well. But may I ask if this is because they love the fellow saints or because it is expected of one in their position? More than one has confessed to me that it was NOT the high point of their week. Several have told me that they had rather be anywhere than shaking hands and smiling at babies.
Most of us 'CHURCH OF CHRISTERS' have an answer to this problem of loneliness. We simply build larger buildings with banquet halls and gymnasiums and say, "Let's have some fun" Others go on a retreat. Others make a contribution to some "Christian" college and go to the lectureship. But Charles, this is just not working. There is something wrong with the mixture. It lacks some basic ingredients. Fun, retreats, and lectureships may all be well and good in their place but they will never replace the fellowship practiced in New Testament times.
Charles, if we now recognize that division exists we are ready to look for the reason. James said that it was because of evil "desires" that are within us, or because "we do not ask God" or because "we ask from the wrong motives." That seems to about sum it all up. If I can get you to see this we will have made some giant strides.
Charles, the condition of the heart is the battleground of life. At least that was the teaching of David in Psalm 1:
"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night."
The fight of life is in the mind and the condition of the heart is the first priority. "Guard thy heart with all diligence" This is where MOST OF US LOSE THE BATTLE. RIGHT HERE IS WHERE WE ARE UNIVERSALLY DEFEATED!!! Let me illustrate the problem. Charles, you are not as bright, witty, or intelligent as I am. I am sure that you know that without my saying it, but there it is in print for all of the world to see. Besides all of this, a lot of brethren do not love you as I am loved.
Under these conditions it is difficult for me to humble myself enough to prefer you to me. In fact, under conditions such as these it is might nigh impossible to even love you. And yet in spite of all this I must love and respect you because my Master and your Lord commanded it. Charles, he commanded it as clearly as "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved:' Now that is clear to me. Is it clear enough for you, Charles?
Those of us who are aged in the kingdom have little problems treating our children with love. We excuse our children because they are inexperienced and we love them. Other people's children are other matters entirely. But I can usually be benevolent towards most young folks. But Charles, when I see your mistakes and shortcomings my blood boils and I know that you are a "heretick." You are not mistaken, or wrong, or weak...YOU ARE EVIL AND MY EYES BEAR TESTIMONY TO IT.
I have this problem...YOU SUFFER!!! My pride, resentment and anger spill over into our relationship and finally into the disciples and, boy, does it do harm. MY HEART IS NOT RIGHT BUT...ALL SUFFER. Now, I must prove that I am right and you are wrong. I have a gospel (sic) paper, or a typewriter, or a telephone and you are NEWS TO THE BROTHERHOOD!!!! My soul and your soul are harmed greatly, but most of all the young have an example set before them that will destroy them. It is evil. Charles, keep up this "individualism heresy" because I am persuaded it may do some good here. If I really believe that I must answer to God "individually" for such actions I will think twice.
Maybe we do not ask God for our heart's desires because of evil hearts. We must begin this practice. I say 'begin' to most of us. To those who never stopped begging God day and night for all of us, we must say 'thanks.' Maybe God spared us because of RIGHTEOUS FEW. I must pray...pray without ceasing. But there is a problem here. Some suggest that God is really depending on us and that if we perform correctly all things will work out alright without God's help. WE ARE NOT GOD. Some of us think that we are, but WE ARE NOT GOD. We think like it, act like it, and talk like it, but WE ARE NOT GOD. LET ALL OF US THANK THE GOD IN HEAVEN FOR SMALL FAVORS.
Prayer must be daily, persistent, and powerful to avail much. Our prayers are so WEAK AND INSIPID they will avail NOTHING. Jesus taught a parable about this. In Luke chapter 18 you read about the persistent widow. The purpose of this parable is to teach us that we should always pray and not give up. The story is a simple one. First, the corrupt judge who feared neither "God nor man." Second, the poor widow in desperate need of justice. Third, the persistent plea. It was too much for the judge. He granted the plea because she wore him down.
And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?. I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly" (Luke 18:6-8). WE MUST ASK, ASK, ASK, AND THEN ASK SOME MORE.
If ever a man lived on the earth who did not need to pray, by man's reasoning, it was Jesus. Yet in his final hours he took his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. With a heart that was troubled and overwhelmed with fear he prayed for an hour and then returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. He rebuked them gently, "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" (Matthew 26:40). Jesus was astonished that those disciples could not keep watch while he prayed for one hour. Today we would be astonished if a disciple were to pray for one hour! We would consider this soul to be some kind of religious nut or zealot and not to be trusted with our GOLD, MUCH LESS OUR SOULS!!! This process was repeated three timer To my mind, at least, this prayer took three hours. In anguish Christ prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done" (Matthew 26:42).
"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him..." (Hebrew 5:7-10).
Is Christ our example, Charles? When he was troubled, he prayed. He prayed to the One who could meet his needs. Today we look everywhere except to the one who CAN AND WILL HELP Where do the fightings and wars come from? Our desire to have that which we cannot obtain. We cannot obtain our desire because we are unwilling TO ASK GOD.
Does it sound simple? It is simple. God's ways are always simple but they work. Are you beginning to get the point, Charles? I am not going to debate these matters with you. They only need to be practiced to discover that they work. Not only change our lives but also produce Unity. Unity and love with joint desires for growth and peace and obedience. Then, Charles, if we do ask of God, we ask "amiss" or "with wrong motives" that we "may spend what we get on our pleasures." THERE IS A LOT OF 'GETTING' AMONG US CHURCH OF CHRISTERS TODAY. Some have sought power and they have obtained. Some worship praise and they get their ears tickled. Some desire money and brother they get it. ALL OF THESE PEOPLE ARE GETTING WHAT THEY WANT FROM THE CHURCH OF CHRIST; or at least they think they are getting what they want...but the people of God get trouble. There can be no peace and unity among a bunch like this.
Back in my day, Charles, preachers struggled for a few dollars. Maybe we were money hungry. Some brethren so charge, but by any standards of today we were pikers. Not only is the salary range for preachers up toward the $100,000 mark, but the other benefits such as expense allowances, automobiles, insurance and retirement are unbelievable. Jesus had not where to "lay his head" but it is different today. Brethren are so worldly that they insist that sums of great magnitude must be offered to attract the best men.
I imagine that they are the best kind of men for the purposes that the current "church" has in mind, but they are not God's men. They will not serve the purposes of Jehovah. These are carnal men with carnal ways who serve a carnal god. They will never produce peace or unity. Divisiveness is in the heart of those who so reason. Alexander Campbell reported that when the change of religion was made by the king of England that 97% changed affiliation immediately. 97 out of every 100 CHANGED THEIR CONVICTIONS AS EASILY AS THEY CHANGED THEIR UNDERWEAR. It boggles my mind.
Is it different today, Charles? I would like to think so but I fear the worst. However, there were 3% who had convictions. We may question those convictions, but God must bless men who have them. The Bible refers to those "7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal." To dwell on the 97 will make us old and bitter, Charles. To thank God for the 3 will give us love and peace. In the United States alone do you know how many 3% would represent? About ten millions of people. Charles, I tell you God "has much people'' here on our shores and we are making little effort to reach them. Why? Little and ineffective means are being used to "preach the Gospel" to the entire world. Why?
"You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (James 4:4-10).
Charles, we cannot do what God wants because there is sin in our lives. When we "humble ourselves" under the "mighty hand of the Lord" he will lift us up to do his great work. We will not have wealth but our needs will be met. We will not have the praise of men, but God will lift us up in 'Due time.' We will not have what men call power, but we will have the power of God....IRRESISTABLE POWER. Then perhaps we can get on with the task that your Lord and my Lord commanded, the discipling of the world, while we live united in peace and love.
Samuel O. Serious
PS. Next time I will discuss this subject at greater length.