Editor's Note: In the July 1988 issue of THE EXAMINER the first letter from this preacher appeared. It was unsigned and though I rarely ever allow an unsigned letter to appear in this paper, the letter was so apparent in its sincerity and concern that I printed it. It no doubt expressed the frustration and dilemma of many preachers. Since that time, it has been my privilege to meet and visit with this relatively young man by telephone and correspondence. I have no question about his character, sincerity, ability, and desire to obey his Lord. He is struggling with what his future should be in serving the Lord and with some of the problems he faces now. Read carefully his letter. Let us pray for him and his family that the will of the Lord for him will be recognized and obeyed.
Enjoyed our phone conversation yesterday. Thanks for your time.
Enclosed are some names to add to The Examiner list. Some of the people are "members" in the church where I preach. Most are preachers. Some of the preachers are what I call "traditionalists." Others, I know for a fact, are struggling with some of the same distresses I talked to you about.
I wish I could send you some money to help you right now. Hopefully later. I want to send you the $15 for the book--The Theft of a Nation. I read a review about it some place (I think in The Spotlight). Sounds good.
Would you consider addressing a couple of topics in The Examiner for me? One, a simple practical approach to studying the Scriptures. I have all the detailed, technical approaches. But I'd like something to teach the brethren here so they can have a degree of confidence to study on their own and draw their own conclusions free of bias. Many people won't study because they think they can't understand, or it's too hard. So, we preachers do the study and tell the brethren "what it means" (too often translated, "what they can believe"). Perhaps in an article you can present some simplified approach to teach people to help get them involved in Bible study.
Secondly, sometimes I feel fruitless. I feel, "God must really be disgusted with me." It's hard to pray. My own motivation for Bible study sometimes wanes. I make decisions without prayer, may even write, practice, and preach a sermon without having prayed over it. Now, all through the process of preparing that lesson I'm thinking, and hoping, that this is just what God would have me say. I'm trying to be true to God's book. But I sometimes feel too empty spiritually to go to the Father about it in prayer. Why? I don't know if it is a general disillusionment over things spiritual because of our patterned approach to everything (we really do, as a system, leave God out of so much), or if I have a character defect. I know you can't evaluate my situation because you don't know me. I'm not asking you to do that. But is there anybody out there who has experienced what I'm experiencing, but has come through it and can cast some light on the situation for me?
Part of my problem may just be the confused state of affairs I'm in. Five years ago, I was really comfortable being a party player. Today, I'm having to be a party player, but I m not comfortable with it. Reading and studying have moved me from the "solid" ground of ignorance to the insecure ground of sensing, even knowing, something is wrong; but being unsure, unable, or unfaithful enough to do something about it. Hence, confusion. Hence, failure to pray and study more.
Thirdly, something I worry about sometimes, not just for me so much as for others I know, is the possibility of "throwing the baby out with the bath water." I think this is what I see some of our teenagers doing. They, being free-spirited, can see through the thought chains that bind their moms and dads to a lifeless system of law, organization, and empty form. So they leave the system. But here's the tragedy: when many of them leave the system they also leave the ethical and moral instruction they had been receiving, and often become hedonistic. They wind up throwing God, Jesus, and spiritual living right out with the system. Since the system and God have been tied up together, when you throw one out, don't you have to throw the other out also? I know some who do. I know there's a difference between the two! But, I'll admit, on an emotional level, it is sometimes tempting to say, "Forget the whole mess." I know it's wrong, but I'd be lying if I said I'd never felt it. I think people who have been buried by the system probably feel buried by God, since the system is supposed to represent God.
Fourthly, is it possible to work within the system to help people? Can one be a Christian in the system? Maybe I m feeling some fear about breaking out myself. But I do feel genuine concern for people in the system who REALLY want to do God's will but are convinced beyond reaching that they MUST do their work within the Church of Christ.
Fifthly, and possibly toughest of all, how do you impart life to teens? This question is related to my concern in question #3, but it's not quite the same. There are some teens in the church who would not think of leaving. They'll stay, and they will just accept the boredom of aimless sermons and the emptiness of system life as a fact of church, uncomfortable but necessary to be borne. How can I, as their preacher, let them know about a personal relationship with Jesus?
Well, Charles, some of these questions may betray the degree of ignorance I still possess! But I feel comfortable bringing them to you. If printing these questions in The Examiner would serve a useful purpose for you and the readers, print them. Perhaps a brother might read them and submit an article dealing with one of the subjects. That would be great. All I ask is, no name and no address, at least not at this time. Thanks.
(Editor's Note: I have conveyed my response to this brother by a tape/letter. I probably did not give sufficient answer to all, if any, of his important questions. If you would like to provide an answer to one or all of his questions, you can write to him at The Examiner address and I will forward it to him. We need some good, practical answers to these questions to use as articles for this paper.