Connie W. Adams
In New Testament days Christians assembled for a variety of noble purposes. There was a time when they assembled "daily in the temple" to give heed to the "apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42, 46). With the sermons of Acts 2 and 3 as models, we can conclude that these lessons and others like them dwelt upon foundation principles. The history of Israel was put in proper perspective by relating it to the Christ produced by that nation. His claims were connected to the messianic prophecies. The sermons were penetrating. Not only did they instruct; they motivated as well. Honest hearts were stirred to change their lives for the better. The plan of salvation clearly was set forth. Some joyfully accepted what was preached while others hardened their hearts, resisted the truth and persecuted those who preached it.
A Look at Gospel Meetings in The New Testament
There were gatherings for prayer (Acts 12:12). In Antioch a meeting was called in which Paul and Barnabas "rehearsed all that God had done with them" as they had preached among the Gentiles (Acts 14:27). In Acts 15 the multitude in Jerusalem was called together that they might study the divisive question of the reception of the Gentiles. The church at Corinth assembled to receive divine revelation through those with spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 1, 4). All things were to be done "unto edifying" (1 Cor. 14:26). In some of those meetings unbelievers might be present and care was to be exercised that they might understand and be profited (1 Cor. 14:22-23) Paul and Barnabas conducted meetings with congregations they had established to "confirm the souls of the disciples" and exhort them to faithfulness (Acts 14:22). It is therefore proper for brethren to plan meetings to edify Christians.
Gospel meetings were held by a riverside (Acts 16:12-13), in private homes (Acts 10; 16: 32), in synagogues where disputes sometimes resulted (Acts 6:9-15), in the school of one Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), in marketplaces and on hillsides where altars to idols were found (Acts 17:17-33), and while a preacher was in military custody and the audience came to his dwelling (Acts 28: 30-31 ). Brethren had places where they met to worship and study (Acts 20:7-12; James 2:2).
The Preaching Done
The preaching was referred to as preaching Christ (Acts 8:5), the word of the Lord, the gospel of peace, and included the name (authority) of Christ, and things pertaining to the kingdom and baptism (Acts 8:12). Much emphasis was given to the deity of Jesus (Acts 2:22-36). His resurrection was introduced time and again as the crowning evidence of his divinity (Acts 17:3, 31). Repentance and remission of sins received much notice (Acts 2:38; 3:19, 26). The preaching built faith rather than creating doubt (Acts 8:12; 16:33-34; 18:8). They opened the scriptures and expounded them to the hearers. "Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus" (Acts 8: 35). This kind of preaching convicted men of sin rather than making them feel comfortable in their sin (Acts 2:37). It did not always lead to obedience. Some became angry. Sometimes they beat the preacher (2 Cor. 11:23-25), and sometimes they stoned him, even to death (Acts 7:59-60). At times he was ridiculed. Paul was called a "babbler" at Athens and his message thought "strange" (Acts 17:18, 20). Intellectuals thought it "foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:18-31).
Gospel preachers of the New Testament era were courageous and untiring in their efforts. They were willing to suffer affliction and endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ (2 Tim. 2:2-5). Their labors were not always appreciated. Mark got discouraged once and went home (Acts 13:13; 15:36-40), and Demas quit altogether (2 Tim. 4:10).
If gospel meetings are held now for any of these purposes, men must be willing to go, take discouragements, suffer hardships and deprive themselves of the joys and comforts of home at times when they might rather be with their families. They need dedicated families who love the Lord and the cause of Christ enough that they are willing to share in the work and encourage that one who can go and teach. With the practice of the early church in mind respecting gospel meetings and the purposes for which they were conducted, brethren now should scripturally plan meetings for the same purposes that truth might be taught to all who need it.
Meetings to Fit Present Needs
1. The Short Meeting. Sometimes a congregation plans only a two or three day series, or perhaps five, during which the teaching concentrates on some particular subject to meet a need in the church. Or, such an effort might be devoted to converting the lost. In recent years many congregations have had short meetings to deal with cooperation and the sponsoring church, and institutionalism. These have been effective in informing the church, answering fallacious arguments and grounding the brethren in the truth. Such efforts might be devoted to personal evangelism, church discipline, the home, or other needed subjects.
2. The Lecture Series. For some reason this name has been assigned to a meeting in which there are different speakers dealing with different subjects. This is an excellent way for a congregation to be edified. Much care should go into planning such an effort. Attention should be given to subject matter. It is a good idea to let a capable man or two develop a theme in three or four sessions at the same hour each day. Some churches have done this using those men they help support in various places. This serves as an encouragement to the men, who may usually preach to smaller crowds, and acquaints the church with them and makes the church feel more concern for the work these men are doing. In recent years several congregations have had outstanding meetings of this kind. Not only will this edify the local work, but sometimes brethren will want to come from a distance to benefit from the meeting. This provides another good side effect. If asked, Christians will open their homes and show hospitality to visiting brethren. The benefits of this are many.
3. The Ordinary Protracted Meeting. By this I mean the usual type meeting of one week or perhaps ten days, in which an invited preacher presents each sermon. Such meetings afford good opportunities to teach the lost. Every effort ought to be made to have such people in regular attendance. Many meetings do not accomplish as much good as they should because members do not always assume their responsibilities. Even with such effort, the crowd will largely consist of church members. These need instruction as well as aliens. Christians can be strengthened greatly by hearing basic lessons. It does not hurt "outsiders" to hear sermons designed to strengthen the church. They need to know what is expected of Christians. I have had people to come forward to obey the gospel on nights when the sermon dealt with some of the current divisive issues. People in denominationalism can often see the point clearer than some brethren who are blinded by tradition or prejudice.
HOW LONG should such a meeting run? Formerly they sometimes ran for a month or longer. The average congregation today has more preaching regularly than was true of many places in former years. Society has shifted away from the slower rural pace of an earlier time to the more hectic, and sometimes frantic, pace of today. There are more things competing for attention during a meeting than used to be the case. For this reason, brethren have generally shortened the meetings to about a week. Much good can be done in a seven or eight day meeting if proper preparation is made. In my own meetings, and those of other preachers in recent years, the cases where there have been an unusual number of converts have nearly always been in ten or twelve day meetings with the bulk of the baptisms coming the last two or three !days of such meetings. Brethren should ponder this.
WHAT ABOUT DAY SERVICES? Many brethren are reluctant to plan day services. They seem to feel that is just too much. Usually, because of work times for so many, the crowds will be small. Yet, I am convinced that they add something to a meeting. Those who can attend get better acquainted with the preacher and he with them. Special subjects can be developed that will edify those attending.
IS THE DAY OF 'THE GOSPEL MEETING OVER? From the time of the establishment of the church, gospel meetings have played a great role in saving the lost and edifying the saved. The religion of Christ is a taught religion (Isa. 2:2-3; Jno. 6:44-45; Tit. 2:11-12) and gospel meetings are simply occasions when that teaching can be done. The time the days of gospel meetings ends, the progress of the cause of truth and righteousness will end. When meetings fail to accomplish all they should, the fault is not with the gospel nor with the idea of coming together to study it. The fact is with us for not exercising ourselves to bring about good. (More to come)
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV: 6, pp. 5-7
December 11, 1969
Gospel Meetings (V) What To Preach