Are We Preparing The Soil For Sectarianism?
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Recently I watched a thirty-minute Jimmy Swaggert broadcast. Swaggert preached a typical Pentecostal sermon in which he stated that anyone who had not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit had not been born again and was lost. In trying to persuade people to accept what he was preaching, he described the typical person who becomes dissatisfied with his religion and finds answers in Pentecostalism. Such a person goes to a church which is dead and unemotional; the members sleep through the services; the singing is dragged to death; the services are dull and boring. The spiritual needs of the members are not met. They begin to look elsewhere and are attracted to Pentecostalism.
Pentecostalism is a false religion. Its doctrines are not found in the word of God. Its emphasis on subjective emotionalism as a testimony of salvation ("I know I am saved because I feel so good") establishes man as the standard of authority rather than God.
However, I am afraid that we are preparing the soil for the planting of sectarian Pentecostalism by some of the things which are happening in many churches among us. We need to feed the souls of men. That means that the gospel involves that which satisfies the mind, the heart, the soul, and the strength of man. Sometimes our services do not leave men satisfied because part of man's nature remains unnourished. Because these needs are not met, members of the church look with longing eyes into Pentecostalism or other forms of sectarian denominationalism.
Things Which Cause Members To Look Somewhere Else
I would like to suggest some things which might cause members to look somewhere else to find spiritual satisfaction. Perhaps my observations are too subjective and others would disagree with them. These are but one man's expression of concern.
1. Lifeless members. Many assemblies are attended by corpses the body is present but the spirit is somewhere else. You can perceive this because of the glaring look in the eyes. While the sermon is being preached, these members sit in a daze with their minds somewhere else. They drag themselves to services, frequently just once a week, and have little or no commitment to what is being done in the congregation.
2. Unemotional services. The services in many congregations leave one emotionally drained; they do not build up the Christian so that he will convert someone to Christ.
I have not attended a congregation in the last decade where one freely said "Amen" when he heard something in the sermon with which he agreed. We have created an atmosphere in our worship where the audience is observing rather than participating in the sermon. The result is that preaching is viewed as a performance by many rather than something designed to bring about change in life.
The sermons themselves are sometimes dry. Sometimes a sermon from an outline book is lifted on Saturday night and a canned lesson is presented. Without having applied himself to the lesson the preacher does not touch the hearts of those in attendance. Too many preachers have become lecturers who present the facts without the least indication that their hearts are touched by the facts. One does not see a burning fire within them which must speak because of their deep convictions. There is no urgency to act upon what is preached. The pulpit is dry which never has a preacher who emphatically makes his point and calls on the audience to respond to what has been preached.
Sometimes the matters are made even worse by preachers who preach their doubts rather than what they know. Such sermons leave the audience in a state of doubt and uncertainty. We have not been sent by God to preach our doubts; we have been sent to preach the Gospel - the Lord's good news.
The prayers sometimes have little input from the one leading them. A standard prayer using repeated phrases such as the following is prayed:
"We pray for the sick the world over and especially of the household of faith."
"Give the preacher a ready recollection of the things which he has prepared."
"Be with us as we go to our places of abode."
I am not trying to poke fun at anyone who leads prayer; I do not want to discourage any young Christian from growing in this area. Each of the things mentioned is a legitimate thing to pray about and can be expressed in the very words cited. However, our prayers need to reflect the intensity of our feelings on various subjects. They need to be the outpouring of our hearts to God. Sometimes I get the impression that we have a ritualistic prayer that we say rather than opening and baring our souls before God.
The singing is sometimes laborious. Everybody who thinks he can sing is encouraged to lead singing. I recognize that we need to develop talents and do not want to discourage anyone who is trying to improve himself in this area. However, the overall impact of the worship on the local church must also be considered. Song leaders who consistently pitch the songs so low no one can sing, who drag the songs, who never try to introduce new songs to the church, and who give no thought to what they are going to lead until they get to the building make this part of our worship uninspiring. Members who will not sing also discourage us during worship. Some never open a book and others who open a book never open their mouths. The singing in many churches is discouraging, not inspiring.
The Lord's supper is commemorated with little emotion. In many congregations practically nothing is said before the emblems are passed. If something is said, it generally pertains to Bible authority to take the Lord's supper every first day of the week. Surely our hearts would be better prepared to commemorate the death of the Lord if the man presiding at the table would remind us of Jesus' love for us, the agonies of His death, His example, and other aspects of Jesus' life to call our hearts back to Calvary.
The announcements sometimes leave a lot to be desired. ,An announcement of the birth of a new child and the death of an aged saint are sometimes made with no distinction in emotion; the man making the announcements is stoical. Surely these areas can be improved.
3. Lack of growth. Many churches are not growing. In some areas, we are actually losing members instead of gaining them. I recognize that not all spiritual growth is numerical and sometimes no baptisms occur despite the genuine efforts of consecrated Christians. However, too many churches are not growing because they are not working. Few home Bible studies are in progress; few efforts to reach those in the world are being made. We have contented ourselves with two meetings a year, a church bulletin which is generally circulated among faithful Christians throughout the United States, a radio program, and Bible classes. Consecrated efforts to make contact with and teach non-Christians are rare.
4. Internal fussing and bickering. In addition to lack of growth, the local church is frequently troubled by internal fighting. Gossip, slander, whispering, jealousy, envy, and such like works of the flesh are all too common. In some congregations, the preacher is the chief culprit. Those who cross the preacher can be guaranteed that their reputations will be attacked and assaulted. Some preachers are known for sticking their noses in other people's business and then writing letters all over the country to maliciously destroy another's reputation. Perhaps the adage, "A kicking mule cannot plow and a plowing mule cannot kick," is especially applicable at this point. Churches which are busy working have fewer problems than those which are doing nothing. Who has not been discouraged by these kinds of internal problems?
These problems create a feeling of dissatisfaction among members. Who should be satisfied when these problems exist? These are the things which prepare the hearts of men for the reception of sectarianism.
Is sectarianism the solution? Absolutely not. Teaching the false doctrines of sectarianism will not solve the problems of the works of the flesh, the spiritual deadness in some members, and any other problem. One's problems will only be increased by adding the burden of false doctrines!
The solution is a revival. We must bring those dead members back to life through repentance; we must rekindle the smoking flame of some members who are nearly dead. Our zeal must be awakened.
Members are going to have to start thinking more about God and less about sports, television, material possessions, fashions, and any other thing which is rooting out God. Members are going to have to give more time to prayer, Bible study, serving their fellow man, and other works. When these things begin to occur, there will be an excitement and zeal about the worship and work of the local church. Let each of us work and pray for this spiritual revival.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 23, pp. 706, 726