Problems in the Church (V): The Main-Street Complex
For the past several issues we have been discussing in this column some problems in the church. We come now to another problem, one which we are calling "The Main Street Complex."
After the split resulting in the establishment of the Christian Church, the Lord's church was in destitute material circumstances for many years. This split, occurring from 1875-1910, resulting in most instances in the loss of the church's property. For a long time thereafter the church was looked upon as an "other-side-of-the-railroad-track" organization. But during this time faithful gospel preachers were hammering away with gospel sermons that rang true to God's word. And the church grew!
Shortly before, during, and immediately after World War II the church began to experience tremendous numerical growth that has continued to the present. Everyone rejoices when any person sincerely obeys the gospel. But this tremendous numerical growth has changed the entire nature of the modern day New Testament church. The "pride of life" apparently now has possessed us. Many, it seems, would convert the New Testament church into nothing more than another "respectable" denomination. We virtually have lost our distinctiveness in many places. The spirit that has wrought this change is what I am calling the "Main-street complex." We have decided to move out on "Front Street" to compete with denominations for the limelight of popularity.
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH WAS A SPIRITUAL BODY (John. 18:36). It had a spiritual mission consisting of the edification of itself in love, the performance of certain works of benevolence, and the evangelization of the world (Eph. 4:11-16). These three activities consumed its entire energies. Expending its energies in these works, the church about which we read in the New Testament experienced unparalleled growth (Acts 4:4; 6: 1; 6: 7; Col. 1:23).
It is true that we never read where a hundred or more congregations collectively rented the city coliseum in which to make a display of their numerical strength, as is done today. But "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (Acts 5:14).
While it is true that a congregation has the authority to own a meeting place because of the general authority to meet (Heb. 10:25), apparently New Testament churches did not attach the significance to building that most churches today attach to them; they did not attempt to draw people to Christ by the erection of imposing buildings. Yet today some think the New Testament church hardly can exist and that certainly it cannot prosper without a meetinghouse more elaborate than those owned by sectarian churches.
Brethren today often can arouse themselves greatly to purchase an expensive lot (One church has purchased a lot costing more than $300,000) on which to erect a building challenge the splendor of the temple of old. Yet they cannot seem to stir their materialistic spirits similarly to press themselves in the preaching of the gospel of Christ. Buildings properly situated and planned can be effective tools to be used in the preaching and teaching of the gospel. But they must never become an "end" in themselves.
Our erection of so many elaborate buildings indicates our loss of faith in the drawing power of the gospel, our crass materialism at the expense of a dwindling spiritual strength, and our effort to make our presence felt--to gain our place in the sun.
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH WAS EVANGELISTIC (Eph. 4:21). We have the responsibility to "build up the body of Christ." The only possible way to build up the body of Christ is by gospel preaching! It cannot be done by "fellowship halls", ball teams, boy-scout troops, youth recreation directors, gymnasiums, weiner roasts, camping outings or "progressive suppers." The only way to add one single person to the New Testament church is by preaching the gospel to him. Every bit of energy expended in the above mentioned activities is wasted effort so far as the accomplishment of the mission of the church is concerned. Yet one is blind and uninformed who cannot name churches engaged in the above type programs, thinking that thereby they shall "build up the body of Christ" in that place. The power that we have is in the word that we preach (Jas. 1:21; Rom. 1:16; 2 Tim. 3:15). Let us therefore not waste our efforts in side-line (and unauthorized) activities.
We have picked up our "social" programs, about which we just were speaking, from sectarianism. In like manner we have mimicked the denominations in our evangelistic efforts. We can read in the newspaper published by our brethren about the erection of "Mission Compounds", the sending of "Medical Missionaries", and the planning of Church of Christ "Hospitals", both in this country and abroad. Those are but other efforts to make ourselves as "respectable" as the denominations of human origin. Unless an in-finite and all-wise God was sadly mistaken, these things do not contribute to the accomplishment of the divinely specified mission of the church. God "calls" people only through the preached gospel (2 Thess. 2:10). When we forget that, we start trying to at- tract and impress people with "Mission Compound", "Hospitals", "Schools", and "Medi-cal Missionaries." We might just as well build some homes for unwed mothers and a hospital for alcoholics. Instead, brethren, let us remember that our success in growth is contingent upon our being "evangelistic." We are not in a materialistic contest with sectarian churches who have devoted their efforts to drawing people by supplying their material desires and needs.
If we would expend the same amount of energy and resources in gospel preaching that we have in building "compounds", "medical clinics", hospitals, and benevolent organizations of all sorts, we too today would see "believers...the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." Is this not our assigned mission?
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH WAS MILITANT (Jude 3; Phil. 16, 27). While the role of the Christian is depicted under several figures, it was prominently spoken of as that of a "soldier" (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim 2:3; 4:7, 8). Paul reminds us that ours is not a carnal conflict with carnal weapons (2 Cor. 10:3. 4). Instead, our weapons are "truth", "righteousness", "the gospel of peace", "faith", and the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:13-17).
There is not anything that satan would like better than to take the "fight" out of the church of the Lord. And he has about accomplished this. Satan has never given up an inch of his territory without a fight. It is only when we "contend for the faith" that we cause the devil to flee (Jas. 4:7).
In the battles of by-gone years, the sectarian preachers and debaters learned that their cause did not prosper by open conflict with the truth. They therefore more recently have decided that it is not "nice" to fight; it is not 'nice' to debate. So they say they no longer believe in debating. They have done a pretty good job of selling the average member of the church on this point. Many in the church now will not endorse a "conflict" between the truth and error, such as is characteristic of the debate (Phil. 1:16). Jesus and Paul would be very out of place in the modern non-combative church.
Brethren somehow have gotten the idea that one can "ignore the enemy out of existence." What an absurdity! What would happen to our country if the nation attempted to ignore the aggressive hordes of communist Russia and China? When we do not challenge the strongholds of Satan, he continues to control his dominion.
But since the denominations have decided that it is not respectable to "fight" (debate), brethren in their frenzied effort to gain respectability for the church have begun also to sing this sectarian chorus.
Some traitors to the cause of Christ, but who yet parade themselves as gospel preachers, have joined hands with the ministers of the devil, by waving the olive branch, by raising the white flag, to join "Ministerial Associations." All such simply have changed sides in the midst of the conflict. They have deserted the cause of Christ to lend encouragement to the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ.
There are victories to be won, but only after a fight! Therefore, let us "fight the good fight of faith."
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH WAS UNPOPULAR. Paul declared that he worshipped God according to the "way, which they call heresy" (Acts. 24:14). The Jews in speaking to Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome acknowledged that the church was called a "sect" and that it was "everywhere spoken against" (Acts 28:22). Yet brethren today are turning every stone to have the church appear in a most favorable light. When we continue to preach the truth in the manner that Paul preached it, inevitably we will continue to be everywhere "spoken against" (Gal. 4:16).
However, we should find comfort in that fact that our success does not depend on the favor of men, but upon the favor of God (Gal. 1:10; Rom. 8:31).
In view of these facts we therefore should get busy in the accomplishment of our spiritual mission, again become evangelistic in the New Testament sense of that word, continue to be militant in our attack upon the citadels of satan, accept the fact that we shall continue to be unpopular with men, and continue to seek the favor of God, rather than the favor of men.
Truth Magazine VII: 4, pp. 2-3, 24