December 14, 2017

What Saith The Scripture? “Understandest what thou readest?” (Act 8:30)

By James W. Adams

The Strength of a Church -How Determined'

QUESTION: Someone has said, "A church cannot be any stronger than its weakest member." Please tell me: Is this true?' C R S., VA.

ANSWER: In the words of Paul, "God forbid!" While I am at times tempted to have a rather pessimistic view of the spiritual state of professed churches of Christ, my dejection and sense of frustration have never led me to embrace a concept so utterly at variance with truth as the one suggested by the quotation embodied in the question under consideration.

The person who made such a statement was probably thinking of the old adage, "A chain is no stronger than its weakest link." This is quite true of a chain, but a chain is not a church. This is the trouble with reaching dogmatic conclusions from a process of analogy. Likeness in some particular or particulars never establishes identity. One of the common fallacies in reasoning is pressing figures of speech beyond legitimate bounds.

Having known, in thirty-seven years of gospel preaching, a great many exceedingly weak members of the church, I shudder to think that the churches of which they were a part were as weak as they. Was the church at Corinth as weak as the fornicator, the man "who had his father's wife"? (I Cor. 5) I think not. Was the church in Jerusalem as weak as Ananias and Sapphira? (Acts 5:1-11.) I cannot believe it was. It would probably be safe to say that the strength of a church is determined by the spiritual strength and stability of the majority of its members, but this is a relative matter and many factors would enter into such a determination.

All of this suggests to my mind the fact that there is a great need for a word of caution regarding such statements as that quoted by our querist. Too many teachers and preachers weaken their case and do harm to the cause of truth by overstating matters. Paul warned young preachers to be characterized by "Sound speech that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you" (Titus 2:8.) Wild, unreasonable statements, in an effort to impress, reflect unfavorably upon the intelligence, knowledge, and reliability of the teacher; hence unfavorably upon the truth he seeks to impart. Extremists do the cause of truth about as much harm as do purveyors of error. At times one is tempted to exclaim: "With friends like these, truth doesn't have to have any enemies!" While there is some doubt as to the exact meaning of the Psalmist-at one time in his life, plagued by his enemies because of his faith, he spoke hastily out of a state of great despair. He records it as follows: "I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: I said in my haste, all men are liars." (Psalms 116: 11.) Under pressure, one should guard most carefully his utterances, because the human tendency is to make vehement generalizations that are seldom strictly true, thus injuring his cause rather than helping it.

It is my personal conviction that conservative brethren and churches stand at a sort of crossroads. We can go forward intelligently and responsibly, yet militantly, or we can descend into a morass of irresponsible fanaticism and petty factionalism. I pray God that the former course may be chosen rather than the latter. I see many encouraging signs among the churches, brethren, and the preachers among the brethren that suggest a complete rejection of the latter course and firm dedication to the former.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 22, pp. 6-7
April 8, 1971

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