By Bob Dickey
He was young and exuberant, and I immediately admired his apparent zeal. Having just learned that I was a preacher in the Indianapolis area, he said, “I’m a Christian, too, but I guess you guys think of us as digressive.” We exchanged handshakes and pleasantries, then I returned to his opening statement and began to discuss our differences. He was kind, but adamantly bold: “The importance of the church, baptism, and fellowship seem to be the most important things to you,” he charged, “But, to me, it should be love and compassion for our fellowman!” I agreed that love, justice, and mercy were the weightier matters (Matt. 23:23-24), but asked him if he didn’t think that the Catholics (Mother Theresa) and Mormons showed a great deal of that; did that love and compassion make them true to God and his Word? “That’s another thing,” he replied, “I don’t think we’re the only ones who are right, there are certainly Christians in other churches! I long for the day when we won’t just be trying to place people into the church by slamming them under the water!”
I left that young man and our conversations that day and journeyed onward in my work. But I could not leave behind that numbing ache in my stomach and sad realization in my heart, that we were worlds apart. His was a case of zeal without knowledge, I thought. The case of many of our own young (and not so young) is a knowledge without much zeal. Both lead to spiritual disaster. I cannot help but won-der how far some of our own may be from the subjective outlook and indifference to Bible truth that will eventually lead them down the same digressive path.
Many young people have been raised in churches of Christ under the influence and teaching of preachers who defend the centralizations, institutions, and social gospel practices of more recent time. We should not be surprised to learn that this lack of sound teaching has produced some deplorable conditions among a second generation. They neither know nor care about the purity of the Lord’s church. They have few convictions about the fundamentals of the faith, and seemingly know nothing about the historical issues and battles of the past. A “return to the old paths” concept seems totally foreign to them. I know that for a fact, for the young man I spoke with stopped me in the middle of our conversation and asked, “What do you mean about this `ancient order’ thing?”
Somehow, I knew, in spite of a patient explanation, that he could not appreciate the historical ideals that characterized those who made their departure from denominationalism to New Testament Christianity years ago. His is a generation raised on philosophical preaching and social consciousness. His generation has not been taught to follow only the Scriptures. Few of his age seem to understand the commitment or responsibility to demand a “thus saith the Lord,” nor the necessity of being simply Christians in a uniquely undenominational sense.
Popular preachers of national TV and radio prominence continually minimize the importance of the church, convincing the multitudes that church membership is unnecessary, or that it may be a choice based purely on whim. They have led them to believe that there is nothing to the church which belongs to Christ.
We have long since passed the time when denominational preachers would vilify the Lord’s church or debate the fundamental teachings of what makes the Lord’s church unique. We live in a time when religious people are unwilling to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered.” They know nothing of the call to “fight the good fight of faith.” Debating, contending, rebuking, and correcting error has become distasteful, not only in mainstream religious circles, but increasingly among our own brethren.
Some Are Not Far Behind
If what I read means anything, I am persuaded that some present-day preachers of the Lord’s church are not far be-hind in their attitude toward the church Some cannot say that the church of which they are members contains all of the saved. Equating their churches, by their various activities and actions, with the modern churches of men, they no longer preach a distinctive New Testament message. Practicing practically all that sectarian bodies do, they have given up Bible authority for human reasoning, pragmatism, and mere expediency.
What About Us?
Closer to home, there are even dangerous tendencies being followed by so called “conservative” churches today. We have not been left unaffected by the march of denominationalism and modem liberalism. We must continue to restore the New Testament order. The trends of many of these churches must be opposed. We must help our brethren to learn to oppose denominational concepts especially when they are creeping into local congregations of the Lord’s church.
Certainly one of the causes for alarm among us concerns the failure to preach the distinctive message of Christ and his church. And, while we might well address the many reasons for digression and dangerous trends among us, the scope of this article is limited to our preaching on the church of God. Many of our brethren, young and old, are not being impressed today with the solid Bible teaching and plain preaching that they so desperately need to keep them grounded and true to Christ. They are not always being given the kind of preaching that will help them appreciate that the nature and character of the church is foreign to the structures and purposes of denominationalism.
Our preaching on the church must:
1. Correct some common misconceptions. Many look upon the church as a multiplicity of denominations grouped together (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). Some, by their thoughtless remarks, see the church as nothing more than a physical building instead of a spiritual body (1 Cor. 3:9; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5). Others think of the church as a mere social club a sort of religious society or fraternity where various social activities are held (Rom. 14:17). Premillennialists conceive of it as a temporary expediency substituted for God’s original plan (Eph. 3:10-11).
2. Expose modern false teaching. We must dispel and root out the arrogant claims of those who have long ago left the Bible behind. We must deny the claims of those who feel that each man can have his own religion “at home.” We must show the impossibility of those who clamor for us to “just preach Christ and not the church.” We must patiently ground our people and answer the false claim of those who say “doctrine doesn’t matter or relate to our modern needs.” We must continue to slay the ridiculous notion that “the church of Christ is just another human denomination.”
3. Protect against that which would weaken the church. There are many things that weaken the church: false teaching (Gal. I:6ff,1 John 4:1), ignoring the Bible pattern (Col.3:17), speaking differently than God (I Pet. 4:11), failing to practice discipline (Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 5), emphasizing social instead of spiritual needs (Rom. 14:15-17; 1 Cor. 11:20-24), neglecting the mission of the church (1 Tim. 3:15; Matt. 28:18-20), failing to give as prospered (1 Cor. 16:1-2), indifference and apathy (Heb. 5:11-14; 10:24-25), complaint and criticism (Phil 2:14), promotion of factions and party spirit (1 Cor. 1:10ff; Jas. 3:14-16), pessimism and despair (Heb. 12:12; 1 Thess 5:11). These are a few, among other factors, and not all of them weaken in the same way, but they all are a threat to the strength and ongoing work of the Lord’s local church. We must preach and protect against them.
4. Set forth its distinctive character. We must show to all that it is “the called out” (1 Pet. 2:9-11; Eph. 5:8; 2 Thess. 2:14). We must plainly declare that it has no denominational name, creed, organization, worship, work, or requirement for membership. We must help all men learn about the church in its prophecy, establishment, and history. We must help them to become familiar with true Bible designations that identify it. We must show them the Bible pattern established by the Lord and help them to distinguish it from the innovations of man. We must teach them that it is sufficient to accomplish what God assigned it to do. We must help them to see that it is a kingdom that can-not be shaken (Heb. 12:8-29).
5. Help all to appreciate its importance. Finally, we must fight against all that would devalue the importance of the Lord’s church. Much modern preaching is leaving doubts about the significance of the church and its relationship to the Father, thereby leaving doubts about its importance to the individual believer. But when we preach what the Bible shows it to be; when we call upon all to comprehend what it cost to purchase, when we come to see what it really is, certainly we will be moved to appreciate its great value. If we come to be ashamed of the church of our Lord, we will be ashamed of God’s wisdom which designed it (Eph. 3:10) and ashamed of Christ’s blood which purchased it (Acts 20:28).
Let us not be ashamed to preach about the church of our Lord! When we speak about love, commitment to Christ, and dedication to his cause, let’s not divorce it from our duties and privileges of the local church. When we preach about loyalty to Jesus, let’s make certain that our hearers know that this involves them in pure and simple undenominational Christianity!
Guardian of Truth XLI: 1 p. 28-29
January 2, 1997