By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it Is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He Is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed (1 Pet. 2:5-9 [NKJVI).
A paper mill came to Counts, Tennessee. After going by it for the first time, I remarked to my brother-in-law about the awful smell. “Doesn’t smell bad to me,” he replied, “Smells like money.” You see, he had a good job with the paper company. That made a difference hard to argue with. We looked at the thing from two different perspectives.
God’s precious, chosen, living stone, Jesus Christ, has never been precious to everyone. To the disobedient, He has always been a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.(1) Why should the church (“also . . . living stones”) think that it should be any different with it?(2) Yet, some brethren almost go into shock at the least rejection by society at large. They look for ways to change the church to make it more acceptable to their neighbors. They will do nearly anything to make the gospel more palatable to those whom they want to reach. They cannot accept that the gospel, just as it is, does not appeal to everyone. They automatically assume that if it is not producing converts, then it is the fault of the sower rather than the soil. Not necessarily, brother.
We must reconcile ourselves to a basic Bible truth. The gospel teaches that it will offend many people regardless of who preaches it or how it is preached! Surely, Jesus and His chosen apostles knew what to preach and how to preach it. Yet, people rejected their message in mass. What makes us think that we can improve upon their message, manner, or results?
God has deliberately chosen the foolish and weak things of this world to further His good purpose. Because of this “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.”(3) In fact, God’s chosen things — His Son, His word, His church — are just down right offensive to society at large in many ways.
There is ample documentary evidence in the gospel records to support the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. If one has a philosophy that denies the possibility of a resurrection, he is not likely to objectively consider the evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus.
Those of us who believe the gospel evidence must preach it and practice its demands regardless of how others look at it. We must keep our faith in the gospel, teach its plan-of salvation, serve the Lord according to its teaching and live the life-style it demands — even if the world at large does think it all a bunch of foolishness. If we are perverting the gospel, in word or deed, then changes are in order. Such changes must be to conform to Divine wisdom rather than the human wisdom of those who may think the things of the gospel foolish.
The Lord’s church always looks weak to those who measure by carnal standards. To a world that measures kingdoms’ strength by political influence and military might, the kingdom of God looks awfully weak.(4) Its spiritual and non-political nature does not make it attractive to the carnal mind. If one thinks that financial and social influences are strength, he will think of the church as a weakling. By any carnal standard one measures the membership — whether numerical size, personal charisma (whatever that is), or social standing — the church is going to look weak. Carnally-minded brethren in their efforts to make the church strong really weaken it. What they think to be the church’s weakness is really its strength. In trying to remove the offense from the church, they really are making it offensive to God and Christians who have grown beyond the carnal frame of mind.(5)
I once worked with a church whose leadership measured strength by carnal standards. At the time, thee e were no clues in their practice as to where they would eventually go. The worship, work, and organization were according to the New Testament pattern. Today their practice clearly reflects their ultra-liberalism. Yet, thirty years ago the seed was there in their view of strength and weakness. They felt that, if they could afford as good a building as the “other churches” in town, the community would accept them more — they got the building. If they could just have a preacher that was as well-educated and as good a mixer as the “other preachers” in town then more would accept “the gospel” – eventually they got their preacher. If they could make “our teaching methods” less negative (“different persuasions”) that would gain more members – they reached that goal. If the pulpit and bulletin would just be more positive then we would not turn so many people off, we heard.
Do you know what scares me about remembering all of that? I will just tell you. I am hearing said, almost word for word, some of the things that I heard from those brethren from a few brethren now who think of themselves as conservative.
(I am always positive in my preaching and writing. It is just that sometimes I am positive that some things are wrong and need to be dealt with.)
People with little or no faith think of the Lord with His teaching and ways as being too hard. His sayings are hard.(6) His requirements are hard. His restrictions are hard. These find little, if anything easy about being a Christian. Consequently many do not attempt being Christians, because they think it is just more than one should be asked to do. It is just too hard. Others, not wanting to go to hell, attempt the task. They have just enough religion to be miserable. They go ahead and “perform their duty” as the Bible teaches but constantly complain about what a hard life Christians like them must live. To such brethren, it will always be a hard way to go.
Yet, there are others who because of their love and devotion for Christ, coupled with a healthy fear of God’s wrath, willingly take up the yoke and follow Christ. They do all the same things that the first group find to be so hard – but to them the yoke is easy and the burden light. To them no command is burdensome.(7)
If one measures the Lord’s people by the standards of religious activity and fervor spread out before the world today, they come out looking like a pitiful, lifeless, dull bunch. The general public gets its concepts of religion from TV, radio, papers and the sensational churches of today. Brethren see all of this then look at us and decide that we need some kind of life-reviving shot in the arm. They begin to measure our worship by its entertainment, emotional and/or artistic value. They begin to measure our zeal and enthusiasm by the emotionalism and promotionalism. of the professional TV evangelists(?) and/or some fanatical cult. They begin to look for ways to get brethren out of their rut and jumping around with more “signs of life.” We can get into a rut. We can become unenthusiastic. We need our zeal stirred at times. However, I suspect a lot of the calls for more liveliness in our religious activities today to be coming from those influenced more by the carnal standard of sensationalism than by a careful evaluation of our behavior in the light of the Bible.
In reading the New Testament, I don’t get the idea that periods of worship were periods of hand-clapping, footstomping, hip, hip, hooray sessions befitting a school pep rally. Yet, I have been in religious gatherings and have heard some preaching that came mighty close to that pattern.
I get the idea from the New Testament that worship periods were orderly, sober periods of reflection, praise and renewing of the mind.(8) The enthusiasm and zeal being more quietly expressed than I am hearing urged and seeing in some quarters today. If one has studied enough to understand the significance of eating the Lord’s Supper, singing, praying, teaching and giving, it will not become dull. This will not be dull even when not performed to high artistic standards led by a bubbling personality. It will not be dull even if the same people do it the same way, at the same time, week in and week out.
To one who expects the church to “minister to the whole man,” the New Testament church is inadequate. He expects the church to help the community with its social, economic and civil needs. He will think that the church is falling down on the job, if it does not. Any church that fails in this area, to him is inadequate.
To one who understands the New Testament teaching on the spiritual nature of the church and whose chief aim is to prepare for the world to come,(9) the church and its “program” is perfectly adequate.(10)
As God’s chosen people, we do not try to be offensive nor are we afraid to be. We understand that we and the world look at the same things from different perspectives. We need not panic every time someone criticizes our way of doing things or turns and walks with us no more. We must not rework God’s plan to make the church less offensive to those around us.
Even God’s chosen people sometimes become discouraged (Elijah did). Let us understand that while offensive to many, what we do and what we are is precious to God and good brethren. Let us understand that God’s way will be glorified in the end.(11) Let us look honestly at any unhappiness we might have with the church. It may be because we need to change our standard of measurement. We may be measuring its performance by carnal standards.
Yes, in most congregations, there is room for improvement. Things need changing. They need to be changed to make them less offensive to Christ and not to make them any less offensive to the community around them.
The same Stone that is so precious to “you who believe” is to “those who are disobedient” a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” Shall we try to reshape the Stone to remove the offense? Or shall we let the world know that it needs to shape up to the image of the Stone?
Guardian of Truth XXX: 10, pp. 306-307
May 15, 1986