The Not So Great Commission
A number of years ago, a well-known gospel preacher commented to me privately that our institutional brethren were the only ones doing anything about the Great Commission. Although he and I both deplored the use of unscriptural methods in many of their evangelistic efforts, we both agreed that there was much truth in what he was saying. Indeed, the Great Commission did not seem so great to many in the conservative ranks.
While some readers may take issue with his criticism, I ask that they give the matter more careful reflection before dismissing it. Although there are certainly many devout brethren among us who are very active in trying to reach the lost, personal experience has led me to believe that we can do much better. In fact, we can learn much from the example of our brethren on the institutional side of the fence.
An experience in my freshman year as a college student deeply impressed me with just how serious our shortcomings can be in this area. Prior to arriving at the university, I received a steady stream of mail from institutional churches inviting me to worship with them. Upon my arrival, I not only received more mail from them, but personal visits as well. Since I had been unable to locate the "sound" congregation in the area, I felt compelled to attend one of these churches until I could do better. Meanwhile, my search continued. When I checked the college directory, the institutional churches were there, but not the conservative one. I tried the local telephone book, but this effort was also futile. For over a month, I searched with no success. Although I knew the location of every other church in town, I could not find the one I sought. Finally, with the help of a gospel preacher outside the area, I found the object of my search. The little building was located on the edge of town in an inconspicuous location. At the very first service, I complained that the brethren needed to advertise and pointed out that the institutional brethren were all over campus. My comment was received with apparent apathy. Nothing was ever done about it. In fact, there was no special effort to reach the lost in the community during the four years that I worshiped with them.
This incident would not be so sad if the failures of that congregation were not so familiar. Many other churches around the country have done no better. They have no plan to insure that lost souls in their area hear about Jesus. The predominant attitude seems to be that if people do not happen to wander into our buildings they are just not interested in the gospel. If these brethren stopped for a moment to think about it, they would realize just how ludicrous is this line of thought. Why should these people come to our buildings? In their eyes, we are just one of hundreds of denominations. Many of them have not yet been taught that it makes any difference what church you "join" or whether or not you are a member of any. They have been fed a steady diet of "salvation by grace only" and "faith only." It is our job to teach them better. They are not going to start coming to our services (gospel meetings included) until we do something. Sadly, very little is being done by the average Christian. This is one reason some congregations are on the verge of extinction. Even many congregations which are growing have gained members as the result of "move-ins" or the defection of members of congregations experiencing internal strife. Very little is being done to actually reduce the number of lost souls.
Brethren, when will this stop? When are we going to change? Enough is enough! In spite of all the sermons, class lessons, and articles which have addressed this topic, the indifference continues. Many act as if nothing had ever been said. Although some will often shake the preacher's hand and tell him how right he is to give the assembly a thorough thrashing on this matter, how many of them ever apply the message? Unfortunately, the problem is much deeper than not knowing how to teach people. When personal work classes are offered, many brethren always seem to have more important things to do. Some who do attend never apply what they learn.
It is time for a restoration of the spirit of New Testament Christianity. While it is proper to focus upon the work, worship, and organization of the early church, some are no better than many of the Pharisees when they neglect the spirit within. Some brethren may boast about how sound they are when what they really are is sound asleep! While they condemn many of their religious neighbors for having zeal without knowledge, they have knowledge without zeal. In the Judgment, who will do better? If these brethren do not "get on fire" for Jesus now, they may find themselves on fire at the end.
Dear reader, will you make a commitment to the Great Commission? Will you make it whether anybody else around you does nor not? If the answer is "yes," here are some things you will want to begin doing immediately:
1. Repent of your past negligence. You have sinned, and you need to see it for what it is.
2. Start really believing in the afterlife and the fact that many souls are lost. According to an article which appeared in the March 25th issue of U.S. News and World Report, about 60 percent of the American people believe in some kind of hell. However, only 4 percent believe there is a chance that they might go there. This accounts for much of the indifference toward religion among non-Christians and may account for some of the indifference toward personal work among some brethren.
3. Begin training to be the best soul winner that you can be. Talents and opportunities vary. Therefore, you should concentrate on being the best that you can be. Such training can be obtained from many brethren among us who have considerable cxr) experience in reaching the lost.
4. Learn the meaning of sacrifice. Jesus suffered and died for you. The apostles were mocked, beaten, stoned, and killed while preaching Christ. Are you unwilling to handle an occasional frown or negative comment from someone who disagrees with you? Read Acts 5:41.
5. Develop patience. This is where many would-be personal workers fail. If they do not see a few baptisms immediately, they get discouraged and quit. Sometimes you will need the patience of Job, but you must keep going. Even if everyone you try to teach turns you down, you will still save a soul - your own!
6. Keep your responsibility in this matter ever before you. It may help you to pin this article up where you can see it every day. This will prevent your forgetting tomorrow what you resolved to do today.
7. Do everything you can to get other Christians involved. The more workers, the better the results will be. This is one reason the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are growing while we are not.
The decision is yours. Personally, I want to go to heaven more than anything I can imagine. However, I want it for every soul on earth. No matter what others may do, I know what I must do. Will you join me? If you will, the time may come when someone in heaven may turn to you and say, "I am here partly because of you."
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 17, pp. 513, 534