I was baptized back in 1965. In the history of the New Testament Church in the Twentieth Century I consider that year to have been in the last portion of the "hay day" of the present day "Church of Christ." By that I mean, the Church of Christ was coming to an end of a cycle of good numerical growth. For decades many people were being converted and congregations were being established and growing at a good pace. For a while, the church was recognized as one of the fastest growing churches in the U.S. We who can call ourselves the conservative brethren successfully fought a battle against the false doctrines of liberalism and institutionalism.
In my early days of being a Christian I can remember numerous baptisms and many churches building new meeting houses. There was a certain excitement at attending gospel meetings. There was a certain excitement at being a true child of God. This period of growth seems to have long since ended.
Let me pause and note for the reader's sake that I am looking at the church from a peculiar position. After preaching for several years, I fell from the faith and ceased attending. I knew little of what was happening to my brethren for over ten years. I had sunk deeply into sin and it took quite a lot of effort to recover from this. But, with the help of some faithful brethren, I did overcome and returned to the Lord. It has been only recently that I have raised up my eyes to look at the condition of the church after this decade-plus period of time.
I am saddened at much of what I see.
I see congregations I had known in the past now shrinking in size and even, in some cases, ceasing to exist. I hear of and have seen that gospel meetings often have become a ritual. A time is selected convenient to the brethren (i.e., not around vacation times, not during school time, not during bad weather times, etc.). Topics are timely, to be sure, but they are usually not aimed at non-believers. It is almost a given that there will be few, if any, non-Christian visitors in attendance. I also hear of few, if any, baptisms during gospel meetings.
In fact, I hear of few baptisms, period! When there are some, it is from members of families already in attendance, usually the result of children growing up. These baptisms are precious, indeed. But do you see the direction in which we have been going? Few people outside of the meeting houses of congregations are being converted. In fact, it appears that far too often few people outside of church meeting houses are hearing the gospel. I see brethren making noble attempts at teaching fellow brethren. I see efforts such as the Guardian of Truth to shore up the church by teaching against false doctrine among brethren. I see congregations preaching about family values which is, indeed, timely. I see some brethren even coming close to being political in the pulpit (which I do not believe is wise!) almost to the extent that they have become unequally yoked with people of other "conservative denominations" to fight against abortion and other issues.
I feel that we have become too introspective. We have become so busy in our attempts of protecting the church against ourselves that we have lost the sight of the mission of the Lord, the preaching of the gospel to the world and the saving of souls. And in so doing, we have reached the point where we are not even sustaining the strength of the church as it once was.
If you feel that I, a former sinner of great sins, have no right to speak out as I am, perhaps I deserve such a slap. There have been many times I have begun to write and then stopped for weeks. Indeed, I, too, feel that I have no right to speak. But this truth about myself will not change the accuracy of what I see. If what I see is true, it is not important who sees it but it is important that it be said.
I must add that when I was attempting to recover from the depth of my sins and as I began to see the condition of my Lord's church today, what I saw almost hindered me in my recovery. I saw so much bickering among my brethren. I saw what I interpreted as a lack of biblical love in the conduct of too many brethren in their dealings among themselves. I saw the lack of reaching for lost souls in the world as I have noted up to this point. It is a sad personal admission, but I almost gave up in my attempt to spiritually recover because I did not relish the thought of being part of the church in such a condition.
In all seriousness I say that I understand why our meager efforts at saving souls are often unproductive. Just like me, when outsiders see what the Church of Christ is like today, some do not want to become part of what they see. In fact, since I have been restored, I have personally communicated with brethren who have left the church in disgust. One of my own relatives wrote stinging words, truthful words, about the poor spiritual condition of the church in general which contributed to her falling away. Would you want to become part of a movement whose main efforts seem almost to be bent upon self destruction?
Permit me to add to these thoughts the following observation that the percent condition of the church comes at a poor time in the situation of the world. It has been noted widely in the news media and in other areas that after years of obvious spiritual depravity of the "baby boom generation," many of that generation have reached a point of a kind of "repentance" in which they feel spiritually void. This is not really remarkable, my brethren. It is certainly a biblical truth (as put forth in Ecclesiastes and other places) that if a person is even the least bit honest with his own soul he will eventually come to the nagging inner conclusion that all which is of this world is vanity and that there must be something more. My fellow members of the baby boom generation seem to be awakening to the fact that they are spiritually empty. They are awakening to the need of God.
But where are we my brethren? We are the people of God. Where are we! We are sitting by unprepared and in relative inaction. I see false teachers of all stripes making off like the bandits that they are. Pentecostal churches are preaching their gospel of emotionalism and are growing by "leaps and bonds." Other denominational churches are likewise finding ways to increase in their abilities of compromising with the ways of the world and are attracting people to their churches. And even several eastern religions are making shocking inroads among segments of our society.
Perhaps it can be said that only because the baby boom generation is of such an unusual size that such a movement is so noticeable. But it is noticeable! Such a massive movement of people seeking spirituality is a fact. By all rights, the truth of our Lord's gospel, the Lord's church should be deep into the harvest of the times. Of course, many people would still reject the truth when they hear it. But it is just as true that those of our day who have come to understand that they are spiritually empty would receive the truth from our efforts if they were taught. It is very true that if they were taught, many baby boomers would join us in the kingdom of our Lord. By all rights the church should be seeing one of the most exciting times of its present day existence! But it is not!
Instead, we continue to bicker. We continue to simmer in our own local problems. We continue to debate about unscriptural church methods (i.e. institutionalism) but we do not come to a consensus of which of today's modem methods of communication we can use and how we can use them. We debate about divorce and remarriage (and so we should). But we do so almost in such a way as to imply that it is such a problem far greater than the problem of lost souls, many of whom are divorced. And maybe, just maybe, we have too many lazy people among us. What will history, and our Lord, record about the churches of Christ during this time? I strongly suggest that unless we shake ourselves and wake up to the needs of the times to face and to overcome our weaknesses and shortcomings, the record will be quite sad.
Perhaps because of my great sins I am so unworthy a child of God that I do not have the right to speak as I do here. But I challenge anyone to disagree with these painful observations. Even beyond this I wonder whether my comments will be of any usefulness at all. I feel very overwhelmed by what I see among us. I fear that I will be seen as an alarmist outcast and that these thoughts will be cast aside. But the words are spoken and they are now yours.
"Behold I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest" (John 4:35).
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 1 p. 6-7