By Tom M. Roberts
The Monastic concept is a withdrawal from life, a retreat to cloistered walls and inner contemplation that isolates one from contemporaries in a sinful world.
The Gnostic concept is a participation in sinful life with the physical body but a philosophical denial of the reality of guilt to the spiritual being.
Both concepts are extremes, wide of the mark, and harmful to Christian living.
Of Jesus, it is said, “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). As a youngster, Jesus was a part of His community. As was the custom, Jesus was taught a trade, His father’s carpentry. After Jesus began His mighty deeds, His townsmen were astonished at His teaching, saying, “. . . What is the wisdom that is given unto this man, what mean such mighty works wrought by his hands? is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary. . . ?” (Mark 6:2-3) Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He was among the people, saint and sinner alike. He was charged with eating and consorting with sinners. This was certainly true, insofar as it is stated. But it must be realized to be true to Jesus’ character that He was teaching sinners and that His association with them in no way should be taken as condoning any sin. The much-divorced woman at the Samaritan well (John 4) was surprised to find a Jewish man discussing the issues of life with her. So taken was she with the force of His discussion that she introduced Him to her village and this “chance” encounter led to others knowing about Jesus. The woman taken in adultery (John 8) found Jesus as her defender against her “kangaroo court” accusers but learned clearly that He did not countenance adultery. Jesus’ feet were washed by a sinful woman (Luke 7:37ff), He ate with publicans and sinners (Luke 5:29ff), walked among the Gerasenes (Mark 5), healed lepers (Matt. 115), praised a centurion (Luke 7:9), was acquainted with the rich and poor, and, as the full record indicates, walked on main street during His life both by example and teaching. As Paul later explained to Agrippa when teaching about Jesus: “for this hath not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Jesus lived where the people lived, talked their language, worked a trade, mixed and mingled in the streets of their villages, exhorted them to love God, rebuked their sins, and left us an example that we “should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
Main Street, in most American towns, is a thoroughfare that bisects the main business district. It is representative of the place where people congregate to conduct the affairs of life. Symbolically, Jesus did His work on “main street” in Galilee and Judea. He was not ashamed of His life or teaching, did not attempt to disguise it, did not retreat to Masada nor join with the Hellenists. He went to the people with His message, but remained uniquely and unerringly Jesus, the Son of God.
For us to be effective, we must take the same approach, today. The gospel message is for people. While realizing the value of technology (printed page, radio, television), it yet remains that we should interact with our neighbors with the gospel of Christ. We cannot expect the preacher to reach all the lost from the pulpit. Radio, television and newspaper contacts must still be approached by individuals for personal study. Jesus made the apostles “fishers of men” and we should be no less. But how do we go about it?
Brethren, we do it like Jesus did, by taking to Main Street, U.S.A. Not superficially, of course, like Madison Avenue with a product to sell. But with Christ in our hearts, on a day-to-day basis, as we interact with our fellow-citizens in all manner of possible scenarios. Where do you buy gas? Where do you bank? Where do you buy groceries? Who is your dentist, doctor, mechanic? Who is your neighbor, sister-in-law, cousin, aunt, uncle? Who do you visit in the hospitals, play golf with, have coffee with, car-pool together? Are you in the PTA? Do you belong to the Lion’s Club? Do you belong to professional societies? Are you an architect, engineer, doctor, lawyer? Do you baby-sit, do volunteer work, work in a store or office? Regardless, the one common denominator in all these instances (and multitudes more) is people. And people need the gospel. And you have it.
I’m not suggesting that we all become obnoxious and pushy with our understanding of the truth. I realize that there are circumstances where we cannot actually do a lot of teaching. But it is possible to leave good tracts at many places, with many people. (Do you keep tracts in your car pocket, briefcase, purse?) It is possible to invite people to worship where you attend. It is possible to advertise a gospel meeting with a personal invitation to go with you. It is possible to exert a godly influence by your conversation, deportment, speech and attitudes. With Christ in our hearts, He goes with us when we go out on Main Street. When we meet someone, Christ meets them, too. When we conduct business, Christ is a part of the transaction. He should even be with us in our times of recreation. Does Jesus go on vacation with you or do you leave him behind in the “church building”? See what I mean? I fear that we have lost our effectiveness because we want the preacher, or some kind of technology, or someone else, to do the converting. We give our money in the collection plate and want the church to grow. The church doesn’t grow; therefore, the preacher isn’t working. But isn’t it really altogether too true that we have attempted to shut Jesus up in the “church building” and only come to visit an hour or two a week? It is almost like we have confined Jesus to prison with limited visitation privileges. Folks, you won’t find Jesus in a church building unless Christ is in the heart of those who attend there. And if Christ is in their hearts, He will be with them when they leave the building and go out into the world, back to Main Street. It is there that Christians become a force with which to be reckoned. When persecuted in the first century, the disciples “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Christ in us . . . we in the world. In this manner, we are salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16), giving a distinctive flavor to life even while letting our light shine. Let’s be ready to follow Jesus right into life’s pathways. Let’s not shrink from life, fearful from its contact, nor join in its sinful practices, heedless of the deadliness of sin. But rather, let us “show forth the excellencies, of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 10, pp. 295, 312
May 21, 1987