By Steve Wolfgang
Footnote 21 “Burnett’s Budget,” Gospel Advocate, XXXV11 (July 4, 1895), 419.
“Last week about a hundred preachers and fashionable women assembled at Gainesville, Texas, in a state convention, and wasted enough of the Lord’s money and time to have held a hundred protracted meetings, and converted a thousand sinners. They also spent enough money on extra fine toggery, to appear in style, to pay the expenses of a half dozen evangelists to preach the gospel in destitute places all summer. What was their business at Gainesville? Principally a good time and a fashionable blowout, and in addition to this, an effort to push forward the furor for societies and fads in religion, and to supplant the Lord’s plan of work and worship in the churches.”
Beneath the wrong practice of establishing a missionary society lay some wrong attitudes. The trap of all institutional reform is its tendency to diminish, rather than increase, the amount of work done. To Burnett, it was sinful to spend money lavishly to hold a convention for the supposed purpose of encouraging missionary work. Why not spend that effort to convert souls? He was right. Religious organizations – whether a missionary society, a church extension board or the Herald of Truth – ultimately use money rather than increase it. Mission money supports administrators and not missionaries.
Burnett also questioned the common sense and the religious integrity of the people involved in such programs. At best, such people missed the point of how the gospel could be spread. The subsequent histories of the Christian Church and the Church of Christ in Texas testify that pioneer preachers holding “protracted meetings” converted many more people than did the state missionary society. At worst, these people made a callous use of the kingdom of God for the gratification of their own ambitions. Disinterested people use the society to excuse themselves of their responsibility to teach. Proud men use the society to gain position and adulation. Of course, such motives are sometimes present in quite proper activities. In modern lectureships, political posturing and social frivolity sometimes absent more serious purposes.
Wrong practice is rooted in wrong attitudes. We must never practice our religion to be seen of men, nor make religion only a tool to cultivate our own vanity. Only if our sole purpose is to do God’s work will God’s methods seem best to us, for God’s methods bring glory to God and man’s methods bring glory to man. – Ed Harrell (From Perspectives, December, 1975)
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 9, p. 270
May 3, 1990