By Aude McKee
When I was a boy, the phrase that makes the title for this article was heard with some frequency. Brethren often inquired then, as they do now, “How is the work going where you live?” Then the answer would sometimes come, “Well, we are keeping house for the Lord.” Those who used the phrase to describe local conditions usually were implying a number of things. They had services in the building every first day of the week with different men of the congregation rising to their feet; reading a passage, and perhaps making some comments. Another man might, after a period of quiet, request that the congregation kneel and he would then lead a prayer. When the delay between songs, prayers, or talks became especially long, one of the brethren would then “wait on the table.” Then after the Lord’s Supper, the contribution would be taken. This routine would be broken once a month when a visiting preacher would come to town on the train and then services would be held on Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night. In addition to these activities, about the only thing that ever occurred that was different was the annual revival. This series of meetings was normally held during the hottest time in the year, lasted for two weeks, and the building was comfortably filled every night. A sizable number of people would respond to the invitation; some to confess their faith in Christ and be baptized, and others to be restored. Those restored were often the ones who had been baptized the year before.
“Keeping house for the Lord,” as described above, cannot be criticized because of what was done, but rather because of what was not done. The doors of the meeting house were kept open, but not with enough frequency to get the job done. Mid-week services were usually not held; special classes designed to explore areas of Bible teaching that otherwise might not be touched for years, were never conducted; Bible classes on Sunday morning were either not convened or else all held in the same room divided simply by two or three pews. The subjects covered during the annual meeting were heavily weighted on the first principle side. Those converted each year were not given the kind of spiritual food that would cause them to develop into strong Christians. The number of persons converted under those circumstances was considerable, but the attrition rate was almost as great.
Intensive private investigation of God’s Word, on the part of most people, was lacking. A real need was not kept before people and so motivation was in short supply. Bible classes that required in-depth preparation were rare; more often than not, the lessons brought during the mutual edification period were not provocative of further study, and since teaching in the home on an individual basis was seldom done, answers to all the questions that arise under such circumstances did not have to be dug out. I suspect that the practice of reading a chapter from the Bible and having prayer in the home was more common than it is today, and that practice needs to be encouraged, but reading a chapter before bedtime does not suffice for diligent study of God’s Word.
Looking back, it is easy to see why apostasy was certain to come. It seems to this writer that emphasis was placed on opposing certain practices, such as instrumental music and the support of the missionary society, but very little time was spent on basic principles that would fortify a person against similar things in new dress. The things just mentioned were dirty words to about every Christian, but how to establish Bible authority, local church autonomy, and such matters, were rarely if ever discussed to any extent. And so those Christians who did remain “faithful” were not really grounded in basics and so were easy marks for the promoters of big things. The leaders in the departures from the truth in the past quarter of a century were mostly schooled under these circumstances just described.
But there were other deficiencies in “keeping house for the Lord.” Since very little was ever done that required money, contributions on the Lord’s Day remained pitifully small. When I was a boy, the sight of a bill in the collection basket was the cause for conversation after the service was over. Money was scarce in the thirties but, without doubt, the per capita giving of most local churches could have doubled. And then, in most cases, what is commonly known today as “personal work” was unheard of. Everybody knew when preaching day was, and advertisements in the local paper plus flyers tacked to the telephone poles were sufficient to inform everyone of the approaching revival. We dare not charge anyone with a lack of concern for the souls of lost people, but the fact remains that very little effort was made on the personal level to convert the lost. My mother and I prayed together when I was a boy and I can remember her mentioning people in her prayers, beseeching the Lord that they might be saved. But I can never remember any emphasis being placed on our personal responsibility in the lessons that I heard preachers bring. Perhaps the annual meeting worked so well that everyone’s teaching the Word seemed unnecessary.
The solution to these problems lies in two “ships.” Good leadership and the recognition on the part of individual Christians of their stewardship. As most of our readers know, the responsibility for leadership in the Lord’s church rests on elders (bishops). These men must possess certain qualifications, detailed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, in order to be ordained. When appointed, fearful tasks rest on them. They must exhort and convince the gainsayers (Titus 1:9), rule (1 Tim. 5:17), labor and admonish (1 Thess. 5:12-13), watch for souls (Heb. 13:17), oversee (Acts 20:28), and shepherd the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Really, their responsibilities are closely akin to those of a father. A father over a house (home) must see that the family is provided an adequate place to live, food and clothing sufficient to their needs, discipline (both instructive and corrective), and concern that those who “leave the nest” have been schooled to the extent they will form new homes in keeping with the Lord’s Will. Elders must see that the local church has adequate facilities for the feeding of the flock, for teaching the lost, and for God’s people to assemble and worship. They must see that opportunity is provided every child in the family for spiritual growth, and that everyone’s talents are utilized to the fullest extent. They must see that proper incentives are constantly kept before each person to live a pure and dedicated life, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, and to go out inviting people to partake of the good things Christ has to offer. Elders must have good vision. They must be able to see beyond the needs of the local congregation where they serve and be impressed with the mass of lost people in every part of the world. They must lead Christians, whom they oversee, to want to sacrifice that others beyond their immediate sphere of influence, may hear the gospel of Christ. To do their job properly, they must look ahead. Are people being given what they need to face the temptations and problems that tomorrow may bring? Are they being grounded in basics so that they will be able to recognize sin and digression even though Satan may dress it up in new designs and flashy colors?
Elders who are sincere in their desire to see that the local church does more than “keep house,” will have frequent and lengthy sessions together discussing the immediate and long-range needs of the flock. There will necessarily be attention given to individuals and what must be done to utilize their talents, motivate their activity, and stimulate their spiritual growth. They will seek help to do their job well from every source available. They will pray much, they will solicit help from the deacons, from the evangelist, and from every faithful member of the body. Being the right kind of overseers mean that they labor under their responsibilities twenty-four hours of every day and seven days of every week. No local church can reach its potential without the kind of shepherds ordained in God’s Word!
However, with or without proper oversight every Christian’s individual responsibilities remain. Each of us is a living stone and by the hand of the master builder have been put into the temple (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5). Even though not apostles, we are in a very real sense, “laborers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9). We have been blessed “with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:3), and so are “stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10). Paul said in 1 Cor. 4:2 that “it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” It really does not matter whether I am a member of a wide-awake, active, concerned local church, or a part of one that for the most part just “keeps house.” My personal responsibilities remain the same. I must be faithful in all that the statement “faithful unto death” entails in Rev. 2:10. My life must be pure, my ambitions holy, and my respect for God’s authority evident in all I do and say. I must study my Bible diligently, pray without ceasing, and work in view of the coming night. Even under less than ideal circumstances, I must continually “provoke (my brothers and sisters in Christ) unto love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). I must strive to always set the right example before others because righteousness and zeal are just as contageous as evil and unconcern.
May God help us to do more than “keep house.” We must strive to make the Lord’s house a relationship into which the lost are brought and the saved are kept.
Truth Magazine XXII: 18, pp. 292-294
May 4, 1978