By Daniel H. King
I do not think that anybody would hesitate to admit that times have changed greatly since the great meetings held by brethren like J. D. Tant, Hardeman, Harding Nichol, Keeble, Larimore, and others. Huge crowds and many responses seemed always to be characteristic of those efforts. No doubt television and a thousand other preoccupations have begun to take up the time that once was spent listening to gospel preaching and debates. In that by-gone day entertainment was not so easy to come by because there was not as much money around; most of the people were farmers and in the summer when the crops were laid-by, then it was meeting time. Most of the countryside turned out for a meeting because it was far more than just an opportunity to hear the gospel, it was also a time for courting by the young people, for good-natured conversation and exchange of ideas, as well as a time for excitement, controversy and worship. Today crowds are not so easily drawn as they were then. Likewise, responses do not even begin to compare. I am sure that there are a multitude of reasons that this is so. Moreover, we could spend a great deal of time listing the various explanations. But one of our current problems is that we are already spending far too much time looking at the negative aspects of the thing and far too little time preaching the gospel. Many of us are like the one-talent man. We know all of the good reasons why not to do anything. So we spend much of our time talking about the reasons why people do not come to meetings anymore, and why we do not get the kind of results that we once did, and why it is a waste of time to have meetings “these days”-and we end up doing nothing. Our friends, relatives, and neighbors are heading for hell and damnation and we stand around making excuses!
I recently held a meeting with a church that had not had a meeting in ten or fifteen years (no one knew for sure, because it had been so long that nobody could remember exactly when the last one was). I hear of more and more churches that are moving toward this kind of thing. Today there are many, many of us who will hold protracted meetings if given the opportunity-with or without compensation-just for the sheer pleasure and privilege of proclaiming the glorious gospel of the Lamb of God as well as being a part in the saving of the lost and the up building of the kingdom. By and large I do not think that preachers are at fault in this, although we will be at fault if we sit idly by while brethren become more and more listless and insensitive to the cry of a lost and dying world. We need to awaken the brethren to the danger that is looming ever more ominous and foreboding, that is, our own indifference to the need of the damned of this world. Our meetings in many parts are getting ever more poorly attended and are therefore being cut shorter. Meetings fifty years ago sometimes stretched to forty-five and even sixty days, with preaching twice or even three times daily. Now a meeting continuing through two consecutive Sundays is an oddity. The order of the day is the quickie-the week-end meeting. There is nothing wrong with these in some cases because several services are held and several opportunities are thus given to hear the truth. But in others only a couple of services are held and very little preparation is made. When will this shrinking of public exposure to the gospel stop? Most of us are still convinced that the gospel meeting is the best means to give people who are members of the sects and unsound churches a chance to hear the unadulterated truth without missing their own services (which most sincere ones refuse to do). Our trimming-down of our meetings, however, is certain to be limiting our potential.
What we are moving toward appears frightful to me. I think we are going in the wrong direction. And all the while I think that the Devil is sitting back and laughing with many an eldership or entire church in his grip under the guise of “logical surrender to our time and circumstance,” reasoning something like this: “When we hold a meeting we can hardly get anybody out for it,” and “We never see any results from one,” and “People just have too much to do these days.” Instead of making excuses, we need to hold more .meetings and work harder to make the ones we have successful. Sure, there will be times when we are not successful. Even in the old days meetings sometimes flopped. Many a preacher moved his tent after a couple of days of preaching to an empty tent. What we need to remember is this: The Bible tells us, “A sower went forth to sow . . . .” That is our work. It also says, “It is God that giveth the increase.” That is God’s job. If we put out the effort and do our part, we can be assured that God is going to do His. But what if the sower stays home, discouraged by the excuse that there seems to be an overabundance of rocky ground and other obstacles to a healthy crop? When the harvest season comes it will be a sad day for the church of God. The fields will be desolate. The barns will be empty. And the Lord of the harvest will be a disappointed and angry landlord.
We do not need to sell the gospel with gimmicks. We cannot do that and please God anyway. Parties, puppet shows, bus brigades and other social gospel tactics are better left to the denominations (who are devoid of the saving gospel), and some of our digressive brethren who have not the sense to get in out of the rain. What we need is more instead of less of the Old Jerusalem Gospel. Whatever we do, let us not quit or diminish the preaching of the Gospel.
Truth Magazine XIX: 55, pp. 876-877
December 4, 1975