By Ron Halbrook
This is not an article promoting any one gospel paper, but is a discussion of how to make such journals profitable and enjoyable. Two years ago, a couple who were very close to our family told us why they had quit “reading the papers.” We told them why we had not. It was a healthy exchange. They said that our reasons for reading them were better than theirs for not reading, so they began (cautiously) reading again. At the time, they asked us to write an article to help other people who might have the same experience they had. We promised to do so, but got busy. A recent visit confirms that this couple has indeed found gospel papers profitable and enjoyable again. How?
Clear Purposes and Advantages
1. Clarify purposes and advantages. Some people begin taking a paper because a friend – usually a preacher recommended it. They may have no clear concept of why such a paper exists or-what it hopes to accomplish. Above all, a gospel paper should proclaim the gospel and stimulate study of God’s Word. This does not mean a steady diet of milk, a constant repetition on the earthly life of Jesus or the primary steps in conversion. There will be meat-upon which to grow, articles which challenge a person to struggle in thought over unfamiliar topics or points. Expect to put out some mental energy and effort at times. Papers stimulate study just as do commentaries, Bible classes, and personal discussions. By the written word, we have the advantage of studying with men who have spent years meditating on God’s Word, preaching it, and seeing its practical application.
In addition to making us more familiar with biblical material, papers offer many kinds of related information. What are some practical problems, issues, and temptations that brethren are facing in many places? How can we better prepare ourselves and our children to recognize present day dangers? How does modern society hinder the gospel and how can we overcome these hindrances so as to spread the Good News of Christ? What are some good Bible reference books to help in study? Where can we attend debates or find information on specific forms of denominational error which may help us to convert our friends? Where are new churches being formed? Where do special needs exist? What new methods are proving successful? All of these and many more questions are answered in the journals. News columns and reports of many kinds appear regularly. Some brethren read these before anything else because of the encouragement gained from learning about the faithful labors of saints in other places.
Scan And Read
2. Scan and read. None of us should feel enslaved to a page-by-page, line-by-line approach to reading th~ journals. Make the journals a servant, not the master of our limit time. We may not have time to read a single article in some issues – but the same thing happens with the newspaper, too. Even. a minute or two of scanning is profitable. Glancing through an issue of the paper exposes us to titles and headings, to which we may wish to refer later.
For instance, a question or assignment in Bible class can ring a bell, “I remember there was an article on that subject in a recent issue of the paper.” Now that we have a more pressing reason to read that particular article, we can find it and take the time to read it. The point is, we have exposed ourselves to large amounts of resource material on a wide variety of subjects.
More Than One
3. Take more than one paper. Take at least two. This provides exposure to a wider range of writers and subject matter. Some writers prefer to write in only one paper; we may miss the advantage of learning from some excellent student of the Word because the one paper we take is not the one in which he writes. At times, almost every paper publishes a special series of an expanded issue on a given subject. The more papers we take, the more of these concentrated studies we have for resource study.
Taking more than one paper provides a crucial safeguard. Just as with individuals, so with papers there may be a subtle shift from soundness in the faith to softness and compromise. We may fail to notice the shift in a paper if we are reading that one alone, but it is likely that other papers will be sounding a warning. Or, if a paper openly introduces error, it is certain that other papers will present a challenge by giving the other side. Even in matters of judgment that involve no doctrinal error, there is safety in a multitude of counselors. Even two is better than one.
4. Offer some feedback. When we feel the urge, we should pick up our pen or phone to register a compliment or a complaint. Writing is one of the most difficult jobs. Some articles represent many hours of research – even days, weeks, months, or years. A writer may spend several minutes trying to decide on just one word! He appreciates someone saying, “That article helped me.” This encourages him to write again.
Our complaint need not be harsh to be helpful. The writer may be able to correct a false impression, retract his error, or improve his word choice because we took time to communicate with him. An editor spends a great deal of time on his work, which is not only writing but also selecting, arranging, and correcting articles. Compliments and complaints help him to improve his work. Whether we submit a positive or negative comment at a given time, understanding the privilege of feedback helps us to enjoy and profit from reading journals.
Keep It Going
5. Two ways to perpetuate profit and enjoyment. If we save each issue of the journals we take, we build a reference library for our own future use or the future use of our children. Do not minimize the influence of journals in the home on children. If they are accustomed to seeing them in the home, they are much more likely to have religious papers in their homes. Selected articles can be pointed out to teenagers for their reading. It is profitable to save papers.
It is profitable to pass them along to other Christians, to people in the world, or to people in foreign lands. Gospel preachers can help us find Christians overseas who have precious little reading material available and who would be thrilled to receive a box full. We often throw away these papers. Some of our brethren in foreign countries pass such literature around until it literally wears out from use!
We at our house enjoy both saving and passing on the papers. We take advantage of reduced rates for multiple subscriptions so as to have papers sent directly into the homes of Christians and other friends. When we find someone taking papers but not wanting them, we obtain the papers to box them up and send them overseas.
Don’t Cancel Because . . .
When tempted to cancel our subscription to a paper, or to let our sub run out rather than renewing it, we should take a close look at the reason (?). Are we acting on impulse? Would the same reason (?) be sufficient for cancelling our sub to a local newspaper or news magazine? Avoid these pitfalls:
1. “My wife (or husband) doesn’t read it.” If either one reads it, even the one who does not should encourage the presence of the paper. It is likely that more men than women use commentaries and read gospel journals (judging from discussions I have had with brethren), but that is a poor reason to quit using either. Even the one who “doesn’t read it” is likely to pick it up occasionally if it keeps coming.
2. “I get behind on my reading. ” This discouragement should not stop the journals. The money is well spent if the papers are there to read when we do get time. Everyone gets behind at times. Do not feel burdened by the necessity to go back and read everything that was missed. Pick up again when time allows.
Don’t Like Controversies?
3. “I don’t like controversies. ” Yes, they are painful, but necessary. They are necessary to open study, to spiritual growth, and to the defense of the truth. The only two excuses for avoiding controversy on a given subject are, “It is not a problem here,” and, “It is a problem here.” In either case, only the Devil can benefit from closing the door to controversy. The person who quits reading papers because of the controversies will have to quit reading the Bible every page contains some point of controversy.
It will not do to plead, “Well, at least I don’t want to read about the persons involved if there must be controversy. ” The inspired writers and the Son of God himself could not meet this test. Controversy has a proper place in all gospel preaching and is profitable. If a paper declares itself opposed to controversy, cancel that paper! Renew every paper that follows the example of Jesus by challenging sin and error of all kinds to a fight to the death!
4. “I saw some things I disagreed with. ” Any responsible, discerning Christian will find things of this kind. He should disagree with some things that uninspired people say. Only the Bible is infallible. Remember the privilege of feedback when tempted over disagreements. Constructive criticism is more likely to bring a change than cancellation.
Can’t Afford It?
5. “I can’t afford it. ” Stop and think! We pay far more for newspapers, magazines, radios, and TVs to hear about things that are mostly degrading and depressing, than we pay for gospel papers that offer spiritual encouragement and strength. No, the Bible does not require us to take a gospel paper to go to heaven. Much less does it require a newspaper. So as a matter of simple choice, which of the two we would prefer in a crunch tells a lot about our sense of values. We can’t afford it? For the price of a newspaper for a year, we could take 10 or 12 gospel papers. For the price of a TV, or even just one payment on a TV, we could take . . . . get the point?
Do cancel if the paper becomes an enemy to the gospel, whether by direct attack upon its facts, commands, and promises, or by compromise with false doctrine. Even in the event of such a tragedy, it may be useful to read the paper to better understand the development of error and how to meet it. Here the safeguard of reading at least two papers is apparent. Read both sides of the question as an aid to searching and guarding the truth.
Ask someone who takes papers to share a few samples. Examine several. Subscribe to at least two. Then, stay with it. Profit and enjoy!
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 6, pp. 178-179
March 15, 1984