By Ron Daly
It is a well-known fact that the first years of the church’s existence was a time of phenomenal growth (Acts 6:1,7; 16:5). Many congregations are falling far short of what was accomplished by brethren in the first century. We simply are not growing in number, faith, love, and strength as we should. Actually, some churches are decreasing in size! What is the difficulty? My aim in this article is to enumerate what I believe to be the reasons for the decline in the number and in the faithfulness of many local congregations. Please meditate seriously on the reasons cited.
A misguided appeal to the physical qualities of the lost instead of the clear declarations of holy writ. I personally know of churches which are trying to “bait” people (young and old) to the assemblies of worship and exhortation! This is the crux of the social gospel-an appeal to the carnal, fleshly appetite. It is simply impossible to “draw” folks by means of secular gimmickry, convert them to Christ and keep them strong. When people do come to an acknowledgment of what is right, they usually feel very cheap to discover that they “have been had.” Many times they become disgusted and abandon all religious beliefs and piety. Brethren, it is time that we get back to preaching the gospel which is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16).
Apathy and indifference among the brethren. Some seemingly do not realize that God has called us into the greatest work on earth! We must take God’s work seriously. The parables of Christ illustrate that the Lord demands that we be concerned and active in His cause (Mt. 20:1-16). The fact that we will be judged by or according to what we have done in the body proves that we must be about our Savior’s work (2 Cor. 5: 10). The fact that some will be lost because they did not seize upon the many opportunities afforded them while they walked in the flesh proves that apathy is sinful (Mt. 25:41-46; Jas. 4:17)1 Finally, the fact that Paul, the Lord’s apostle, praised the brethren at Thessalonica for “sounding forth the word of life in almost every place” proves that we must be workers (1 Thess. 1:6-9). In most congregations, only about 40% are doing the overall work (i.e., encouraging the weak without force, visiting the sick, organizing home Bible studies with unbelievers, giving as they have truly been prospered, praying consistently, assembling regularly, etc.). Yet, everybody wants to share in the glory of the good accomplished! Some of the most detestable enemies of the local church are the indolent bums within who are like parasites, tagging along for the ride with no effort of their own to share in the work of God!
Materialism-the desire and earnest working for earthly riches, hence a losing sight of things eternal! The world we live in is so fast. The average member of the church is entangled in the mesh of slave labor. That’s right. Slave labor! We, generally speaking, are so enthralled with making “ends meet” that we give little time to spirituality until Sunday morning or Wednesday night! What a religion!
There is another sort of materialism which affects brethren that is not usually called materialism, and it is the constructing of new meeting houses and replacing old worn out roofs, paving parking lots, to the neglect of worthy men who labor in the preaching of the gospel in hard places. A fabulous, comfortable, extravagant building in which to assemble is not necessary to the worship of God Almighty! Building funds with thousands of dollars are lying dormant in many church treasuries when these funds could be used to support men who “bask” as it were on the doorsteps of brethren seeking financial help so they can work more effectively on a “full-time” basis. Our treasures are in heaven, not upon the earth (Mt. 6:19-21, 24-33). We must be content with godliness, for therein is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6-10). Striving for the basics of life is not to become our chief priority and take precedence over Christ (Mt. 6:~3; Lk. 9:57-62).
The absence of strong preaching against all forms of sin-I mean preaching which convicts and converts without compromise I Read Paul’s final charge to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:1-5). He was told to be “instant,” which means “opportunely, seasonably, when the opportunity occurs,” and “out of season,” whether or not the preaching comes at a convenient time for the hearers. Discharge your duty whether it is welcomed or not! In being “instant in season, out of season” the young preacher was instructed to “reprove” (reprehend severely, convict of error), “rebuke” (a sharp rebuke, to cite a penalty for disobedience, in this case of future judgment), “exhort” (exhort to forsake error, to urge fering and doctrine” (with unwearied, inexhaustible patience and teaching. People must be instructed soundly and reasonably in the truth!). The kind of preaching which Paul commanded of Timothy in 64 A.D. is not welcomed in many pulpits in 1984 A.D., and some churches which welcome it do not get it! There are some sins that some churches request the preacher to be silent about, and there are some preachers who request that the churches allow them to ignore certain specific sins! To such men and churches, spirituality is a game of politics. “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. ” There are many examples of strong preaching in the Bible. John the Baptizer told Herod, who was then involved in an unscriptural marriage, “It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Mt. 14). This was rebuke, not compromise! In Matthew 23, Jesus told the Pharisees that their converts are “twofold more a son of hell than yourselves.” Christ rebuked, not compromised! To Simon, a recent convert to Christianity, Peter said because of Simon’s sin, “Thy heart is not right before God” (Acts 8:19-22). Rebuke, not compromise. Paul said that Bar Jesus (Acts 13:6-12) was “full of guile, villainy, thou son of the devil, enemy of all righteousness Paul rebuked, no compromise! All they did was motivated by love (Eph. 4:15). Their preaching was balanced (Acts 20:17-20, 26-27). Wherever strong preaching is heard and adhered to, growth will result (Isa. 55:8-11).
A general tolerance of error and wickedness among members-there is the ever present problem of worldliness. Many local churches contain members who dress like the world (wearing tight pants, shorts, swim suits, low cut blouses, see-through dresses, short “manish” hair on women and long “girlish” hair on men) (cf. 1 Tim. 2:9-10). Members who talk like the world (indulging in the telling of vulgar or questionable jokes, profane language, boasting, lying, blasphemy, gossip, and slander [cf. Col. 3:5; Eph 4:25,29]) and members who finally come to love the world (cf. 1 Jn. 2:15-17), prevent church growth.
We can and will grow if we set our hearts to the task realizing that we are servants of the King, children of God, and laborers in the vineyard of the Lord!
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 23, pp. 722-723
December 6, 1984