By Jeffery Kingry
“The art of life is to focus on difficulties and deal with them as best one can, without making psychological problems out of them that then lead to nightmares. We could also say that the art is to maintain a sense of proportion in our lives. But we can keep a sense of proportion only, when dealing with sensible proportions. For if things become so vast that the mind cannot any more encompass them, a sense of proportion becomes an impossibility.
“When we are told that there are, say, seven million unemployed in the United States, the size of the problem paralyzes our imaginations and we have our nightmares of being unable to deal with it. It would be different if we were told that there are ninety people in our neighborhood who are out of work.
“We could then focus on the problem, find out who the ninety people are, what they could do, what they would want to do. Local action would become at least conceivable.
“Maybe what we most need is a holiday from global, national, in fact from superhumanly big statistics. I and my community may be in decline while national and global totals show healthy growth. The latter is no consolation; it cannot make me satisfied with my own condition. Conversely, if I can keep my own and my community’s house in good order, I am doing all I can do, and worrying about global or even national performances that I cannot influence because they are completely out of my reach does not do anybody any good” (Schumacher, E.F., “Small is Beautiful,” Psychology Today, September 1977).
What Mr. Schumacher proposes on a physical scale for dealing with national and international, problems, might well be heeded by each Christian for dealing with spiritual problems confronted individually and in the church. There seems to be a rising propensity to see problems and their solutions as “brotherhood wide.” It is not necessary to document statements to that effect, though it would be possible to do so. The current error being discussed in print is a case in point. That such teaching is false, I would not hesitate to affirm. That many preachers have left the truth, and many brethren’s thinking has become disquieted and confused, I would not deny. But, the solution and cause of such a problem is beyond my ability to deal with on a “brotherhoodwide” basis. Some men may think that it is not beyond their ability, but I venture to say that if they approach the problem on a universal scale, they are going to be disappointed. God, in His wisdom, directs each saint through His word, to approach problems on a level that he can do something about: individually or within the local church. One of the lessons we learn from the parable of the talents is that each was responsible only for what he did (Matt. 25:14ff). Each was rewarded according to what he did with what was entrusted to him. The five-talent man and the two-talent man were not responsible to see that the one-talent man used what was given to him properly. The man answered for himself.
Is there a sinner in the church where we worship? The Lord has given us the manner with which to deal with it, and all within the bounds of the individual relationship, or within the local church (Matt. 18:15ff). We cannot, in a practical way, discipline one who is a false teacher elsewhere. We can teach regarding error, mark false teachers, and warn, “lest any come unto you with another doctrine” that those with whom we work and share in Christ might “be on guard.” But, we cannot root out the tares in the kingdom of God. This belongs to God and the judgment (Matt. 13:24-30, 38-42).
Such an attitude of respect for both congregational integrity, autonomy, and self-sufficiency and individual responsibility before God would avoid such tragedies as is illustrated in the bulletins of some churches. With this tool of evangelism and edification, churches make a local problem, a universal one. I thought, as I read in the church bulletin about who did what to who, “Now, what am I supposed to do about this?”
My same thought arose when another church mailed mimeographed letters to all the churches and preachers for which they could get an address concerning a recent split they had. A few weeks before, I had gotten another mimeographed letter from the group that had left giving their side of the conflict. It appeared as though there was plenty of wrong to go around. I wrote a letter to the elders of one of the factions and asked if I could help, in any way, by teaching and acting as a go-between for reconciliation. They responded graciously by saying “mind your own business, and you will no longer be receiving the 9625 a month support we were sending you.” Why mail something to brethren all over the United States to folks who have no stake or interest or business in the conflict, asking them to take sides?
What about a new error? Are there saints who need instruction on a “current issue”? Solomon noted by inspiration, “There is nothing new under the sun.” “Current issues” are current only in that we are discussing them now. Every error is merely a corruption or a twisting of an eternal truth. Each church and each man have Paul, John, Peter, and the other inspired writers to enable them to overcome the ignorance of error. I can only be responsible for myself and the place where I teach and worship. “Study (give diligence) to show theyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Congregational autonomy and self-sufficiency mean just that. When one loses confidence in God’s ability to accomplish-his goals through the means he has given, then we begin to see an outgrowth of the “wisdom of men” in action. What has the church and the cause of the Lord benefitted through the various societies and institutions men have erected to evangelize, edify, or do benevolence on a scale larger than the local church? Why is it that those who have a “sure-fire” way to do personal-work, train preachers, aid the home and parent in raising kids, etc. always seem to be able to market it at a distinct personal profit? What makes those gospel papers of the past that issued “calls” for the brethren to
rally round on one project or another (churches on the move!) wrong in one generation, yet right in this one? Those rallies always seem to wander off into error somehow. Anything done on a universal scale ultimately does when led by men.
But, sitting back in the calm coolness of Bible study, we might consider the example of what God did with Abraham, Samuel, David, Elisha, and other men of faith who lived their own lives purely and with dedication. We might consider what God did with John the Baptist, the apostles, and the self-sufficient, autonomous churches of the first century. We might consider the Lord Himself, who never did His works or His teaching in a universal way-but as one man working with the power of God. We begin to see that it is through weakness that God makes strength. What men consider inadequate, unorganized, effete, unprofessional or foolish, God uses and brings about His will (1 Cor. 1:20ff).
Therefore, when considering some problem, I need to look at it in its proper dimension. What can I do about it? If it is bigger than me or the local church where I work and worship, then I must leave it in God’s hands. But, even a large problem can be dealt with by straightforward, ordinary methods. Instead of “editorializing” about the state of the church, feeling its “pulse,” issuing “calls” or trumpet blows to rally everyone around one cause or another, “as for me and my house” we will serve the Lord right here. One of the great disadvantages of seeking to do a work larger than the local church is that is it doomed from the start. And too often, because we cannot do anything about a problem universally, we wind up not doing what we can locally. I cannot deal with the widespread worldliness and decay of the family I see in the world and many churches. But, I can keep myself unspotted from the world, and help those in need of family as I have opportunity. I cannot help those who teach false doctrine in other places, unless I have opportunity to go there and teach. But, I do teach my own family right and wrong from the scriptures, and “provoke unto love and good works” those brethren where I worship. Every man must do the best he can where he is and as he has opportunity. God does not ask anymore of us.
Truth Magazine XXII: 21, pp. 341-342
May 25, 1978