By Norman Fultz
There is almost never an abundance of workers for any facet of service in the Lord’s church, and filling the vacancies is, therefore, not an easy task. The persons charged with the responsibility of making assignments do not have enviable jobs, and they are often the object of criticism because of some of the assignments made. The question of whom to use in public service or teaching roles is a live one in most congregations. Since various factors are involved, some are often used whose use is of questionable wisdom.
It is a common practice in too many congregations to use, both in the public worship periods and in the teaching program, some members who are plainly unfaithful. Their use often results in sneers and ridicule against the church as a whole.
But, someone queries, who are the unfaithful? There are several factors that may be considered. Unfaithfulness in attendance is by no means the only barometer, but certainly should not be ignored. Hebrews 10:25 is still in the Bible. General unfaithfulness in daily living is a fact often unchallenged in some who are used in the work of the church. Paul advised the Philippians, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ . . .” (Phil. 1:27). The New International Version renders the passage, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” But unfaithfulness might, be better understood by considering faithfulness. Faithfulness encompasses continuing in the doctrine of the apostles (Acts 2:42), of Christ (2 John 9), holding the traditions of the apostles (2 Thess. 2:15). It signifies being full of faith and living a life harmonious to the word of faith. Unfaithfulness is a failure in this regard.
What possible reasons could one give for using the unfaithful? In some cases, the person involved is a prominent person in the community and a nominal member of the church. The use of such prominent citizens is prestigious. Or the use of some who are unfaithful may be brought about by pressure exerted by some influential members, themselves not as spiritual as they should be and who because of friendship with and sentiment toward the unfaithful appeal for his use. In still other instances, the unfaithfulness may not always be known by the faithful. There always have been hypocrites.
When objections are raised about the use of those in question in an effort to justify their use, it is argued that their use may encourage them to become faithful. But there is another side to that coin. Their use might just blind them to their own unfaithfulness-“After all, I must not be too bad since they still use me.” Or their use might encourage less diligence from others who see them being used in spite of their unfaithfulness.
In a further attempt to justify the use of some who are not faithful, the question is often sneeringly asked, “Who is to make the judgment since no one is perfect?” Admittedly there are some problems, but let us not forget that we do have a standard. And there is such a thing as one who is spiritual (Gal. 6:1), one who is faithful (2 Tim. 2:2), and one who holds fast the faithful word (Tit. 1:9). Let us, therefore, be wary lest we create irreverent situations by making use of some who ought not be used (Psa. 24:3-4). And, like it or not, someone does have to make judgments.
Some “not so hypothetical” situations can illustrate the awkwardness caused by using the unfaithful. Suppose a fellow who engages in social drinking is a Bible class teacher. What can be expected of him when questions arise from the class regarding the use of intoxicating beverages by the child of God? Or suppose a fellow who does not know what a night service of the church even looks like is making the announcements. He admonishes everyone to be back for the evening service and midweek services, but everyone knows he has no intention of being there when he says it. Or what about the teacher of a class who frequently forsakes the assembly trying to adequately instruct the class which has progressed to Hebrews 10:25? Or the person who lets every amusement or the engaging in his hobby come between him and the services of the church trying to drive home a lesson on “seeking first the kingdom” (Matt. 6:33)? Not only does the use of the unfaithful create an air of awkwardness, but must surely be laughable to some members and to aliens and repugnant to God.
Whom then should we use? Well, I have known a few coaches of basketball teams through the years, and it seems fairly standard procedure for them to make use of the team members who show up for practice and who follow the rules calculated to keep them in proper shape. And I have even known of a few instances where some players who did not feel like they needed the practice had their uniforms taken away from them or where they were penalized by having to “warm the bench” for a few games. But there are some Biblical principles we might profitably notice, negatively and positively.
There are some things that do not determine who should be used. Physical age of the child of God should not prohibit. Gideon was “the least” (probably meaning the youngest) in his father’s house, but God could use him to deliver Israel from Midian (Judges 6:15), and Samuel was a child when God first spoke through him (1 Sam. 3:1-18). On the other hand, Moses was eighty when God called him from the burning bush to go and deliver Israel from Egypt (Acts 7:23,30). One’s educational standing need not deter. Of Peter and John, it is said, “They were unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13), but of Paul that he had “much learning” (Acts 26:24). Yet all accomplished much in the Lord’s cause. Furthermore, material possessions are not a determinant. Gideon’s family was poor in Manasseh (Judges 6:15), but Abraham was “very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold” (Gen. 13:2), and both of them made the honor roll of Hebrews 11.
There are some things, though, that should determine who is used in the public service of the church. Since there are some who are spiritual (Gal. 6:1; Rom. 8:5-8), some who are faithful (2 Tim. 2:2), some who are learning (Heb. 5:12-14) and growing (2 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), let these be used. The service of the Lord should be conducted by those whose lives reflect his teaching, not by those whose use makes the church a laughing stock and a reproach.
It would be well for us to remember that we can “be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet (fit or useful) for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” But to do so, one must “purge himself’ of those things that are dishonorable (2 Tim. 2:20-21).
Truth Magazine XXII: 27, pp. 439-440
July 13, 1978