Have We Forsaken Our Post Of Duty? The "Restoration Movement" had spectacular growth at a time when the lines of communication were very limited. The battle-line was clear, it was staked out on a "Thus saith the Lord" basis, and the forces of sectarianism were openly challenged in pulpits and in debates. This movement caught the attention and captured the interest of a staid and stagnant religious world. The plea was so different and its adherents so dogmatic! Every departure from God was openly condemned, and peace and harmony were offered only upon the ground of inspiration, with every creed and dogma of man surrendered.
This plea won acceptance by some, but stern opposition from many more. Yet all thinking people were arrested by the challenge "Speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent." Every point of growth met more and more bitter opposition and even persecution from the "established churches" (read: "denominations"). Still there was not one vestige of compromise, and no sacred ground was surrendered. With this spirit, victory was assured.
Preachers of that era were often unschooled in the secular affairs of the world. Without the advantages of higher education, they were often challenged to meet the higher echelons of theological scholarship. But they were not at a disadvantage, for God's Truth prevailed! Soon the world came to recognize a line of demarcation between the church of the Bible and the denominational world. The Cause faced slander, sneers, ridicule and often far more visible persecution -- but it grew in strength and rejoiced daily, "Bringing in the sheaves."
Those members who were only recently converted went forth declaring, "We call Bible things by Bible names; we do Bible things in Bible ways." They deplored the "language of Ashdod" and sectarian jargon, believing that if a thing was scriptural, there should be a scriptural term to describe it. If these new members didn't have the answer for every question, they sought God's Book for that answer, and then in triumph they quoted: "Which things also we speak...comparing spiritual things with spiritual words" (1 Cor. 2:13). Though the religious world didn't like the sound of the challenge, they were forced to respect it. Soon the Word went forth, "If you want to know what the Bible says, ask one of the members of the church of Christ."
Had those pioneers surrendered a single principle, they would have invited disaster to their cause. Any compromise would have meant forfeiture of their right to exist, and would have resulted in defeat. Knowing this they were the more adamant in their demand "Let us return to inspired ground, rally around the cross of Christ, accept no creed but Christ and no church but His church." Yes, they were denounced as "modern Ishmaelites, whose hand is against every man," but they still walked in respect. Their plea became the rallying point for all who recognized the tragedy of sectarian strife and denominational confusion. The wrath of religious bigots only intensified the zeal of discerning people for pure and unadulterated Christianity.
History attests to the success of this movement, and it is easy to analyze the factors which brought that success. This distinctive plea and their close adherence to Bible principles won the battle. They triumphed over all opposition because they clung to the Scriptures and would not be either driven nor enticed from them. And as a result of their unflinching devotion and zealous endeavor, we have received as our heritage a church which has come to numerical strength, power, prestige and popular acceptance. But have we surrendered the ground our forbears have hallowed? Are we maintaining the same battle-lines? Are we still "set for the defense of the gospel" (Phil. 1:16), as they were? Are new converts being instilled with the same kind of devotion to evangelism as a hundred years ago? Do members still fly back to the Bible for a "thus saith the Lord" when oppostion is met?
Every achievement to which the church can point today was made possible by courageous work of those pioneer preachers and early converts who denounced every false way. Their speech may have been rustic and even uncouth, but it effectively defended the principles of the gospel. They didn't present the veneer of culture, but they built with the solid oak of Truth. They may have appeared awkward in striding from the corn field or cotton patch to preach, but they had the quality to "grace God's pulpit" on the Lord's day. It was to "preach Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1,2) that filled their thoughts and sanctified their efforts.
Those pioneer preachers sought no polish of fancy phrases or cultural approach -- they knew the tragedy of sin, the horrors of hell and the certainty of God's judgment. And they were campaigning for souls. If their sermons were not "scholarly," they were Scriptural. They didn't get fat pay-checks, but they got results. They were unable to boast of a heated baptistry, but they led myriads of candidates into creeks, ponds, lakes, rivers and even horse-troughs, and there they baptized them into Christ for the remission of sins. "And the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved" (Acts 2:47). They did not spend much effort extolling the glories of their great programs of church work. They just instructed all the converts, new and old, with the clear admonition: "You have a great story to tell. Now, go tell it!"
When the campaign moved out of the brush arbor into a small meeting house, to a church building, then into "nice modern church plants," something was lost in the transit. Somehow we lost sight of the worth of the individual soul. We came to spot-light great programs, city-wide campaigns, youth crusades and outstanding lectureships. But we didn't have the flock of new converts scurrying about telling folk how men must be saved, and speaking in defense of the one church which Jesus purchased with His own blood (Acts 20;28).
The accent shifted from winning souls to the records and numbers, budgets and expenditures and comforts and facilities of church plants. More and more we came to lean on "professional preachers" to build up the church, and members forget to talk to their neighbors and friends about their need for Christ. We began to give more thought to the qualifications of "our minister" than we did to our own qualifications and responsibility to go out everywhere to "preach the Word" (Mk. 16:20).
We must face it candidly. There are dark forebodings on the horizon, and rumblings portend trying days ahead. This ominous pall comes not from opposition without, but from conditions developing within the body of Christ. None can analyze the trends and developments within the church and yet contend that we maintain the same spirit of evangelism today. The stalwart defense of the faith is being supplanted by tact and diplomacy as we seek the "best means of approach" which will not offend sinners. Bitter opposition doesn't confront us, but we have failed to realize WHY we are not encountering their opposition. We have won battles by evasive tactics of sparing feelings, but thereby lost golden opportunities of saving souls from hell! To make a non-aggression pact with sectarianism is not a victory for Christ.
When the church attained the position of "social acceptance" and was accorded the status of being "acceptable" among the denominations, the preachers speech took on polish, refinement and tact which was unknown in pioneer days. But by devious means, tact and diplomacy shaded off into compromise and conformity. The popular socialized gospel of the sects soon began to invade the ranks.
The preacher began to feel more at ease on the "ecclesiastical pedestal" fashioned for him by well-meaning followers. He became accepted as general business manager of the church, as well as spiritual instructor. He became more and more involved with building programs, finance committees, Christian schools, youth retreats, and other affairs of a rapidly expanding church program. Due to this ever-increasing emphasis on social affairs, it became necessary for more help to be abtained. This brought in educational directors, youth guidance counselors, etc. You have only to check on activities advertised in religious papers to discern we have many things the pioneer preachers never heard of.
There is no doubt about it. We have arrived. But where? Just where do we stand? The whole world now knows who we are, but do they know what we are? We advertise where we meet, but have we really informed them also where we stand? In all our great programs, are we having the impact which was felt in that great period of restoration nearly 200 years ago? Are our great church programs inspiring converts to go forth to sow the "seed of the kingdom" (Lk. 8:11) as in the earlier days? Are members still showing the world the difference between the church of the Lord and denominationalism? Are our members today infused with the zeal of those pioneers to "contend earnestly for the faith, once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3)?
God's battle line has not changed. We may have retreated from it and sacrificed many of the principles that we once defended. If so, we have surrendered -- but the battle-line remains the same. The world must be constantly told, "No book but the Bible, no creed but the Christ, no way but His way, no church but His church!" We must accept no authority, save that of Christ. And we must oppose every human synod, council or conference that would enslave the souls of men. We must hold forth the Bible as the all-sufficient guide in religious matters, and show that any addition or alteration is an insult to God Who gave it. Let the whole world know that anyone who "goeth onward and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God" (2 Jno. 9). We stand self-condemned if we fellowship error and thus deny the Truth (Gal. 2:18).
Any "regrouping of forces due to changing social conditions" is a sinister threat against the church -- whether it is spawned without or within the body of Christ. The original order of things cannot be forsaken and no compromise can be allowed. If the ancient landmarks are not maintained, we will find we have won members but have lost the Cause. Let us beware, lest that which has been won by a distinctive plea and dogmatic adherence to principles be lost by compromise and apostasy.
By Dillard Thurman in Gospel Minutes, Vol. 53, No. 45, Nov. 5, 2004, Reprinted from Gospel Minutes of March 27, 1964.
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