EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth and final in a series of planned articles by this author regarding the history of the Lord’s church. To be clear, it is more an observation of its history during my time in the Lord’s church (1966 to present), with attention to the changes witnessed during that time. Several readers would be much more adapt to penning incidents. This author desires to focus on the “attitude” of such realities. Names of individuals, journals (commonly called “church magazines”), and even the identifying of “issues” by name, are purposely omitted that the reader might more fully comprehend the focus on the “attitudes” that have changed within God’s children through the years from spiritual to temporal matters. Further, my prayer is to help reverse that historical reality and return the minds of God’s children to the fervent hunger and thirst for righteousness of which His children were once well known!
History – part 4
Peter’s inspired charge recorded at 2 Peter 1: 1- 15 includes the phrase “give diligence” twice. It is without question he proves one cannot please God with faith alone, for by inspiration he charges us to “give all diligence” to adding virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity to our faith. Further, he states we must make our calling and election sure; for if we do these things, we shall never fail. He then uses the word “remembrance” three times, insisting we never forget these facts requiring our diligent service.
Sadly, history records that at the very least, the DILIGENCE of adding these works to our faith has waned. If you will, please pardon a personal story that may explain this aspect of our history. In 1975, I was invited by the elders to consider working “full-time” with a rural congregation. I had never done this type of work, and so consulted with several gospel preachers who had mentored me, and for whom I held (and continue to hold) great respect. One wisely advised, “I’ve done it for years, and still ask myself at times why I ever left the pottery.” Another advised, “It is the hardest work you’ll ever do, but the most rewarding – not in material gain, but spiritual gain.” Both proved correct! But the advice from my grandmother is most lasting. When I announced to her my intentions, she quietly advised, “It isn’t what you’re wanting to do, but the way you wish to do it. I’ve lived long enough to see that full-time preachers make for lazy brethren.” Her words have all too frequently proven prophetic during the past fifty-plus years.
“Diligence” was once quite evident among brethren. Bible study was never any more “optional” than assembling for worship. Worship included as many songs as the song-leader desired to lead, prayers were fervently and quite reverently worded with humble and sincere oratory, rather than something stated to be heard of men, and the sermons were balanced with milk for babes, meat for those of full age and substantial interest for all souls (Hebrews 5:12 – 14). Those who spoke comments at the Lord’s table spoke solely of the Lord’s death, emphasizing the importance of His death and the equal importance of our remembrance. Even the contribution received attention, explaining it was not expected of non-members but was commanded of all Christians. Time restraints were not imposed as it was deemed of greatest importance to devote time to worshipping God in spirit and truth!
History also records “all-day meetings,” included afternoon singings that frequently lasted until the evening meeting time. Gospel meetings lasted over ten days as a rule: never were they less than over two Lord’s Days. As well, each congregation held at least two gospel meetings per year. The preacher often would conduct “day-time” studies during these efforts, thus having him teaching/preaching at least twice each day through the “protracted” meeting.
Elders oversaw these efforts with rigorous care. Their diligence in preparing for each assembling (not just gospel meetings) was astute. They examined what teachers were teaching in every class, and often taught the classes themselves. The preacher was never “in charge” but as subject to the eldership as was every member of the local work. His role of “preacher” was to preach - sometimes, publicly, sometimes privately, sometimes in writing, sometimes on radio or TV; but his work was never a substitute for the work every member was expected and responsible for completing.
Nowadays, there are numerous congregations without elderships, but with “full-time” preachers. (The wise of these preachers refuse to be “pastors” and diligently teach/preach the need to develop men to scripturally fill the requirements for being elders and deacons!) Some brethren merely attend every service: they’ve no intention of being “diligent” in any work of the church! Consequently, various localities of the Lord’s church dwindle in number and even more in spiritual strength. With the same men being used in a “rotation” of service, growth is stifled by a lack of encouragement. Young Christians are seldom encouraged to learn greater responsibilities including teaching/preaching both publicly and privately, interacting with the elderly in their needs, preparing communion, planning additional gospel opportunities, etc. In many cases, the reason is, “We hired a preacher.”
When each member of the Lord’s church comes to grips with their INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY OF DILIGENCE (see also Hebrews 10:6), then and only then will the Lord’s church be found vibrant and growing. Too many places are stagnant because one or two are doing all the work while the others stand back and watch. Each member needs to understand their role in serving Christ cannot be “sublet” to another: they must work out their OWN salvation with fear and trembling! (Philippians 2:12) Like all members, preachers are not to be weary in well-doing. They also need to remain diligent!