IN THIS article I may lead some to believe that I decry the honest and earnest effort of leaders and pastors who are trying to extend the Gospel of our Lord. I trust I may at least have the confidence of my brethren that such a purpose is not in my heart. What I say is out of an eagerness to find the way out of perplexities which all of us face together. I deeply feel and appreciate the burden that lies upon every believing heart, whether I agree with the measures applied to accomplish our purpose or not
The average church member of today renders a poor and heartless service to God. Pastors are burdened as never before on account of listless indifference in the pew to the Christian witness. Most of those who are busy in our churches are keyed up to render service to institutionalized religion rather than to reach the lost with Christ's saving message. Our devotion, if and wherever we have any, is a devotion largely to the institution of the church as it relates to our organization and to a widely-spread, itemized program rather than to the personal witness of the individual to the lost Our devotion is almost obviously more of the head than of the heart.
This condition has moved me to seek the cause. It can be charged to a combination of circumstances. But among these the outstanding one is that our preaching and emphasis has strayed from the Gospel of what God has done for as to the gospel of what we can do for Him . It was the former that God called us to preach.
I had my early years and conversion under the Gospel of what God has done for us, and my early activity in the Christian life was telling out of a heart of gratitude what this great salvation meant to me. Later on I was attracted, through publicity and education in church life, to the idea that if we could get a mass testimony — that is, concentrate the testimony of many individuals into a great mass testimony of all our people — we could by publicity and planning and great financial resources, cover the earth with a mission of preaching and "take the world for Christ"
The ideal stirred enthusiasm within us all, and the first thing we knew we had a program that was world-wide in its scope and vastly complicated in its organization from the local church on up. No longer was the individual, with his man-to-man testimony, considered in our new denominational front. This might have been more effective had we' not by insensible degrees permitted our outward program to absorb our energies and impulses before they got around to the lost. Of course, much of £he witness bourne has been effective, but far less so than had been anticipated.
It has stirred within many of us the idea that Christ's Kingdom is to succeed through great mass movements, large enrollments, mass programs, conventions, world congresses, and meetings and meetings and meetings ad infinitum. We hear men say, "If every Baptist in the South would give just so much . . . ;" "If half the Baptists in the South would support this program . . .;" and so on. The dream results of such speculation are always astounding. Always these speculations would be reduced to soundness "IF . . . " But they end there.
Not all Baptists in the South are going to support anything, nor half of them support everything, nor even a reasonable number of them support the real thing. It does seem that our program-makers would find that out. Thousands of our people have never been born again, and other thousands never will be concerned. Why project programs which count them in? And, I raise the question, "Will that entire host ever be such as would justify our counting on them? Is it edifying to count them in on generalizations they never touch?
FOR THE last more than twenty years we have been using every device known to this generation to get them to serve the Lord. Thus, we must ask the question, "Why don't they?" The answer lies mostly in their LACK OF HEART MOTIVE.
God's people never do anything that will honor Him or that pleases Him unless it be a heart service. The head may be taught to shape the expression of the heart, but the head without the heart motive is powerless. Our preaching, in large measure, for the last score of years at least, has appealed to the head but not to the heart We have been preaching about what WE can do FOR God rather than about WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US.
We have had largely a ministry of promotion instead of a ministry of revelation and salvation. Preaching the "things of the Kingdom of God" is far different from "promoting the Kingdom of God," as we have interpreted it.
We have used a lot of good business sense in our planning, but we have had few prophets of God and our system has not sought to magnify the prophetic office, but the administrative. The prophetic ministry is "taken /or granted," while the promoter and administrator are heard from every house-top.
The appeal of our preaching has been to foster, to promote, and to be loyal to what our leaders have planned for us to do FOR God, while many of us have increasingly failed to prophesy or reverently to herald the holy and divine mysteries of what God has and can do for us.
GOD WILL NOT LET OUR PLANS PROSPER IF WE IGNORE HIS REVELATION. I KNOW THAT PREACHING OUGHT TO HAVE BALANCE, AND I PRACTICE THAT KIND OF PREACHING. BUT WE HAVE UNBALANCED IT, ON THE WRONG SIDE.
Men never do anything for God until their hearts are moved, no matter how smart their heads, or how gifted the promoters who sweetly insinuate that support of their causes will fill the bill. And their heart will never be moved, no matter how brilliant our ideas or how perfect our organization, until they are moved by a vision of the glorious things God has done for them. The preacher who puts Hie proper emphasis on God's part will have relatively less trouble in securing the outward expression of man's part
Strictly speaking, there is not much man can do for God. Mary and Martha could tell us which part God says is the good part Martha was serving the Lord. There are those
say one thing positively: Jesus left no doubt as to what He thought about it. He did not praise Martha at all. He said, "But ONE thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." Do we in our own outlooks really agree with Him and seek to conform our lives to His estimate?
THERE was at least one thing wrong with Martha's service. She did not know what was appropriate to her Lord's need. He wanted someone to receive what He had to give, not some one to give Him something. He knew no one could properly serve Hun until that one had found out what He wanted by sitting at His feet to learn.
He wanted understanding and appreciation more than something to eat. "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." Mary was learning this, and this great work of God for her, moved her heart to make an appropriate offering a little later — a box of costly ointment, precious to her, but therefore appropriate to Him whom she worshipped and adored. Jesus said she had anointed Him for His burial. Mary had learned what He was here for.
There are thousands of people trying to "serve the Lord" who are not well enough acquainted with Him to know what is appropriate for His needs. They are loyal to a "movement," a church, or a program, but they are too absorbed in its promotion to get the treat heart appeal of Jesus' love and sacrifice for them.
Isaiah was not fit to go as the messenger of God until he had seen the Lord "high and lifted up," and had found out •what were God's needs as well as to have become equipped with a great heart impulse that made him joyful in service. Zacchaeus caught the idea, after his conversion. His service was appropriate and found no trouble in shaping itself to a proper expression. Had the rich young ruler caught this great heart impulse, his riches would have sunk into insignificance, and he would have surrendered to Christ. Christ did not need what he could do so much as the rich man needed Christ But the young man was, like so many of this day, obsessed with the idea of "what can I do?" — with the "I" still at the center.
Furthermore, there is not much that we have that God can use. All He can use of us is what He provides for Himself in us through the indwelling Spirit. All we are, apart from God, has to die — surely, then, our big "I" — centered loyalties and deeds here below are not what He yearns to find in us!
We speak of making sacrifices; of "giving till it hurts." We have nothing to sacrifice — except ourselves, our hearts and will to His will. Sometimes I hear tearful voices on mission programs in our churches, talking about the hardships of missionaries, and appealing for money on that basis. Certainly our missionaries suffer hardships. They are not nearly so sad over them as some of the members of our churches who put fifty cents into the offering for them.
Glorious as is the offering of missionaries, they have nothing to sacrifice, except hearts and lives gladly given to Him. To say they have implies that God is not able to make up in our lives the things of fleshly satisfaction we give up lor Him. He asks us to give up nothing that is good for us; everything else has to die out anyway. To follow Christ is a glorious privilege, not a sacrifice [But the natural fleshly mind of man is blind to this great truth. To him it is foolishness. — V. I. Masters -Editor].
GOD HAS always had to provide His own sacrifices, and He always will. All we have that God can use, He gave us. He serves Himself through those who are yielded to the glorious appeal of His love. But nobody is going to yield to this glorious appeal who has not seen the glory.
Preaching promotion will never give our people a motive for effective service in witnessing, and without adequate motive their service will always be barren. Our hearts are by nature sinful and selfish, and we will never turn from the man-centered life until we are attracted away by the glories of Christ who died for us. It would be better that we move fewer people, if we gave them genuine heart impulse to worship at the Cross, than to move vast masses to worship at the shrine of a "business-like" and man-centered and man-devised program of service to God.
Go back, my brother, to "visions and revelations of the Lord." Seek the deep wells of God's Grace in the Word. Then "tarry until ye be enduced with power from on high." Somehow I believe that this will bring the showers of blessing for which we have longed and prayed.
We may lose some of our professional methods, and may have to stay at horne while some of our great mass meetings and world congresses and globe-trottings are "bringing in the Kingdom." Our denomination may lose the status of its obective eye-filling mightiness in the eyes of the world. We may even lose many of our large numbers in publishing, which to the world we are so industrious.
But by journeying humbly back to where Mary's loving heart found the "better part" we would again find our feet on the Solid Rock of Ages, and would find many times seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to the Baal of faith without repentance and of seeking impressive outward results while we forget that the world-transforming results our Lord seeks through us await the realization in our lives of His words, "He that ABIDETH IN ME and I in Him the same bringeth forth much fruit. For without Me ye can do nothing."
[Western Recorder, December 7, 1939. The Western Recorder is the Kentucky Baptist State paper. - jrd]
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