IF I HAVE one burden on my heart above another, it is this: To get our Baptist people to distinguish between PROMOTING the church and BEING the church. The believer's effectiveness in life as a Christian will depend in no small measure upon the adequacy of his understanding the nature and function of the church. I desire to set forth some simple but searching truths, as a study of these.
The church is the Lord's. He died for it. He gave it its birth. He sustains it. He adds to it. He empowers it. He directs it. He makes it perform His purposes. It is never effective for His purposes except as He makes it so. It may be busy in its organized life, but it is not setting forth the mystery and miracle of the supernatural — the God-in-man life and power — unless Jesus is directing, enlightening, and empowering it.
If it belongs to Him, and must at all times have Him to be effective, and if he adds to it, then the business of promoting it is His. Much as we feel that it is our job to "promote" the church, let us remember it is His, and He will do it as it seems best to Him.
THE church is "WE." That does not sound like good English, but the school teachers say it is. The church is not an "institution." Yes, I know that is what many think it is, but if we could change our mental picture, we might be on the road to a truer spiritual understanding.
We work for the church as if it were an institution, and our idea of it is something down at the church house. But the church house is just the regular meeting place of the church. The church itself is scattered all around through the community, in the homes of the people, in the offices, in the streets, in the fields, on the trains or busses, in cars, and all too often in a picture show or beer parlour, or at a dance hall.
The church, some say, is an "organism." That is true, but it is almost too scientific to register. I wish we had a better word. "Personality" might help. It is, in a sense, a person. It is just as live and sensitive, as movable, as conscious, as oral, as active as some of the personalities who belong to it are, and is engaged in whatever we are doing. The real church is wherever we are, doing whatever we are doing, saying whatever we are saying, and thinking whatever we are thinking.
And that is the only church there is -that is visible. The one we think of as being down at the church house just is not there except when we are there. I walk through my church building between Sundays many times, but I do not find the church there. That building, during the absence of the church, is just a building, with special style and furniture. But when the church comes together there it is different. A living something is there. That living something is the church in body, active and responsive. The individual bodies must be there to compose the body of Christ in that community. This is the only church God uses and blesses.
NOW it is the business of these believers to BE the church, and it is the business of God to PROMOTE it. If God is going to promote His church, just what is He going to promote? Will He promote it or them? Well, He will promote it, but only as it means them; means those who are the living personalities, joined together by the mutual response of a fellowship in a common experience in God. He will not promote the institution, as we think of it. He will promote the personality, — the individual, and therefore the composite personality made up of the living persons joined by experience in a blessed fellowship. These church members art to take the attitude of being themselves the church and of submitting to God's promotion.
To promote means to raise to greater dignity or honor; to foster; to advance; to encourage. Now that is what God does, and only God can do this through the presence and power of His indwelling Spirit in the body. We are to look to Him for this, and submit to what He does in us.
God uses various means and methods of doing this. But His normal method is comparable to the normal growth of a healthy body: Sunlight, fresh air, rest, food, exercise. We are to walk in the light of His presence and fellowship; breathe the fresh air of Heaven through much prayer; rest in the Lord with complete faith and confidence; feed upon the Word of God daily; and give ourselves to the work and exercise of witnessing for Jesus.
If we witness effectively we will have to do all the others So God consumes all the needs of the believer's training in the one business of witnessing. Learning to pray, learning to walk in God's fellowship, learning to rest in the Lord, learning to love the Word, all these are the direct results of our work in witnessing. Witnessing for Christ will drive us to all the needs of our souls, and we shall train as we work.
It is one thing to develop the mind by conventional education, and that is all right in its place. But growth in grace, as the Scripture expresses it, is a development of the heart.
The church is a heart-centered organism. An institution does not have a heart. A living thing must have one. The development and promotion of the church is a heart matter, the realm in which God alone can work to the betterment of the individual or group.
Education can not touch the heart, except the kind of education in which God is center. God has His natural creation and natural laws which appeal to and enlighten the mind. General education is concerned with these. But God also has His spiritual creation and spiritual laws which the heart alone can see, as it is wrought upon by God through the Holy Spirit and the Word.
Here is the believer's training. You can give the mind all the training this world offers and never touch the region of the heart with the revelation of God's ways. But the absence of mental training does not hinder God from making known the deep things of the spiritual realm, for some of God's wisest are those who have limited general education. It is God's way to "reveal them unto babes."
THE normal way in which God thus promotes His church is to lead them in His service. It is mainly laboratory work; very little theory. God wisely provided a system with a minimum of theory and a maximum of practice. The emphasis of this day tends to complicate the theory and nullify the practice.
I hear Jesus saying: "You are to be the living expression of Me in a lost world. In you they are to see God. As you tell of Me you will also grow in appreciation of Me. As you give Me to others you will have more of Me for yourself. By asking Me to save others you will enter into My burden for the lost. By seeing the lost condition of others you will be constrained by love to help them. As you get involved in this work of trying to rescure lost men it will drive you to everything your soul needs in Me.
"By using you I will promote your character. As long as you let Me use you, you will continue to grow more like Me. You will love to pray; yea, you will have to pray. You will have to seek my Word for strength. You will love and sympathize with your brethren. The burden will call you to great sacrifice. It will purify your life and fill you with love. You will have little time or place, for sin. This is the way I promise [promote] My church, by using it in my service."
Then I hear Him closing: "But if you do not let Me have your body in which to live; your tongue with which to speak: your feet to carry me where sinners are lost; your hands to help lift them up; and your heart through which to express my love; then the great love of the Father wfl] cease to flow into you. You will stop giving out there, God will have to cease pouring in. By service and witnessing alone can I develop you. Keep active and willing and surrendered. Do not let the world substitute its wisdom for the things you can learn only in my spiritual laboratory. At last you shall come :into the likeness of the Son of God."
I CAN TAKE the Bible and prove that this is in substance, the message of Jesus to His disciples, to His church. But how far different is being His church from promoting it, or, as some of the brethren say "promoting the kingdom." This is the believer's mission — to be the church. Once this dawns upon us, we shall need little so-called promotion. And those Of us who are engaged in "promoting the things of the Kingdom" and building "our institution" should turn our attention to persuading our people to BE the living church of God.
In the former we deal with issues, policies and organizations; in the latter we deal with living, vital personalities and experience. In the former we deal with the things down at the temple; in the latter we deal with the temple of the living God as it walks, speaks, acts, and bears witness in this world of personality.
God never intended it otherwise. Wherever the church as an institution has been emphasized, the church as a personality has declined in its effectiveness. Wherever the "organized" church has used the talents of its membership in promotion, the "vitalized" church has suffered decline. Wherever our service has been a matter of building aa institution, we have, in proportion, overlooked our personal witness.
I can call upon those who are "trained for church membership" in the average church, and it will be rare if I get a word-of-mouth testimony, or prayer, or personal appeal to the lost . But I can go out to one of our mission stations in the country here where they have had no such training, and those young Christians will bodily stand to their feet and tell what God has done for them; they will pray God to save their lost friends; they will weep for the salvation of their friends; they will go and witness to them. I cannot help It if this is a reflection on our training; it is the truth. It is because those mission young people are being trained in the heart and their witness is from that deep fountain where God lives in them.
God is interested in the witness of the living, personal church far more than in the busy and efficient life of the "institutional" church. Only in this occupation of definite witnessing will our churches return to vital consciousness.
Let us BE the church in its true function and God Himself will PROMOTE it.
[Western Recorder, May 9, 1940, pp. 10-11. The Western Recorder is the Kentucky Baptist State paper. - jrd]
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