Posted in Expository, General, Old Testament

The Lord Sent a Lion

About 1100 B.C. the Philistines were enemies and subjugators of God’s people, and Israel had sadly grown accustomed to the sorry status quo (Judg. 15:11). His chosen people having charted a path to self-destruction by plunging headlong into Canaanite paganism, God had to take action to preserve Israel — in spite of themselves — and the bloodline through which would come the Messiah. So the Lord in his providence sought an opportunity for Israel to begin throwing off the yoke of Philistine oppression (Judg. 14:4). Deliverance came in the form of Samson, a colorful paradox of a judge: a Nazirite who routinely violated the vow; a man motivated by what pleased his eyes who had his eyes gouged out; a man of divinely given superhuman strength who melted like butter in the hands of scheming women; a man who prayed to God and then consorted with a prostitute; a man whose greatest victories over the enemy were private acts of murder and revenge; a national deliverer who was no national leader; a fighter fit to slaughter a thousand, but unable to resist a solitary Delilah.

Samson’s final blow to the Philistines came at the cost of his own life when, as a blind, humiliated prisoner he broke the two pillars of Dagon’s temple, bringing 3,000 pagans to a crashing, crushing death. God did, indeed, find a way to strike at his people’s enemy. How it transpired is a fascinating study of divine providence, as events are traced backwards in Judges chapters 14-16.

  • Samson demolished the Philistines’ temple because they brought him there as a prisoner (16:25).
  • Samson was taken prisoner because Delilah had his head shaved (16:19).
  • Delilah coaxed Samson into telling his secret because the Philistine leaders bribed her (16:5).
  • The Philistine leaders bribed Delilah because they hated Samson.
  • The Philistines hated Samson because he slaughtered 1,000 of them with the jawbone of a donkey (15:15).
  • Samson killed the 1,000 when the Philistines were coming to take him prisoner (15:14).
  • The Philistines were going to arrest Samson because he attacked them (15:8).
  • Samson attacked them because they burned his wife to death (15:6).
  • They burned his wife because Samson had burned their crops (15:5).
  • Samson burned the crops because his wife had been given to a Philistine (15:2).
  • Samson’s wife had been given away because Samson had left her at the wedding feast (14:20).
  • Samson left the wedding feast to slay 30 Philistines and take their garments (14:19).
  • Samson needed their garments because his 30 companions had solved his riddle (14:18).
  • The companions solved the riddle because Samson’s wife told them the answer (14:17).
  • Samson’s wife knew the riddle’s answer because she pressed him continually after she had been threatened with death by the companions (14:15).
  • The death threat came after Samson gave the companions an impossible riddle (14:14).
  • The riddle was impossible because it seems to have involved the supernatural: bees and honey found in a semi-fresh animal carcass that no one knew about but Samson (14:8).
  • The honey was in the lion’s carcass because Samson had recently killed it with his bare hands (14:6).
  • How did this chain of violent events begin? The Lord sent a lion (14:5).

True, scripture does not explicitly say that God caused the lion to attack Samson. But, in light of the facts, can there be any doubt that the unseen hand of Providence was pulling strings, bringing to pass events that, when coupled with the freely made choices of men, would culminate in the will of “the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (14:4)? God had to get the ball rolling, because Israel was not going to do it on her own.

Even today the Lord needs to spur his children on from time to time, perhaps in a direction they otherwise would never have taken. As we age, we may be able to look in retrospect at our lives and see watershed events which we afforded no special significance at the time. What things is God placing in our lives so that we can help bring about his will? Over that answer is drawn a veil which will remain until we get to heaven. In Samson’s case, the Lord sent a lion.

Posted in Books, General

A Preacher’s Library

Recently, a young minister asked for recommendations on “must have” books. My reply was more explanation of my philosophy of books than a list of particular titles to get. After sending it, I thought it might be good to work into a post. Libraries have seen a seismic shift since I was in school, with many preachers now preferring digital volumes on a tablet to hard copies on a wooden shelf. I haven’t gone that route, but perhaps these ideas could apply to both digital and paper book libraries.

My library is in sections. One is comprised of religious debates. I like as many of those as I can get that involve gospel preachers. You never know when you’ll have to deal with a particular thorny issue, and debates are a good way to bone up on controversial subjects. Plus, debates are historic (some, more than others) and you ought to know some church history.

Which brings us to the church history section. Get Earl I. West’s four-volume Search for the Ancient Order. Collect biographies of preachers from the Restoration era (1800’s) in American history. Many a self-taught, or formal education-deprived preacher of days gone by, somehow managed to learn far more Bible than too many present day college and preaching school graduates. Today’s church has preachers trying to pull us into the dark pit of error that preachers in the 1800’s were crawling out of and exposing with the gospel’s light. That saying about those failing to appreciate history being doomed to repeat it is more than a platitude. The church’s immediate future—at least in America—seems precarious. What will motivate us to fight for her uniqueness now if we’re ignorant of the ground gained in hard fought battles of the past, through the debating and preaching of men who could discern truth from error? Get some good books that cover church history in its early centuries, medieval times, and the Reformation. But, remember, God’s true church has always been a minority, and history is written largely about those who made the biggest splash. That means the history of the church after New Testament days is mostly a study of apostasy in its many forms.

Stock your library with good apologetics books. Have at hand major arguments for the existence of God, the deity of Christ, and inspiration of the Bible. Get a book or two on issues raised by skeptics, and on harmonizing alleged Bible contradictions. If you’ve never taken a class on logic, buy a good textbook and familiarize yourself. Preachers who are not good thinkers easily become misleaders of others.

Depending on your level of interest and ability, have at least a few Greek reference works. At minimum, know your way around an interlinear New Testament, Thayer’s lexicon, Vine’s dictionary of Bible words. If you can do more with the original languages, great.

I’ve got a number of brotherhood lectureship books, old and newer. Lectureships themselves seem a dying phenomenon (like public debates and gospel meetings), at least in comparison to the number that used to be held. The books published from such events are of uneven quality, by nature, since not all preachers are equally adept at thinking, researching, writing—skills requisite for composing a great chapter (and a great book needs multiple great chapters). Few brotherhood lectureship books, in my estimation, are towering contributions to the subject covered. That said, they can be helpful, and a book may be worth having for a single chapter by a certain author. After you’ve preached long enough, glancing through the writers in an old lectureship volume is a trip down memory lane.

Good commentaries are vital. My approach is eclectic, rather than monolithic. That is, I’ll buy a single volume from a particular set of commentaries because of who wrote it, and another volume from a different set, and so on. Thus, my Old and New Testament shelves are a hodgepodge from here and there, with many series represented, but very few series complete. An entire set, composed of an impressive row of identically clad volumes, looks nice on a shelf, but aesthetics is not the goal. Plus, that approach does not comport with my preferred method of arranging commentaries. I put commentaries on the shelf in Bible book order. I have a couple on Leviticus, and nearly a dozen on Revelation, but I can go right to them because, for example, the Revelation commentaries are all next to each other at the end of my New Testament section, and the Leviticus commentaries are right after the ones on Exodus.

A word on commentaries: never let your guard down. If you can find a scholarly commentary by a member of the Lord’s church, consider it. Denominational scholars will always outnumber those of the Lord’s church. Precious few are our brethren, such as J. W. McGarvey in his day, who are known and respected outside the church of Christ. If you limit yourself to books by brethren, you’ll cut yourself off from a great deal of conservative scholarship. At the same time, books by brethren can be just as wrong on a given point as something from an academic at a Baptist seminary (in fact, many books from our own professors these days may as well have been penned by denominational writers, given their ecumenical outlook and disregard for the uniqueness of the Lord’s church). If I know an author rejects the verbal inspiration of Scripture, that’s a non-starter for me: why spend time and money on that? For any given book in the Bible, there are commentaries which, at least, respect the Bible’s origin and nature.

The lion’s share of my commentaries are by denominational scholars. Before letting yourself be overly influenced by the learning, reputation, or seeming erudition of such a writer, remind yourself that he likely wouldn’t have the right answer to the most basic question: “What must I do to be saved?” Read denominational writers with that in back of your mind, and it should foster a healthy perspective. I think of a late denominational academic who has very helpful things to say in his Old Testament commentaries. Yet, he compromises with theistic evolution. The works of man are often a mixed bag, so keep a weather eye. Never believe everything anyone says just because of who wrote it. Likewise, don’t discount something simply because the author is not a member of the Lord’s church. Always, if it comes to it, let Scripture be correct, and every commentator a liar.

I’m not a fan of broad, general commentaries (such as a one-volume treatment of the Bible, or a two-volume set covering the New Testament). These may help those without a background in preaching school, but more depth is called for if you’re preparing to teach an adult Bible class. Matthew may take up less than 40 pages in your Bible, but you should read hundreds of pages during class prep. Get the best commentary you can find that’s just on Matthew. Make it a habit to read at least one good commentary (if not two) when teaching through a Bible book (if you don’t know more than the rest of the class on the subject at hand, why are you teaching?).

Decades ago, in preaching school, I wanted as many books as I could get hands on. Age and experience reversed that thinking. Now, I don’t want as many books as money or space allow. I have a lot of shelving in my office, and a lot of that is empty, by choice. After decades having them in possession, not long ago I threw away dozens of books I never use (and didn’t want others to have, for example, due to error they taught). Dozens more, I donated to the church’s library. These days, basically, I want as few books as will give what I need for preaching and teaching. Whatever books you include in your own library, in the end, as my grandfather would say, there is no substitute for being familiar with the actual text of Scripture.

[Note: This article was first published by Tennessee Bible College on Sept. 8, 2020]

Posted in General

The Beginning of the End of God’s People

By Marlin Kilpatrick

The most blessed people who have ever lived are those people who have remained faithful to God. The downfall of Old Testament Israel was caused by their unfaithfulness to Him. There is a parallel between Israel’s unfaithfulness and what is happening today in the Lord’s church. In fact, in both cases the principle involved is precisely the same—a lack of respect for divine authority. When God’s people become unhappy with His way, it’s not long before they find a way to satisfy themselves. As with Israel, so it is today with more than a few congregations of the Lord’s church.

During some 450 years God ruled Israel through Judges. But the time came when his people wanted a king; they were unhappy with God’s way of ruling over them. Israel’s dissatisfaction with God and his way of ruling is quite revealing.

When the elders of Israel came to Samuel, who was the last of the Judges, they presented two “reasons” for their request for a king. The elders said, “Look, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways” (1 Sam. 8:5a, NKJV). Both of these claims were true, but their real reason for wanting a king is revealed in their words, “Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5b). Israel’s having a king like the other nations may have made them more acceptable to their neighbors, but it started them down a path that, ultimately, led them away from God. No matter what man may think, he cannot improve on God’s way. God wanted his people to be a unique people. The uniqueness of God’s people brought glory to God and distinguished Him from the heathen gods of other nations. He also wanted a particular people through whom, eventually, the Messiah would come into this world. The coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, fulfilled a promise God had earlier made to Abraham that in “thy seed” all families of the earth would be blessed (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; Gal. 3:16).

The true church of Christ is the spiritual body of Christ (cf. Col. 1:18; Gal. 4:16). Israel wanted to be like the nations around them. The church, spiritual Israel, is, in many congregations, making the same mistake. We are losing our distinctiveness for which we have so long been known. We are becoming more and more like the denominational churches around us. God wanted Israel to be a distinctive people, and the Lord also wants His church to be distinctive. There is a line of demarcation drawn in the New Testament between the Lord’s church and all other organizations. We have a divinely given pattern which, when followed, will make us identical with the church which began in the 1st century (Acts 2).

Today it’s not uncommon to hear of certain congregations that now use instrumental music in their worship services (for which there is no scriptural authority). There was a time, not too many years ago, when the Lord’s church in any community was known for her stand on having scriptural authority for all that we do (cf. Col. 3:17). Now, the denominational churches smile at us and welcome us with open arms; they see little or no difference between us. The denominations see us as having finally arrived at what they’ve known for years—there’s no need for scriptural authority. How sad!

Brethren, where is the scriptural authority for the dedication of babies, the use of women in leadership roles in the church, children’s church, and a host of other practices? Why is there a lack of preaching on controversial subjects, e.g., marriage/divorce and remarriage? Why are we hearing very few sermons on the one church and her distinctiveness?

In closing, please look once again at the title of this article. The end of Old Testament Israel came when God sent them into captivity. The Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722-21 B.C. and they were carried into Assyrian captivity. The Southern Kingdom, about 135 years later, fell to the Babylonians and they were carried into Babylonian captivity. As a nation, God’s people never again enjoyed the exalted position they once occupied. The captivities were the result of God’s people not being satisfied with His way.

It is past time that the faithful in the Lord’s church take a stand against the liberal element among us who are leading the church down a path that can only result in our spiritual ruin. Think about it.

Posted in General

Read the Bible in 2015

By Weylan Deaver

It is the only book God wrote. There is none like it. There is no substitute for what it says. The Bible’s take on every subject it touches is the truth. It will judge us all eventually. That being the case, we ought to be at least as acquainted with Scripture as we are with sports, movies, music, entertainers, hobbies, politics, local news or video games. It is vastly more important than all of those, combined. God’s book should not be a strange, unfamiliar object on the shelf. The New Testament has 260 chapters, and the Old Testament has 929 chapters, for a total of 1,189 chapters. If you begin in January in Genesis and read only four chapters per day, you will finish the entire Bible, with time to spare, before the year is over. Though Bible reading does not necessarily imply faithfulness to God, faithfulness does imply Bible reading. Or, put differently, a Bible reader may not be a dedicated Christian, but the truly dedicated are always Bible readers. It is, at least, a starting place. If you have not read it, you do not realize what you are missing. Regular readers know the Bible is never mastered, no matter how many times they have gone through it. God’s mind is deep, and his written revelation offers insights that are never exhausted. The Bible is given for our learning so that we might obey God. This makes it much more than just a collection of useful information. It is vital, essential, cannot-live-without-it information. We all owe it to God and our eternal well-being to study it diligently. So, determine to read the Bible in the new year. And, please visit us at the church of Christ, where the ancient word of God is always as fresh as this morning’s newspaper.

Posted in General

Long To Look

By Weylan Deaver

Speaking of Old Testament prophets’ predictions about Jesus Christ’s “sufferings” and “glories,” Peter wrote, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12, ESV). Amazing, that angels “long to look” into God’s work regarding human salvation. In that verse, “long” is translated from a Greek word (epithumeo) which means to desire passionately. And, “look” is translated from a Greek word (parakupto) which conveys the image of someone stooping down to look at something. Thus, the “good news” of the gospel is so intriguing that angels have a keen desire to stoop down and see what God is doing for you and me as he offers salvation through Jesus’ blood. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Jesus did not die to offer salvation to any angels who fell away from God, for “it is not angels that he helps” (Hebrews 2:16). So, even though the gospel is not for their own benefit, angels are interested. In point of fact, the gospel is all about saving men and women. Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every man and woman were as interested in the gospel as the angels are? God has done something so grand for humanity that angels take note. How sad, tragic, and without excuse that so many people for whom Jesus gave his life cannot seem to muster interest in the message of salvation. Visit us at the church of Christ, where we still “long to look” into God’s truth.

Posted in General, Restoration History

Reflections on a Handwritten Letter

By Weylan Deaver

Roy Deaver to Wilma, 1947
Roy Deaver to Wilma, 1947

When God wanted a message sent to Belshazzar, he did not type on the king’s Facebook wall. Rather, “the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace” (Dan. 5:5, ESV). It was a post to be remembered! And, surely the “writing tablet” Zechariah reached for to let people know his son’s “name is John” (Luke 1:63) did not have a keypad or lithium battery—contrary to how we now think of a “tablet.” Every book in the Bible began as a handwritten document. “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand” (1 Cor. 16:21).

Long before I was born my grandfather, Roy Deaver, penned a handwritten letter in 1947 to his wife and sons back home, while he was away preaching a gospel meeting. I would not see the letter until 2014—seven years after his death. It existed all the while, just not in view. So, to read it for the first time recently was almost to hold a piece of his life in my hand:

“We had five preachers present Monday night—a Nazarene preacher last night. I took a swat at him on modern miracles—Don’t know if he’ll be back or not…I had lunch on the Bennet ranch yesterday. I rode a Big Black stallion yesterday afternoon—chased a rabbit, started to stop the horse, broke a rein, he got excited and took off. Not having any way to stop him, I jumped off. Got scratched up a bit and I’m still getting thorns out. He has a white stallion that has never been saddled. I would like to ride him, but my insurance isn’t paid up.”

He was 24 years old, with courage in both pulpit and pasture. Since we do not often send or receive them anymore, perhaps it is useful to reflect on the significance of a letter handwritten.

Handwritten letters get read. We throw away junk mail in a heartbeat. We delete spam messages in bulk. If email from a friend is lengthy, we might skim for the gist of it. But, if that same friend sent the same words on paper in his own hand, we would read it in its entirety. The content is identical, but the delivery very different. In a day when there is too much information on our screens to absorb, and we become adept skimmers surfing from site to site for a useful morsel, our attention span suffers. Reading someone’s handwriting forces you to slow down. The words are not perfectly formed in Times New Roman. Some may even take a minute to figure out. Personality shines through, without the need for emoticons. You realize every letter’s curve and every imperfection are there because, at a particular moment, someone’s hand was on that piece of paper.

Handwritten letters get saved. Granted, not everyone who might send a letter is someone whose words you treasure, but a written note is more likely to be put away and read again than an email. A typed letter might get saved, depending on whom it is from, but it still lacks a quality in handwriting. Writing by hand tells the recipient he is worth taking time to address in your own unique script, even if it is more time consuming than typing. It takes longer to grow corn than to pop corn. An email is something to get out of your virtual inbox as soon as possible. Reply. Delete. But a letter in an envelope, that is something to slip in your jacket pocket for later reading in a quiet hour. Text messages do not get handed down to the next generation.

Handwritten letters arrive with their own special aura. Grabbing a stack of mail out of the box, you immediately notice that lone envelope that is addressed by hand. Even from a stranger, you will read it because it was addressed to you by hand. As you unfold a page filled with carefully crafted words, it already has the appearance of eloquence—justified or not—simply because it is so unusual. Handwritten words weigh more than the paper on which they rest. They can weigh more than digital words. In a day when most written communication starts as a computer generated font, handwriting stands out from the ordinary. Handwriting forces you to use real English, and that is a good thing. Emails and texts are conducive to abbreviation and carelessness—a thinly veiled effort to strangle proper grammar. Write with ink and suddenly an “LOL” or “TTYL” seems out of place, undignified, unnecessary. Good English opens new vistas for self-expression that go unexplored now. You might even come to frown on the ubiquitous smiley face.

Writing this kind of letter is a lost art, an art stolen by the nimble fingers of technology. So, if you want your words to stand out from what people are used to seeing all day every day, try long hand. You can convey a message in pixels on a screen. But, put ink to paper and you have something personal and tangible. Something that just might find its way to kinfolk years after you have gone, leaving in their hands the small trace of a life worth knowing.

Posted in General

Read Your Bible

By Marlin Kilpatrick

In years gone by, I have often emphasized the importance of reading the Bible. There’s no book like the Bible, and knowledge of its contents is basic to the living of the Christian life. But, is just reading the Bible all that’s necessary to the living of a life that’s pleasing to the Lord? If one is to benefit from reading the Bible, he must first understand some guiding principles that will assist him in coming to a deeper appreciation of God’s eternal word (cf. Matt. 24:35), and how the scriptures have an application in his own life.

The Bible is literature. Not all literature is interpreted in the same way. To further challenge our understanding of what we are reading, the Bible is comprised of different kinds of literature. When one reads the Bible he will encounter history, poetry (wisdom literature), biography, along with some apocalyptic writings. Each of these kinds of literature requires the reader to apply certain rules of interpretation. A mistake is made when we try to interpret all scripture the same way.

The Bible is a book. All books have a basic function which is to impart information. One who is trying to solve a mathematical problem would not seek help from a book about world history. He would seek a book that illustrates how to solve various kinds of mathematical problems. Likewise, the Bible, being a book, imparts all the information one needs to be able to obey the gospel of Christ and live successfully the Christian life. The Bible is unique among all books, because it is God-breathed (2 Pet. 1:20, 21).

Christians are supposed to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). The first step in our spiritual growth is to read the Bible. But more is required than just reading the scriptures; we must correctly handle God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15). If we correctly handle the scriptures, we will be able to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). We will also be able to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of the God” (Rom. 12:2). The reading of the scriptures will make us “wise unto salvation” (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15).

Should we just read the Bible? No, but reading, studying, and applying the teaching of the scriptures in one’s own life will greatly enhance his life and lead him to that eternal home of the soul. Think about it.

 

Posted in General

To Mark Or Not To Mark (My Contrarian Bible-Marking Philosophy)

By Weylan Deaver

You might think a preacher marks up his Bible more than anyone else with highlights, underlining, references, definitions, etc. I used to be of that mindset. I thought it ideal, for example, if I were teaching a class on Matthew, if I could just open my Bible and have all my study notes in microscopic print in the margin. That way, no additional notes or notebook would be necessary to teach the class; I could carry my Bible and nothing more (how marvelously simple!). Over time, my Bible-marking ways evolved into anti-marking. I didn’t just decide to mark less in my Bible; I ceased it altogether (writing on the blank pages in back of the Bible doesn’t count). You may feel free to differ. But, here is my reasoning.

First, margin notes are not easily transferred. Any continuously used Bible will wear out and, no matter how precious your handwritten margin notes, the day will come when you have to replace your Bible. Transferring notes then becomes a daunting or even impossible task, depending on their copiousness (not to mention legibility).

Second, writing in your Bible is a constant battle against the margin (usually a small margin). Bibles I tend to favor are diminutive in size. I don’t want lengthy book introductions, extensive outlines, commentator’s notes across half the page, archaeological supplements, or a hefty concordance in the back. All of that makes for extra pages I have to carry around. If I need a concordance, I’ve got a better one on my bookshelf and even online than one in the back of a study Bible. All I need in a Bible are a few maps (optional), some handy cross-references (if a study Bible), and footnotes (esp. translator’s textual notes). In other words, I want a Bible that fits my hand—not a backpack—and that usually means one with small margins which are not conducive to handwritten notes.

Third, marking your Bible brings the danger of impairing the readability of the back side of the page. Without just the right kind of pen, handwritten notes tend to bleed through thin Bible paper. There are colored pencil options, but I believe in ink (pencils are for elementary school). So, your eloquent comments regarding Matthew 6:33 (on page 7) end up bleeding through to page 8 and making the “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12) unreadable. Not good.

Fourth, margin notes anchor you in yesterday’s level of understanding. I’m not going to teach a Bible book exactly the same next time around. My understanding grows with time and learning. Points I may have highlighted years ago may be superceded by more apropos material now that I know more. But, where am I going to put additional notes from further fruitful study if my margins are already full from what I wrote ten years ago? Maybe my first tour through the book was mediocre and now I’ve got a Bible full of mediocre notes that leave no room for more meaty reminders. Maybe, instead of margin notes, you underline verses, but, over time, discover that you wish you had not underlined a verse (like Genesis 1:1). When I was about twelve, my grandfather gave me an expensive Dickson Analytical Study Bible. It had a moroccan leather cover and more study helps than you could shake a stick at. Were I still using that, you can believe that the underlinings (etc.) I put in it back then are not what I would have put today.

Fifth, Bible-marking creates the risk of missing something important. To me, this is the weightiest reason of all. If you underline a verse (or highlight it in a color, or notate the margin), then your eye is drawn to that verse every time you open the Bible to that page, right? It’s as though we’re saying that verse is super-important, as opposed to the rest of the verses on the page, which are not important enough to merit highlighting. With the subconscious emphasis drawn to the highlighted verse, what becomes of my ability to notice the verses right before, or after, the highlighted verse? What if I unintentionally treat the highlighted verse in the second column as more significant than anything in the first column? When I look at a Bible page, I want it to contain God’s words instead of my own, for my own may serve to detract from my ability to fully appreciate God’s.

Now, as the saying goes, your mileage may vary. You may benefit greatly from marking up your Bible. If so, more power to you. There’s nothing wrong, either way. These are simply my own opinions, and I’ve never seen anyone enumerate the view I’ve grown to adopt.

Posted in General

In Behalf of Our Church Buildings

By Mac Deaver

Recently I listened to a man preaching a sermon in one of our better church buildings in Texas. And though he expressed gratitude for our buildings, he instructed us that we needed to get away from the idea of church building evangelism. I noticed later an article that had been published in one of our brotherhood publications, again decrying the emphasis that the author thought we had placed on our buildings. I would like to counter what I have heard and read with a few brief thoughts.

Usually those who find fault with us over our buildings are quick to point out that they are not opposed to the buildings as such, but to a wrong attitude that has developed about them. While that criticism may have application to a few brethren, I seriously doubt that it is widespread. I find no widespread criticism among us of our own private houses on the basis of a supposed misevaluation. Then, why are we in worship services or in periodicals at times subjected to criticism of an alleged wrong idea about or an overestimation of our buildings? All of us surely know that the church is not the building, but what can we constructively say about the building?

I am very grateful for our humble yet sufficient building in which our brethren in Sheffield meet and in which I regularly attempt to preach. It is not the largest building in which I have preached. It is not the most expensive building in which I have preached, but it is so very adequate to meet the current needs of our people. It is a very fine building suitable to the purposes of a wonderful country church in a remote part of Texas. Also, I am glad that our brethren have access to facilities that allow us to eat together every Lord’s day in between our services. The building provides a wonderful opportunity for edification through association during the noon hour.

And yet I have been aware for years of this criticism of an alleged overemphasis on the value of the church building. The criticism is not new. But it is an inaccurate criticism. Let me offer a few points in response to this misguided emphasis or misunderstood estimation of the building that some preachers continue to make.

First, we do, after all, need a place to assemble. While Hebrews 10:25 does not specify the place, it necessitates the place. A building is simply one of several options allowable by Bible authority. I’ll have to admit that in my younger preaching days, I somewhat romanticized the concept of worship in houses. After all, the early church often did that (Philemon 3). And for a while I did preach for a small group of brethren who at the time met regularly in a couple’s house. But usually, the demands are such that worship in a house is not practical very long for most congregations. At any rate, we simply make the point here that a particular building is certainly authorized and, in most cases, becomes the optimal choice for congregations of the Lord’s people. A special building in which the local brethren can gather becomes an expedient in our culture in most situations.

Second, it is good to have buildings that signify or indicate religious interest. In our culture, people usually see the difference between buildings used for secular purposes and those used for religious purposes. The community may not know the difference between the church of the Lord and the many churches of the world, but it can tell, because of the building and usually because of a sign, the difference between a building for religious purposes and a place of business. It is not hard to tell the difference between the mall as constructed and church buildings, and it certainly is easy to see the difference between the church of Christ and J. C. Penney. Remember, that the growth of the first century church utilized the concept of a synagogue, a building for religious purposes. If there was a synagogue in a town, that is where Paul usually went first to preach (Acts 13:5). And if there were no synagogue, he looked for a place known for regular religious activity (Acts 16:13).

Third, regular worship of the saints is primarily for the saints anyway. Brethren certainly have the right to offer special services for sinners where sinners can be taught. In the history of the churches of Christ in the United States, this used to be the emphasis during our gospel meetings. When the culture was yet interested in learning more Bible and was willing to sit and listen with sincere interest in the gospel, we appealed to them in our gospel meetings in these services. And, of course, even in our regular weekly services, when we realize that sinners are present, we preachers usually make an extra effort in our lessons to inform them of basic duty or to stimulate them into further study. But the basic purpose of regular worship is for saints since saints are the only people on earth who can worship God acceptably (John 4:24). The basic purpose of our services in our buildings is not evangelism. It remains edification (Heb. 10:25). It was certainly possible for a sinner to come into a special service of the saints for the expression of their miraculous gifts (1 Cor. 14:24-25), but that service was for the saints themselves, as are our regular worship services.

Fourth, there is no such thing, Scripturally speaking, as guilt-driven worship or guilt-driven evangelism. How often have you, dear reader, heard the preacher unintentionally undermining the significance of worship by suggesting that the more important Christian effort was yet to be made after the brethren left the building? Surely not all preachers have done this, but many have left the definite and lasting impression with their congregations that the worship itself was simply an essential preface to the greater expenditure of effort which was to characterize the brethren following their departure from the building. And I, right here, declare without fear of successful contradiction, that such an idea is preposterous! Now, no one will explicitly say that worship is unimportant any more than he will say that we don’t need our buildings, but when he gets through explaining what he thinks is the “real business” of the church, it amounts to the contention that the real work of the church goes on outside the building and that the “outside the building effort” is of much greater importance than what can possibly go on inside the building. But I ask, how can anyone who regularly studies both Old and New Testaments believe such a thing (cf. Amos 5:21-27; Lev.10:1-2; Mal.1:6-14; John 4:24; Heb. 10:25; Acts 20:7-11)? Any evangelism that a Christian performs is normal Spirit-driven evangelism, the outgrowth of Spirit-development within the heart of the saint (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:22-24; Matt. 22:37-40). If we want to have a Scriptural view of evangelism as a brotherhood, then we are going to have to correct some falsehoods that some of us have been telling to others of us for years about the non-involvement of the Holy Spirit in the everyday life of the saint.

We cannot have successful evangelism by individual or congregation that coerced evangelism. Coercion has been attempted and, sadly, our history now records the fact that, a few years ago, the coercion reached new intensity and some of us became a cult! It is not Scriptural whether you are a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness or a Christian to set up a situation such that a person is more or less forced or intimidated into doing what is deemed “evangelistic” work. Furthermore, there is no more authority for “nuisance evangelism” than there is for “guilt-driven evangelism” or “coerced evangelism.” If there are things that false religionists do to you that you do not like in their misguided efforts at evangelistic activity, then why in the world would you attempt to do the same thing to them? The “golden rule” applies to evangelism as well as to anything else that we as brethren might try to do (Matt.7:12).

Our evangelistic efforts, Scripturally speaking, are the result of our love, and not the result of our guilt over the condition of the lost (cf. Rom. 13:8-10). We didn’t lose the lost; we didn’t cause the lost to be lost, and yet so much of the preaching on evangelism that I have heard over a lifetime of worship has almost totally left the impression with me that the preacher is placing the bulk of the responsibility for the sinner’s retrieval, if there is to be one, at the feet of the church rather than at the feet of the world where it belongs! Rather than putting the blame on the world, the church is usually accused. This has absolutely destroyed so much of “the peace that passeth all understanding” because we preachers did not speak knowingly of the responsibility of all parties involved: (1) God, (2) saint, and (3) sinner. Even under the Great Commission when it was clearly operative, Paul told two Gentile audiences that the prior obligation with regard to their finding God was theirs (Acts 14:14-18; 17:22-31)! It is my personal judgment that many of us preachers have over a lifetime of preaching unintentionally made it absolutely impossible for our local congregations to have any peace within because we constantly made the brethren feel guilty about those who had not as yet obeyed the gospel, most of whom never would anyway! Am I wrong? While knowing that the world could not have optimal peace (John 16:33), without meaning to, we preachers have made it almost impossible for that peace to exist within the heart of good and faithful brethren (Phil. 4:4-7).

Fifth, I would venture to say that most people who criticize American Christians for our alleged wrong view of our buildings, operate from an unbalanced view of the mission of the church. Usually, their concept is that the main or primary or most fundamental or maybe the sole mission of the church is to “reach the lost.” But such is simply not so! There is absolutely no Scriptural evidence to support such a contention. The whole mission of the church is to save souls, including those who have already been saved, as well as those who may yet be reached. The church is authorized to edify itself (Heb. 10:25; Jude 20-21), engage in benevolence (Jas. 1:27; Gal. 6:10), and try to influence the lost to their salvation (Matt. 5:13-16). The emphasis in the New Testament is nowhere placed on evangelistic effort as somehow more important than edification or benevolence. If there is a passage that so presents evangelism as the main focus of the church, what is it? I understand that our concept of evangelism in the past was derived from our wrong view of the Great Commission. That was fulfilled (Col. 1:23)! Our evangelism cannot be based on that assignment given only to the apostles and which they alone could fulfill.

Sixth, people have a way of finding our church buildings when they need help in physical matters. Have you ever noticed that? We are easily located by sinners when they need something in a financial way. I once preached where a certain non-Christian made use of the church to provide her taxi service. She knew where we were, she knew we were compassionate, she knew she was in need of transportation, and she knew of our expressed interest in her. And she was not reluctant at all to call on us for physical help! Of course, she showed absolutely no concern for the gospel, but she knew where we were.

Just how hard is it for anyone today in America to locate us? Even in areas where our people are sparse, because of public communication (including TV, radio, and the internet), just how hard is it for a sinner to locate a saint? Sinners know they have to go somewhere to get what they need. If they want food, they go to the store. If they want medical care, they have to go where it is. They understand all too well that the obligation rests personally upon them to make contact with those who have what they need. But because of our misconception of our relationship to a commission given once (and once only) to the apostles (and to the apostles only), we now have created the fiction that (1) it is more or less all right for the world to remain passive while (2) the basic and major effort in behalf of their souls is an effort given to the church! The world is viewed as composed of passive victims, and the church has the main responsibility for their salvation. This, I contend, is without Scriptural warrant!

In the church we have told ourselves for years and years that we have to go, and we have never, never stressed the God-given assignment to sinners to look for truth (Luke 11:13 cf. Matt. 7:7-12; Acts 17:27)! I have heard in my lifetime almost nothing about the responsibility of the sinner for himself from preachers in our worship services! And yet we all know that each person will give account for himself (2 Cor. 5:10). Somehow, when we discuss the work of the church, we lose our balance when considering what we must do regarding the sinner. Should we feel concern for sinners? Of course. Do we have any obligation to sinners? Certainly. But God knows how to get a searching sinner in contact with his sacred word, a local congregation, an individual Christian, a book, a TV broadcast, etc. Do you doubt it? We have seriously failed to comprehend what the Bible teaches about God’s overall divine management of the whole situation providentially, in spite of the fact that we have known for years that God controlled the total situation involving getting the gospel to all the Jews and Gentiles of the first century (Rom. 11:33-36). God still controls these matters. Do you doubt it? Every accountable being on earth is in God’s image! Doesn’t that image carry with it personal responsibility for the man to find his Maker? You know the answer!

Seventh, our buildings provide a way for us to find our other brethren in other areas. Just like having a book that lists where our brethren are located, our buildings and signs inform us as we travel that our brethren meet in a certain place. Of course, unlike it used to be, we do not now in America always know what we are going to find in some services within those buildings because of innovations that have corrupted the worship of some congregations. But, at least the buildings and signs provide us with some information relative to our brethren in other places, whether the meeting houses are being used rightly or not.

I have, just like you, spent a good portion of time in some of our buildings. And a few buildings have a special place in my heart because of experiences that have been mine within them. Our work and worship would be shackled, indeed, in this country as well as others, without them. I am grateful to God that in his most gracious providence, he has enabled us to have these structures appropriate to our needs. May they always be used by us to his glory and to our good and to that of our fellow man.

Posted in General

I Was Just Thinking…

By Marlin Kilpatrick

One of man’s attributes is the ability to think. God created man as a rational being. The ability to reason through complex problems separates man from the beast of the field. The beast operates by instinct, but we operate as rational beings. The ability to think does not guarantee we will always be rational. Sometimes we fail to think rationally. When this happens, we get into all kinds of trouble.

The Bible obligates each of us to think correctly. The apostle Paul said, “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). He also said we are to “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). In the preceeding quotations the word “prove” means “…to test, to prove with expectation of accepting” (Vine’s, p. 146). The same word is translated try as in “…try the spirits whether they are of God, for many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). We are to try or test every doctrine to determine if it is from God or man, and the standard by which such trying is done is the word of God.

The obligation to think correctly implies we, among many other things, should study our Bibles daily. After developing a knowledge of what the scriptures say, we must reason correctly about those scriptures. The apostle Peter wrote, “…and be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). The word answer is translated from a word which means to make a defense of our hope, but how are we going to be able to make a defense, if we do not know how to reason correctly about the scriptures? Here is where the study of the elementary rules of logic becomes useful.

I was just thinking, how wonderful it would be if all people thought correctly about the scriptures. If everyone thought correctly about the scriptures, all the religious confusion in today’s world would be eliminated. A failure to think correctly about the scriptures will cost many sincere people their home in heaven.

No one will enter heaven just because he was lucky. No one will make it to heaven just because he happened to guess right. Only those who know and obey the truth and who can think correctly about the scriptures, have the hope of being with the Lord in eternity. Think about it.