‘Let the Church be faithful to its calling and its message, and the Holy Spirit will accomplish things for the glory of God.…’
A person who is losing strength, or who is experiencing pain or shortness of breath, will consult his doctor to find out the cause. The various manifestations of a disease are symptoms; they are not the disease itself. A conscientious doctor will through examinations, tests, and other diagnostic measures endeavor to determine what is producing the symptoms.
Any one who seriously considers the Church today and its impact on the world will inevitably conclude that all is not right. Here in America, and throughout the rest of the world, the Church does not have the influence it once had. The world’s biological birth rate far exceeds the spiritual birth rate, and a new generation is arising outside the influence of organized religion.
These facts are symptoms of a deep-seated disease, and, as is often true in the medical world, there is within the Church a divergence of diagnosis and therefore of recommended treatment.
Basic to these differences is the conflict in concepts of the nature and mission of the Church.
It is my earnest conviction that the Church is a spiritual organism with certain ecclesiastical functions. It has the duty to teach and preach the Christian faith as revealed in the Scriptures, and to do so not in the wisdom of man but through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is also my conviction that out of such Spirit-directed preaching and teaching, men are brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. They then become “salt” in a decaying society, “light” in a dark world.
On the other hand, there are many—and they largely control the philosophy and activities of the major denominations—who feel that the Church, in the name of the Church, is called to enter the world and exercise political and other pressures to transform society without necessarily redeeming the men who compose the social order.
Those who hold this position have increasingly used social action, in the name of the Church, in an effort to change society and rectify the injustices of life. Such people join the rest of us in admitting that the Church’s influence is on the wane. But instead of stopping to take a second look to determine whether their treatment is effective, they more frantically pursue a course that many of us think is the basic cause of the lowered prestige and power of the Church.
The Church is called by the Lord himself to make disciples of all nations, I simply cannot believe that God called the Church to become a pressure group, to make use of the government and political means to accomplish secular ends, the perfection of which would not save even one soul from “the wrath to come.”
Those who talk about making the Church “relevant” to our space-age world often seem to lose sight of the fact that God is the Creator and sustainer of space, and that man today has the same spiritual needs he has had in every generation. Advances in scientific knowledge and modern sophistication have not changed one whit man’s basic need to receive the forgiveness of sins.
Those who claim to have discarded “seventeenth-century Christianity” seem to forget that no one is concerned about preserving it. Many of us are earnestly praying, however, for a return to first-century Christianity. Civilization has made phenomenal progress since the early apostles went out in the power of the Spirit to turn a pagan world upside down. But spiritual progress has not kept pace with material progress. We need people in the Church with the same burning faith and zeal of those who had seen the risen Lord and who went out with a message that changed men.
That Christians have the responsibility to be concerned about morality and to minister to the sick and needy is unquestionable. Greed and oppression are to be condemned. But the agency of action should be redeemed men, acting as such, and not the Church as an organization.
In recent years, we have seen the Church, in the name of the Church, enter the lists on behalf of federal aid to education, urban renewal, admission of Red China to the United Nations, disarmament, higher minimum wages, forcible union membership, exclusion of Mexican labor from California, and various other secular and political issues.
Whenever the Church becomes involved in such matters, it is actually individual persons who control the Church who are in action. Therefore, we find those whose insights are not necessarily sanctified using the name and prestige of the Church to advance policies that other men of equal piety and conviction may oppose. Little wonder that the Church has lost prestige in stepping down from its calling—to redeem men through faith in Jesus Christ—into secular concerns, hoping to change society by political means.
Let those who are so engaged ponder whether the lost power so evident in the Church does not run a parallel course with the shift in emphasis from spiritual to secular concerns.
Furthermore, as ministers have lost their faith in the full authority and integrity of the Scriptures, the vacuum in their preaching has been filled by social concerns. Once our pulpits were filled with men who preached the Word of God with power and conviction, men whose consuming passion was to make Christ known to a lost world. But preaching has changed, and many people go away from the services—if they bother to attend—unfed and frustrated.
It would seem that cause and effect are there for all to see. Seekers need to hear men of God with a message for their souls, not specialists in secular affairs.
Contributing to the lost spiritual power of the Church are those theological seminaries that have trained men not so much to know and preach the Word of God as to become experts in the concerns of this world.
This does not mean that preachers should not thunder against specific sins from their pulpit. Nor does it mean that they should not personally engage in activities designed to lessen the power of personal and organized evil in a community. It does mean that when the Church, using the name and prestige of the Church, shifts its emphasis to social reform rather than personal regeneration, it abdicates its high calling and becomes but one of many secular agencies dedicated to the good of society.
“What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” This is not a rhetorical question but the expression of a truth we must heed.
Let the Church be faithful to its calling and its message, and the Holy Spirit will accomplish things for the glory of God and the fulfillment of his purposes.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.