A KEY TO CHURCH PROBLEMS
T. PIERCE BROWN
When we read of the churches in the New Testament, even the one inJerusalem, with all of its freshness, power, spirit, energy and growth, we see some of the same problems that confront, confound and confuse us. It might help us to list the problems, specify some of the reasons, and suggest some cures. In this article, we shall be concerned with only one basic problem that is at the root of most all other problems, and the key to the solution.
The church atJerusalemhad a problem of prejudice, which caused the Grecian widows to be neglected in the daily distribution. The problem was solved under the Holy Spirit’s direction by appointing men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3). They analyzed the problem, found the solution and solved it. Notice carefully that they did not necessarily solve the underlying problem of prejudice at that time. They solved a specific manifestation of it. No human can solve a problem of the heart of another person. We can often solve a particular way of demonstrating that problem. The heart problem can only be solved by the individual himself applying God’s word. Any time a man is appointed to solve a problem in the church, whether it be preaching, shepherding, or the work of a deacon, and he does not have a good reputation, and wisdom enough to use properly the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the problem will grow worse.
It is amazing that even highly educated preachers, when making fun of the restoration ideal will ask the question, “If we try to restore the New Testament church, which one will we restore?” They do not seem to be aware of the restoration principle at all. It was never the purpose of the restoration movement to restore the imperfect pattern of work, worship or doctrine of any specific congregation in the New Testament days, but to restore the pattern of the perfect ideal church ordained of God. I learned this simple principle at my mother’s knee before I started to school at age 4. I was helping her make quilts by cutting out pieces of cloth. She gave me a pattern by which to cut. I was always to cut by the original pattern, not use the piece I had cut as the next pattern, then use the next piece as the next pattern. In that case, each imperfection in the pieces I cut would be multiplied in the subsequent piece. Why it is possible for a four-year-old child to understand that, but a doctor of philosophy to miss it, I do not know.
The church inCorinthis probably the most familiar to those who are studying churches with problems. If I knew a congregation whose members were going to law with brethren, getting drunk at the Lord’s table, dividing over preachers, in fellowship with a person who was living in sin with his father’s wife, and some denying the resurrection of the Lord, I would probably conclude that the Lord had already removed its candlestick, and it was no longer the Lord’s church. I might assume that the problems were too difficult or extreme to try to solve. Paul did not so assume. He proposed solutions for each problem.
In an extended study, we could try to analyze each problem, find some causes, and point out the specific cures for each one. However, time and space limitations forbid it. Now we shall mention a basic cause for all these problems, and a fundamental principle that will cure most of them. The underlying principle is found in 1 Corinthians 13. It is the proper kind of love for God and man.
A key similar to that is found in the story of the church atEphesusin Revelation 2:1-6. It had many good things about it. They worked, labored, had patience, and did not tolerate evil men in their fellowship. Men had to be transformed or transferred! Their problem was deeper than not having sound doctrine or several good programs going. They had left their first love (vs. 4).
This is doubtless the basic cause of 90% of the problems in every congregation. Even the congregations that have a variety of good programs, and that have doctrinally sound leaders may discover, if they are willing to make a rigorous self examination, that they have taken love and glorification of the Lord out of first place in their planning.
Let us illustrate one way we might discover if the congregation we attend has done this: First, try to get all the members involved in a continuing effort to win souls. You may discover that less than 10% care enough about Christ and the cause for which he died to assist in that effort. Then call for a meeting to discuss building a bigger “fellowship hall” where we can meet and eat. Note the difference in the size of those two groups. This will not solve the problem, but it will help you to identify it and realize that the basic problem is a lack of love for the Lord and a desire to glorify Him.
Did you ever notice in business meetings how few times anyone mentions the best standard by which any proposed action should be measured? That standard is: Is this the best way to glorify God? If every program and project planned were measured in terms of striving to do that which would give the most glory to God instead of ministering to selfish needs, creature comforts or pride, there is little doubt that many programs and projects would be changed.
John’s solution to the problem was “Repent and do the first works” (Revelation 2:5). The primary problem with that solution in our case is that many of us never had any first works to which we can return. Many who “came into the church” were not converted in the first place to a loving Lord who meant more to them than life itself, but to a preacher whose oratory pleased them, a church home that satisfied their social yearnings, or a doctrine that seemed to offer comfort or safety. Our preaching and teaching has so often dealt primarily with certain actions that we must perform before we would get certain desired blessings and rewards. If our teaching were designed, as was that of the Apostles, to get persons to properly love and respect the Lord, there would be little problem with getting them to go through the outward acts of obedience.
It is tragic beyond expression that so many doctrinally sound brethren seldom preach a sermon that is deliberately designed to create love of Christ in the heart. We may talk about love, but if all we do is emphasize the great truth that if you love Christ you will keep his commandments, we still have failed to preach in such a way as to cause one to love Christ and desire to glorify Him. Then a shallow unsound preacher who teaches that obedience and sound doctrine are insignificant may stir the emotions with some oratory or gimmick, and make a person think he loves Christ, and that his emotional responses prove it. We need to know and show that the love that Christ demands is not an emotion at all. This does not mean that emotions are not important, or that appeals to emotion are out of place. It does mean that before we can teach a person to love the Lord, we may have to teach him what love is.
My thesis in this article is that the primary cause of all problems in the church is the lack of love for Christ. If you agree, then why not try to make sure that in your area of church activity you do four things: First, make sure you know what kind of love needs to be developed. Second, find out how to develop more love for Christ. Third, do it. Fourth, help all teachers, elders and preachers to do it and teach others how. It is not enough to exhort, “We should all love Christ more.” Do you know specific ways to learn how to do that? If not, let me know, and I will try to help you.