SOLUTIONS TO SOME PROBLEMS
T. PIERCE BROWN
Since I had not gone to town until I started to high school, and since my overalls were patched and my shirt was one my mother made from a flour sack, I was very self-conscious. The first time I made a report in a history class, I sweated so much (I now perspire) that it dropped from my elbows with a “plop” that I could hear as each drop would hit the floor.
I determined to overcome that sort of fear and shame by taking a speech course. Either I was taught, or read in some book how to walk out to the center of the stage, do a sharp right or left 90 degree turn, place my feet at about a 45 degree angle, let my hands hang loosely at my sides with the middle finger at the seam of my pants. If I wanted to emphasize a theme or point that was grand, glorious or exalted, the hand or hands would be extended palm up, and above the shoulders. If the idea expressed was degraded or inferior, the palm would be down, and the gesture would start at waist level or below. There were various other similar rules, which I have forgotten.
Since I had only one more speech course before graduate school, I do not remember ever being taught better than that until about 25 years later. However, I learned better on my own as I debated through high school and college and did other kinds of public speaking. I learned that not only “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Mt.12:34), but out of the abundance of the heart the hand moveth. A superimposed mechanical gesture or mannerism designed to produce some effect will betray itself sooner or later.
My purpose is not now to teach principles of public speaking, but to use that story to try to impress upon you some principles of Christian living and suggest to you some of the reasons for our failures in that area.
You may have noticed that even among the congregations where the soundest doctrine in the brotherhood is being taught, the attendance chart will often look about like this: Sunday worship–650. Bible study–500. Sunday Evening–400. Wednesday evening–375. No congregational personal evangelism is evident, and almost all the programs, if there are any, are designed for the satisfaction and pleasure of the members. There may be visitation of shut-ins, fellowship dinners for the senior citizens, and perhaps dozens of other things for the involvement of almost everyone in the congregation who wants to be involved. Of course a large number do not want to be involved in anything, so visitation teams are sent to visit them, or a “minister of involvement” is hired to try to make sure everyone is encouraged to be involved.
They have regular gospel meetings, lecture programs, “workshops” (designed to talk about work, but not to do it) of various kinds, church growth seminars (if they can find enough sound gospel preachers who will make proper talks about how the church can grow). They do not spend the Lord’s money by building recreation centers and buying busses just to haul the young people to parties of one sort or another like some congregations do, but for some reason they do not seem to outgive, outlive, outserve or outdo in any other respect the denominations around them, except they do teach sound doctrine and practice godly living.
I believe I know some of the reasons this seems to be the general rule, and will suggest some of them to you. One reason is that a large number of us have not seen clearly that even going through the motions of following the example of Christ is not what Christianity is about. To make my point clearer, suppose you could see Christ talking to his disciples from the mountainside. He stretches forth his hand and makes some point. So, in order to be Christlike, we take our disciples to the mountainside and as we begin to preach, stretch forth our hand in imitation of him. It is easy for us to see that this has little, if anything, to do with following Christ. Yet we may imitate the outward actions of Christ and even say the words of Christ without being aware that we “have a form of Godliness and deny the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5).
Do you remember the seven sons of Sceva who went through the ritual of calling over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth” (Acts 19:14)? Trying to go through certain orthodox rituals, and using correct verbal formulas was not and is not sufficient. As long as our primary emphasis is on sound doctrine (saying the right words), living a good life (not doing things that are outwardly reprehensible), or even engaging in some program of activity (having fellowship meals, visiting someone for some reason), we will fail if we have not laid the proper foundation. The proper foundation is to get others and ourselves to so willingly surrender to Christ as Lord that our supreme purpose is to glorify God by humble, obedient service. We first must desire to obey Philippians 2:5-7, “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Merely putting on the garments of a servant, or going through the outward motions of being a servant will not do. This is, in my judgment, the root of most of our problems.