WHY SO SMALL?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Yesterday I received a letter from a very dear friend whom I baptized years ago, and who was and is dearer to me than almost any other person in the world with the exception of my own physical family. Although he served for some years as an elder, and has one of the most brilliant minds of any person I know, he has severed connections with the Lord’s church and joined some other. Perhaps that is better than to do what many have done–continue to claim membership in it, and attempt to destroy it by continual criticism, misrepresentation and false doctrine from the very pulpits they seem to despise.
He makes some comments and criticisms that may be of interest to you. He says, “I think I even hate the church you and others have created, in which people are put into small boxes and intimidated if they dare to think in a different frame.” I suppose there is a sense in which even God could be said to hate a church that had so far departed from what it should be that he spewed it out of his mouth, or removed its candlestick. He apparently does not make a distinction that I think is important. It is one thing to hate the perversions, modifications, and errors that we find in our teaching, practice or attitude, and another thing to hate the church for which Christ died. He, as some others who, brilliant as they may be, can’t seem to see past the end of his nose as he denies the value of the restoration principle. He asks over and over, “Which church mentioned in the N.T. are you trying to restore?” I told him I was interested, as he seemed to be on some occasions, in restoring all local congregations to the ideal Jesus had in mind for His church, but not interested in restoring any particular pattern of any New Testament congregation that did not meet with God’s approval. That did not seem to get through his wall of bitterness and disdain.
I admit that part of the reason for his defection may be that there are occasions where a person may be intimidated by certain brethren if they dare to think in a different frame. This has never been a particular problem with me, since I have never been consciously concerned about merely being “orthodox” or parroting a “party line” of some sort. As far as I know myself, it makes little difference what Campbell, Lipscomb, Woods, or “leading brethren” conclude if they are not able to “Prove all things” from the scriptures. There is little doubt in my mind that we have not restored the church Jesus had in mind with respect to evangelistic zeal, sacrificial giving, attitude of devotion to Truth, even if it brings death, and various other things. The fact that the Jerusalem church, the Corinthian church, the seven churches of Asia, and almost all other congregations needed to be restored to the original ideal does not negate the idea of the restoration principle. It enhances it. At some times, my dear friend seemed to want to restore me and all others to what he thought should be the attitude of the church and Christians, while he was at the same time denying the possibility or desirability of the restoration idea.
He further said, “Its members have no concept of the love of Christ, but only guilt.” Of course this is a false charge, but I can understand that a person who has been subjected to the kind of preaching which assumes that the good news of the gospel consists almost solely of finding fault with others can come to this terrible conclusion. He did not seem able to make any response when I asked him if the three thousand who responded on Pentecost had been made to feel any guilt? However, it is true that if we put the primary focus on how bad we are instead of how good God and Christ are, we need to be restored to the original emphasis and balance our preaching.
He says that the church they now belong to is a 12,000-member congregation which added 1200 people last month, and baptized half of them by immersion for the remission of sins. I could not determine if the other half who were added had never been immersed, or if they were, if it was for something other than remission of sins, and what difference it would have made anyway. Sometimes it sounds as if he still believes that baptism for the remission of sins is a doctrine that needs to be restored to all that claim to believe in Christ. At other times, he denies that doctrine is important at all, but only relying on God’s grace.
He says, “Churches of Christ are gloom and doom and small for obvious reasons. Don’t you ever stop and ask the question why? Or do you comfort yourself with the ‘strait and narrow is the way scripture’?” Sadly enough, it is possible that some of us comfort ourselves with the truth that “few there be that find it” and assume that we can excuse either our indifference, our casual, selfish, ungodly attitude, or harsh, unloving preaching by acting as if God never meant for His church to grow anyway. Surely there is no question that in some cases our lack of growth has been because we have “contended earnestly for the opinions delivered arrogantly and dogmatically” instead of “contending for the faith delivered to the saints.” In other cases, as was true in some cities where Paul preached, the church did not grow in spite of the loving preaching of the gospel, and zealous efforts on his part, for there was a hardness of heart and a desire to do their own thing, in their own way. In many cases we do not grow because we fail to practice what we preach, and the average member cares little about the lost souls that surround him, and cares little enough about learning more about the Bible that he will not even stay for Bible study. Yet he feels arrogant and self satisfied because he belongs to “the church you can read about in the Bible.”
Regardless of the reasons we may not grow in any given time or place, it gives us no legitimate excuse to turn our backs on the Lord’s church, and try to restore it to the ideal that Christ had in mind when he died for it.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600