Why Blame the Church?

If you want to be human howitzers, delivering explosive sermons that shatter hard hearts, you must dwell long and earnestly in God's arsenal.

J. R. Spangler is editor of MINISTRY magazine

RESEARCH  reports  often  substantiate  the  obvious.  Another  such  report has just been released by Andrews University.

Dr.  Gottfried  Oosterwal, chairman of the  Seminary  Department,  of  World Mission,  recently  released  the  results of  a  survey  based  on  more  than  3,000 questionnaire  responses  from  members of  twenty-eight  churches  in  the  Lake Union.  Among  other  conclusions,  the study reveals:

1.  Once  baptized,  members  indicate that  their  spiritual  welfare  depends  more upon Sabbath services and  fellowship  than  on  personal devotions.

2.  Half  the  members  responding  derive  their  prime  spiritual  uplift from  the  Sabbath  services,  and where evidence of spiritual growth of  all  types  is  obviously  lacking, the members, almost unanimously, list poor performance of the minister in his sermons, leadership, and visitation  as  the  primary  cause. 

What  was  the  pastors'  response  on this  latter  point?  According  to  the  re port,  "the  pastors  granted  that  they were in trouble. Most of their time, they said, was absorbed by administrative details  and  by  promotion of  conference or union programs. Meeting a bewildering array  of  local  problems  and  conference priorities  left  virtually no time  for sermon  preparation,  training the laity,  or even  personal  devotions.  Many  of  the pastors indicated that they had done no serious  study  since  college  or  seminary and had grossly neglected their families, sleep,  and exercise."

Sounds  familiar, doesn't it? However, if  a  woman in Scripture symbolizes the church, it fits!  "The woman whom thou gavest" is  responsible.  Is it the woman, the church organization, that is to blame for our failure to study the Word? I used to  think  so.  But  no  longer  do  I  let the devil  fool  me  on  this  point.  If  I  fail to study,  pray,  and meditate,  it is  my own fault! Certainly the work piles up!  Certainly there  are  a  thousand  details we think we must take care of! But the facts are,  you  and  I  as  ministers  still  have freedom  of  choice,  and  if  we  allow the pressure  of  work  to  steal  from  us  our right  to  spend  time  with  God  daily, then who is to blame? I don't care if the reader is the General Conference  president  or  the  youngest intern in Podunk Hollow, you and you alone are responsible  for  your  success  or  failure  in  this all-important  matter  of  personal  devotions,  serious  study  of  the  Scriptures, and  preparation  of  powerful,  Spirit- filled  sermons.

Two Extremes

The  truth  of  the  matter  is,  we  are guilty of two extremes. The majority of those  guilty,  in  all  probability,  fall  in the extreme  of those who engage in little  or  no  Bible  study.  Then there  are  a few, perhaps more than a few, who may be  diligent students of the Word,  but so much  of  their study  can be  categorized as  the  proverbial  "hair-splitting"  type. For  instance,  at  the  moment  there  is much discussion on the nature of Christ, and  so-called  righteousness  by  faith. Without  judging  anyone,  I  wonder whether  all  the  attention  and  concern being  shown  in  the  continuing  dialog on these questions is the most profitable use  of  our time?  If we  were  out  on the front lines, wresting souls from the grip of  Satan,  perhaps  some  of  this  study would  be  meaningful,  but all too  often it is divisive in nature rather than being a deep,  earnest searching for truth that not  only  waters  the  student's  soul  but enables  him  to  be  a  better-equipped soul winner.

The  first extreme mentioned, little or no  Bible  study,  is  not  only  dangerous but fatal to  spiritual growth now and to eternal  life  later.  Anyone,  minister  or layman, who permits the Bible to gather dust during most of the week has a slim chance  of  growing  spiritually.  If  the Scriptures  contain leaves  from  the tree of  life,  and if the purpose of  the tree of life  is  for the  healing  of the  nations, it becomes obvious that true success in the ministry is  dependent to a large  degree on  our  personal  spiritual  development through earnest, Spirit-led Bible  study.

How  can  we  experience  death to  self and life in Christ? How can we learn experimentally  to  ask,  "Who  is  he  that overcometh  the  world,  but  he  that  believeth  that  Jesus  is  the  Son  of  God?" (1  John  5:5).  How  can Jesus be  real to us? What keeps  us  from falling into the cruel gears of sin? There is no other way than  in  and  through  the  Word  of  God! 

If  a  minister  wants  to  be  a  human howitzer  and  deliver  explosive  sermons that  will  shatter  hard  hearts,  then  he must  dwell  long  and  earnestly  in  the arsenal of  God's armory.

Laity Must Drink for Themselves

Why  are  the  majority  of  our  church members  not  drinking  for  themselves from  the  fountain  of  salvation,  but depending  upon  the  minister?  Those ministers  who  feed  the  flock  properly cannot help seeing a renewed interest in a study of the Word on the part of their members.  A  converted  minister  is  not on an ego-trip, but stands as one who in spires  his  people  to  see  God  for  them selves through a  study of the Word.

God  give  us  Ezras,  who,  wherever they labor, will bring about a revival in the  study  of  the  Word.  Why?  Because Ezra  was  "a  scribe  skilled in the law of Moses  which the Lord the God  of  Israel had  given"  (Ezra  7:6,  R.S.V.).  We  need Hilkiahs,  who  will  discover  the  Scriptures hidden among the newspapers and magazines  on  top  of  the  TV  sets  and then  through  consistent  study  will preach the word  of truth to our congregations. We  need men like King Josiah, who  himself  read  "all  the  words  of  the book  of  the  covenant  which  was  found in the house of the Lord" (2 Kings 23:2). A mighty reformation followed Josiah's determination. He  solemnly covenanted before  God  to  bring  about  the  changes necessary,  as  outlined  in  the  scrolls. Josiah  never would  have  persevered in his  work  of  cleansing  the  land  of  idolatry had it not been  for the Scriptures! Here  was  his  authority,  his  power,  his motivation.

God  give  us  Pauls Pauls  who  can command  modern  Timothys  to  diligently study the Word in order rightly to handle truth.

God  give  us  more  Luthers.  Luther literally lived  in the  atmosphere  of the Bible.  He  was  a  veritable  Niagara  of Biblical  thought  and  writing.  Before Luther's eyes, Christ and His righteousness  leaped  out  of  every  page  of  the Scriptures.

God  give  us  more  men like  Tyndale, who  will,  under  the  guidance  of  the Spirit  of  God,  help  our  members  open the closed Bibles in their homes.

God  give  us  more  Latimers, Ridleys, Husses,  Cranmers,  Barneses,  Knoxes, and  Friths,  and  help  us,  like  them,  to effectively lift high the divine authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures.

God give us more Jeremy Taylors, the kind  who  will  join  him  in  eloquently declaring,  "If  thou  meanest  to  enlarge thy  religion,  do  it  rather  by  enlarging thine  ordinary  devotions  than  thine extraordinary."

God  can take an ordinary man and do extraordinary things with him if he determines to  carve  out  a portion  of each day for spiritual growth.

God  give  us  more  Whites,  Bateses, Andrewses,  and  Smiths,  who  loved the Word  until  it  held  first  place  in  their lives and work.  The secret, the power of the Advent Movement, was found in the long,  long  hours,  both  day  and  night, that our early pioneers  spent in searching the  Scriptures on their knees. They bathed  its  pages with their tears while pleading  with  God  for  enlightenment and truth.

Not Scholastic Misers

They  were  not  scholastic misers  who greedily  closeted themselves  with their books  and secreted themselves from the world.  No,  their  study  had  a  twofold purpose.  First,  to  experience  the  ways of God, and second, to share their discoveries  of  the  gold  of  truth with  others.

Finally,  God  give  us  more  Robert Murray McCheynes, men who, like this young  nineteenth-century  minister  of the Church of Scotland, advised a young man  about  Bible  reading  as  related  to his  own  prayer  life,  "You  read  your Bible regularly, of course; but do try and understand  it,  and  still more  to  feel  it. Read  more  parts  than  one  at  a  time. For  example,  if  you  are  reading  Gene sis, read a Psalm also; or if you are reading  Matthew,  read  a  small  bit  of  an Epistle also.  Turn the Bible  into prayer. Thus,  if  you  were  reading  the  First Psalm,  spread the Bible on the chair be fore  you,  and  kneel,  and  pray,  'O  Lord, give  me  the  blessedness  of  the  man; let  me  not  stand  in  the  counsel  of  the ungodly.' This  is  the best way of knowing  the  meaning  of  the  Bible,  and  of learning to pray."

Here was a man who refused to give to his  people  anything  that  had  not  cost him diligent application in study, meditation, and prayer.

Can Adventist ministers living in end time  be  any  less  diligent  in  searching the Scriptures?


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J. R. Spangler is editor of MINISTRY magazine

April 1976

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