Change: pulpit or pew?

Barriers between the church and the world of which it is a part.

Rex D. Edwards is editorial associate and field representative of Ministry.

When a church is not making progress, the membership may feel that it needs to change preachers. But the real need may be a radical change in the congregation. The Word must become flesh in the pastor, but it must also become flesh in the congregation. The Word must be clothed by the lives of the congregation if it is to be taken to the slums, to stores, to the office, to the world that stands in desperate need of a word from God. Talk about love for God may be just empty mouthing unless members of the congregation express their love for God, not only in the church but also in the world.

Two major barriers tend to stand between the modern organized church and the world of which it is a part. One is sociological, and one is psychological. Sociologically the churches are coming increasingly to be identified with middle-class, white-collar attitudes, standards, and values. There are exceptions, of course, 1 but in the main, the lowest economic group is largely untouched. Likewise, the chief executives and the wealthy persons are by and large unreached. The church must break out of the middle-class, white-collar shackles in its concern to minister to all people of all classes.

The psychological barrier is related to the "official ministry." When the preachers speak, when they visit, when they witness, there is always the conscious or unconscious awareness on the part of the recipient that they are "paid to do it." Their ministry undoubtedly is fruitful, but its effectiveness is limited by this perception. The solution to both these problems is the ministry of our members in the world. The only way to overcome these difficulties "is to decentralize the life of the church. ... If... we force Christian people to engage their Christian 'capital' in living together with those outside the church, e.g., their colleagues at work, their partners in business, their political friends, their fellow members in professional associations, instead of clinging together with their Christian brothers five evenings a week, we shall help them not only to be witnesses of the gospel to those who do not know it but also to overcome for themselves the peculiar atmosphere prevailing in the church and to be Christians breathing the air of modern life." 2

Two questions beg to be asked: How well is the church fulfilling its ministry in the world? and How well qualified is the laity for carrying out its ministry? On the first question there would undoubtedly be overwhelming agreement that the modern church is not in any adequate measure "in the world" through its laity in those spheres of the world (factories, shops, schools, government agencies, et cetera) where the real issues of the faith are being fought today. "The field is not the church but the world. . . . There are practical overtones for this truth in the deadly struggle of Christianity with communism. Communism got its start and derives its strength from a ghetto Christianity. When Karl Marx said that religion was the opiate of the people, he meant that religion, by wrapping men's minds in the mists of otherworldliness, insulated men from the struggles and problems of our common life together in the world. When people say, 'Let religion stay out of politics,' 'Let religion stay out of business,' and 'Let religion stay out of everything but a little narrow corner of things which we will gladly assign to it'—when people say such things, they are giving voice to the communist interpretation of the function of religion in society. To constrict the function of the Christian faith in the world in this fashion would fatally wound our witness and falsify the mission which we have been given." 3

Yet, unfortunately, this is what is happening in the modern church. There are those who say the church should be concerned only with "spiritual" matters, and by this they mean that the church is to be concerned only with man's relation to God. Man's religion is to be expressed primarily in the church. The more dedicated person will assume some leadership responsibility in the church. In the world he is expected, of course, to be "good." But the fact that the average church member has a ministry that must be performed in the world as a fundamental part of his Christian faith is almost foreign to his understanding.

On the second question, it would not be an overstatement to say that the average church member is both spiritually illiterate and powerless in giving his Christian witness in those areas in which most of his life is spent. Therefore, in the program of our churches there must be far more specific emphasis in teaching and in practice on the ministry of the laity in the world. The curriculum must be designed with this emphasis in clear focus. Seventh-day Adventists, who hold the doctrine of the priesthood of believers as one of their distinctives, must understand that the unqualified teaching of the New Testament concerning this doctrine is that every Christian has a ministry, which, under God, he must fulfill. He cannot pay someone else to fulfill his ministry, either by buying indulgences or by tithes. Therefore, every individual who is called by God to join the Christian fellowship and church membership should understand that as a Christian, he has this ministry to perform, and in uniting with the fellowship he must understand that thereby he is covenanting with God that he will accept and fulfill this ministry. It is necessary that the individual understand and accept his responsibility for performing this ministry before he unites with the church.—R.D.E.

1 Alan H. Guth and Paul J. Steinhardt, "The
Inflationary Universe," Scientific American, May,
1984, pp. 116, 128.

2 Baryon number is + 1. It implies that protons
are conserved. Recent developments in subatomic
physics have shown that baryon number may
not always be conserved at 1/1.

3 Loc. cit. pp. 116, 128.

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Rex D. Edwards is editorial associate and field representative of Ministry.

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