The Pastor's Letter (July 1977)
If we were to be asked what the main task and duty of the churches of Christ is today, we would have little hesitation in replying – setting their hearts and minds to an endeavour to return to the Word of God. Just a little examination of the general situation today will show that the Word of God is not really central or its directives final in the thinking and conduct of a vast number of bodies that would call themselves evangelical or fundamental churches. The endeavour involved, of course, is one that entails much determined effort, and, as in so many other areas of our church life, it is one that can only be approached in any church under the principle of “striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
On the part of those who minister God's word from week to week there lies a great deal of the responsibility involved. The aim of every pastor of every flock should be to preach the whole counsel of God set out in the Word of God. God has revealed His truth in a progressive manner throughout the whole of the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, and this He has done by containing His word within the confines of individual “books” of scripture written by individual men inspired of God. Therefore the pastor ought to give attention to this order in its twofold aspect – consistently preaching through various book of the Bible in their totality and in their overall connection with all of God's revealed truth for us. This he ought to endeavour to do, not aridly or dryly, but in sermons aimed at the heart as well as instructing the mind, remembering that the very purpose in the gathering of the saints is the worship of the God who has made them and redeemed them.
As far as the congregation is concerned, the discipline and responsibility involved is no lesser, on their part, than that relating to the preacher. People seem to love a “simple text” of scripture that they can carry away and “dip into” during the days of the ensuing week. This may appear to be alright in itself, but we must remember that God didn't give to us a series of isolated sayings, but whole bodies of truths that “the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” To endeavour, then, to “trace out” these principles of conduct of the word of God for our daily living and thinking can be quite alien to our natural bent and calls for some determined effort on the part of all hearers of the word of eternal life. For this reason there can be a great attraction to that which affords a “good feeling” and leaves people enveloped in a “sound” rather than having told them plainly - “This is the way, walk ye in it.”
That, of course, might bring us to the greatest area of responsibility and endeavour of all. To merely “preach” and teach the whole word of God – albeit, it is in truth that whole word – and to merely “hear” that word – albeit consistently and regularly from week-to-week – is to simply indulge in an exercise of mutual interest and to come nowhere near having found that Word of God for our churches again. Oh no; what follows on from, and stems out of, this preaching and hearing which is desired is the simple “doing” of that word, for we are called to be not only hearers, but doers also. But this, needless to say, is very often the hardest part of all. From its obligation some simply opt out; this they may do either by attending on a ministry of minimal exhortation, or by refusing to attach themselves to the full obligations to which they may be exhorted under a ministry endeavouring to proclaim what the whole word of God says for our souls. But, for those who embrace the duty, although there is much discipline of heart and mind very often involved, there is also not a more rewarding course to take than to be a “doer” as well as a hearer of the words of everlasting life.
The whole word of God speaks to us as “whole” beings. It tells us of sin, righteousness, judgement: it speaks of elders and deacons – of widows and younger women; it sets out positions of the older Christians and the younger within the churches of Christ – it tells us all we have to know and ought to know about those churches. It speaks of evangelism and worship - of the conducting of ourselves within the house of God, which is the pillar and ground of truth; it deals with humility, and pride, and love, and husbands and wives – with the conduct of our homes and our attitudes towards our children. It displays the glories of creation, and the malice of the devil, and the victories of the cross, and the heaven that is to be gained and the hell to be shunned. And, of course, it envelopes it all in the gracious and glorious person of our Lord Jesus Christ around whom all these other things revolve, and for whose glory the performance of all the Bible's words is to be sought; - “God … manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
The spirit of the Ethiopian eunuch might be one that we could all desire in our churches today; “How can I understand, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.” What a wholesome picture – preacher and hearer, heaven-bent on one glorious mission, to see “what the Lord our God shall say.” Let any church engage herself in this task, and she may truly stand, “none daring to make her afraid,” for the Bible says, “Whosoever believeth shall not be confounded.” But – believing comes by hearing the word of God – and then, the profession of believing the word of God is verified in the doing of the Word of God. Therefore, we are “hearing” and “doing” the word, we are “returning to” the word. May we engage ourselves in that task in our day to the praise of Him of whom all the scriptures speak.