Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 14, 1957

The Growth Of The Church

N. W. Allphin, Tahoka, Texas

According to statistics compiled and published a few years ago (presumably correct), it was revealed that in comparison with other religious bodies, "the church of Christ is the fastest growing religious group in America." This, of course, presents for the church generally an excellent, even an enviable, showing; and it was delightful news to all Christians. But if we stop to consider present facilities for the dissemination of the gospel, is such a report surprising? It should not be. Upon serious reflection I am sometimes made to wonder why the church is not growing more rapidly than it is. Compared with the various denominational groups, its growth may appear phenomenal; yet, in comparison with its New Testament history of less than forty years, the present boasted growth is considerably less flattering.

It must be conceded that "preaching of the gospel" was the Lord's prescribed method for converting people — making them Christians (Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:19; Acts 11:26); and it is likewise true that local groups of these Christians were called "churches of Christ." (Rom. 16:16.) All of those who have been "called out" (called by the gospel — II Thess. 2:14) constitute in the aggregate the "ecclesia" which our Lord was talking about when he said, "I will build . . ." (Matt. 16:18.)

The church had its beginning in the late Spring of probably the year 30 A.D., and with fewer experienced preachers (so far as we know) than are now living in either Dallas or Nashville. Yet with this small beginning, the church grew and spread so rapidly through the preaching of these men that within some thirty-six years there remained no country in the then known civilized world where the message had not gone. (Col. 1:23), and where the church had not been established and its influence acknowledged. (Acts 28:22.) Thus, the apostles and their helpers added to their ranks as they succeeded in a single generation in evangelizing the world. That is what was done without the aid of religious newspapers, without telephones, without radios, trains, planes, or autos. With the advantage of even a part of the above named facilities, the time needed for their accomplishment would have been greatly reduced.

But what of today?

Records of our own time, for the most part, show quite a constrast in the growth of the church throughout the world now as compared with the known facts of its first half-century of existence. In the period covered by the New Testament records, it appears quite clear that people were converted to Christ and the WAY, and they took their religion quite seriously. But in our day many of those being baptized are only partly converted, and that not to genuine Christianity at all, but to "churchanity." Many come into the fellowship of the church by the observance of some outward forms whose true significance they do not know; they observe rites, and follow formalities, which is only giving "lip service" to the several items of worship and obedience. Like the Pharisees whom Jesus addressed in Matthew 15:8, "This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." In cases of this sort one of the chief faults is the "milk and cider" variety of preaching they hear, and in the mediocre quality of bishops who complacently permit and encourage such preaching. Have you heard that quality of preaching? Have you seen that brand of overseeing? So have we.

The church is growing — but how?

Today many local churches are growing, yes, growing numerically, but in many cases it is largely by "transfers" from other congregations. Some are growing all too rapidly in worldliness of character; some are doing about everything that the denominations about them do, except using a "mourner's bench," and substituting sprinkling for baptism. (Maybe some of them should really go back to the mourner's bench!). Many churches are growing in material wealth — tangible property assets; some seem bent on doing BIG things in BIG ways, regardless of how or why or what it is they are doing, as for example the building is gigantic, unnecessary, ornate, or lavishly embellished meeting houses. Just who, three or four decades ago, would ever have guessed that any Church of Christ would ever erect a million dollar edifice in which to worship him who "had not where to lay his head," and who mingled and ate with publicans and sinners, and slept with nothing but God's skies above him to cover him? (See Luke 15:1,2; 2:37.) It seems as though these all want the world sit up and take notice that the "Church of Christ," too, has a big "the minister," and two or three assistant ministers, and is carrying out a big program. It seems many delight in aping the sects by helping to create and maintain institutions which are, admittedly, not the church nor any part of it. Talk about evangelizing the world? At the rate some of them are sending the gospel out (rather, keeping it in their own meeting houses!), they would not evangelize their own county in one hundred years.

There are some churches that are trying to hold the line against a vigorous, near violent, tide of innovations that threaten the peace, unity, and scriptural progress of the church. And I think their number is growing. Some are growing in "the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior" and are edifying themselves through wholesome teaching and sincere full-gospel preaching. That is just as it should be. But there are few, perhaps, who are doing unselfishly for the Lord's cause and for the triumph of the church as much as the Master requires and expects of them. But we hope that the time will not be long till all will again choose to "speak where the Bible speaks" and hear what the Bible says when it speaks and begin to discard their unauthorized organizations and societies. Yet after all (and brethren this is important!), neglect of duties by local churches in failing to support gospel preaching in virgin fields, and dodging responsibilties of caring for the fatherless, aged, and widows, and other needy ones, has been a prime factor in exciting or causing to spring up of these departures among us. Such errors may be corrected when each congregation does its own preaching in "mission" fields, and does its own benevolent work — caring for its fatherless and widows and needy ones. Then there will be little need to send money to organized charity centers.

How about it, brethren? The one course we know to be scriptural; the other "method" is, at best, dubious.