Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 7, 1952
NUMBER 39, PAGE 4-5b

"And The Poor Have The Gospel Preached To Them"


On another page in this issue we present "A Survey of Religion In England," an article that ought to give long and thoughtful pause to every one of us. For this "survey" shows how decadent and lifeless has become the established Church of England; and it points the steps by which that fatal decline took place. We are not concerned, of course, with the fate of that apostate body; the sooner it becomes extinct in toto, the less confusion there will be in the minds of honest people. But we are concerned at the spiritual and sociological implications of the decay of this once mighty religious force.

For among the churches of Christ in our day, and in our nation, we see the same deadly virus at work—the virus of materialism. The Church of England has for centuries been the "established" church of the realm. Membership in it has carried social and political, not to mention commercial, advantages. It has been the accepted church, the elite, the preferred. Traditions have grown up around it; institutions of a hundred varieties have attached themselves like barnacles; huge buildings and rich "show places" have been erected to awe and impress the people.

And Spiritual Life Has Fled.

No thoughtful observer can fail to be impressed (and perhaps depressed) by the developing pattern in our American Christianity—we mean among the churches of Christ. In a far smaller and more innocent way, yet absolutely in the same tradition, we are developing a certain "church consciousness," a price in belonging to what some of the brethren are boastfully and mistakenly wont to describe as "the fastest growing religious body in America." So what? Does that prove anything as to our spiritual worth? Even if it were so, which it isn't, that the church of Christ is America's fastest growing religious body, it would be wrong to try to impress people with the fact. The appeal to "get on the band-wagon" is all right for Catholicism, for they have little to offer except the band-wagon. But we deal with spiritual truth; we are trying to win individual men and women to a total commitment of their lives to Christ. And that commitment must not be in the nature of joining a popular movement; it must be for conscience' sake, because of conviction that can not be denied.

During the days the church made her greatest spiritual progress here in America, her members were poor and common. "Not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble" were called. State governors and university presidents and millionaire social laden were not found often among the humble disciples. Congregations met, as often as not, in some country school house, or some second or third hand church building which they were able to buy after the denominational bodies had worn it out. Under such surroundings there could be no appeal to pride. If one were attracted to this group, if he became a part of them, it was because of deep, overwhelming conviction.

But lately, what a change! Now the church of Christ has "arrived." Our church buildings can compare favorably with even the Presbyterians and the Episcopalians. We are bringing up a whole new generation of Christians to whom "church" will be identified with a beautiful and expensive building; we have definitely abandoned the lower income groups to the Pentecostals and the Holiness sects. We take pride more in the baptism of one social or business leader than in the baptism of ten people "from across the tracks." Wealth, material possessions, standing in the community—all these are looming ever and ever more important in our thinking.

And This Is The Path To Ruin.

Witness what happened to the Congregationalists and Episcopalians; take a look at the Presbyterians. Here are three once mighty denominations which have become stagnant and impotent. They have become identified in the popular mind with the "upper class", and the laborer is rarely found among their members. Bankers, lawyers, business men are there; but "the common people" (those who heard Christ gladly) feel embarrassed and out of place in their assemblies. The very atmosphere of their buildings speaks of luxury and affluence; overalls and brogan shoes would seem almost desecration.

All of this, of course, is rooted deep in the materialistic tradition. Materialism — RELIGIOUS materialism, that is — is surely one of the deadliest foes the church faces today. Pride in institutions, in buildings, in big memberships, in wealthy and prominent names on the roll, all of these are undeniably present in the contemporary picture among the churches of the Lord. And such emphasis on such things will go a long way toward bringing the Lord's church to the decadent futility and paralysis that has seized upon certain of our religious neighbors.

When the disciples of John came to the Lord asking if he were the Messiah or not, he replied to them, "Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them!' (Matt. 11:4, 5). One sure sign of his divinity, his Messiahship, was his attitude toward the poor. They were not despised and ignored; rather they had the gospel preached to them.

Any church that wears the name of that Christ must share in his concern for the poor. We are not trying to say how big a building should be, nor how much it should cost; but we are saying that which no one can deny: that the churches of Christ in our day are putting far, far more emphasis on buildings and institutions and big crowds than was the cage a few years ago. And there can be no doubt that we are losing touch with the laborer and the lower income peoples among us. Let us reach the banker when we can; but let us not forget that the janitor in the bank is just as precious in God's sight as is his employer. And in our emphasis on new and lovely buildings, let us not forget that they are only means to an end. The end sought is the salvation of souls. If those buildings stand in the way of that objective, then they are a hindrance and a menace. Let every congregation keep constantly in mind that one mark of its being Christ-like is its determination to see that "the poor have the gospel preached to them."

—F. Y. T.