Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 24, 1952
NUMBER 50, PAGE 2-3a

This House Lieth Waste

Wayne Smethers, Stillwater, Oklahoma

It is difficult to accept as coincidental the fact that many of the Old Testament prophecies, which were spoken under circumstances, and to people, far different from us today, still do make a pointed application to the present. Perhaps they are continually re-applicable, in principle, as the centuries roll by, because there is such a great commonness in man. Perhaps the sins which did so easily beset the Israelites do also so easily beset us today.

There is an odd parallel between the re-building of the temple under Zerubbabel and the position in which many churches of Christ are to be seen today.

It seems that upon Zerubbabel's return to Jerusalem he immediately set about the task of restoring the temple. Here was a great restoration challenge, and wise, zealous leadership upon Zerubbabel's part got the job off to a flying start. It was not long, however, until a combination of Samaritan opposition and Jewish faithlessness succeeded in bringing the work to a halt — a halt which lasted for about 16 years. Various excuses were given for the delay, but finally through his prophet, Haggai, God asked, "It is time for you, 0 ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?" Here was the strange paradox of a people unable to secure materials to re-build God's house, but they had an abundance with which to build comfortable houses for themselves!!

There is between this situation and another one of our own day a direct and very dangerous parallel. One reads on the one hand of brethren who bat not an eye at pouring, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars into one church building, yet one can also read of capable and trusted brethren who are hungry to go to people who are perishing, and a few hundred dollars in support cannot be found!! In addition to this, there are churches which are often weak in numbers, but strong in spirit, who need some financial assistance to erect or purchase a modest building for worship, or to accomplish some other worthy work. Upon reading of such congregations, there are always some selfish, self-righteous people who are ready to say, "Well, if they couldn't carry a job through to completion themselves, they shouldn't have started in the first place," or "Let them work and sacrifice. It will do them good." It is no doubt true that hard work and sacrifice temper one to greater faith in God, but this is no excuse for the strong ones who could help!! Who are we to stand aside and watch our own brethren labor under tremendous sacrifices, when we have the means and strength to help, yet justify our behavior by the shallow excuse," It will do them good!?

Perhaps in some cases, there are brethren who do not know that the most famous preacher in the New Testament church said, "God ... dwelleth not in temples made with hands." If this be so, then their ignorance as to what God's house really is may serve as some excuse for them. Perhaps they sincerely believe that they are building God's house when they build a church building. Those brethren who, in their prayers, give thanks for being able to "assemble in this holy place" or for the privilege of "assembling in thy house" speak either in carelessness or in ignorance of New Testament teaching. Perhaps it is because of this inability to distinguish between the physical nature of the temple under the Mosaical worship, and the spiritual "house" which worships Christ, that men are unable to concern themselves with which house God most wishes to have built.

Regardless of the intent, the fact is that many individual congregations are currently spending tremendous sums of money to build, not churches, but church buildings, and in doing so, are neglecting the very things the Lord commanded, such as ministering to the needy and preaching the gospel to the unsaved. Thousands of those people will be dead, buried, and lost before many of these palatial church buildings are ever brought to completion.

A group of people can worship not one whit more spiritually in a building which is luxuriously furnished than they can in the most simple surroundings!! In fact, it is doubtful in many cases if they will worship as acceptably, and surely the teaching and example of the Lord and his apostles against all such show and vanity should provide sufficient warning against the peril of placing too high an estimation upon fleshly pleasure and comfort. If we but remember, it was around the comfort of a warm fire that the apostle Peter cursed and denied his Lord.

Another expense which could only be prompted by such unholy motives is the expenditures by churches of hundreds of dollars annually to buy flowers to "decorate" the building on the Lord's day--dollars that could support missionaries, house, feed, and clothe orphans, and help many needy people. What is our purpose in going to worship — to please our eyes by the physical beauty of the surroundings or to feed our spirits on the bread and water of life? And whose eyes are pleased by such physical beauty — God's or ours? Is it possible that God will be pleased by such concern for the physical appearance of the place of worship while people are literally dying for both spiritual and physical food?

Those who are entrusted with expenditures of the Lord's money should realize that it is His. It is not our money; it is the Lord's and woe be to the men or congregations who spend it to satisfy their own pride and to keep up with the religious "Jones's." What man is going to admit, "We are spending all this money, so that we can gratify our pride in appearance"? None!! But many there are who are doing just that, and who are camouflaging it under the noble-sounding words, "We are doing it for the Lord." There is not a word in the New Testament authorizing the church to use the Lord's money to build church buildings; it is only as an expedient that we have done so, in attempting to obey the command to "Go into all the world and preach," but in many instances, what an expensive expedient!! The voices in the wilderness who cry that the church is in danger today of emphasizing the physical surroundings for the preaching of the gospel to the preaching of the gospel surely are not crying without cause! It seems that there is abundant room for reconsideration and re-evaluation. The Son of man came to seek and save the lost. Shall we thwart his purpose by embezzling his funds?

There is no doubt that many church buildings are outworn and outgrown, and we should certainly be thankful that the church has grown numerically and financially to the extent that it is able to replace them. On the other hand, there is a great doubt as to whether it is necessary to expend the huge sums of money to build the expensive, fashionable (or "lovely," "building of which the brotherhood can well be proud") buildings that are being erected. Some could be built which would be just as neat, permanent, and useful, yet not require the tremendous outlay of money. We should always place usefulness ahead of appearance, and we would do well to remember that the Lord never taught appearance as an end in itself. If we are seeking to justify the excessive expense on the grounds that we are going to use the building to convert people, then we had better reread Rom. 1:16.

The admonition to the Laodiceans should furnish us a solemn warning. "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see." (Rev. 3:17-18)

What kind of spirituality is there in a church in which preachers must beg and implore for the means to be sent, instead of the church seeking laborers to go? And all this while Christians (dare we say "falsely so-called"?) speed about in sleek, new automobiles, dwell in luxurious, new homes, sit in front of expensive television sets, spend untold thousands of dollars and hours on frivolous pleasure and fleshly appetites!! What a colossal mockery of the Lord's great commission and of his expressed purpose of "seek and to save the lost"!!

Many may think that, because the church is doing great things today compared to what it was doing a decade ago, it is certainly doing great things for the Lord! They forget that for generations the church has done little more than preach about the great commission, instead of practicing it!!!

As we look at the world today, we see a picture of unsaved people pleading to hear the life-giving word of God, and of others pleading for the means to reach them, while we smugly and self-contentedly shake our heads in refusal and turn the Lord's money into channels that are much more self-gratifying in terms of things that provide us eye — and comfort — satisfaction!! We must have buildings that are as "fine" as the sectarians even if God's house crumbles into ruin! We must be cooled from the summer heat with air conditioners, even if by so doing, it means that someone has to suffer forever in the eternal fires of Hell!

To trade one soul for all the physical equipment in the world is poor business indeed! And of all the treasure which one may have as his witness in the day of reckoning, none ranks so high in God's sight as the currency of human souls!!