There is a story about a man who had a balky mule. He hired a fellow to break his mule from his stubborn disinclination to do his work. When the trainer arrived and the mule refused to pull, he simply picked up a club and knocked him down. He got up and shook his head. Pow! The trainer knocked him down again. "Hold On" said the fellow, "I hired you to break that mule from balking — not to kill him." "Simmer down" said the trainer, "I ain't gonna hurt him. There's one thing you have to learn about a mule. You can teach him nothin till you get his attention."
This is a corny illustration, but it is also true that we must get the attention of people before we can teach and convert them to Christ. This is the hard part of the job. There are two sides to this problem: Theirs and ours.
First, on their side of the question, it is doubtful that there has ever been a time Since the Genesis flood when the morals of the people were lower and the "world" had so much to offer in competition with the Kingdom of God. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life have blinded the eyes and, to a large extent, atrophied the spiritual and moral fiber of countless millions. And ignorance and false religions have done the same for millions more.
I realize that it is an observation neither astute nor unique, but if I were asked to name the major cause of the spiritual deficit of today's Society, I would say, in a word, materialism. We have too many things that money can buy, and most people have some money. We are seeing a demonstration of the Lords statement: "No man can serve two ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Mt. 6:24). Two cars and two televisions can provide a lot of competition to the appeal of the Lord, and make it extremely hard to accept his dictum, "if any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Or a passage which says, "Set your affections on things above and not on things which are of the earth, for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Mt. 16:24; Col. 3:2). Atheistic materialism has invaded the schoolroom in the name of education and under the guise of science. And when people are convinced that they are nothing mote than improved animals, they will live like animals. And the gospel has no appeal to apes and goats. This is one of the reasons why we do not preach to and convert large numbers of people as we once did.
Then we have the worldly wise. The preaching of the cross is to themfoolishness" (1 Cor. 1: 18). They think it naive to consider the possibility of a miracle. And since Christianity is inseparably joined with, and had its origin in miracles, it must be regarded as folklore. These people you cannot teach. It is a strange brand of intellect that rejects the religion of the Bible because it originated in miracles. Here is a man who knows that nine months before his birth he was a microscopic cell. Within a few years this cell had become a man, who can reason from effect back to cause; who has a sense of moral responsibility which distinguishes him from the most intelligent animal: a love of beauty – esthetic nature. This microscopic cell, in the womb of a woman where there is no light, developed two eyes adapted to the transmission and refraction of light rays, two lungs, perfectly formed where they could not be used. This microscopic cell, in a few years, became a body made up of about 58 pounds of oxygen, 2 ounces of salt, 50 quarts of water, 3 pounds of calcium, 24 pounds of carbon, some chlorine, phosphorus fat, iron, sulphur, glycerin, potassium, sugar and lime. And he doesn't think a miracle could happen. H-m-m-m-m.
Then there are those who think a little religion is all right, if you dont get carried away — if you carry it around with you like a spare tire and use it in an emergency. They think the church is a roadside clinic where you can stop and get a shot to relieve a disturbed conscience, while you continue on the "broad way."
On our side of the question there is plenty room for improvement. I think that statistics will show that 98% of the people in the church have been reared either by Christian parents or they were taught and/or influenced by friends who were Christians. It goes without saying then, that if these influences are removed, weakened or corrupted it will have an adverse effect upon our work among the unsaved. And to a great extent they have been weakened.
Lukewarm Church Member
I have before me the May 15, 1968 bulletin of the Huffman Church in Birmingham. On the back page are four short questions which are thought provoking:
- What is the difference between the atheist who believe not in the church and the member who will not support the one to which he belongs?
- What is the difference between the skeptic who does not believe the Bible and the negligent Christian who never reads it!
- What is the difference between those who do not believe in Bible classes and those who never attend them?
- What is the difference between a sinful man in the world and the member of the church who lives like the people of the world?
The answer to all these is the same. The lukewarm church member is more objectionable than the atheist. Neither has any chance of being saved himself, if he dies in that condition, but the atheist has less chance of influencing others. His way is openly rebellious, and most people have some difficulty in completely divorcing themselves from all religious belief. Avowed disbelief is a little too cold for most. But the lukewarm and half-baked Christian may give some poorly informed, but mildly interested, person the idea that he can go to heaven on half fare. This is a dangerous misconception. There is no more damning delusion than that God will accept half a life. "What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Cor. 6:19-20). God does not require of us great talent, or wisdom, or strength, or wealth. But He requires all of whatever we are. The strongest argument for Christianity is the devout and dedicated Christian. Conversely, the greatest hindrance perhaps, is the sluggard on the inside. He is a traitor to the cause he vows to support.
Worldly Church Member
The worldly church member has a different, but equally disastrous effect. People are disgusted by his hypocrisy and often decide that if this is a sample of Christianity, they can well do without it. Believe it or not, most people in the world, however worldly their lives, know that Christianity is not something you put on Sunday morning anti put off after the worship hour is over. It is a way of life. And it is a DIFFERENT way of life. If your life is not different from the world, you are not a Christian. Member of a congregation maybe, but the very definition of the word "Christian" excludes such a person. If you have to tell your daily associates that you are a Christian, it is a safe bet that you are not. Christians are called SAINTS 56 times in the New Testament. They are called by that title more than by any other. The primary meaning of that word (hagios – in the Greek) is "different," "separated," "dedicated to God." Mr. Vine, in his "Expository Dictionary o New Testament Words" says of this word, "This sainthood is not an attainment. It is a state into which God in grace calls men; yet believers are called to sanctify themselves consistently with their calling (2 Tim. 1:9), cleansing themselves from all defilement, forsaking sin, living a holy manner of life (1 Pet. 1:15; 2 Pet. 3:11) and experiencing the fellowship of God in his holiness. The saints are thus figuratively spoken of as an Holy Temple" (I Cor 3:17). Would you pass this test?
Do you suppose that people of the world notice any difference between the worldly church member and the other people of their own kind? Does anyone really believe that a man with his dirty jokes, his social drinking and "limited" gambling, or a woman flashing her cigarette and wearing her dress so short that she knows she is causing men to look with evil eyes upon her — I say, do these look like what the Bible describes as "SAINTS"?
I must say that I do not think that most of the ladies in the church really enjoy the sensation they cause with the show of their bodies. They are simply slaves to fashion. The other women are wearing these. It is the thing now. But I wonder what some mothers will say when their young daughters want to spend a few days or weekend with some boys and girls, without chaperone, in some cozy retreat. If she says no, then daughter will remind her that all the other kids are going; that such outings are the "thing" now. Of course you may not allow her to go, but your reason will sound awfully hollow when she remembers all the things you have done because "all the others were doing it — or wearing them."
Lack of Dedication
Even among those who are not ostensibly worldly, there is often a lack of dedication to the cause we espouse. As much as I dislike all the political gobble-de-gook that is going on, there is one thing we have to admit about politicians. They are politicians all of the time. But members of the church often treat the Lord's work like a poor relative, except on Sunday morning. I hold a lot of meetings that begin on Monday night and run through Sunday. On Sunday morning you will see many shining faces and nice clothes and cars that you have not seen all the week. The "one-a-week-ers" and some "once-in-a-whilers'' are there. If all the members of that church were like them, that church would die in two generations, because it would never have a gospel meeting — a Bible class — a Sunday night service Wednesday night service; there would be no more elders or deacons or preachers. These kinds of hitch-hikers dont make elders and deacons and preachers. I wonder where they got the idea that someone else is supposed to keep things going and do all the work while they drop in on Sunday morning to be served the Lord's supper. I also wonder where they got the idea that this kind of anemic religion will save people. This kind of Christian (!) has no influence that would convert anyone. He is as useful to the Lord's work as a knot on a log.
They say that a baby senses when he is not wanted or loved. I have asked myself if, perhaps, we have become too "numbers" conscious; too concerned about "building up the church" instead of putting the emphasis on saving the lost. We sometime count the success of the work by the numbers in the various assemblies and the contribution. If this is true, it may be that some of our friends sense it in our attitude and don't particularly want to become a statistic. I am not making any charges. I am simply asking that we sound our motives.
We Must Continue
Whatever our problems, we must continue to the end; we must not lose faith in the power of the word. God said long ago, "My word will not return unto me void but will accomplish that which I please and will prosper in that whereto I sent it" (Isa. 55:11). It may not accomplish what we hope for and expect, but remember that God holds us responsible for getting his message to the people — not for the results. But we must do it in the best way we can. "They so spake that a great multitude… believed'' (Acts 14:1).