Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Reformation # 3

Alexander Campbell's Millennial Harbinger is often interesting but difficult reading. For the past year I've been wading through the College Press edition of the Harbinger. I would like to read all volumes of Campbell's publications as well as those of Walter Scott and Barton Stone.

I've written often about my concern for discipleship within the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. With all our boasting of mega-churches, we annually lose a good number of those won each year. I suppose that will always be true, but the message is sent that "joining a church" or "becoming a Christian" and "getting involved in some service ministry" is all God requires. There is little emphasis on spiritual growth and our members are evidencing the Platte River Syndrome more and more -- our churches are a "mile wide and an inch deep." Spirituality and spiritual commitment is lacking. As long as worship services are "exciting" and "uplifting" they do well, but real Bible study and Christian education goes begging. In their place come small groups which are great at building relationships but ineffective in teaching content.

Below are some thoughts from the pen of the Millennial Harbinger editor. I'm modernizing and simplifying the language some, but you can read the original in the 1835 volume beginning on page 83.

Salvation is personal rather than corporate. Reform -- or discipleship -- is also personal. To reform is "to cease to do evil and learn to do well" according to the Bible. Popular theories suggest changing a creed, denomination, or church structure. To repent, however, means changing our views or to be sorry for the past. Reformation is to cease to do evil and learn to do well. A true disciple first stops then begins.

When a person becomes a Christian he has only turned himself toward God and his back toward Satan. Merely turning toward God means little. One can turn his or her face toward London, but that does not take you one step closer to the city. The one who is truly converted begins to walk toward God or heaven.

Turning is important because unless a traveler turns toward London he will never approach it. In the same way, ceasing to do evil must precede doing the right things. If a person has only ceased to do wrong he or she has not yet begun to do right. If a person only stopped doing every evil thing his or her virtue would be wholly negative. All too many think that because they stopped one thing they have done the other. Therefore, if someone robbed A and stopped before he reached B's property he has done good to B by only robbing A.

Some think that when they are immersed they have done something worthy of praise. Not so! They have only received something worthy of thanks. He that is immersed does nothing any more than one who is buried. In immersion, as in birth and being buried, the subject is always passive. He that immerses does something, but he that is immersed receives something. When we talk of the act of immersion, we have the immerser in view rather than the immersed.

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He who has because of his faith and repentance been immersed is only converted -- he has only received remission of sins. He has only been born into the kingdom, entered the race, enlisted in the Army of the Faithful. He has yet to form a Christian character. If he ever wears a crown, he must win it. Grace has proposed it, and Grace will put it on his head but it is by the obedience of faith that he lays hold of the prize. [Campbell is not speaking of "earning one's salvation. He is speaking of the rewards that come from the development of Christian character -- rewards that accrue both in this life and the next.]

Remember now, in order to do well, a person must cease to do evil. A true disciple begins by putting off the old man with his deeds and then puts on the new. He or she does not put a new man upon the old one but divests the old one then puts on the new.

What does this mean? A true reformer -- or disciple -- enjoys a daily quiet time, speaks evil of no one, does not backbite, does not listen to what people say about others, minds his own business, bestows benevolence and mercy, lives within his income, is honest to a fault. He enjoys and loves his mate, provides for the family, demonstrates humility and is fair to all people. He or she is loyal to Christ and makes every effort not only to understand the Word but to live it out.

I do not know a church leader who does not want to see a Christian grow. Few there are, however, who understand that growth in Christ involves both a knowledge of biblical content and the means encourage personal application.

Paul told Timothy to "hold to sound doctrine" indicating there is definite content believers need to comprehend. Once comprehended "sound doctrine" must be lived out. Because of the culture surrounding us, we fear enunciating high expectations and exacting accountability in Christian growth. If we did so, the world would think us a cult imposing itself on others.

It is my conviction that believers must know that discipleship is not optional but required. Congregations must develop systems to teach both content (yes, you could even call this indoctrination) and application within relationships. To emphasize one over the other is to make a false choice.