Present Day Dangers Confronting the Church (1)
ELD. C. H. BRUNNER.
The word Church is found 114 times in the New Testament and is translated from the Greek word “ekklesia” meaning “that which is called out” in every instance except in Acts 19:38. In this case the Revised Version reads “temples,” as the Greek word here is the same which is translated temple at other places.
By the word Church we therefore understand the Bible to mean that company of true believers who have been called out by the Holy Spirit and separated from this present evil world from the days of Pentecost until the Coming of Christ.
Two things prove to us that this Church is confronted by dangers:
1. It is designated in the Bible as a “little flock,” “a grain of mustard seed,” helpless in itself as the branch of a grape vine or a flock of sheep, left apparently without any visible protection.
2. This little flock is surrounded by howling wolves on earth who are declared and proven to be its avowed and bitter enemies, while it Is opposed and often hindered by swarms of evil spirits and powers of darkness in the air whose prince is a mighty foe, a daring, roaring lion who was not afraid to attack the Son of God Himself to usurp the throne of the universe. We will mention a few of these dangers.
1. SELF-SUFFICIENCY. Though the Church in herself is weak and her foe is mighty, she has One who is her Living Head; who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; who has declared and proven Himself her constant every-present Friend and Protector under all circumstances and unto all time. This same Jesus has met the devil on his own ground, overcame him and proclaimed liberty, peace, and everlasting salvation to all who will believe and follow Him. While He has helped the Church so gloriously in the past nineteen centuries, there is danger that she thinks she can walk alone, cease to trust Him for all and go to work with way of her own invention and man-made machinery and educational institutions to make, mould, and polish her preachers, manufacture her converts, build up her classes, without Him who said “without me ye can do nothing.” He said “I am the way,” therefore things not done His way are wrong and will come to naught.
2. DIVISIONS. The Lord repeatedly emphasized the importance of the absolute unity of the
Church in its individual parts and its union as a whole with Himself in order to safely guard against the dangers of this world. As unity strengthens the Church so division weakens it. A demoralized, disheartened, disunited army is at the mercy of its for. So the Church. Satan knows this, so he tries to get traitors, Achans, Judas’, Ananias’ among them who he uses as a means of communication on the inside with his forces and base of attack on the outside. If the Church is true to her Lord, He will point out such to her and she will mark, avoid and judge such. “A man that is factious after a first or second admonition avoid.” Tit. 3:10 R.V. Margin: “Mark them which are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the teaching which ye learned and turn from them, for by their smooth and fair speeches they beguile the hearts of the innocent.” Rom. 16:7,18 R. V. There is danger to-day of divisions among the
ministry. A disloyal, disunited ministry will of course demoralize a church or conference and is a prolific cause bf the splits and divisions in the churches to-day. On the other hand where the servants of the Lord are united and spirit-filled, there will be no split, divisions and contentions, but rather a gathering together more and more of all true believers and lovers of Bible truths. To be jealous of another’s field or offices in the conference is the devil’s work. The law forbids us to “covet the things which are our neighbor’s.” The Spirit commands us to “covet earnestly” the things which are God’s. To be envious of each other’s positions or successors, to talk disparagingly of our successors, predecessors or co-laborers, and undermine their work is mean and devilish and leads to speedy ruin. A church which endeavors to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace will thrive, and pastors and people can sing :
“Like a mighty army moves the Church of God,
Brothers we are treading where the saints have trod,
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.”
A certain prominent preacher said his denomination had 2000 empty churches in the United States, caused almost invariably by strifes and divisions among the members. Such should be danger signals and warnings to us. When a Church fights with itself once it cannot stretch out its hands to the helpless, it ceases to be a home for the sin-sick and young converts, it loses its home-like associations, its heavenly meetings, its lively spiritual prayer and praise meetings, and then how can she hold her young people. You might just as well send for the undertaker and bury the congregation and sell the church.
3. FASHION. This is one of the present day dangers. Look at the difference in church buildings, (more properly called meeting houses,) thirty or forty years ago and to-day. Churches vieing with each other for the most extravagant architectural designs, rich frescoes and interior decorations, cushioned pews for the accommodation of the sleepy, expensive pipe organs, causing the congregation to groan under an enormous debt so they cannot afford to give anything to the missionary cause. So if a fashionable congregation has built a fashionable church, they must have a fashionable preacher and a fashionable organist and a fashionable choir and of course fashionable white-vested ushers with fresh button-hole bouquets according to the season. Brethren, this is what kills churches. Fashion is a frail, delicate, uncertain, foolish, costly luxury. The plain, common, rectangular churches are passing away and with them the plain humble worshippers. A few, are found yet here and there who look at things as they now are and remember how they once were, while the multitude is bowing down to the golden image of man’s inventive genius, listening to the cold, formal, lifeless, bloodless, twenty-minute essays or addresses on reforms, temperance, etc., while the soft rays of the sun fall through the stained glass windows upon the variegated flower garden in the pews. While they remember the glorious meetings under the stirring appears to saint and sinner from the lips of an uncolleged plow-boy, until the sinners cry for pardon at the altar mingled with the saints shout of victory around the altar, their hearts break when they remember that the glory has departed from them. While thus meditating the minister is finished, the big organ shakes the cold stone walls more
than the preacher’s address could affect the congregation, the choir sings, nobody can understand what, the so-called divine service is over, and everybody takes a bee line for the door. How cold, how lifeless !
Brethren, do such things exist around us? If so, let us keep humble and separate, lest our churches likewise evolute into mere cold storage houses, lecture bureaus, or restaurants. The Church is composed of individuals. Therefore, as the individuals, so is the Church. Therefore, individual, personal work is necessary to guard against present-day dangers. Keep the individual
plain and the class will be plain. Keep the Conference plain and the whole Church will be plain.
4. PRIDE. There is danger that the Church of the future will consist of men and women with puny, sickly, delicate bodies, around whom you should place a screen to keep them from draughts in the dog days. Too sickly to stand one hour in an open air service or go three squares to church on a damp, rainy night. Were our grandfathers and grandmothers that way? Why should we or our children be? There is a worm gnawing at the root of the constitution of the young people to-day. Dressing with the chest and back exposed as well as the arms in the open air is injurious to any one. Cramming the lungs, which are our blood purifiers, into half the space the Creator designed for them, exposing their back and chest to draughts, breathing
foul air in poorly ventilated houses and bed-rooms, is largely responsible for the 416,000 deaths in the United States annually from lung trouble in some form or another. Drape your windows with blinds, shades, and lace curtains, dust and germs gather, keep sunshine and fresh air out of the house and you may have bright colored carpets and pale, sickly children, slaves to pride and style. These are dangers which will tell on the working force of the Church in the future.
5. AIMING AFTER POPULARITY. Trying to be like other Churches. It was a sign of great spiritual decline when Israel desired a king like the surrounding nations. They got a King and suffered for it. The matchless Quality of the manufacturer’s product is the best advertisement. Christ’s character was blameless that He added to it by making Himself of no reputation. Henry
Ward Beecher absolutely refused any title whatever. Daniel Webster when he graduated took his diploma and tore it into a hundred pieces and said, “if I am honest and work hard, I may make a man of myself, and if not, this miserable sheepskin won’t.” Titles are so common these days
that they count for very little with men of true wisdom and nothing with God, and yet how many are aiming for them. Emerson said to one of his friends, “What you are thunders so loud that I don’t hear what you say,” while others can say a dozen times in a sermon “do you see the point,” and no point can be seen without the aid of a strong magnifying glass.
6. AIMING FOR PERSONAL SUPPORT. The statement has been published that ten
Western Methodist Conferences have arrived at a serious crisis on the subject of ministerial support. Preachers hungry for high salaries, grabbing after money and luxury, dissatisfied with their support, leave the ministry for secular pursuits.
7· MIXING UP WITH POLITICS. Only four duties are enjoined upon the believer in his
relation to the world powers of this age:
1. Pray for rulers.
2. Obey Magistrates.
3. Honor the King.
4. Pay your tribute.
Rules of conduct are given for pastors and members, parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, but none for civil rulers, pre-supposing that the Church will not reign where her Lord was cast out. Crowns are for the head and not for the body. Reformation has its place in the social economy of this world and is supposed to keep society in a tolerable condition so that we may serve the Lord unmolested, but let the reformers attend to the reforming and let the Church mind her business saving souls. When the preachers enter politics they either are not called of God or are out of their sphere. W. J. Bryan said three years ago at Winona Convention, “if preachers take part in politics I don’t know why politicians should not
occupy the pulpit.” Wasn’t he right?
8. APOSTASY. Churches are drifting, leaving the old landmarks. Many are going down toward higher criticism, rationalism, and skepticism, ignoring the teaching and doctrines of the New Testament and establishing their own righteousness, and teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. Churches whose congregations a few years ago were plain and humble now look like flower beds and poultry shows, more than the congregation of the righteous. Churches which a few years ago observed feetwashing as commanded by our Lord, now make mockery of it; but they can have suppers, fairs, bazaars, passion plays, Reformation plays, etc., using for actors the enemies of the cross who would help to crucify Jesus Christ and persecute John Knox should they preach in their churches to-day! Blasphemous! Others whose old
preachers used to baptize their converts in the river, now their un-baptized college men do not baptize at all unless for fear of losing their people. Where a few years ago they hurled the anathemas against the dance, theater, and lodge room, now the preachers belong to Masons, and have their lives insured for many thousands of dollar’s while their children and members go to
dances, theaters, and parties. When the head men in a denomination who used to plead with tears for people to leave the world and come to Christ, now join the most avowed Christ rejection secret societies of our land, is this not a Sign that the falling away has come? They say in order to be·popular and have influence in the world a person must join its societies. When the prodigal joined himself to a citizen of the country wherein he was a stranger he gained nothing but a few husks in the company of swine. The pastor of one of Reading’s so-called converted
churches has a few weeks ago been elected State Chaplain of a secret society. Is there no danger along this line? Don’t these secret gatherings seem to be more important than the prayer-meetings? Men who become unwilling to be fools for Christ lose their grip on God and are compelled to act the fool for the devil. Shame on such Christian professors! Ten-fold shame on
such ministers of the Gospel!
9. FALSE DOCTRINES. “For the time will come when they will not endure the healthful teaching but having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside unto fables.” 2 Tim. 4:3, 4, R.V. The Church of the living God is the living Church of God which He has made free by the truth and which shall now become the pillar, support, stay or ground of the truth” I Tim. 3:15. Paul was “set for the defense of the gospel.” The Church shall now “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.” Was there ever a time when so few people endure, much less enjoy, healthful teaching as in these days? Healthful teaching is not sugar-water preaching and a dispensary of carnal pity. Soothing syrup and paregoric are good to put babies to sleep, but for a disordered stomach which resents nature’s nourishment, we need some bitter medicine,
and sometimes the stomach pump first. Many people to-day have itching ears and dyspeptic stomachs and if the pure unmedicated truth is preached they either attempt to fight the truth or leave the Church. They may leave the Church but truth will follow them to judgment. Of such Paul says that if they receive not the love of the truth that they might be saved, God will send
them strong delusions that they believe Satan’s lies that they all might be damned.
10. FALSE TEACHERS. Jesus warned His disciples against false prophets (Matt. 7:15), and false christs (Matt. 24:24). Paul warns the Ephesian Elders that such should arise who should speak perverse things (Acts 20:29, 30), also the Corinthians against false apostles and teachers (I Cor. 11:13-26). He mentions even the names of a few preachers, Alexander, Hymenaeus, and Philetus, and tells Timothy that they indulged in profane babbling, erred from the faith, taught that the resurrection was past, and overthrew the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:17). Plenty of preachers preach in theory and sentiment that the resurrection is past, because they frequently refer in their discourses and prayers to the wicked in hell and the righteous in heaven. But Paul says, nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure and warns Timothy to beware of them. The devil’s agents are busy sowing tares, hiding them carefully till they are up. When Mr. Moorehead exposed the false doctrines of Millennial Dawn, the author changed the pages in the next edition to hide the exposures. Now he has lately changed the titles and calls them “Bible Keys or Studies in the Scriptures” in two sets of three volumes each. Error will fall in spite of its advocates trying to prop it up all the time, but truth crushed to earth will rise again. When Paul said “Prove all things” did he mean that you should now run after every new doctrine
that comes around and buy every new book and read every new tract that is left at your door or distributed at your church door, or follow after every long-haired man or short-haired woman that tramps through the country with an old cart preaching that the world was now coming to an end? No, let them alone, mind your own business, and you will have plenty business of your own to mind. The druggist says strychnine is poisonous, but I have not proved it. Shall I eat a teaspoonful to “prove all things” because I have only the druggist’s word for it? Should you go to unchristian places or listen to unscriptural teachers who denounce baptism, divine healing, the Lord’s imminent coming, to prove all things? Should you buy any book or get any paper they offer you to prove all things if you have your pastor’s word for it that much of it is poisonous? Should you go to Seventh Day Adventists’ meetings and hear their arguments on the old Jewish Sabbath which not one of the New Testament Epistles enjoins us to keep, and buy their books to find out for yourself, when your pastor has exposed their fallacies of old Jewish law and ceremonialism just to “prove all things?”
11. MAGNIFYING EXPERIENCES ABOVE THE LIVING AND WRITTEN WORD. Teaching holiness in theory and argument only for the sake of running a specialty is like the merchant who runs a special line of goods for an advertisement. This is a dangerous thing as it leads to a false hope and arrests spiritual development. We read so much these days of people
and churches who had been cold and dead praying for Pentecost and Baptisms, etc. The cross is the rallying point for the sinner and the vineyard is the place for the saint. It was at the well watering the camels that Rebekah had her first revelation of the wealth and greatness of Isaac.
Ruth first met Boaz while in the field gleaning barley.
12. SO-CALLED TONGUE MOVEMENT. The Bride to-day should be busy in the field. An idle brain is the devil’s work-shop. To the idlers Jesus says not, get tongues, but get to work, go work in my vineyard. The first disciples were told to tarry at Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father. This promise of the Father was when He said “I will pray the Father and He shall
send you another Comforter. He told them when this Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, should come, He should guide them into all truth, so they should not go out without a guide. So at this Pentecost the Holy Ghost had come once and forever to abide. He never came since. There is quite a difference between the disciples before Pentecost and the personal condition or relationship of a newly regenerated soul to day. The cry of a certain class to-day is, Pentecostal Power, Pentecostal Blessing, why not seek for Easter power, Easter blessing, etc. It is true both Jews and Christians shared in the glory of that memorable Easter morning when Jesus
rose from the dead; so they shared alike in the glorious manifestation of that day of Pentecost when the Holy Ghost came. The glory of the first was the presence of the risen Christ, the glory of the second was the presence of the promised Comforter. But they seem to forget that at no other Passover after that did Christ rise from the dead, at no other Pentecost after that was that audible, rushing, mighty wind and visible, cloven tongues of fire repeated. When Christ said “your house shall be left unto you desolate” the house was not destroyed, but when they cast Him out, the glory departed because He was the glory of the house. The Passover continued every year at Jerusalem for forty years, but it was desolate, Christless. Pentecost was kept every year but no cloven tongues of fire. They were nothing but Jewish relies of an obsolete worship. Neither Jesus nor the Holy Ghost nor the Church which has been from its birth a distinct individual body had any relationship to these “feasts of the Jews,” as they are called in St. John, the Church’s gospel. Therefore there is danger to-day of the devil running us after the “Lo, here is Christ and there is Christ,” while we fail to recognize Christ within, the Hope of Glory. In connection with this or supplementary to this so-called Pentecost, they yearn for the “gift of tongues” though asserting with apparent modesty “if the Lord sees fit.” A confession of humility
is usually a manifestation of pride. Speaking with tongues and other extraordinary experiences are on record in the Bible and in history. Because there is much fanaticism these days along this line does not prove that there is nothing like it. St. Augustine calls Satan “Sinius Dei, the ape
of God,” or in other words, the counterfeiter of God’s truth and gifts. Here is where the danger lies, not in getting too much truth, too much Bible, too much scriptural experience, but in putting undue stress or emphasis on some doctrines or experiences. Among some people who seek
some special manifestations is often found, first a spirit of selfish satisfaction in themselves. Second, an exaltation of personal experience which they love to compare with that of others. Third, a spirit of insubordination to those over them, though often clothed in the velvety cloak of a voluntary humility. Fourth, a spirit of resentment to the instructions of godly, spirit-filled
teachers, no matter how much God has entrusted to them and how successfully He has used them to the feeding of the flock and building up the church, if they in any way fail to uphold their accepted views. Some people are seeking for the “gift of tongues” who have it, only they do not use it right. They desire to speak in an unknown tongue because nobody cares to listen to them in their known tongue. Others desire to speak in an unknown tongue who never speak much to the glory of God in their own tongue. Let us apply several of Paul’s maxims to this subject. “Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good.” I Cor. 10:24, R. V. If I
speak in an unknown tongue is my neighbor benefited or am I exalted? “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, for no man understandeth him.” I Cor. 14:1 He edifieth himself (verse 4) and not the Church. “Unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to be understood, ye will be speaking into the air.” Verse 9. Is there much reward for this? We desire our people to understand what we preach and practise what we teach. Paul says, “I speak with tongues more than ye all.” Verse 18. He could do so, profitably, when he preached Christ in all the principal cities of the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and probably Spanish countries as well as to the barbarian, heathen tribes on the islands. Yet, “in the church,” he says, v. 19, “I had rather speak five words with my understanding that I may teach others, than 10,000 words in an unknown tongue.” Then he concludes the subject. “Let all things be done decently and in order,” v. 40. Where is the church where they seek and advocate Pentecostal experiences, speaking with tongues, or latter rain (which refers to the Jews) where there is not confusion
and divisions? God is not the author of confusion, and those that cause divisions shall be marked. Now if the Lord would have us seek such a thing, why didn’t Paul exhort the Ephesians, the church in the heavenlies, the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, the exemplary church, to seek it? Or, if they had it, why didn’t he commend them on it? Why does he write
a whole chapter to this Corinthian church which he says is carnal, babes, puffed up, contending against each other before heathen courts, loose in morals and the friends of false teachers?
13. A SPIRIT OF LAWLESSNESS Satan is the lawless one, and as he is the prince of this world, no wonder we live in a lawless age. The will of the ruler is the law of the subjects. In a well regulated family the will of the father is the law of the household. In the United States the will of congress, legislatures, councils, and other legislative bodies, is the law of our land. The executive and judicial departments stand for its application and defense. So in the Church. The will of God is the law of the Christian and the ambassador in the pulpit stands for the character of the Law-giver and the application and defense of His laws. His law-book and guide is the
word of God, illuminated by the Spirit of God. Any man who declares himself in opposition to the laws of the land is regarded an anarchist and a dangerous character. The more of this class a country has, the greater the danger of a rebellion and disintegration A certain writer said, “Liberty must be sacredly guarded by the salutary limitations of law. Barbarians and wild beasts alone have absolute liberty. Civil order and moral right require the regulation of liberty. Liberty unlimited is the most destructive curse in the universe.” The guilt of rebellion against proper authority in the Church or in the State can hardly be overestimated· Some one has
said, “we have as much family government as the Puritans. had, only the sceptre has changed hands.” Yes, children are becoming more and more disobedient, lawless, and disrespectful to their parents, partly because it is the spirit and characteristic of the age and partly because of
the loose and lax methods of training. People put very little premium on obedience and not much discount on disobedience and perhaps no penalty at all. Parents who are disloyal and disobedient to their pastors must not be surprised if their children will not respect and obey them. A boy left to his own way may some day put his father out of the house, and who is to blame? I am afraid some people will have to give an awful account some day of their unfaithful
stewardship as parents. Judgment must begin at the house of God. God expects the individual to judge himself. If the individual fails to judge himself, the Church will have to judge the individual. If the Church neglects this, God will have to judge the Church. It should be understood more and more in our Church that for preachers to be disloyal to their Presiding Elder and members to he disloyal to their pastors is one of the most dangerous evils that can exist. High treason in the State is under sentence of capital punishment, because it is the deadly foe of the unity and safety of the country. One disloyal member can do more harm to the Church than all the saloon keepers of the town.
Loyal members will stand together in defense of their pastors, their brothers and sisters. They are the deputy guardians of God’s most precious interests on earth.
Disloyal members find their own company likewise and are of one mind to criticise the pastors, his sermon, his gestures, and his methods. While others do the work and lift up the pastor’s arms, they sit in the way and criticise.
1. A paper read before the Ministerial Convention of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ at Bethlehem, Pa., October 8, 1908.