Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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An exposition of First Corinthians chapter three

An older brother, a minister, once suggested to me that I should write about one portion of this chapter. He didn’t tell me what I should write, but appeared to have confidence that I would be able to cut through the misinterpretations of the apostle Paul’s words that are often repeated in our day and make plain what he was really saying.

Twenty years have passed, the brother no longer walks this earth. But that suggestion and the confidence implicit in it have continued to echo in the recesses of my mind. Today it is time to sit down and make it happen. I will discuss the whole chapter because I don’t believe we can understand any one part of it if we do not understand the whole.

1 Corinthians 3:1 ¶ And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

The brethren at Corinth did not have confidence in one another, or in the church. They had been converted, yet they were still set in the pagan pattern of following a teacher, rather than being followers of Christ. For this reason Paul told them they were still babies, at the very beginning of the life of faith, still feeding on only the simplest spiritual nourishment.

5 ¶ Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth;but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

Paul is telling the Corinthians that the new spiritual life they have found came from God, he and Apollos are only servants. He begins with the metaphor of a vine that they have planted and watered, but the life in the vine came from God, not Paul or Apollos. Then he switches to the metaphor of a building, saying that all together they are one building. The foundation has been laid and many are building upon it, but they must be careful how they build.

11 ¶ For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

The only possible foundation for the building of God, the church, is Jesus Christ. As there is only one foundation, there is only one building. The verses that follow are not meant to be understood in an individualistic way. They speak of the materials used to build the church, some are precious metals and stones that come from God and cannot burn. But ministers, parents, all of us really, will sometimes use our own reasoning to try and build the church, but these materials tend to weaken the structure, rather than strengthen it.

Yet there is grace for those who are building upon the true foundation, even if some if their efforts will not stand the test of fire. Paul is not saying that our personal salvation is at risk when in ignorance we use inferior materials, his words should lead us to sanctification, to let burn what will burn so that we may continue to build with the materials that are durable.

16 ¶ Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

English-speaking readers of today find these verses difficult to understand. Our language has dropped the singular pronouns thee and thou, and even the plural pronoun ye, replacing all three with the plural you. Those pronouns had a purpose and we need to understand them to grasp what is being said in passages such as this.

When Paul uses the plural pronouns ye and you in these verses he is addressing the church as a whole, all members. But the temple of God is singular. He does not say “thou art the temple of God,” or “ye are the temples of God.” He is saying that altogether we are part of one temple, or church. This distinction is not something created by stuffy old translators 400 years ago, this is exactly the way Paul wrote in Greek.

Other passages that speak of the church as a single building or temple are found in 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5-7 and Revelation 3:15.

There is one passage which says something a little different: “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?” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ). Some people want to take this verse as the key to understanding all the others just cited. But that is to make those verses contradict what they so clearly state. Perhaps the best way to understand this verse is to read it in the light of the passage from 1 Peter which speaks of living stones. The temple of God is not built with stones that have no life in them. Just as in the case of Solomon’s temple, they must be prepared to fit before they are added to the temple.

When we interpret 1 Corinthians 3:16 as referring to each believer as an individual temple then it is easy to interpret verse 17 to refer to things that defile our own body, such as smoking, drug use, and immorality. Those are serious concerns, and they are addressed in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). But this verse goes deeper than that.

Think of Achan in Joshua chapter 7. Achan took things that he knew he should not have and hid them in his tent, thinking that what others didn’t know could not harm him. But his action defiled the whole company of God’s people and God did not help them fight against their enemy, leading to much loss of life. When Achan’s sin was punished, then God once more gave the people victory over their enemies.

We are tempted to think as Achan did: “Nobody sees or knows what goes on in my private world. What harm can it do? ” It does great harm, not just to me but to all the church, even if no one knows the source of that harm. A living stone in the wall of God’s temple who permits himself such defilement causes the whole temple to be defiled. That stone no longer has the life of God within and must be removed and cast aside.

The difference between such a person and Achan is that in the gospel era there is opportunity for the defiled stone to have the fire of the Holy Spirit rekindled within and then be returned to a place in the wall of the temple.

18 ¶ Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

The wisdom of this world tells us that once a person has given his heart to God it is impossible for him to once again be lost. We have an enemy who delights in feeding us that kind of wisdom because it hinders us from hearing God’s call to repent and re-consecrate our lives to Him. It is better to think of ourselves as fools and ask God to direct us in the way that will safely bring us to our eternal home in heaven.

21 ¶ Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;
23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

God has given servants to the church to preach the gospel, to teach and to guide His people. Let us honour and respect such men; but we must not glorify them or compare them with one another. Each one has gifts to help in building the walls of Zion. Those gifts are given to help us and to glorify Jesus Christ and God.

Worship then and now

Then was sixty years ago when I was a teenager and member of the Anglican Church of Canada. Services would begin with this exhortation:

Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.

The service would continue with words of like eloquence, interspersed with a reading from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, the reciting of some poetic passages of Scripture, either in unison or as a responsive reading. There would be a few hymns mixed in plus a sermon. All followed the familiar pattern of the Book of Common Prayer, which was little changed since it was formulated by Thomas Cranmer 400 years earlier.

It didn’t take long until you had the services memorized and didn’t need to follow in the book any longer. This was the great danger: the words were beautiful, meaningful and true, but one could recite them with nary a thought as to what one was saying. I have no doubt that many Anglicans were born-again people, but many, probably the majority, just droned along with their mind somewhere else altogether.

I remain very thankful for all the Scriptures read and recited in the Anglican services. I suppose this began in the day when most attendees were unable to read and this was the only exposure they had to the Word of God.  It was still good for those who were readers.

Now, in the Mennonite church to which I belong today, the services might seem a little tohu-bohu (the Hebrew words translated without form and void in Genesis 1:2). There is a certain order to the services, but they are informal and unstructured compared the church of my youth. Still, just as in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God is present.

Most congregations have more than one minister. None of them are professionals, they do not derive their income from the church but earn their living much as other members of the congregation. The hymns we sing are not chosen in advance but are chosen in a seemingly random manner by members of the congregation as the service progresses.  Lay brethren are often invited to volunteer to present some thoughts and a prayer to open the service. It may take some time for one to get up from his seat to do so. The sermons are extemporaneous, not written out beforehand. Sometimes there are no ministers present and the whole service is conducted by lay brethren. 

It works. We are fed, encouraged, reproved, inspired. We trust that everything, the hymns that are chosen, the words that are spoken, is prompted by the Holy Spirit.

This type of service goes back to long before Archbishop Cranmer. The apostle Paul wrote:

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. . . Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

Would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets

The words of the title are taken from the eleventh chapter of Numbers. Moses had complained that he was not able to bear the load of leading and caring for all the people who were with him in the wilderness. God instructed him to bring seventy elders of the people to the tabernacle and there He would give each of them a portion of the spirit which He had given to Moses. Moses and the elders did as God had commanded and when the spirit was given to the elders they began to prophesy and could not stop.

However, two of the seventy did not come to the tabernacle. No reason is given but we must assume that it was not because they rebelled against God’s command,for the Spirit was given to them also and they began to prophesy.

When Joshua, Moses’ servant, heard of this, his immediate reaction was that this was disorderly and must not be allowed. “My lord Moses, forbid them,” he said. The answer given by Moses reveals the greatness of his love for the people of God:

“Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them” (verse 29).

Moses’ wish is fulfilled in the gospel dispensation. Ever since Pentecost, every born again child of God, young or old, man or woman,  has received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has been given to guide us personally in the way of truth, but also to empower us to share this truth with others, unbelievers, those new in the faith, the confused and discouraged. Even those who may be considered spiritually mature need the spiritual admonition and counsel of their brethren.

God has ordained that ministers and deacons should be ordained in each congregation for the orderly functioning of the church. But most congregations do not start out that way. I have been involved in three young congregations that did not have any ordained leadership. Two of those groups have grown into fully functioning congregations, with two ministers and a deacon in each place. In the third one, we all gave up and moved away. The problem seemed to be a feeling that without an ordained minister we couldn’t do anything. I don’t think such hand wringing is pleasing to God, who has given to each of us a portion of His Spirit.

Even in well-established congregations, with one or two or three or more ministers, if everything is left to the ministers the congregation will not prosper spiritually. Christian life is not meant to be a passive activity. God has given His Spirit to each of us to be used in some way for the benefit of the whole body.

A memorable small town minister

Readers may have noticed that in my last post I only gave  the full name of one of the young people who met an untimely death. I named Joan Vickers because I wanted to write a little about her father, Reverend Kenneth Vickers. The funny thing is that I can bring up no memories of Joan from school. Since I had skipped a grade, she would have been one year behind me. The only memories I have of her are of times when we were in their home.

The Vickers family were only in our town for two or three years, but we visited with them often. Ken Vickers was the only minister that passed through our church that had the common touch that made everyone feel comfortable around him. He didn’t think it beneath his calling to spend a few days helping a farmer and getting his hands dirty. It wouldn’t have been hard to imagine him as a carpenter, electrician, or storekeeper. That made him feel more trustworthy as a spiritual advisor. I guess I’ve always found it difficult to relate to someone who was a professional minister and nothing else.

I began serving as an altar boy during the time that Ken Vickers was minister of our church. That often meant getting up early on a Sunday morning to accompany him as he held services in a couple of other towns. He served churches in four towns and usually had services in each of them every Sunday: 9:00 am, 11:00 am, 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm.

Thirteen years later, Chris and I were planning to get married and neither of us had any church connection. It happened that Ken Vickers was then minister of the congregation in Moose Jaw that my parents attended. We asked him if he would marry us and he agreed. We had two marriage counselling sessions with him first. The one thing both of us remember is a mention of the verse in 1 Corinthians 15:47: “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” We have no recollection of what more might have been said, but the fact that we both remember it must indicate some influence on our spiritual journey.

By the time our wedding date rolled around, Ken Vickers had been transferred to another location, but he returned for the marriage ceremony. Perhaps if I had encountered more ministers like Ken Vickers in the Anglican Church, we might have been inclined to try and find a congregation of that church in our new location after we were married. But I guess by that time I had encountered mostly those who were professional ministers and unconnected with real life. Ken Vickers was different.

The foolishness of preaching

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. — 1 Corinthians 1:17-21

Here is the genius of true Christian preaching: it is not a dry learned discourse, nor is it an exercise in emotional demagoguery. The preacher must have personal experience of the gospel he preaches, or his preaching will have no life. There must needs be something of teaching and something of feeling, but the preacher stands on common ground with those to whom he is speaking and talks of the aspirations and trials that are common to all and of God’s grace which is accessible to all.

A distinction needs to be made between the written word and the spoken word. A Christian writer may be inspired to write about a topic or an event and sit down to get this inspiration into written form. The writer then needs to revise and edit to make sure that the inspiration is not befogged with unnecessary words or digressions into side issues, and that all the information is there for the reader to understand the inspiration. The reader is able to go back and reread a portion that was not clear on the first reading, or perhaps read the whole thing over at a later time to let the meaning sink in.

The spoken word is immediate and fleeting. The hearers will not remember every word that was said and will have no opportunity to go back and listen to it again. If the preacher has been inspired by God with a message and opens his heart to share that message as being as much in need as his hearers, the message will have a lasting impact after the words have vanished from memory.

For this reason, I believe that preaching can truly be described as the living word. A sermon has its most powerful impact upon those who are assembled in one place to listen. I don’t believe it has the same impact when broadcast over a phone line, closed circuit TV, or other means. A sermon that is recorded or transcribed also loses much of its vitality.

In the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, we do not believe in a trained and salaried ministry. Nor do we believe that a minister should write out his sermon beforehand. All these things diminish the leading of the Holy Spirit as he speaks and weaken the authenticity of the message.

The word minister means servant, an apt description of a person who is called to serve spiritual nourishment to a congregation of believers. Ministers are also called pastors (shepherds), bishops (overseers), teachers and evangelists. But they are never to be looked upon as lords over the people of God. All his spiritual work must be done with the collaboration and support of the congregation, or it will never stand the challenges that will come.

All ministers are not equal in their ability to expound on the Scriptures, in eloquence, or even in their mastery of the language. These are all things that can be improved on with time. The most important qualifications of a minister are a pure life, humility, love for others. These are not things that can be learned from books, but the fruit of a life truly dedicated to serving God and his fellow men.

Why I go to church on Sunday

It’s not because the Fourth Commandment demands it. The Fourth Commandment says nothing at all about worship.

It’s not because the ceremonies of the church are a means of imparting the grace of God. I was a member of a liturgical church in my youth, and took part in the Eucharist every Sunday, as much as possible in a rural area where one priest served four congregations. (I was an altar boy for several of those years and often took part in the Eucharist twice on Sunday.)  I have some good memories of the Scriptures read, recited and expouinded, but really, the services left me empty. This is not the way in which God ministers grace to the penitent.

It’s not because of family tradition. My parents attended no church at all for the first ten years of my life. Church attendance did then become a family tradition, but I abandoned it, along with most other family traditions, when I grew up and left home.

It’s not for fear of getting in trouble with the church authorities. I expect some of the lay members would call and wonder where I had been, and a prolonged absence would raise questions, but there would be no harsh laying down of the law.

It’s not for entertainment. If I wished for the best in contemporary music and the most thrilling speakers, I would not be looking to find them in church.

It’s not for making social or gusiness contacts. Sure, that sort of thing does happen in church, but it is not the best, or ideal, setting for such things.

I go to church because I need spiritual nourishment. I may not always feel that need. I don’t always feel very hungry when meal time comes around at home either, but I know that if I skip this meel, I will be feeling very hungry before it’s time for the next meal. It is the same way with spiritual nourishment.

I go to church because my spiritual compass is always in need of realignment. Sure, I could worship God at home, or in the woods, or at the beach, or even at the hockey game. Or could I? In such settings I am very prone to thinking that my priorities are God’s priorities. There is something about gathering to worship God with fellow believers of like precious faith that reawakens and redefines my awareness of  God’s priorities.

That is why I go to church. It is not the magnificence of the building or of the music , the oratorical skills of the preacher or the reverent cadences of a liturgy that draws me. It is the certain knowledge that here, among other believers as weak and fallible as I am, is where God comes near and reminds us that this is after all about Him, not about me.

Spiritual starvtion and suicide

[This was written 33 years ago, as you will note by the reference to the IRA hunger strikers.]

“But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat” (Matt. 14:16).

Jesus was out in the hills of Galilee, and the multitudes came there to him to be healed and to learn of Him. As evening drew near, Jesus saw that the people would need to be fed before they could return to their homes. He told His disciples, “Give ye them to eat.” They thought He was asking the impossible of them, but when they told Jesus how little food, they had, He simply said, “Bring it to me.” And He blessed the few loaves and fishes, broke them, and gave them back to the disciples to distribute among the people. When all had eaten their fill, there was more left over than there had been at the beginning.

Perhaps our ministers often feel, like the disciples, that they hardly have enough for themselves. But as they are obedient to God and allow Him to bless and to break this little bit, it grows so that we all can be fed, and we find that we also have something to take home, to feed and meditate upon there, and perhaps to share with someone else. In fact, we find that as long as we are humble and obedient, this spiritual food continues to multiply itself.

The Gospel account gives no indication that anyone of the five thousand refused to partake of the natural food that was given to him. But perhaps most of us are aware of the tragic events presently taking place in Northern Ireland. There are a group of men who have been found guilty of committing acts of violence and have been sentenced to prison. They do not deny their actions, rather their reasoning has become so perverted as to feel that they had a just and righteous cause. Because of this, they are refusing to eat, and one by one they are dying. At the time of writing, ten have taken their own lives in this manner, and others are still following in their footsteps.

When God brings conviction to us, directly or through the Word, or through our brethren, and we begin to justify ourselves and proclaim our own righteousness, do we not place ourselves in exactly the same position as these rebels? If we refuse the spiritual food that is so abundant and so free because we think we have been misunderstood or misjudged, is it not suicidal?

Starvation is perhaps one of the most painless ways of dying. There are pangs of hunger when the first few meals are missed, but these fade away, and the body gradually grows weaker and eventually perishes. If we find ourselves starving spiritually, we can even quiet those hunger pangs with a false spirituality that seems to satisfy, but it gives no nourishment. Soon we can be dead in our sins, hardly remembering what it was like to be spiritually alive and delighting in spiritual food and fellowship.

Let us rather give heed when we first feel those pangs of hunger in our soul and just accept in humility what our Saviour is offering, for He knows exactly what we need to be spiritually alive and healthy.

“If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa. 1:19,20).

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation . . . ” (Hebrews 2:3a).

–Bob Goodnough, Fullarton, Ontario

Blessings can’t be bought

(My wife unearthed this a few days ago. It is a letter to the editor that appeared in the London (Ontario) Free Press on May 28, 1987, at the height of the foofaraw over the extravagant lifestyle of Jimmy and Tammy Faye Bakker.  We were living in Fullarton, Ontario, about 20 minutes north of London at the time.)

Evangelical Christianity is being besmirched today by the unfolding soap opera of the TV preachers. Where does the ultimate responsibility lie? Isn’t it with the people who think that the blessing of God can be bought by giving financial support to these empires?

Ray Stevens’s new song, Would Jesus Wear A Rolex? (Would Jesus Wear A Rolex? pokes fun at TV evangelists, Free Press, April 24), is asking important questions – questions that should be honestly considered by every person who is thinking of sending money to one of the TV preachers.

The problem is an old one. Only the methods are new. The following quote sounds very contemporary. Actually it was written over 400 years ago by a Dutch preacher named Menno Simons: “Consider this. As long as the world distributes splendid houses and such large incomes to their preachers, the false prophets and deceivers will be there in droves.”

Menno Simons believed in the simple Biblical pattern for the calling and lifestyle of preachers: “Humble yourselves and become unblamable disciples, that you may thereafter become called ministers. Do not go on your own account, but wait until you are called of the Lord’s church. If this takes place, brethren, then pastor diligently, preach and teach valiantly, rent a farm, milk cows, learn a trade if possible, do manual labour as did Paul, and all that you then fall short of will doubtlessly be given and provided for you by pious brethren, by the grace of God, not in superfluity, but as necessity requires.”

Thankfully, there are some branches of the Mennonite faith that still practise this counsel of Menno Simons. Perhaps it seems like a double burden to ask someone to be a minister and at the same time earn his own living. But have you ever noticed how much of a salaried minister’s time and attention are consumed by financial concerns?

The heart of the matter is that I have much more confidence in a minister when I can feel that his primary concern is the content of my heart, rather than the content of my bank account.

Bob Goodnough, Fullarton

There is a famine – part one

Small town churches across Canada are rapidly disappearing.  Fifty years ago, the town where I grew up had five churches.  Only two remain, and they are the churches where one is least likely to ever hear sound Bible-based preaching.  Smaller towns nearby have no churches at all.

This is more than a demographic curiosity.  It means that in whole swaths across our nation people are deprived of a readily accessible place to hear the Word of God preached.  In times past many people deemed this a necessity.  Families would invest money, time and labour to ensure they would have a place of worship.

What has caused the decline?  One part of the problem is the cost of maintaining a minister.  To provide suitable living accommodations and a decent salary for a minister and his family was by far the greatest part of the operating cost of most small town churches.  Some denominations would have one minister serving congregations in three or four towns.  Over a period of years the smaller congregations died out one by one.  Other denominations merged rural and small town congregations into a congregation in a larger town.  Many people find it too far to drive and now many congregations in the larger towns are struggling.

Ministers do not want to stay long in a low-paying church; the parishioners find the constant turnover of ministers discouraging.  Some ministers are young and find it hard to develop a rapport with parishioners older than themselves.  Others have been taught new ideas in the Bible Schools and Seminaries that do not resonate with their staid small-town parishioners.  Old-fashioned Bible truths and the old hymns are laid by in favour of teachings and choruses thought to be more appealing to younger people.  None of it seems to have worked.

The real problem is the notion that a church cannot survive without a trained and salaried minister.  The pattern shown in the Scriptures is for believers to meet together for worship and mutual edification.  In such a setting, The Holy Spirit will eventually give direction to choose one or more brethren to be ordained as ministers.  They will minister to the needs of the brothers and sisters, while continuing to earn their own livelihood.  The congregation may provide help for expenses incurred in their ministry, but they will not need a salary.

The preparation needed for the ministry is not training in Bible School or Seminary, but a genuine spiritual life, with love for God, the brotherhood and all mankind.  Such a minister is well equipped to minister to the needs of people and point them to the same Saviour who has delivered him in all his times of need.

The preaching of the Word should not be a lecture by someone who is considered to have superior knowledge, but an exposition of Bible truths that relate to the very real present day needs of every man and woman, including the preacher himself.

This is the pattern of the New Testament and of Anabaptists of former generations.  Congregations organized in such a manner can prosper and grow and multiply.

There was once much sound Bible-based preaching in other denominations.  I fear that over time the reliance on trained and salaried ministers introduced unsound teachings, as well as creating a financial burden that small-town congregations could not manage.

Are there still people in the small towns with a longing for Christian fellowship and sound Bible-based preaching?  Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost and to gather together His scattered sheep.  Such sheep are not only to be found in the glamour of foreign mission fields or big city missions, some might be found in the very prosaic setting of a small town.

Voices of darkness

I had to be at work a little before 11:00 P.M. that Sunday night.  The factory work week began at 11:00 and as Quality Assurance Inspector I had to check the equipment before startup.  Although I interacted with the supervisors and workers on the factory floor, I worked alone, covering all that was happening.  This gave me lots of time to think.

There was a lot to think to think about that night.  During our worship services and fellowship through the day I had picked up hints of things that were not well in our congregation.  As I walked the factory floor that night, I was remembering all the instances I had observed of negligence by our ministers.  The problems were so glaringly evident, yet the ministers were doing nothing to help, rather pretending to be ignorant of the dangers.  The picture became darker and darker as the night wore on.  I became increasingly disheartened.

This was thirty years ago, yet I still remember the time (5:00 A.M.) and where I was standing when a little voice spoke in my mind: “These thoughts are not taking you anywhere you want to go.”  Instantly, I recognized that all the thoughts that had been going through my mind did not originate from within my mind, but from an outside source.  They were the work of the enemy, the accuser of the brethren.

The dark cloud vanished, the evidence that had appeared so solid and unassailable crumbled to dust.  All the grounds for distrusting the working of the ministry disappeared.  The forces of darkness work in darkness.  When a little light comes to expose them, they scuttle away and flee.

They will come back, trying to disguise themselves in a different way each time.  We need not expect that we will ever be free from attack by the principalities and powers, the rulers of darkness, the wiles of the devil.  Thankfully, the Holy Spirit also comes to whisper, “Do you really want to go where those voices are leading you?”

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:11-12).

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