By Wayne M. Warner
Calvary knew neither candle nor cathedral. Roman overseas veterans crucified Jesus on crossbars between two filching thieves. This took place near the city dump of a community so cosmopolitan that Jesus’ title was lettered in three languages. Calvary provided a hangout for beatniks and social dropouts who ran the gamut of smut and filth. Thieves cursed. Soldiers gambled. Ladies avoided the place, but God was there. It was the place where Jesus died.
A prominent churchman has reminded us that early Christianity was like the two-edged sword with which Rome conquered the invincible Greek phalanx. Christianity uses twin cutting blades: faith and works; believing and being; evangelism and social ministry.
Jesus came into the world by the authority of God. That authority gave priority to continuing evangelism. That authority pleads for life-lifting social action. Calvary became the kind of place that dramatizes what churchmanship is all about. It was, in fact, the kind of place where churchmen should look today.
The timetable of human existence demands that we forthrightly ask ourselves: What is the measure of the church of the living God? What is the function of a fruitful fellowship? What is the mission of a missionary message? What is the purpose of a purposeful church?
Do we exist only to add joiners who will bring more joiners so that we prevent the death of the church? Are we satisfied to admit we remain here simply to perpetuate our own existence, to hold down as many jobs as we can and keep everything within as small a circle as possible?
Are we here only to baptize the children of our members, teach them the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule and put blinders on them so that they never really know until too late that men lie, steal, cheat, and commit adultery, homosexual acts, murder, and all kinds of sin? Man, apart from the grace of God, tends to become a proud, arrogant, selfish, envious, vainglorious, rebellious, generally wicked, and ungodly creature.
Are we here simply to finance splendid facilities where people comfortably sleep through meaningless oratory performed by preachers who pacify more than prophesy? Do our buildings and organizations provide anything more than a simple means for growing intellectually fat and spiritually lazy on Bible study that has no more meat in it than strained applesauce?
Do we perpetuate ourselves as little groups of self-professed pious people who want nothing more than occasional reminders that no one is perfect except Jesus, that no one ought ever to expect anything other than that we contribute our tithes and attend services when no other priorities remain, like sleeping, mowing the yard, fishing, or watching the game of the week?
Have we no other task than to see that the church survives, to see that it does not completely collapse from either poverty or indifference? Have we anything more provocative than simply providing the youth with busywork? Do we depend upon our church staff simply to provide some acceptable activity at the traditional church school hour and perfunctorily perform our morning worship ritual at the regular hour for the gratifying approval of any who might drop in to pay their respects to the Lord?
Is the church of the living God just a place to which we have exclusive rights which prevents anyone chiseling in on us and our patent rights on God’s time? As the church, are we an end within our corporate self? If so, I move we bury the corpse, believe the “God is Dead” theology, and spend our weekends sleeping, cleaning the car, pruning the roses, and doing useful things!
The church that responds to the living God will apply the gospel to human needs in every area of life. It will listen to the man deep in the pit of alcoholic hell when he confesses, “The beginning of my downfall was when I saw what big muckety-mucks they were, and I looked into their refrigerator and saw their cartons of beer.”
The church will relate to the living God only by rediscovering people and their needs. It must lead them into meaningful fellowship with God and with God’s people. Godlike love remains fundamental to that fellowship, the kind of love that caused God to give his Son for man’s sin. Godlike love knows no boundaries of age, social status, national boundaries, race, or personal interests. It looks at that fringe person who looks like Freddie the Freeloader and sees what God saw when he first looked at us. We forget so easily how unpromising we looked to God and how discouraging we were to the one witnessing to us.
Of course, today’s church has a few problems. It faces a new morality, a new theology, a so-called generation gap, a shifting population, and changing methods. It challenges a permissive society obsessed with pornography and too much leisure time. But these are not really problems! These are all people! Liquor never solves the alcoholic’s problem. It only provides a temporary escape from the problem as he orbits in his self-induced stupor.
While the promoters tell us to think big, we must remember the person. We must relate to the lonely person on the edge of the action and lead him to the body of Christ. We need to discover how our church can help rehabilitate the prisoner, the alcoholic, the delinquent, and the victim of an unsuccessful marriage. We must find ways of ministering to the elderly, the vacationer, the migrant, and the shut-in.
This may mean using your home for some small group activity. It may mean inviting a few Christian friends in for an evening and including some non-Christian couples who need to meet firsthand some Sunday church people in their work-a-day clothes. It may mean weeknight Bible study or presenting a musical program at a shopping center.
Why don’t we ring the bell?
Activating the church of the living God includes the spiritual preparation of the church’s lay leadership so as to lead the pack, having prepared to help meet personal problems of the congregation and community. It means no less than the full energy of every Christian dedicated to something besides self-preservation, self-realization, and self-glorification. It means people being willing to lose their lives for Christ through caring for human needs.
A man returned to his hometown. He stood with his son on the village square on Sunday morning. He pointed to a dilapidated frame building and remarked, “That’s where I went to church when I was a boy. My father used to go to that building twice every Sunday and ring the bell in the tower. Two times a day, when my father rang the bell, the people came to worship God.”
He hardly finished when the lad exclaimed, “Daddy, why don’t they ring the bell now?” As dad paused in meditation there was the tug of a small hand. A childish voice repeated, “Daddy, why don’t they ring the bell now?”
Why don’t they ring the bell now? Addicts may not know what they need, but they know they need, be their addiction to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. Ghetto residents, prostitutes, campus rebels, businessmen, suburban freak-outs, don’t know what they need, but they know they need!
Why must churchmen labor on lesser things and pass by human needs? Do you not desire in your heart to take a good grip on the bell rope and give it one eternal yank? Let the world hear the church bell ring. Let the world know where it can come to learn the truth that Christ holds the answers to all human need. When those people come, introduce them to him whose being holds the answer to all need.
“Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.” However, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Ps 92:13; 127;1).
A pastor of Church of God congregations in Arkansas and Texas, Wayne M. Warner also served as contributing writer to Vital Christianity and went on to serve as contributing editor under Harold Phillips. In retirement, he has continued blogging and delights in turning international connections into realized blessings for Church of God ministerial students.
Article originally published in the June 28, 1970, issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission. Across the United States and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Give life! Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.