Local Churches and the Gospel
John Lidbetter, Southport
In apostolic 'lays the local churches and the gospel were inseparable. The great evangelist-apostle commended the Philippians for their " fellowship in the furtherance of the gospel," and the Thessalonians for sounding out the word of the Lord. As a result of this blessed partnership between church and gospel, Paul was able to tell the Colossians that the gospel " was preached to every creature which is under heaven."
It was lilting, therefore, that the believers who were associated with the revival of scripture truth concerning the church during the past century called their places of meeting " Gospel Halls," although, unhappily, the adoption of this title by other communities has caused some confusion. Professedly the local churches and the gospel ate still inseparables. The gospel fervour which characterized those days of revival has, to a sad extent, given place to a routine of Sunday-evening services in which it is comparatively rare for souls to be saved.
The writer shares the conviction expressed in the Sept./Oct. 1954 issue of this magazine that "given proper conditions" the local churches may yet be channels of rich gospel blessing in the places where God has planted them.
But what are the "proper conditions" ? The following suggestions are offered in the hope that the Lord's servants may magnify their office as those who have been put in trust with the glorious gospel and do their best to see that the proper conditions are created.
The first suggestion concerns:
It is an important condition that the preacher should be a man with the gift of an evangelist. All preachers are not evangelists, and this fact should be recognized. All too often the men occupying pulpits at evangelistic services are gifted as teachers or pastors, according to their particular endowment by the Holy Spirit ; but they are not evangelists. The writer knows of one of the most gifted teachers in assembly circles who admitted that he did not remember a soul being saved under his preaching. It seems fairly clear that he was trying to do the work of an evangelist when his gifts fitted him for quite other work.
Among the gifts of the Risen Lord to His church arc evangelists. Let them give themselves to their own work, and let the pastors and teachers make way for them on gospel platforms. There is a danger of pastor-teacher-evangelists seeking to give messages that will meet with the approval of believers in the congregation, with the result that they go over the heads of the unconverted and leave them unmoved. Evangelists will speak direct to the unconverted, regardless of who else may be in the congregation. Their business is with the unsaved, and their language will be suited to their needs. The believers present should recognize this and co-operate with the evangelist by creating a prayerful atmosphere. Yes, the preacher must be an evangelist, even though he may not be a man who gives his whole time to the work.
The mention of atmosphere leads quite naturally to the next important condition—
It is a pity that many Gospel Halls are relics of those early days of assembly activity to which reference has already been made. The writer and his readers may well ask themselves whether the meeting-place to which they go is inviting enough for an unsaved person to enter alone ? Is it the sort of place to which the believers feel happy to take their own friends ? After all, that was the original purpose of such meeting-places. In many cases the halls are shabby and unworthy of the gospel they should adorn. The people of God are still found living in their " cieled houses " as in the days of Haggai the prophet, whilst the Lord's house lies waste. They live in comfort, and worship in a slum. The writer visited a northern town recently, and on finding the Gospel Hall could not tell when meetings were held, as there was no Notice Board outside.
When David proposed to build a house for the Lord he said that it " must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and glory throughout all countries." That should be the spirit in which God's people build for Him in the present day. It is not suggested that we should build on cathedral scale, but that our Gospel Halls should at least be a ' spiritual home ' for the people of Cod, and be such that they can without shame invite their unconverted friends to hear the gospel in congenial surroundings. The believers themselves may be satisfied with a shabby meeting-place, but they ought not to expect unconverted people to share their satisfaction.
The next condition to consider is:
If ought not to be necessary to say that the gospel service should be conducted in the best possible manner. Little attention appears to be given, however, to ways in which time-honoured procedure may be improved. There is no Scripture precedent for the ordering of the gospel-meeting as it has come to be known. The Lord's servants have received their marching orders from the great Captain of their salvation to preach the gospel, but the procedure to be adopted has been left to the spiritual discernment of those who preach. The usual order of service which is now familiar has grown up during the past years, but there is no reason why it should be continued if experience shows it to be out of date.
Whatever procedure is adopted it should be related to the current social habits of the people in the district. This gives rise to the question whether 6.30 or 7 o'clock on Sunday evenings is the best time for a gospel service. It is a fairly general experience that so-called " after church " services are attended by a greater proportion of unsaved people than the normal gospel service. If it is found that people will attend a service starting at 8 o'clock, or later, it would be wise to change the time of meeting. The times of gospel-meetings, which may have been suitable to the people of Victorian or Edwardian social habits, have come to be regarded as immovable in some quarters. Rut the Lord's servants must be realistic in the matter and overhaul their weekly programme of meetings if necessary so that they are held at times when people are reasonably free to attend them : meetings were made for people, not people for meetings.
Then there is the programme. It is usual for the platform to be occupied by a different speaker every week. In this way the evangelists get their turn with the pastor-teachers. But why should not an evangelist occupy the same platform for a succession of gospel addresses ? In this way he would be able to work to a plan, get to know the people, and consolidate his work. Souls would thus be gathered in for the pastors and teachers to tend and teach, and all would be working together in their proper spheres for the building up of the church.
This procedure calls for prayerful planning and would be a great improvement on the haphazard booking of speakers that characterizes so many assemblies today, lint the glorious gospel is worthy of if, and the poor sinful men and women to whom the Lord's people arc debtors may perish in their sins if some of these " proper conditions " arc not created.
Make way for the evangelists, and let them do their soul-saving work !