Making The Church Stronger — Robert Bedenbaugh, Jr.

Have you ever wondered, “What does the church…collectively, congregationally, from the elders, deacons, and preachers to each and every member…need to do in order to become stronger and better in the sight of God in the present day?”  It’s worth at least pondering but, in fact, it’s actually worth deep and extensive study and prayer.  The key to the question is the phrase “in the sight of God” (Ac. 4:19).  Relatively, what else really matters (Ec. 12:13)?

So how would you answer?  Here are some possibilities.  “We should all pray more, especially for wisdom (1 Th. 5:17; Ja. 1:5).”  “We must focus more on evangelism and then encourage the faithful to stay faithful (Mk. 16:15; 1 Th. 5:11).”  “We’ve got to start taking a firmer stand for what is right and against what is wrong (1 Pe. 3:14; Ps. 94:16; Mt. 12:30).”

These are great answers and a good start because any right answer must be rooted in scripture (Ps. 119:172).  If “in the sight of God” is the key to the question, then we must consider what He has said.  I’ve listened to a sermon tape of brother Mel Futrell (currently preaching at the Shades Mountain congregation just south of Birmingham) titled “Intelligent Christianity” where he lists several scriptures from both testaments where God’s people are encouraged, and encouraging others, to reason with God and His Word (Is. 1:18; Ac. 19:9).  Time after time, God’s people are asked (Is. 42:23), required (Dt. 28:1-2), and even warned (Ps. 50:7) by God and His speakers to pay attention to what has been communicated.

Therefore, my answer to this question is to study…more diligently (2 Ti. 2:15).  As a whole, the church needs to study more in order to become stronger and better in the sight of God in the present day.  If we can’t answer our question without going to God’s Word, then the answer must include going to God’s Word…more.  Additionally (and I may stand to be corrected on this), I believe God’s people are generally more ignorant of the Bible presently than in decades past.  I believe New Testament Christians of the last century, regardless of age, had more Bible knowledge than their current counterparts.  Perhaps that’s a generality and my opinion, but I do believe it’s accurate.

What if this question was asked with a hint of discouragement?  In so many words, “What can we do?  What can I do?  I’m just one person.”  What humanity has always needed to do in any day is to “hear the Word of the Lord” (Ez. 37:1-14, especially v. 4).

The New Testament refers to God’s people in this age as “Christians” and “the church,” but God, through inspiration in His New Testament, principally uses “disciples” to refer to His people.  Disciple means “learner, student, or pupil” and is not a title; it is a noun referring to the endeavor to accomplish the action of learning.  This can seem to suggest God cares more about what I’m doing than what I call myself.  He wants me to be a learner (Jn. 5:45), and I can’t learn from Him or about His Son without studying what He has said (Jn. 5:39-40).

Certainly there are caveats.  Knowledge is useless without understanding how to apply it and moving forward to its actual utilization in our lives (Mt. 15:16-20; Ja. 2:22-25).  All of this begins with a healthy respect and reverence for the power and majesty of God (Pr. 1:7; 9:10).  If we study more and learn anything about what God expects but don’t respect God enough to obey, we have nothing for which to hope (Pr. 24:13-14).

First, we should be studying more in private. Everywhere we go, in every situation, we should always have God’s Word in the forefront of our mind (Dt. 6:8-9).  How and when?  By trusting, leaning on, and acknowledging Him with all our heart and in all our ways (Pr. 3:5-6).  Exposing ourselves to scripture day and night brings blessings and prevents sin and error (Ps. 1:1-2; 119:11, 104; 1 Ti. 4:16).  Conversely, a lack of spiritual knowledge brings error and destruction, perhaps for generations (Mt. 22:29; Ho. 4:6).  David Langley, the pulpit minister here at Seneca, recently made this statement with reference to Hebrews 5:11-14 and private Bible study:  “If you plan to get all of your spiritual nourishment in one worship hour per week, you will be a spiritual infant your whole life.”

God has always expected His people to read and hear His teachings (Ex. 24:7; Re. 1:3).  On at least six distinct occasions, Jesus asked, “Have you not read…?”, implying that they personally should have read, understood, and remembered what God recorded for them.  Jesus also once asked, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?” (Lk. 10:26)  Even our little children and those considered to be “babes in Christ” (1 Co. 3:1) know Jesus defended Himself against Satan with “It is written…” (Mt. 4:1-11).  We all need to study more in private.

Second, we should be studying more in public. Even Jesus read and studied publicly (Lk 4:16; 2:46-47).  Today we are perhaps afforded more public opportunities to study God’s Word together as His people than ever before.  Simultaneously, others around the world are afforded no opportunity and may face death if discovered.  Unfortunately, knowledge of this very fact has seemingly little impact on many of our own siblings in Christ.  Why is Bible class attendance low compared to worship?  Why are many convicted enough to “warm the pew” during worship but not enough to arrive earlier or participate in (or at least listen to) public discussion or even read a verse aloud?  Publicly studying God’s Word goes back millennia (Ne. 8:1-8; 1 Ti. 4:13).

We learn from God’s Word but we also learn from each other, both men and women (2 Ti. 2:2; Ti. 2:3-5).  Not only do we have the responsibility to learn together (Pr. 27:17), but we also have the responsibility to teach (He. 5:12).  We can achieve this just by making wise comments in a class setting.  We all need to study more publicly.  Perhaps it’s even time for you to be a teacher.

Third, we should be studying more with prosterity. God’s people have been given commands (Dt. 6:6-7), examples (2 Ti. 1:5), and necessary inferences (1 Ti. 5:8) concerning our responsibility to train up the next generation.  Have you heard, “The church is only one generation away from apostasy?” (Ju. 2:7-14)  Did you know we’re just as responsible for teaching our children as we are for learning (Dt. 11:18-21)?  Fathers, are you read to teach your children on the day they ask, “What do these things mean to you?” (1 Pe. 3:15; Ep. 6:4; Jos. 4:1-7)  We have a blatant responsibility to teach the next generation (Ps. 78:1-4).  Read Deuteronomy 4:9-10.  Can human words make the example more clear?   Teach the coming generation.

Let’s return to the above topic of Bible class.  It’s safe to assume every parent wants what’s best for their children.  We want them to have good schooling, decent clothes, straight teeth and the like, and we’ll do whatever it takes in most cases to make those things a reality.  I submit that if any parent wants what’s best for their child, they will make it so that child WILL be in Bible class.  You’ve got the Best People (God’s people) studying the Best Book (God’s book) on the Best Day of the Week (the Lord’s Day) with the Best Aim (learning more about God and how to be pleasing to Him).  Folks, it really doesn’t get any better.  We all need to pass on what we’ve learned from God’s Word by studying with posterity.

In closing, consider this.  Remember the caveats?  Studying God’s Word for strictly academic purposes without making everyday application forfeits the only real benefit (Lk. 6:46-49).  Most of us may have memorized 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  God-breathed scripture will teach you what’s right, reprove you for what you’re doing which is not right, correct you on how to get right, and train you on how to stay right.  However, for scripture to fulfill its purpose (Is. 55:11), you and I must be willing to be taught, reproved, corrected and trained.  We must want it.

Personal freedom is a God-given right (Jos. 24:14-15).  Almost all of our circumstances are dictated to us, by us, through the choices we make.  By and large, each of us in this country and in our current day and time can be as healthy or unhealthy, educated or ignorant, successful or unsuccessful, spiritual or hedonistic, as we choose to be.  We weigh the options, make the choice, and deal with the consequences (Dt. 11:26-28).

Ask yourself this.  What choices do I make?  When I have some free time, do I read my Bible in private study or choose to do something else?  Do I attend Bible classes for public study or choose just the worship service?  When a teachable moment arises, do I study with posterity by rising to the occasion to fulfill my duty to train the next generation…or is there an awkward silence followed by a change of subject?

I refer you to the question asked at the beginning of this piece:  “What does the church…collectively, congregationally, from the elders, deacons, and preachers to each and every member…need to do in order to become stronger and better in the sight of God in the present day?”  The key is the phrase “in the sight of God” (Ac. 4:19).  Nothing else really matters (Ec. 12:13).  We must be prepared to answer to Him (Ec. 12:14).  We will give an account about how we’ve applied or not applied His commands and teachings to our lives.  Be diligent to present yourselves approved (2 Ti. 2:15).

robertbedenbaughjr@gmail.com

Robert worships at the Seneca Church of Christ in Seneca, SC, with his wife, Heather, and their daughter, Savannah.

 

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