Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 20, 1964

The Brethren: "The Kingdom Is Of This World"

J. David Tant

An article on the religious page of THE ATLANTIC JOURNAL arrested my attention the other day. The article was entitled: '"Spirit of Christ Often Is Buried Under Cold Cash." The writer of the article, Louis Cassels, was making observation on some comments originally made by Clyde H. Reid, a professor of practical theology at Union Theological Seminary. Some of the points mentioned are worth sharing with the readers of this publication.

The article begins by pointing out that a well-known New York church is currently spending $850,000 to give its front entrance something the architect calls "a Fifth Avenue look." A second church is mentioned that is spending $350,000 for new stone carvings to 'enrich" its presently lavish Gothic exterior. A third church is cited as putting out $125,000 to "improve" its pipe organ.

How much this reminds me of some of my own brethren, who think in terms of impressing the world, and letting the world know that "we have arrived," and are to be reckoned with. The outstanding example of such thinking is the MANHATTAN PROJECT the church is $1,000,000 for the stated purpose of impressing the world, The idea is that as people pass by the church building in Manhattan, they will see this magnificent edifice and be impressed with the greatness of the church of Christ. Other examples are abundant and increasing, not only in the erecting of costly and plush meeting houses, but in the huge sums spent by churches in providing vacation lodges; recreation centers, hobby shops, banquet, or "fellowship" halls, etc. How strange and foreign this is to the simplicity of the gospel. Mr. Reid calls this "profligate and irresponsible expenditures by churches for self-centered, even foolish purposes," and expressed the idea that churches spending so much money on themselves is scandalous.

When brethren engage themselves in such activities, one gets the idea that they think they must compete with the denominations if the church is to grow and prosper. It is true that we are competing with the denominations in a sense, but some have chosen the wrong weapon with which to compete. They have chosen money and all the material things it can build. Has the gospel been forgotten? Is it remembered that it is the "sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17)? Why not use it to fight error rather than trying to play the children's game of "King of the hill" in seeing who can build the biggest and fanciest material possessions?

At the time of this writing, I am engaged in a gospel meeting in the little town of Vernon, Florida — population around 800. The church here has less than ten members, and meets in an old frame dwelling. There is no large membership to impress the worldly; there is no magnificent building to strike the beholder with awe; there was no circus-like campaign to announce the meeting. All that is offered is the simple gospel of Christ and its power to save. (Rom. 1:16) Is this not in keeping with the words of Christ: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth...but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also? (Matt. 6:19-21).

But, (quoting Mr. Reid) "when we invest our church resources in earthly treasures — cathedrals, statuary, stained glass — how can we expect our hearts to be elsewhere?" "When the church sets an example of concentrating on material things, how can we expect its people not to follow that example?"

There is nothing wrong in having a building, even a building that is adequate and commodious, yea, even comfortable. But a functional building and an ornamental building are two different things. An adequate meeting house and a show-place are not the same. A place in which to meet, and a place to which we can point with pride before the world are not in the same category, Should not the church exercise modesty in her outward trappings as well as the godly woman? Paul exhorted "that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works." (I Tim. 2:9-10), Is the church to follow the opposite thinking, and adorn herself in immodest apparel (extravagant buildings), depending upon "gold and pearls" to draw men unto Christ?

May God help us to realize how foreign such is to the very spirit of our Lord, who clearly showed that his concern was not with the "paraphernalia of religion," as Mr. Reid says, "but with the true faith."

— 2394 Wesley Chapel Rd., Decatur, Georgia 30032