Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 11, 1967

"Quo Vadis, Ecclesia?"


Perhaps you are familiar with the ancient legend of Peter's fleeing from Rome to escape Nero's persecution, and coming face to face with the Lord on the road. "Quo vadis, Domine?" said Peter, 'Wither goest thou, Lord?" "To Rome, to die in your stead," was the answer. Shamed by this rebuke, the aged apostle is said to have reversed his trail, and set his face resolutely toward Rome---and martyrdom.

We don't know whether the story is true or not. Probably not. But that Latin quotation set us to thinking that the same question might be asked in all propriety of the Lord's church, "Quo Vadis, Ecclesia?" "Whither goest thou, Church?" For by this late date it should be apparent to all that there is a vast ferment in the religious world generally, in both Catholic and Protestant denominations particularly, and in the church of the Lord in a very specific and special fashion. So far as denominationalism is concerned we are hearing it freely and confidently predicted that by the end of this century denominationalism as we know it will have ceased to exist. It is believed (and devoutly desired by many) that the great Protestant bodies will have so eroded their fundamental posture as to be changed and "restructured" into a great company of service institutions. Their mission will be to bring to bear all their accumulated influence and power on the troubles of this world --- ignorance, poverty, disease, racial hatreds and prejudices. Their traditional teaching on heaven and hell and a world to come will be relegated to the background, if regarded at all.

No one can seriously question that this is, indeed, the trend in modern religion. The vast progress of the "social gospel" concepts has already gone a long, long way toward changing the denominational churches into super community agencies. There can be little doubt that this trend will continue, or may be even accelerated. Many are working assiduously to make it so.

The same ferment is at work among the churches of God. Its influence can be seen in the vast complex of "new look" projects and promotions being constantly spawned by the fertile imaginations of enterprising men.... all the way from homes for unwed mothers to "House of the Carpenter" flop-houses for derelicts of the city streets, to coffee-houses for church discussion groups, to summer camps, hobby shops, a plethora of "exoduses" to this or that region, church hospitals, kindergartens, Korean cows, and a conglomeration of assorted uplift social programs.

But let this one thing be emphasized: if these churches and brethren should succeed beyond their wildest dreams; if this old world should be transformed into an unbelievably splendid paradise, with not a single hungry child or uncared for pregnant girl in all the long stretch from Tibet to Timbuctoo, or from Shalimar to Shanghai to the sands of Miami Beach; if injustice and poverty and disease should be banished from the face of the earth, MEN WOULD STILL DIE, AND FACE THE INFINITE REACHES OF ETERNITY WITHOUT GOD AND WITHOUT HOPE!

Which simply means that the church of God had best concern herself not only with feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, but much, much more in bringing the bread of life to those who are starving for lack of it! It would be a tragic loss, indeed, if faithful Christians should lose sight of the mission of God's people in the world. Man is lost, lost, lost! He may have a million dollars in the bank, own the most expensive house in town, ride the finest automobile, and graduate from the greatest college or university; but unless he repents of his sins, and is baptized into Christ for their remission, and faithfully serves the Lord to the end of his days, he has made the most miserable failure of his life that a man could make! He is lost and undone, and will spend an eternity in the fires of hell.....

The Churches of Christ are honoring neither God nor man when they lose sight of their spiritual character and mission. Denominational bodies may well turn themselves into service organizations. In fact, it would be a truly worthy and commendable development if they would do so. But the church of Jesus Christ is, and ought to be, something different. The mission of God's people is spiritual, not secular; it has to do with eternity; not merely with time; its concern is the souls of men, their spiritual well-being rather than their physical. Christ died to save men from the consequences of SIN, not from hunger or malnutrition or social injustice or disease germs. He did not die to give anybody the right to vote or to assure him "equal opportunity" in job-hunting. And any time a Christian gets side-tracked, and thinks that social justice, or political freedom, or abundant good health is the objective Christ had in view for mankind in coming to die on the cross, well, that Christian has read the gospels to little profit.

Man is lost; he needs a Savior. Christ Jesus came into the world to seek and gave sinners --- not orphans, negroes, pregnant girls, millionaires, politicians or college presidents. Christ died for sinners; until that fact is understood and accepted no man can truly share either the mind of Christ or the work of Christ.

-F. Y. T.