Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 16, 1950
NUMBER 28, PAGE 12-13

"Preaching The Word"

S. F. Timmerman, Jr., 17 Rue Felix Defays, Pepinster, Belgium.

There is a widely-held idea among the brethren that the church should direct its evangelistic efforts closer home (meaning in the states), and that it is impractical and unscriptural to send gospel preachers abroad as long as there are large numbers of unconverted people in America. This idea is often phrased as "Working in our own backyard," and the work of the apostle Paul is cited as proof that this is the New Testament way. I have particular reference to an article by brother Norman Buselmeier in the September 7 issue of the Gospel Guardian, entitled "Preaching the Gospel."

In raising an objection to this type of thinking, I do not wish to join issue with this brother on the importance of working circumspectly and orderly, no matter where our efforts are expended. I also agree heartily with him that there are yet vast areas in America to be covered with the simple gospel of Christ. Before leaving the States to preach the word in Belgium I often made the statement that those who are doing nothing to evangelize their own town, county, or state are ill-prepared to send the gospel across the sea.

But the national limitation that some want to place on the gospel is not scriptural. It is not in keeping with the example of Paul, and it is wholly contrary to the Great Commission. Here is the way our brother expresses it:

"Since one thought leads to another, this may be apropos here. With me, it is a conviction that our country is now and has been since its beginning, the most potent force in the world for good. And I'm not overlooking the rampant wickedness that scuffs the dirt along with the good. But so, I believe, only because the influence of Christ has been stronger among us than elsewhere. If that be true, and we want to make our country through the gospel of Christ, have its most effective influence on the world, why do we spread our strength so thin? Why not concentrate on working where we don't have to butt our heads through the wall to get to the other side? By the time a national objective was accomplished, who can say but what the rest of the world, learning of what we would have here, would have its barriers down, and be impotent to hinder the spread of the gospel.

"As it is here, we are, called a Christian nation. But we are not yet strong enough as a Christian body to make Christian principles and Christian thinking a predominant force, either in the church, in our community, or in the nation. We are not yet strong enough as a body nationally, to secure for the nation, integrity in our government as a predominant characteristic, not Christian principles in giving and applying governmental authority. As I see it the fact is, for all this being a Christian nation, the spirit of Christ is so dim and part buried yet, and so much work needed to make it predominant, that to stretch our united efforts beyond the nation's border in the meantime, seems to me to border on pathetic imbecility."

It would appear, according to this, that the brother places more emphasis on national, numerical strength than in individual and congregational integrity and loyalty to the word of God. The thought seems to be that the church should wield its influence on the world, not as an independent, dynamic force of itself, but through the American nation and government. Is it as a "Christian body" in the nation that the church is to make itself felt? Or rather is it not as distinct congregations of faithful Christians, living, working and teaching according to the divine pattern, that the church is powerful ? The latter being true, the church is just as strong in any given community as the congregation of true disciples that works and worships in that community. Thinking of the church as a "Christian body" with "national objectives" borders closely on sectarianism.

The disciples of the First Century did not wait until they had "Christianized" one nation and exercised a "predominant force" on its government before going on to another. They had no time for this, for they were working under orders to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." No doubt, had the primitive believers followed the advice of our brother, the church would not have got beyond the borders of Judea by the end of the Apostolic Age.

One verse (Luke 9:6) quoted in the above-mentioned article has no bearing on the subject, since it refers to the work of the twelve under the "limited commission." But another verse which is presented proves just the reverse of that which it is intended to prove. (Acts 8:4) This verse is cited to prove that we ought to thoroughly evangelize one nation or territory before going to another. The verse reads, "They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word." No doubt this going and preaching was done as systematically as the persecution that caused it allowed, but we must not think that the preaching was done only "at home," for in the 11th chapter we read that they "traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyrus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to Jews." (Acts 11:19) These early Christians evidently did not feel themselves bound by any national limits.

We also read of a church in Rome while Paul was still in Corinth. That was a long way from Jerusalem, and many lands separated the two cities, but the gospel had already been carried to that distant point. According to the reasoning above, the disciples of that century, who were yet a small despised, persecuted people, who were "not yet strong enough as a body nationally, to secure for the nation, integrity in the government as a predominant characteristic, nor Christian principles in the giving and applying of governmental authority," should not have "spread their strength so thin." They should rather have "concentrated on working where they didn't have to butt their heads through the wall to get on the other side." But their understanding seemed to be that the gospel was for everybody and that they were obligated to take it just as far as possible.

At the time of Paul's death, there was not a nation under heaven that could properly be called a "Christian" nation. Yet the apostle could write to the Colossians that the gospel had been preached "in all creation under heaven." (Col. 1:23) It did not seem to bother him about accomplishing "national objectives" or making "Christian principles and Christian thinking a predominant force in the nation" before going on to "regions beyond."

In fact, it seems rather strange that Paul should be selected as the example of staying at home and "working in your own backyard." He and Barnabas were among five prophets and teachers named in the church at Antioch. The Holy Spirit said to these brethren, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." (Acts 13:1-3) When they were separated, they left the other to carry on "at home," and the first thing they did was set sail for a foreign country, Cyprus. On this first voyage they visited also Pamphylia, Pisidia and Lycaonia, before returning to Antioch. They did not take time to build up such a reputation for the church in one of these countries that the others, "learning of what had been done there, would have its barriers down, and be impotent to hinder the spread of the gospel." That idea is pure human reasoning, without any foundation whatsoever in the word of God.

Neither did Paul always work so systematically from one province or country to another, as our brother seems to think. On his second tour, with Silas and Luke, having traversed the countries of Phrygia and Galatia, he wanted to go over into the adjoining country of Asia, but the Holy Spirit forbade him. Then he assayed to go to the north into Bithynia, but again he was not suffered to do so. In fact, he did not stop until he had crossed Mysia and the Aegean Sea into Macedonia, thus leaving behind him several countries untouched. In this, Paul was under the direct supervision of the Holy Spirit. I know that he later did come back at least to Asia, but the brother's contention that Paul went from one place to another, always in order, cannot be proved.

I write this with no personal feeling against brother Buselmeier, whom I do not know, and with no desire to justify myself. I feel that my being in Belgium to preach the gospel has the approval of God and of all those who love the truth. But I see in the article in question a spirit which is hostile to the gospel of the Great Commission. We must "not let our enthusiasms and judgment run riot," it is true, but let us be careful not to discourage the faithful servants of God who understand the gospel to be "the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek," and who, like Paul, feel themselves "debtors both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish." Let us stand on the hill where Jesus stood with his apostles just before he ascended, and let us see what he saw—not Judea or Samaria only—not America only—but the whole world, all nations, every creature.


Vaughn D. Shofner, 1506 24th Place, Lubbock, Texas, November 6: "I closed a meeting at Arnett, Okla., last night. This was the third meeting I've preached in at this place. Crowds were very good and many who are not Christians attended regularly. One was baptized. New records were set here at Southside last month. Bible school attendance averaged 322 per Sunday."