Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 16, 1969
NUMBER 36, PAGE 1-2a

Where The Long Road Leads

Sewell Hall

In 1942, R. L. Whiteside wrote in the Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary, "An active church of God in a community is the greatest thing in that community. Unless we count the Lord's day worship a separate and distinct activity of the church, all its activities may be summed up under three heads: (1) Preaching the gospel as God's power to save...(2) Edifying the saints — developing Christian character. (3) Helping the needy — the work of benevolence. Has the church any other mission than these?" Nine years later in the same series, Roy Lanier wrote: "Building recreation rooms and providing and supervising recreational activities at the expense of the church is a departure from the simple gospel plan as revealed in the New Testament." In 1948, B. C. Goodpasture, editor of the Gospel Advocate then and now, wrote: "For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission."

The above quotations represented the thinking of Christians generally at that time. This position was taken because we believed there had to be scriptural authority for all our practices. Scriptural support was easy to justify evangelism, edification, and benevolence. But it could not be found for banquets, recreation, or secular education as a work of the church.

In recent years, however, churches of Christ have begun to launch out into new areas of activity. First steps have been exceedingly cautious into social activities we have moved with harmless seeming luncheons in the church buildings, using existing facilities; or maybe a church sponsored youth banquet at some other location. Into recreation we have moved with a church sponsored skating party; or merely allowing a ball team to use the name of the church. Into education we have moved with just a kindergarten using church facilities and the church name. These first steps have usually been vigorously opposed. But objectors have been placated by the observation that it is such a "little thing."

Once such "little things" are allowed, however, bigger things are proposed. Soon banquet rooms and kitchens are being built into the building along with game rooms with Coke machines and record-players. Eventually the church begins a day school to complement its kindergarten and begins contributions to colleges to allow for higher education. And how can one who has accepted the first steps logically reject the steps that follow? And if anyone doubts that churches of Christ have become involved in such "bigger things," we stand ready to document our assertions.

Such worldly appeals generally accompany big attendance drives and an immoderate emphasis on numbers. Indeed, worldly attractions are essential to draw worldly people who have no spiritual appetite. And once they are gained, the only way to hold them, of course, is to continue and even quicken the pace of worldly offerings. Such innovations are a one-way road.

Time Magazine of November 8th, clearly reveals the end of the road that brethren have begun to travel. There at the summit, both in attendance and in worldly appeal, lies a Baptist church. "With 14825 members, The First Baptist Church of Dallas is the biggest Southern Baptist church in the U.S." And how has this tremendous membership been gained and held? Many things have doubtless contributed but note the following:

First Baptist's facilities, which take up three blocks, are kept humming by a host of other goings on. The two top floors of the parking building (capacity: 300 cars) are given over to a mammoth gymnasium, a bowling alley and game and craft rooms. The recreation facilities are open year-round from early morning until 10 P.M. There are adult education and hobby classes in everything from Spanish to candle making. These manifold activities help account for First Baptist's popularity, and all are free, except bowling. The costs are paid for by the church's capacious budget. Last year's budget of $1,801,124 was oversubscribed, and this year's outlay totals a record $2,100,000. The offering each Sunday averages $30,000.

If this is where our innovating brethren want to go, they are on the right road. But if their goals are spiritual, they must awaken to the fact that spiritual goals are attained by walking in spiritual paths.

Jesus said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." (John 12:32)

— Eastside Enlightener, Athens, Alabama