As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
– Luke 10:38-42
“In an effort to get the work of the Lord done we often lose contact with the Lord of the work and quite literally wear our people out as well. I have heard more than one pastor boast that his church was a ‘live’ one, pointing to the printed calendar as proof – something on every night and several meetings during the day. … A great many of these time-consuming activities are useless and others plain ridiculous. ‘But,’ say the eager beavers who run religious squirrel cages, ‘they provide fellowship and they hold our people together.’
“To this I reply that what they provide is not fellowship at all, and if that is the best thing the church has to offer to hold the people together it is not a Christian church in the New Testament meaning of that word. The center of attraction in a true church is the Lord Jesus Christ. …
“If the many activities engaged in by the average church led to the salvation of sinners or the perfecting of believers they would justify themselves easily and triumphantly; but they do not. My observations have led me to the belief that many, perhaps most, of the activities engaged in by the average church do not contribute in any way to the accomplishing of the true work of Christ on earth. I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid I’m right.”
– Rev. A. W. Tozer, hat Incredible Christian (emphasis the author’s)
The title of this post is from my Junior Play in high school. I played an older gentleman that was constantly reminded everyone that I was, or they should be, “busy, busy, busy.” I had practiced for a couple of weeks before I read the final scenes to find out that I was the villain of the play. I’m not saying that busy people are villains or that busyness is evil. That was just an actor’s line in a play, what we would call a ‘catch phrase’ today.
A modern concept of evangelism has pervaded the churches since Tozer wrote this book. I have heard many people talk about it, the latest being Tim Holman at Beard with a Blog, and I have read a few books on the topic. My first introduction to the concept was an audio file at the International Bible Society website, now Biblica. The radio advertisement style message said that people of today have no interest in thinking about where they would go if they died tonight; they are more interested in keeping a roof over their heads or where their next meal comes from. Tim Holman talked about how there are many steps on the road to becoming a Christian. We might be asked to help someone from step 5 to step 6.
With that in mind, the churches that Tozer was condemning might be helping people make baby steps in the right direction. But I said ‘might’.
The condemnation Tozer puts on the fellowship not being fellowship is that it is not Christian fellowship. What he means by that is that the fellowship consists of fluffy, safe topics being discussed. You never get to know the other people at the table. You might learn who does not like baseball, who is a casual fan, and who eats, drinks, and sleeps baseball. (Baseball is used here as a safe, fluffy topic. It could be anything topical. Besides, it is baseball season.)
True Christian fellowship, to the purist, will delve into people’s lives. There will be prayer requests shared and kept confidential. (This is not found in most church fellowship in fear of gossipers.) If at the coffee social after the sermon, the points in the sermon would be discussed and how they relate to the lives of those talking.
I have been to many church dinners where half the crowd is feeding their faces before someone shouts that we should start with someone blessing the food. And while we are at it, don’t pick on the preacher! There should be more than one true believer in the congregation that loves the Lord enough, and has prayed enough to be well practiced, who can say a simple, “God, bless this food. Bless the people who are on the fellowship team who are working to put this meal together. And bless all those here so that they can spread the Good News to others upon leaving this assembly. Amen.” Why do ten church leaders look at each other mumbling, “I’m not going to do it. You do it.” If there is not one in the church who can bless the food, I agree with Tozer. It is not a church. My wife was part of a women’s church fellowship that never prayed. She brought up the subject at a leader’s meeting. An unwritten rule was then in place, if my wife interrupted the group’s leader at the beginning of the meeting, my wife prayed. If not, no one did. My wife felt that she was quite conspicuously on an island by herself, but the other ladies ‘tolerated’ the interruption.
Where I totally agree with Tozer is that we need to examine what is being accomplished in our activities. Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Church, talks about programs that are not working should be thrown out. The problem is that many of those activities in Tozer’s day have now become engrained as tradition here 70-80 years later. Everyone cites how there is good attendance, but no one ever talks about the quality of the fellowship. Is Jesus ever mentioned in conversation? Would anyone know what to say if someone asked, “What are your basic beliefs?” Are there corporate or individual prayers during the fellowship? Basically, is there any hint that there might be a Christian present in the room? If not, why are you doing it? Why have a social event sponsored by the church that does not get anyone any further toward salvation or sanctification? For what meaningful purpose?
I was the chairman of the board of deacons in a small church in Augusta, GA when the denomination started organizing an inner-city mission, sponsored by seven or eight churches. I became the church’s first representative on the local inner-city mission board of directors. The mission made a lot of mistakes in their charter, in my opinion, but I was the only dissenting vote. Basically, the rule was that money talked and everyone else remained quiet. We were a small, poor church; thus, we had no voice, other than me making sure that the minutes reflected my dissenting votes. But one of the good things was the gathering of the different disjointed mission activities that the churches were already doing and getting them better organized.
One of those activities was the local soup kitchen. There were never any prayers or ‘God loves you’ in the serving line. Okay, I had one friend who would say, “God Bless You” to everyone who came by, but the other workers gave him dirty looks. The people eating were a mix of homeless people and doctors and lawyers from nearby offices, bold and crass enough to take advantage of the free lunch.
One day someone asked me what to do about a few boxes of smoke-damaged Bibles. We needed to free up storage space. Half of our church, the education wing, had burned to the ground the previous year. The smoke from the fire permeated the Bibles in the church pews, blackening the edges and making them smell bad. I told them to place a Bible on each table at the soup kitchen and see what happens. A week later, the report was that “We should never do that again. The Bibles were stolen by the homeless people.” I snickered and told them to do it again. Eventually, we got rid of all the Bibles.
First of all, the doctors and lawyers could have stolen the Bibles. After all, I was not the only one questioning their character. Why blame the homeless people? Secondly, we would have thrown the Bibles away. What difference did it make for them to be stolen? (I have two of the smoked hymnals on my bookshelf.) You might think that the homeless people stole the Bibles to use them as kindling for their hobo fire. After all, they smelled like they had been burned already. But maybe, just maybe, one of those Bibles was opened and read.
Tozer would look upon the soup kitchen and see that people were being fed physically, but they were not fed spiritually. At least the presence of a Bible on the table differentiated who was providing the food. God was feeding them.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.