A tract urging churches and Christians to enlarge their vision, and to see farther than just our own city or immediate area, putting emphasis on dispersing, rather than gathering to ourselves.
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I fully believe that a going church will be a growing church and that even though that growth may not always be seen in numbers, that it is frequently so. I believe, on the other hand, that our thoughts may become so fixed on numerical increase, that our vision as preachers or as witnessing members of our churches may be seriously restricted, so that we never see the need of those who are not prospects for our church pews. When we say “God give us a vision” or “Wherethere is no vision the people perish,” do we mean only a vision of a large auditorium filled with people? Please understand that I do not object to such a vision. I do believe though that we need a greater one, one that goes beyond the pew and over the wall.
It is said of Joseph in Genesis 49:22, “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; WHOSE BRANCHES RUN OVER THE WALL: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob;…”
Joseph was by providential power, planted in Egypt even as the church is planted in the world. He not only came there through cruel persecution (Genesis 37), but he lived under that persecution, both physically and spiritually (Genesis 39). In spite of this fact he never failed to have concern for others around him, both in Egypt and in Canaan. It is in this setting that his life is lived, while his heart was crying all the time, “This world is not my home.” This can be seen in his request to have his bones taken back to the land of Canaan, even as we shall not be left in the dust of the ground, but resurrected to dwell in the heavenly homeland with Christ.
JOSEPH’S MINISTRY IS TYPICAL
Joseph is a type of Christ who came unknown, unlauded, and unloved into this old sin cursed world to save people who would surely die without the bread of life (Luke 19:10), even as Joseph was sent by God into Egypt. “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5).Joseph’s fruitfulness was only a figure of the Lord Jesus Christ’s fruitfulness.
In John 15:5 Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” Does He want those branches to go over the wall? Let usask God’s word, and hear His answer. John 15:16a – “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” We can see our kindred responsibility to the lost,by comparing Luke 19:10 -“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” to John 20:21b -“As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Is this only, or even basically a local ministry? Not according to John 10:16. “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
SUPER CHURCHES OR SPREADING CHURCHES?
May I say at this point, I do believe in the local church, in the very deepest interpretation of the statement. I do not believe any other organization is commissioned to evangelize. I think every area of the gospel ministry should be absolutely through and under the direction of the local church. I do not believe that any printing ministry, radio ministry, tape ministry, mission work, or missionary has the commission of God to, or the right to operate independently of the local church.
I do believe, on the other hand, that the design of preachers or congregations to build huge super-churches, not only confining their ministry to that, but drawing all they can from members of other churches, is a worldly and dirty business. I do not mean that every such preacher or church is worldly or dirty, they are not. Some of them may well be fine godly, separated Christians. I do believe, however, that they are pressing in an improper direction. Have you heard such phrases as “The greatest church since the one at Jerusalem”? If I understand rightly, the drafters of thisparallel are deeply mistaken. This church grew like none has ever grown since, but that is not what God told them to do, He told them to spread. In Acts 1:8, He commanded them in this fashion: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Now this commission would not produce a super-church in Jerusalem, (though thousands would hear the Word there and believe, for it was the feast of Pentecost). What this commission, rightly followed, would produce would be a much smaller church in Jerusalem, other churches throughout Judea, a church at Samaria, and churches throughout the uttermost parts of the earth. The church at Jerusalem grew. That was fine, proper, and needful, but what was more needful was that it should spread.
In Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:19-20, as well as in the other gospels, the Lord had straightly and plainly commanded them to go into ALL the world, but it seems that their taste ran in the direction of a “Super-church.” Soul-winning? Yes! Wonderful! Great! but God’s command was to spread. We see therefore, in Acts chapter six, God laying the groundwork for great sorrow and persecution, through their Jewish adversaries. In Acts 8:1 we see them beginning to do, as a result of that persecution, what God had told them to do in the beginning.
HUMAN NATURE IS ECUMENICAL
The spirit of ecumenicalism, whether it is inter-denominational, or intra-denominational, is just as natural as flesh and blood and just as old as Cain, who built a city. Genesis 4:16-17 – “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.” This same natural “bigness hunger” inman, and God’s attitude toward it, is seen in the book of Genesis. God told Noah and his sons in Genesis 8:15-9:1 to go forth from the ark, to multiply, to scatter and overspread the earth. Their taste however ran in a different direction. Notice the record of Scripture. “And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:24) They wanted a name, a shrine, and unified locality. Their desire was not to send them out, but to draw them in and hold them.
The Lord Jesus said, pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He may send laborers into the harvest. I think the word send implies a scattering much more than a gathering, or a centralizing.
The attitude of God is easily seen toward this matter, both in the Old and New Testaments. “So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.” (Genesis 11:8) “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” – “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” (Acts 8:1,4) Is it any wonder that churches which have a vision that is restricted to the pew and a ministry of the same goals, split and splinter? I think not. It seems that if such are ever to spread beyond their Jerusalem, that God must tear them apart and force scattering as He did at the tower of Babel.
ANOTHER COURSE OF ACTION
On the other hand, I can show you comparatively small to even small churches across this land, whose visions is worldwide and whose branches truly go over the wall. They send out missionaries, not to build with American money large super-churches, but to build small indigenous churches that live when the missionary dies, as the churches of Asia outlived Paul. Then these churches in turn send out missionaries to build other churches. There are many comparatively small churches across America who instead of scraping together to build at home, sacrificially support preachers and missions in neighboring cities. As I observe Christianity and speak with people across this land, I am fully persuaded that most real conversions of the lost take place through the ministry or ministries of such churches. Not only so, but I believe there is more peace and lasting joy of the Lord and of His service, within such churches.
REACH OVER THE WALL
“The desire of the righteous is only good: but the expectation of the wicked is wrath. There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” (Proverbs 11:23-25) Certainly we need to see to our work at home (in our Jerusalem). At the same time and with equal intensity, we need to scatter abroad, by missionary support, by radio broadcasts, by tapes, by rest-home ministries, by the printed page, by any proper and honorable medium of communication.
The gospel to all the world is the Lord’s command and when we give ourselves to this cause, looking beyond the back pew of our own church auditorium and beyond our sacred attendance report, and over the wall to a lost and dying world, the Lord is with us to supply all our needs. He said He would be. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
OUR TESTIMONY OF GOD’S BLESSING
There was a time not many years ago in Bethel Baptist Church when great numerical increase was our great desire. I felt we should have the largest ministry in our city, but that vision I had, was very much within our walls. That blessing did not come. We were plagued with constant setbacks and financial difficulties. Yes, God blessed constantly, but something was wrong. True friends said to me, “Reach out, give more to missions,” etc., but I could not see how. We mustestablish more fully the local ministry, then we could reach over the wall. Finally the truth seemed to break upon my heart and I started to lead the church in a direction that accentuated spread, more than growth. A new day began. We have increased from 7 to 45 mission projects since that time and more than doubled the amount we give to eachone of them. We have a complete print shop, with every single piece of equipment in it paid for at the time of purchase (with funds from our people). We have a tape ministry that is constantly growing and that has been on a cash basis since the first piece of equipment we bought. These ministries are small, but spread all over the nation and in the case ofour foreign mission work, all over the world. You say, now preacher, you’re boasting. I hope not, for I am ashamed; first – that we waited so long, and secondly – because I feel we are just scratching the surface of the work God has for us. My heart aches every day because there is so much we leave undone in our city and around the world.
I do believe, however, that God has shown us here at Bethel Baptist Church what our proper direction is. It is not just to increase the pews and expand the wall, but to look beyond the pew and over the wall. “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall.” (Genesis 49:22)