These insights from the 1940s still ring true today.
Translating New Testament principles into present day practices.
One of my favorite pastimes is browsing through used bookstores in towns I travel to. Recently, I discovered a treasure in the form of the book Building Better Churches by Gaines S. Dobbins, prominent Southern Baptist educator from the 1920s-1950s.
He asks some great questions:
- What sort of church would it be that undertook intelligently and fearlessly to fashion itself according to the basic principles of the New Testament?
- On what vital functions would it major?
- What would be revealed to be its strengths and weaknesses?
- What would it give up as encumbrances inherited from a traditional past, but clearly of doubtful value in the living present?
His answers? He thought the church should be a:
Regenerate body: an inward change growing out of a personal experience in which the shift of life’s center has been from self to Christ.
Beloved community: sacrifice for the common good is the essence of true community; love cannot flourish in an atmosphere where some assume an attitude of superiority over others as their inferiors.
Company of worshippers: the object of worship is the God of the Lord Jesus Christ made real through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The practice of worship is in spirit and truth; the purpose of worship is to maintain vital unity between the worshiper and God through the mediator, Jesus Christ, and the illuminator, the Holy Spirit. A church may do much else besides worship, but it will do little else of consequence without worship.
Winner of believers: the process of intelligent persuasion began with Christ’s invitation to “come and see.” It continued throughout His ministry, and Paul expanded it. There is no mistaking the proposal of the New Testament that believers be won to saving faith through persuasion.
Teacher of disciples: preaching and teaching are indispensable means of leading toward Christ, to Christ, and into the service and likeness of Christ. A church is essentially a school with Christ as the Great Teacher; the Holy Spirit as His interpreter; the Bible the chief textbook; the minister the chief officer of the school, with other leaders gathered around him as teachers and staff; every believer an enrolled student; and all others who can be reached are sought as learners to be led toward Christ.
Server of humanity: the early Christians caught the spirit of Christ and, like Him, “went about doing good.” It must send regenerate men and women out into an immoral society to transform evil into good, wrong into right, injustice into justice; not so much by political measures as by the leavening process of Christian influence.
Agency of the Kingdom: the Kingdom of God is a present and future reality. It is not an organization to be promoted, nor a movement to be advanced, nor a social ideal to be realized, but a relationship to be entered and a spiritual order into which others are to be brought through persuasive witnessing.
Dobbins, after a lifetime of service to the church, but writing this in 1947, had this final thought which I leave for you to consider:
Ours is an age of revolution. Inevitably the churches are undergoing change. Why not seize on this opportunity to make changes back to the New Testament rather than farther away from it?
And we thought all this “church change” stuff was new …