Christians—Spectators or Participants?
COULD an army victorious if the general fought but the troops refused? Could a track team win if the captain ran but the others would not?
Troops that refused to fight would be tried for mutiny. The penalty during wartime is death. A team that refused to run would be dismissed and athletes eager to compete would be used.
Christians are likened to soldiers and runners. “As a right kind of soldier of Christ Jesus take your part in suffering evil. No man serving as a soldier involves himself in the commercial businesses of life, in order that he may meet the approval of the one who enrolled him as a soldier. Moreover, if anyone contends even in the games, he is not crowned unless he has contended according to the rules.” (2 Tim. 2:3-5) “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the leader and perfecter of our faith, Jesus.”—Heb. 12:1, 2.
Do these words imply that only ministers or priests of religion are to be the participants? Are they the only ones engaged in a contest for life? No, all seekers of everlasting life must take part. All who desire the reward must participate. Taking part is essential, but so is obeying the rules. An army may fight, but if they are ill equipped and badly trained, they will lose. A runner may run, but if he has not exercised and does not run according to the rules, he will not receive the prize. At 1 Corinthians 9:24 the apostle Paul states: “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it.” The Christian must therefore do his utmost to be victorious without violating the rules.
Soldiers? Runners? Participants? Yes. But observers or spectators? No. Nowhere in the Christian Greek Scriptures are Christians encouraged merely to watch as others participate in the race for life. Nowhere are Christians encouraged merely to listen while someone else does all the speaking. A dictionary defines “Christian” in this way: “Believer in Christ; follower of His example or teachings; member of the religion founded by Him.” Simply put, a Christian must be Christlike. What was Christ like? What were the apostles and disciples and early Christians like? Were they spectators or participants? The apostle Paul declared: “We have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” The early Christians were part of the drama, part of the action. Non-Christians were part of the audience, inactive.—1 Cor. 4:9.
Christians love Christ. What does this love entail? Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will observe my word . . . He that does not love me does not observe my words; and the word that you are hearing is not mine, but belongs to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23, 24) Love expresses itself by what is done. Jesus urged his followers to observe the words of his Father. Obedience to God’s requirements was essential to salvation. Love for God and love for Christ is to be demonstrated by obeying their commandments.
Which commandments? Churchgoers generally believe that these are commandments concerning morality, kindness, clean speech, uprightness, and so forth. These are important, but more is involved. We must follow Jesus’ example as ministers of God.
When Jesus walked the earth, he taught others about God’s ways. In addition, he trained his hearers to do the same teaching work he was engaged in. Note his commissioning of others: “These twelve Jesus sent forth, giving them these orders: . . . As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” After his death and resurrection an even greater teaching work would be done. When he returned from the grave, Jesus said: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 10:5, 7; 28:19, 20) A disciple does what his teacher does. Those preached to were to become preachers also. Disciples were participants, not spectators!
What method would be used to carry out these instructions to preach? Would it mean the use of buildings to gather people together to hear a preacher or minister? This would be helpful, but it would not be the primary method of accomplishing the ministry. Jesus showed what must be done: “Into whatever city or village you enter, search out who in it is deserving . . . When you are entering into the house, greet the household; and if the house is deserving, let the peace you wish it come upon it . . . Wherever anyone does not take you in or listen to your words, on going out of that house or that city shake the dust off your feet.” (Matt. 10:11-14) The teacher would not require the hearer to come to him. The teacher would go to his audience! At Acts 20:20 the apostle Paul said: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.”
From house to house! This is the principal method Jesus commanded his followers to use in their preaching activity.
It is true that these instructions were delivered over 1900 years ago. Nevertheless, their age does not nullify their application to our time. It is especially now that they have particular significance. The age we live in was specifically singled out by Jesus as the ‘last days’ that would see the end of this wicked world and its replacement by God’s new world. Highlighting part of the composite sign of the end, Jesus said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations, and then the accomplished end will come.”—Matt. 24:14.
Jesus did much preaching. His apostles and disciples as a group did even more. But the greatest preaching and teaching campaign in all history would have to be done now! Yes, Jesus said the entire inhabited earth would be preached to. People in all nations must be warned of the impending doom of this system and told the cheering good news of God’s established kingdom.
NOT FOR ALL?
Who would do this? Christians—all Christians! Some may feel that this is too broad in scope, that Jesus never intended that all should become preachers and teachers. They feel that, since those adhering to their religion do not engage in house-to-house preaching, it is not required. It would be well, therefore, for such ones to note the following statements from leaders of major church groups.
Catholic clergyman John A. O’Brien, writing in the publication Extension of January, 1959, stated: “‘Other sheep I have,’ said Jesus, ‘that 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.’ How are these to be brought into the true Fold? Not by sitting in our homes, but by going to them. This calls for the shoe leather apostolate, for doorbell ringing, for the courteous calling at homes.”
Is this being done by Catholics? Answers O’Brien: “The job can be done if our 37,000,000 laity take off their coats, roll up their sleeves, and get to work alongside of their spiritual shepherds.” The fact that they are urged to begin plainly indicates they are not doing it. After relating that it took 250 Catholics to make one convert, he added: “245 did not lift a finger or give the matter a single thought. In contrast, every Witness of Jehovah spends several hours each week, seeking to win adherents.” Whom does he use as an example of what should be done? Jehovah’s witnesses!
Another clergyman, speaking to a National Council of Churches group, said: “You must recognize witnessing as being fundamental. It is the basis of our faith.” From England, Canon Bryan Green writes in the May 14, 1960, Birmingham Post: “We channel money into expensive evangelistic mass campaigns, into central organizations, and into overadornment of buildings. Would money and energy not be better spent in . . . training of lay people to go back to the apostolic task of house-to-house campaigning? Why apostolic? Paul in the Acts of the Apostles tells us how he did not ‘shrink from teaching both in public and from house-to-house.’”
Does Canon Green expect this to be taken up by his people? He laments: “A good idea, perhaps; but have we the dedication and the perseverance within the Christian Church to carry through such a task to success on the nation-wide scale that is demanded? . . . We might well ask where are the young men of our Christian Churches—clergy apart—who are willing to make such sacrifices for the cause of Christ and his Gospel?” Obviously, this religious leader entertains little hope of arousing the laymen to action in house-to-house ministry. Does he single out any group as an example? He states: “The main point where the Jehovah’s witnesses have something to teach the Christian Church is in their belief in the power of literature, and in house-to-house distribution. This is how they work. The men are sincerely dedicated to their task. They mean business . . . because they believe they have a divine commission.”
The Paterson, New Jersey, Evening News of May 5, 1960, noted the agreement of the major religious denominations in connection with this type of ministry. It said: “What is this much-discussed ‘ministry of the laity’? Protestant and Catholic writers, who have turned out scores of books on the subject lately, agree that . . . every layman is called upon to help communicate the good news of Christ to those who have not heard or understood it. The commandment to preach the gospel to ‘every living creature’ was not directed solely at ordained clergymen: it was laid upon the whole church. And laymen constitute more than 99 percent of the manpower of the church.”
The magazine Lutheran Witness of October 20, 1959, spoke about the duty of all to witness: “Luther elevated the laity from its inferior position and made every Christian a ‘priest.’ First and foremost among these ‘priestly’ activities is witnessing for Christ by life, love, and lips. To be His is to be His witnesses! . . . Under God, every Christian should be on the witnessing team. Already in the fourth century the noted church father Jerome declared: ‘Baptism is the ordination of the laity.’”
In this same publication, a theological seminary professor shows the extreme unlikelihood of lay activity in this church. Dr. Herman Sasse referred “to Lutherans throughout the world, who because they have grown indifferent to sound Lutheran doctrine, could not give definite and satisfactory answers . . . Our churches are precisely in the same position in which Anglicanism finds itself. The Anglican Church is likewise unable to say, even as is the world of Reformed churches, just what she believes.”
Baptist minister L. Tarr of Canada showed the seriousness of not being a participant: “Every Christian should be actively engaged in the work of the Gospel. This age calls for disciples. Anything short of that is hypocrisy.” He then admitted that churchgoers “consider themselves to be spectators rather than participants.”
WHERE RESPONSIBILITY RESTS
How can an army advance without having learned to use its weapons? How can a runner compete if he has never learned to run? How can a Christian witness if he does not know what to witness about? The appalling ignorance existing in Christendom regarding Bible truths makes their witnessing an impossibility. The Lansing, Michigan, State Journal of May 11, 1960, expressed this view, saying: “This will not be a simple task. Religious illiteracy abounds in the pews of American churches, and no layman, however willing, can serve as an articulate apostle of a creed he does not fully comprehend.”
The burden of responsibility for this lack of accurate knowledge rests with the spiritual leaders. They have not faithfully taught Bible truths. They have not employed the Scriptural house-to-house method themselves to set the right example. It is as if the general refused to take part in the war, as if the captain refused to help his team. As a result, both clergy and laity, yes, both generals and troops, both captains and runners, have been disqualified by the great judge, Jehovah God. As was true of the nation of Israel, so it has proved to be true of Christendom: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.”—Matt. 21:43.
God will use those who are willing to participate and be his witnesses. Today, hundreds of thousands of Jehovah’s witnesses have responded to Jesus’ command to preach the Kingdom good news from house to house. They alone have been faithful to this commandment. How strange it is, then, that other religions acknowledge witnessing as essential, yet persecute and oppose the ones doing what they recommend!
Everlasting life is a wonderful prize. Spectators will not obtain it, but participants will. Do not become an inactive spectator, but participate to win God’s approval and life in his new world!