Old School Thinking – Translating New Testament Principles into Present Day Practices

It’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to browse through used bookstores – a regular pre-pandemic practice, not only in the Charlotte region where I live but also a regular part of business trips. The second step of my business trip planning – after securing a flight, rental, and hotel – would be to search the area for used bookstores. The third step – looking for local, one-of-a-kind restaurants – I’ll save for another day!

In lieu of bookstore visits, over the past year I have upped my game in online searches as well as going back to my shelves to revisit books I haven’t read in some time.

I can’t imagine someone really enjoying a book and reading it only once.

C.S. Lewis

I was recently rereading the treasure of a 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:

courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Christianity is a religion of change. Jesus’ call in Mark 1:15 (the kingdom of God is at hand) was a call to change – change of mind and heart, of conduct and character, of self and society. By its very nature Christianity is a religion for a changing world and has always had its greatest opportunity during times of upheaval.

The Christian leader has no option; he must face a changing world. If the leader is to render maximum service, he must both adjust himself to the phenomena of change and address himself passionately to the business of producing and guiding change. 

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?

Even though this was written almost 75 years ago, it is so relevant today.

Leaders of churches – your church is changing whether or not you “want” it to. Will you lead changes back to the New Testament rather than farther away from it?

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