by Cecil Hook
LOWERING THE MORTALITY RATE
There is a great amount of concern about the high mortality rate of those born into the spiritual family. Many of us have tried to identify the cause of these losses in order to work on prevention and cure. It is good that we have this concern.
Prominent among the solutions offered is “Study the Bible more.” It is generally concluded that a comprehensive course of indoctrination would take care of most of the problem. But the answer is not that simple.
Many of the dropouts had good knowledge of the Bible. There is a brilliant Bible major from one of our colleges who is widely known for his writings, but he has no part with us anymore. Once I went to hear a fifteen year old boy preach. I sat in amazement and admiration as this young man quoted scriptures as though he had the New Testament memorized. Several months later I made inquiry and learned that the young man had given up both his preaching and his discipleship. These are but two of the innumerable company who have known the Scriptures but have fallen away.
Are we suggesting that Bible knowledge is not important? By no means. But we are contending that the type of indoctrination is the big factor. There is little about knowledge of Biblical proof-texts concerning doctrinal controversies, quibbles, definitions, and distinctions that gives strength to the character.
It is great to memorize the names of the books of the Bible, the tribes of Israel, the judges, kings, and apostles, but that is of little help to one who is discouraged and tempted.
Do you ever hear anyone say, “I think I never would have made it through my period of doubt and depression had I not known how to confute the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door?”
“My son’s ability to give scriptural answers against the teaching of salvation by faith only, infant baptism, and sprinkling certainly kept him from falling away during those trying years while he attended the university” is another claim we are not likely to hear.
Being thoroughly indoctrinated concerning the one church, right rituals, right organization, qualifications of elders, and acappella singing gives little stability to the woman whose marriage is in crisis.
When your sky caves in on you, you will gain little spiritual sustenance from your ability to refute the arguments of Calvinism, premillennialism, Pentecostalism, sacramentalism, cultism, and mysticism.
One Sunday morning I taught a fifty-and-over class of about fifty persons. As an informal beginning, I invited the class to share favorite passages of Scripture which had given them faith, strength, courage, and comfort. There was a hesitation that became embarrassing. Then one man quoted the Great Commission, another Acts 2:38, another Matthew 7:21. After several such texts were recited, one lady finally came up with Romans 8:28. No wonder we fly apart in times of crisis!
I attended the funeral of a Christian woman in a small, but packed, building. The preacher spoke at length about the one church, the name, baptism, and calling a man reverend. He made only one reference to the deceased and he called her by the wrong name then. Such comfort! I am glad to state that this was an exceptional case. Yet one still detects this imbalance in church bulletins where more space is given to the junior high skating party than to the passing of a saint from the local church to heaven, and more space is used for indoctrination than for sharing sorrows.
Once there was a certain man who came to our services several times. He was a brother to a lady in the church. This lady came to me and explained that her brother was an alcoholic and had lost his family and his job because of it. She wished that I would have a sermon especially for him in reserve in case he should come again. I did. He came back. I was ready for him. I took the Bible and showed him what liquor would do for a person, how God felt about drunkards, and what their final address would be. He never came back. But I had cleansed my hands of his blood! Now I cringe to think how stupid I was. A drowning man had managed to surface in a frantic hope for help, and I yelled, “Get out of that water or you will drown!” I bound heavy burdens on the weakest man and did not extend my little finger to lift him out. I taught the truth, didn’t I? But not the truth which could lift him out of slavery, humiliation, self-hatred, depression, and despair. I didn’t have to tell him what liquor would do and where it would send him. He knew that better than I did. But I did not tell him of God’s love and acceptance and what God could do for him. I did not offer him the loving embrace and shared strength of a hundred other disciples present. With his last strength, he struggled to the oasis in the burning desert and found it to be a mirage. He perished of thirst beside what should have been the refreshing pool of the water of life.
The last pure joy many disciples experience is when they come up from the waters of baptism. They go on their way rejoicing until the next service. From there on it is a guilt trip. In each class and sermon each teacher makes it his studied aim to convince the disciple that he is not studying enough, not giving enough, not devoted enough, and not living cleanly enough. There is always the overshadowing cloud of fear of some misunderstood or neglected command. While these teachers may think that they are indoctrinating for strength, they may be succeeding in convincing the disciple that he can’t make it. Then we wonder why he gives up.
Effective Bible learning must begin with faith building. Lives of Bible characters may be utilized to show the power of faith. God’s love and promises must be made evident.
God’s grace should be the cheering message. Disciples must be convinced that their acceptance by God and other disciples is not based on merit. They should be made to realize the power of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in their lives. They should be taught the effectiveness of prayer and of Christian fellowship. Illustrations of the providence of God should give assurance and comfort. Realistic hope should develop patience and endurance. If Christian virtues are nurtured into the character, according to Peter, that person will neither fall nor be ineffective. You may continue to enlarge this list of resources that will initiate loving activity, strengthen the weak, lift the discouraged, cast out fears, carry one through dark trials, bring cheer to the despairing, and give assurance of a richly provided entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
No person has been converted to a doctrinal stance entirely void of these strengthening elements. It is my conviction, however, that we have been overbalanced in that direction. A correction of this should help in lowering the mortality rate. It should help, but it will not eliminate the problem. Jesus’ parable of the soils assures us that the mortality problem will be with us always.