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By Al Diestelkamp
are always looking for ways to reach the lost with the saving message
of the cross. While the unchanging gospel is still the only “power of
God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), the methods employed to convey it have
changed over time.
One need only look at the record of evangelism in the book of Acts to
see that even first century brethren had to find alternate ways of
reaching the lost. On the day of Pentecost, and for a time thereafter,
public “street preaching” was done with great effectiveness. They even
held the equivalent of protracted gospel meetings, preaching “daily in
the temple,” as well as teaching “in every house” (Ac. 5:42). However,
as we read on in Luke’s account we see less public preaching in favor
of more person-to-person evangelism being done.
After the dispersion that resulted because of increased persecution
following the stoning of Stephen, we find the scattered disciples going
“everywhere preaching the word” (Ac. 8:4). It seems that in Samaria
preaching to large groups was still an effective tool used by Philip
(Ac. 8:5-6), but he was also available to preach Christ on a one-to-one
basis (Ac. 8:26-40).
Peter, who had been effective in public preaching, traveled quite a
distance intending to teach one man. However, when he got to his
appointed destination he found that Cornelius had gathered many friends
and relatives to hear the word (Ac. 10:24).
Ananias, a disciple in Damascus, was called on to go preach the gospel
to a terrorist who had dedicated himself to stamping out the message of
Christ. Saul of Tarsus, immediately after his conversion, began
preaching Christ in the synagogues. In fact, as the apostle Paul, that
approach became his “custom” (Ac. 17:1-2), as well as debating
idolaters (Ac. 17:22-34), and teaching from “house to house” (Ac.
20:20), until his arrest forced him to do his teaching while under
house arrest, with prospects having to come to him to be taught (Ac.
Then there was also the written word. In order to reach the lost of
every generation, and to insure the integrity of the gospel message,
the Holy Spirit inspired men to evangelize through that means. Thus we
see that our first century brethren used whatever means were available,
depending on the circumstances, to preach the gospel.
I am convinced that through the middle centuries there was a remnant of
God’s people who did what they could to advance the cause of Christ,
but just how they went about it, I would not dare to speculate.
However, we do have a glimpse into the methods of brethren in modern
times, from the 18th century up to the present, and again, the methods
have changed with the times and circumstances.
Pioneer preachers in the era that is sometimes referred to as “the
restoration movement,” used most of the same methods employed by first
century Christians. They preached with great success in large public
outdoor gatherings that brought out literally thousands of persons,
most from sectarian backgrounds. This led to public debates that also
proved to be effective in reaching those in religious error. Not unlike
the apostle Paul, who went into the synagogues to teach, it was not
uncommon for gospel preachers of that era to go into the meetinghouses
of Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches to present the
Our nation’s Civil War in the mid 19th century put a damper on
evangelistic efforts for the time, as did controversies regarding the
organization of the church and the use of instrumental music in
worship. By the onset of the 20th century the resulting division had
pretty well taken it’s course.
By the mid-20th century brethren were able to utilize some evangelistic
methods and tools that had not been available in earlier times.
Congregations with ability would purchase airtime on local radio
stations or place teaching ads in newspapers. At the same time,
congregations usually hosted at least two week-long gospel meetings
each year. Often, these meetings would result in conversions. I
remember a meeting in which we went to the creek about every night (one
night witnessing eleven baptisms).
Especially in the late 1950s and early 1960s an emphasis on personal
evangelism was revived, encouraging small group studies (also called
“cottage meetings”), or one-on-one studies utilizing self-made outlines
or the use of purchased charts or filmstrips, resulting in moderate
success. Congregations continued to have gospel meetings, but over the
years these efforts have actually become more focused toward edifying
Christians than reaching the lost. This is not a criticism. After all,
you can’t preach to people who aren’t there.
Enough about the past! What about now? We have even more avenues of
reaching people, including direct-mail, professionally produced videos
and church websites. Even so, we’re finding it difficult to find people
willing to give God’s word a chance. The congregation I work with has
done an unusual amount of direct-mail advertising over the past year,
reaching virtually every home in our community. We have had a number of
initial responses, but none who will continue to attend our assemblies
or accept an invitation for private studies.
Of course, we must press on and not give up on our efforts. In the
meantime we can rejoice that in some parts of the world the gospel is
being received more readily than here in our nation. Interestingly
enough, the places the gospel is having the greatest impact are some of
the poorest of nations.
Hmmm. Maybe we need to pray for God to humble our nation economically!
260 N. Aspen Drive, Cortland, Illinois 60112
By Andy Diestelkamp
Confronting the traditions of men is never easy. Yes, those having a
rebellious spirit may take some perverse pleasure in being
counter-cultural and dunking the heads of the ignorant in the fountain
of truth; but those whose desire is to “win the more” will more often
find themselves becoming “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:19-22), in
meekness correcting those who are in opposition (2 Tim. 2:25), and
taking them aside to show them the way of truth more perfectly (Ac.
18:24-26). Yet, it is also true that sometimes the stubbornness and/or
hypocrisy of men requires sharper rebukes in order to call attention to
dire and damnable circumstances (Gal. 2:11-14). May we learn to discern
when each is most appropriate.
When Jesus spat on the ground, made mud by mixing and kneading dirt and
spittle, and then applied that mud to a blind man in the process of
healing him (Jn. 9:6), Jesus intentionally
violated the traditions of those who had taken it upon themselves to
define work that was forbidden on the Sabbath. (We know that making the
mud was unnecessary to healing the man because by this time Jesus had
already demonstrated His ability to heal with just a word—e.g. Matt.
8:16.) Jesus did not intentionally violate their traditions because He
was against traditions but because many of the scribes and Pharisees
were more enamored with their traditions than with the truth. What’s
more, their traditions had blinded them to the truth. I find this
sobering as I reflect upon our own traditions.
In this article I am using the word tradition
as it is most often used in Scripture: in reference to routine
behaviors that have not only been accepted and handed down to
subsequent generations but are often expected by a particular group of
people. Certainly, the Holy Spirit inspired the handing down of
traditions through the apostles and prophets of Jesus Christ, and we
are under divine obligation to keep and follow these (2 Thess. 2:13-15;
3:6-15; 1 Cor. 11:1,2). These must not be discarded as mere traditions
of men. It is imperative that we are able to distinguish between the
traditional patterns revealed in Scripture and those which are not. The
latter can range from the relatively harmless traditions formed by the
repetitive exercise of liberties to harmful departures from and
contradictions to the revealed word (Col. 2:6-8). Yet even the
repetitive exercise of liberties can become that which is expected,
bound, and, ironically, may actually interfere with keeping the
commandments of God (cf. Matt. 5:1-9).
Over eight years ago the congregation of which I am a part decided to
break with the tradition of assembling a second time in the
afternoon/evening of the first day of the week. This was not done to
make any kind of statement about the traditions of men (like Jesus did
by spitting on the Sabbath). It was not done to avoid the controversy
of “the second opportunity to take the Lord’s Supper.” (That relatively
modern tradition of men had ceased in the Pontiac, Illinois, church
before I ever moved here twenty-seven years ago.) It certainly was not
done to start a trend. It was done for expediency and to accommodate
the needs/wants of the local congregation.
Every church does this when it originally establishes its customary
times of assembly. There are reasons that most modern churches do not
assemble at sunrise or routinely extend their services till midnight
(cf. Acts 20:7), and most of them have to do with preference and
comfort. Often the needs/wants of a local church change over time due
to a variety of influences, and the local church should not feel itself
bound to “the way we’ve always done it” in matters of liberty that are
no longer expedient or to traditional “brotherhood” expectations. Yet,
this often happens for fear of what others will think.
Sometimes brethren jokingly refer to “unscriptural” times of assembly
or songbooks or seating arrangements or the order in which things are
done. What makes these remarks humorous is the acknowledgement that
often doing something in a different way “seems wrong” because it is
uncomfortable to break a habit or tradition. Yet the value in breaking
human traditions is that it avoids raising up a generation that
religiously binds those traditions and, by so doing, actually increases
the likelihood of that generation rejecting the commandments of God
because of its ignorance of what is and is not authorized according to
Of course, patience is a quality of the fruit of the spirit and should
be shown in any effort to correct the misconceptions of brethren with
regard to what can be discarded as a traditional liberty. Conversely,
those who find themselves resisting change simply because it’s “the way
we’ve always done it” should not exaggerate matters of preference to
matters of conscience and test the patience of their brethren when they
have no sound scriptural argument for their objection.
Yes, there are some among the churches who are wolves in sheep’s
clothing seeking to undermine apostolic traditions and patterns. Many
of them will begin by questioning traditional liberties and the ways we
have always done things. This is cunning, for this mode of operation in
the true law of the jungle—like a roaring lion—attacks the weakest in
going for the kill.
The proper response, however, is not to characterize all who question
the expediency of cherished traditional liberties (times of assembly,
church buildings, the identification “Church of Christ,” etc.) as
predatory change agents but to teach the difference between traditional
liberties (which may or may not be expedient any longer) and apostolic
traditions and patterns which we are not at liberty to alter,
regardless of cultural changes or prevailing opinions. For if we fail
to acknowledge, teach, and even modify our behaviors based on this
distinction between traditions, we set up ourselves and our children to
eventually reject even apostolic traditions.
We cannot protect apostolic traditions with a hedge of traditional
liberties that serve as a litmus test of soundness. It didn’t work for
the Jews. It won’t work for us. I believe that there is general
authority for a church to assemble as often as it deems expedient (cf.
Heb. 10:25). However, multiple assemblies of a church on the first day
of the week is without example in the Scriptures and may have its
origins in a variety of misconceptions (e.g. Christian Sabbath). Again,
neither the lack of scriptural example nor the possible misconceptions
that led to the idea of multiple assemblies make assembling twice on
Sunday wrong; but woe unto those who judge their brethren as weak,
carnal, or predatory change agents simply because they do not keep a
traditional liberty of dubious origin. Beware, because there may be
“many such things [we] do” (Mk. 7:8) when our own traditions become as
or more important than God’s traditions.
323 E. Indiana Avenue, Pontiac, Illinois 61764
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By Leslie Diestelkamp (1911-1995)
is thrilling to see the zeal of a young preacher who loves the Lord and
lost souls. No task is too hard for him to try, and no sacrifice too
great for him to bear. He constantly tries to convert the lost,
strengthen the weak and encourage the strong. But as he matures and his
ability becomes greater, so often his zeal becomes less.
Sometimes materialistic problems crowd out his former love. But
whatever the cause, he loses his first love—a love that had sent him
out into the highways and byways, seeking the lost. He becomes content
to preach to the captive crowd inside the four walls of the local
meeting house. And he soothes his conscience by insisting that he is
keeping the congregation “sound.”
Sometimes we hear of an experienced, mature preacher who leaves the
security(?) of a strong congregation, and able eldership, a fine church
building and a good preacher’s house to go out into the new or
difficult fields. But this doesn’t happen very often. Usually, for some
strange reason, we still have the false concept that demands the best
preachers for the strongest churches. This consigns the young,
inexperienced ones to the newer, harder fields where the strongest men
ought to be.
Contemplate with me: What would happen this year if every mature
preacher who works with a well-established church that has elders would
spend 50% of his time—or even 25%—in new or destitute fields? Souls
would be converted, congregations would be established, struggling
groups would be encouraged. And, significantly, the strong churches
that would send the preachers out would become much stronger internally
because they would have to take up the local work themselves.
With a little encouragement from all of the Christians, many preachers might actually regain their first love!
This article first appeared in
THINK, Vol. 2, No. 3, dated March 1, 1971Back to top
By Nathan Combs
In the context of Jeremiah 29, the nation of Judah
was in its death throes. The wicked and worthless grandson of the
righteous king Josiah, Jeconiah (also known in scripture as Coniah and
Jehoiachin) had been taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in
597 B.C. Along with him went his mother, the important officials, and
the skilled craftsmen of Judah, leaving the rest of the country crippled
and impotent. Jeremiah wrote a letter to these exiles, telling them
that their stay in Babylon was not going to be a temporary arrangement
and that they would experience exile for seventy years (vs. 10).
Therefore, they would need to build houses, plant gardens, marry, and
bear children. In vs. 11, probably the best-known verse of the chapter,
God tells the exiles that His ultimate plan for the people was not
destruction and discouragement but “a future and a hope.” In this text,
we see both the dangers that threatened to prevent the Jews from having
hope and the blessings that would accompany the fulfillment of this
The primary danger the exiles faced was believing the lies of false
prophets. In the Bible, false prophets frequently manifested their
dishonesty by painting rosy pictures that had no foundation in truth.
For example, Ahab’s prophets falsely told him that God would give
Ramoth-Gilead into his hand (1 Ki. 22:12). During Jeremiah’s ministry,
the prophet Hananiah told all the people of Judah that God would bring
back the temple vessels and all the exiles within two years (Jer.
28:2-4). And apparently in Babylon, just as in Judah, there were false
prophets spreading erroneous messages about the length of their exile.
In vs. 21, we learn the specific names of two false prophets, Ahab the
son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who spoke lies to the
exiles (as well as sleeping with their neighbors’ wives!) and met a
gruesome end as a result (vss. 21-22). Such lies posed a danger because
rather than building their lives on the bedrock of God’s promises, they
comforted themselves with empty hopes.
Do we harbor false hopes? Do we rest in comfortable assumptions that
have no basis in Biblical reality? The expectation that my Christian
life will be carefree and without pain or friction in my relationships
is false (2 Tim. 3:12). So is the expectation that my Christian
community revolves around me and my needs (Matt. 20:25-28), or that I
can live a secluded, secretive life and not allow other Christians to
help me with my spiritual struggles (Jas. 5:16). The expectation that I
will be able to schedule and compartmentalize my relationship with
Jesus so that it is contained and doesn’t demand too much of my life is
false (Lk. 9:23-24). The danger of false messages of hope lies not only
in trusting words that are not from God but also in neglecting the real
promises that God actually did make and ignoring the requirements He
sets to participate in their fullness.
In contrast to the lies of Ahab and Zedekiah, Jeremiah told the people
the truth about the duration of their banishment and the horrific
punishment that would swiftly come to Judah and “all the kingdoms of
the earth” because they didn’t pay attention to God’s messages.
However, the prophet not only gave a sweeping declaration of doom but
also focused on the blessings that would come from God in this coming
future. For example, in contrast to other statements in the book about
God ignoring their belated cries for help in the day of punishment
(Jer. 11:11), in this future God’s people would be able to pray and He
would hear them and answer them (vs. 12). God promised to be found if
sought by the exiles with their whole hearts, which strongly correlates
to promises that Jesus made to His disciples in the New Testament
(Matt. 7;7-11). God also vowed in this passage that the Jewish captives
would eventually be brought back from their exile (a promise which he
kept) and strongly hints of a future time when he would unite His
people under the banner of the Messiah, Jesus.
Do we possess a strong hope in the accessibility of God—that He is not
distant from us if He is sought diligently? Do we constantly search for
Him in prayer in order to deepen our relationship with Him, or do we
only cry out to Him after facing the pain of our sin? Do we find ways
to remind ourselves of the promise that God will someday set His broken
creation to rights by bringing us back from our exile in sin into a
promised land of rest where we will be united together with Him
throughout eternity? Such promises provide a firm foundation in the
midst of discouragement, punishment, or pain.
Godly hope is never unrealistic or untrue. Godly hope is not based on
our desires, wishes, or whims but is firmly anchored in the reality of
promises that God makes. Rather than tempt us with sugar-coated lies
which conceal our true spiritual condition, God exposes the horror of
our own sin to us in order to bring us back from spiritual exile.
Surely the reality of hope is infinitely more satisfying than the
delusion of sin!
2101 Sandy Street, Springdale, Arkansas 72762
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