I hope you read the hymn that I posted this past Sunday. Most likely it was unfamiliar to you, as it was to me before my uncle told me about it. It’s a bit of an oddity, really. Although it uses the phrase “Church of Christ,” it was written by Fanny Crosby, who was not a member of the church. Apparently she used the term in a more ecumenical sense, as opposed to our current usage of it to refer to the church that strives to follow Christ’s teachings in everything.
Despite its origins, however, the song holds a rousing message: “Church of Christ, O sleep no more!” As far as spirituality goes, to sleep is to die—in fact, the euphemism “sleep” is often used in scripture to refer to death, both physical and spiritual (e.g. I Thessalonians 4:15, Ephesians 5:14). And I greatly fear that Christ’s church in many locations is indeed asleep, and thus dying.
This past Sunday morning, those who attended the Bruce family reunion met for worship with the church in a little town in the Oklahoma panhandle. This was the congregation of my great grandparents, and their building was where one of my great aunts was married. The building has been changed and added on to since the times my father remembers it, but the congregation still exists. However, I was a little disconcerted to find that our Bruce family greatly outnumbered the regular members there. There were only about five or six present who meet there regularly, and while we had a wonderful time praising God and studying His word, I couldn’t help but think how much different it would be without all the Bruces present. I also thought of how this once-thriving congregation is dying. With that few members, I fear that it is only a matter of time before they are forced to close their doors.
As we travelled home that evening, we stopped in a town in the Texas panhandle to worship with the church there. They had a rather spacious building, but for the evening worship everyone sat on the right side of the auditorium, since there were so few people. The attendance board hanging up indicated that the attendance usually hovers around 60, but even so, by my reckoning all those who were present that evening were working on the second half of their lives. Even though that church is of a larger number than the one in Oklahoma, I fear that they, too, are sleeping.
What is happening to the church? Things are not as they once were. Division has hurt many, and many have fallen away into denominationalism and even agnosticism or atheism. From my perspective, it seems that the church has quit reproducing. As an organism, the church must reproduce to stay alive. The church is Christ’s body, and if you compare Christ’s spiritual body to the physical bodies that each of us possess, it may be seen that the cells that make up our body are constantly reproducing—if they weren’t, we as humans would die.
Take a look at the congregation of which you are a part (assuming you are a member of the Lord’s church). How many of its members are reproducing? That is to say, how many of them are actively evangelizing? How many of them are so excited about the good news that they are talking to people outside the body about it? If you’re like me, I don’t see very many people that fit that description. But now that I think of it, that’s not what really matters. What I need to be doing is asking myself Why am I not doing all I can to bring people to Christ?
Go read that hymn again. It’s a hymn about evangelism, and it tells us that only through teaching the good news can we keep the bride of Christ from slipping further into oblivion. Brothers and sisters, it’s time to get busy! Church of Christ, O sleep no more!