The Book Corner
Roots, Renewal and the Brethren. By Nathan D. Smith. Pasadena, CA: Hope Publishing Co., 1986. 151 pp. Paper, $6.95.
Church growth and renewal are popular subjects today. Nathan Smith is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary. He taught for four years at Emmaus Bible School and fourteen years at Culver City Center for Biblical Studies. This book was part of his graduate work at Fuller.
The book as a whole is a negative evaluation of the “Brethren assemblies.” The author has spent twenty-two years in fellowship with them and is grateful for certain truths associated with such assemblies. But he feels the movement is dying and unless there is a “dynamic renewal movement” the assemblies will pass away.
He traces the origins of this revival of interest in New Testament simplicity during the 19th century in the British Isles. It is a condensed history but quite accurate and gives one good background material.
When he begins to evaluate current conditions among assemblies he paints a bleak picture. “Recent surveys have shown a startling decline” (p. 45). A problem here is that many assemblies are suspicious of such surveys and decline to cooperate. It is very hard to get a true picture and too easy to generalize. One survey only received 36 percent response.
Some of the criticism is valid. We should always welcome exhortation based on the Word of God. Following the structure of the early church does not guarantee spiritual health and vigor. One needs only read the book of 1 Corinthians to discover this.
But one could wish that more could have been interviewed who are happy in assembly fellowship. Dissidents and those who have left such fellowships are anxious to justify their own positions and will hardly paint an optimistic picture. Malcontents were mainly the ones interviewed.
What are some of the criticisms? There is a lack of positive leadership in many groups. Elders need to be recognized and need to take the lead in shepherding the flock.
There is a lack of vitality, a dissatisfaction with the quality of ministry and worship and unhappiness with the role of women (p. 51). Listless worship services are mentioned. A critical note is sounded concerning the silence of women in meetings of the whole assembly (p. 60).
“… no way is brethren worship anywhere near first-century worship and there is no clear-cut mandate to duplicate it in the twentieth century” (p. 63). According to this remark quoted there is no need to follow the teaching for the churches in Scripture.
What are positive suggestions? He stresses that the assembly should function as a family or an organism with an emphasis on interpersonal relationships (p. 77). J. N. Darby’s teaching is blamed for the lack of elders and the exclusive outlook of some (p. 87). Mr. Smith believes that fellowship should be based on the life believers share in Christ, rather than on the light one has concerning Scripture.
He sees a lack of evangelism among the poor as very serious. Many assemblies are made up of comfortable, middle-class Christians with little zeal in the gospel (p. 90). He also faults assemblies for not having scholarly, intellectual teaching of the Word (p. 63). He seems to feel a professional ministry is needed.
To remedy the situation Mr. Smith urges a questionnaire to evaluate the condition of the assembly (p. 103). Leadership, the services and the budget should be reviewed. “The first priority should be to pray for personal renewal and then for corporate renewal” (p. 105). This was mentioned in passing, but not emphasized as it should be. A supported, full-time worker is viewed as vital for a healthy assembly (p. 104). Small group fellowships are necessary for intimacy (p. 109).
He rightly stresses the need for a revival of worship. The Lord’s Supper does provide for spontaneity, yet too often falls into a pattern or dull routine. Freshness and freedom should mark this time. Young people should be encouraged to participate (p. 119).
Music should be emphasized and various instruments used. Contemporary songs need to be sung as well as older hymns (p. 122).
This book has some good suggestions but is often too pessimistic. Some assemblies are dying but others are growing and new ones are springing up. Assemblies do need strong, recognized, spiritual leadership, freshness of worship and renewed zeal in the Gospel.
But his encouragement of women speaking in the church meetings and the need for a supported (salaried?) pastor-teacher is a problem. He does no serious exegesis of relevant passages, such as 1 Corinthians 11, 14 and 1 Timothy.
Some assemblies are in danger of losing their identity and of becoming like independent Bible churches. Prophetic preaching calling God’s people to repentance and love for the Lord is needed. We desperately need concern for the lost and zeal in witnessing. Teaching concerning the Church and its distinctives is vital. A revival of love for the Lord, His people and the lost will revitalize any local church. But let us not think that a change of structure will remedy spiritual carnality.
—Donald L. Norbie
That the World May Know. Vol. 9; Red Glow Over Eastern Europe. By Fredk. A. Tatford. Bath, Avon: Echoes Publications, 1986. 290 pp. $11.00 (U.S.); $14.95 (Canada).
In this remarkable series of missionary books, Volume 9 chronicles the history of gospel witness in the countries of Eastern Europe, emphasizing particularly the labors of assembly workers in that little known area of the Lord’s vineyard. Beginning with Albania, the first atheist state, the reader is introduced to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Turkmenistan, the U.S.S.R., and Yugoslavia.
Like its predecessors Volume 9 is sturdily and attractively bound. Clothed with a colorful jacket, it contains 188 illustrations (many of which are in beautiful color), plus 15 maps. At the end of the book there is an Appendix by Dr. R. E. Harlow on, “Who Are the Brethren?” A second Appendix highlights Missionary Service Groups in various countries throughout the world, while a third Appendix provides a Record of Missionaries’ Service Since 1872. The final pages are devoted to a helpful Index.
Each volume in this monumental series has its own unique emphasis and fascinating features, yet this one especially endeared itself to me. Probably this is because we hear so little about the Lord’s work in Eastern Europe, coupled with the fact that over the past few years I have developed a special interest in assembly work and workers in Romania.
A major effect of reading this intriguing account is the rebuke of North American Christians for our easy-going, self-indulgent, materialistic ways in contrast to the sacrificial service of our fellow believers behind the Iron Curtain.
This volume, along with the others, is available from CMML, Inc., P.O. Box 13, Spring Lake, New Jersey 07762 in the United States, and in Canada through Everyday Publications Inc., 421 Nugget Avenue, Unit 2, Scarborough, Ontario M1S 4L8.