Most Americans do not know what it feels like to miss a meal, much less go an entire week without eating. People who do not have food know about the constant agony they feel as their body continues to weaken without any food. They start to imagine delicious meals and suddenly everything else around them pales in comparison. Weather and world events don’t matter to individuals who have not eaten in three days and wonders where their next meal is coming from. Once you’ve hit that point everything revolves around food—with some even being willing to steal food just to quench that never-ending anguish.
About thirty-one years ago a rural middle Tennessee community recognized that many of their own friends and neighbors did not have enough to eat. Over a series of weeks, phone calls and visits were made and a plan came bubbling to the surface—the churches in this small town would band together and create a food pantry. They believed the best way to take care of the hunger problem was for churches to staff a pantry that would constantly keep non-perishable food available for anyone in the community who had fallen on hard times.
Preachers from denominations all across the city came together in the initial planning meetings—every single preacher with the exception of one. The local preacher of the church of Christ refused. When he was called he responded abrasively that he would not join in with denominations. Other preachers visited him, and some even offered to take him to lunch. But the preacher of the church of Christ was adamant. He dug his heels in. And as a result the church of Christ was the only church not represented in the community food bank.
Granted, that local church of Christ could have provided their own food pantry. But they didn’t. Instead, there were sermons and bulletin articles about associations and fellowship practices. The preachers and members felt justified in not joining hands with “those” in their community.
Many reading this true account might celebrate their “stand for the truth” or the fact that they “didn’t fellowship with denominations” or were staying on the old paths and not becoming the sons of Demas. But as the late Paul Harvey liked to say, allow me to give you “the rest of the story.”
The community food pantry was a huge hit in that small town. It made the local newspaper (on numerous occasions), and resulted in helping literally hundreds of families in that small community. It became a symbol of pride for many years—a symbol of people helping their neighbors. But the story of the one “hold-out” did not remain a secret. Word spread that every church in the community was helping except the church of Christ. Pretty soon it became a black eye to not only the preacher, but also those who attended that church of Christ. Rather than being seen as defenders of the Truth they were viewed as uncompassionate. Rather than being called Bible toting, Scripture quoting people they were referred to as unloving. Rather than being commended for “staying on the Old Paths” they were castigated as repulsive. And not just by one or two people. The entire community quietly grew to view them as uncaring.
This was a sad chapter in the history of the church of Christ in this community. The events I’m sharing with you really did happen approximately 31 years ago. But even more tragic is that some in that area still remember it. One retired preacher from that community remarked recently that this is what he thinks of when someone mentions the church of Christ. The scar still remains for some.
I’ve heard lessons on fellowship and associations. In the church we have even gone to producing Bible class material and DVDs on the topic. Is it possible we use the concept of fellowship and association as a crutch not to do anything? Do members like our “stance” because it removes the burden of us getting our hands dirty while doing benevolent works? Is it possible we are actually ignoring some of God’s commands under the veil that we can’t have anything to do with “them?” What’s the end result? Are we digging our heels in thinking we are making a stand for the Truth, only to be identified identified in our communities as the ones who don’t do anything? (I had a recent conversation with a dear friend about how it seems we are starting to “hire out” all of our good works,… but that’s a topic for another time.)
I think it is time we take a common sense perspective and look at the example Christ gave us. (I think most of us can easily discern the difference between lending a hand and “fellowship.”) Jesus did not dig His heels in when people were hungry or hurting. Instead, He ministered. He showed God’s love. If someone is hungry or hurting—have gone without food for 3-4 days—they will not appreciate the fact that a certain group of people refuses to reach out because they don’t want people to think they are in “fellowship” with denominations. What they are looking for is the love and compassion God showed each one of us.
It is time we get out of our comfort zones and reach out to those who are hurting in our communities. It is time we lend a helping hand to those who are down on their luck. It is time we remember that Africa and India are not the only places where people have serious needs. It is time we remove the scars in our community and become known as the church that really does seek to be servants of Him.
As we turn the page on the calendar I encourage you to open Matthew 5 and read carefully what Jesus preached. In 2015, I pray that you will help me go out and live it!
By Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
Dr. Brad Harrub is the author of “Convicted” and “Heart of the Matter” and co-author of “Engage: Rethinking How We Walk Down the Aisle“