Dwight L. Moody was certainly one of the most practical preachers who ever ministered the Word. He had been a successful salesman prior to becoming an evangelist, so that might explain his down-to-earth approach to Christian service. “Every Bible ought to be bound in shoe leather!” he said, a statement that summarizes his philosophy of Christian living.
Moody was attending a YMCA convention in Indianapolis, and there he met Ira Sankey, who was later to become his associate in ministry.
He asked Sankey to meet him at a certain corner late one afternoon.
When Sankey arrived, he discovered that Moody had planned a street meeting and Sankey was supposed to sing!
Soon a crowd gathered, and Moody began to preach. He spoke for
less than 30 minutes and then invited the growing crowd to follow him to the
opera house. In a few minutes, the opera house was full.
Moody mounted the platform and preached another sermon to the attentive congregation. At the close of his message, Moody said, “Now we must close, as the delegates to the convention wish to come to discuss the topic ‘How To Reach the Masses.’
“That was D. L. Moody! While others were discussing a subject, he was achieving an object! He believed in Christianity in the concrete, not in the abstract.
This was our Lord’s approach to life and service. A lawyer wanted to discuss “Who is my neighbor?” but Jesus said, “To whom can you be a neighbor?”
The lawyer wanted to travel in the abstract heights of theology and law, but Jesus brought him down to earth and told him about a man dying by the side of the road.
Abstract Christianity never won a soul for Christ, never dried a tear, never fed a hungry child and never encouraged a fainting heart.
While there certainly is a place for committees, conventions and the frank discussion of “abstract” issues and problems, unless those discussions produce concrete ministry, we have wasted valuable time and money avoiding the real issues.
Let me share with you some areas of Christian life and ministry that need to be dealt with in the concrete, not the abstract.
First, there is this thing we call “the world.” You hear about it especially at missionary conventions where speaker after speaker reminds us of the needs of “the world.” Quite frankly, I can’t conceive of seven billion people, even when the speaker dramatizes this number in some pictorial fashion. Seven billion people! The world!
But God doesn’t want me to get concerned about “the world” in the abstract. He wants me to start with my world, right where I am.
Dr. Oswald J. Smith has often reminded us, “The light that shines the farthest will shine the brightest at home.” It is difficult to believe that a committee member is burdened for Africa when he has no concern for his own neighborhood.
“Abstract Christianity” will enable you to keep up your reputation for dedication without having to pay too great a price.
Whatever “the world” may be, it begins at my front door. What good is it for me to use my missionary prayer list each morning and intercede for my friends overseas if I am not burdened for the people I meet day after day?
While attending a convention, I missed a friend of mine who was not in the session on personal witnessing.
I saw him at lunch and told him what a great session we had enjoyed. “Where were you?” I asked him. He replied, “I was out in the lobby leading one of the bellhops to Christ.” Believe me, I felt very small.
Second is the matter of “the home.” I hear zealous speakers telling me that we must do something about “the home.”
They tell me “the home” is deteriorating, and no doubt it is. But I can do very little about “the home” in the abstract. I can do something about my own home and you can do something about your home.
It is frightening to realize that today we have more books on marriage and the home, more films, more CDs, more lectures, more radio, and TV programs and more seminars and conferences, and yet we seem to have more marital and family problems!
We seem to have a great deal of information but not enough motivation. I wonder if the time hasn’t come for us to move “the home” out of the abstract and into the concrete.
One way we sometimes deal with “the home” in the abstract is by putting the blame for our failures on the church and the public schools.
We forget that nobody can replace the father and mother or assume their responsibilities. If my children didn’t learn to enjoy the Bible at home, they aren’t likely to enjoy it at Sunday school or church.
If they didn’t learn to study, obey and work at home, they will probably not learn it on the Christian school campus. A Christian family is built at home, not someplace else.
The Christian school and the church can only fortify what is built at home, and
we thank God for their ministry.
During one of my pastorates, I was counseling a couple who were also seeing a Christian psychiatrist. One day the wife said to me, “Can you recommend another Christian psychiatrist?”
When I asked her why, she replied, “Our psychiatrist just left his wife and ran off with one of his patients.” He knew a great deal about “marriage” in the abstract, but he wasn’t keeping his own home in good repair.
A third abstraction that needs to be dealt with in the concrete is “the church.”
As a lifelong student of the Bible, I know what people mean by “the Church.” Or I think I know. They mean that great host of people who have trusted Jesus Christ and belong to the family of God.
Some of these people are on earth, and many more of them are in heaven. Some preachers and teachers talk about “the invisible church,” a term I dislike, especially when I used to count the crowd on Sunday evenings. “The Church universal” is another term.
Let’s stop avoiding responsibility by talking in the abstract about “the Church.” Let’s get busy and support the local church we belong to, the ministry that is concrete.
One Sunday our congregation was singing “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” a beautiful hymn that magnifies the importance of God’s church.
As I stood on the platform singing, I looked across the congregation and thought to myself, “How many of these people really love this church?” How easy it is to sing about some spiritual abstraction! How difficult it is to get involved in a real fellowship where there are needs and problems!
I must tread softly as I share this fourth area, because I may be misunderstood, but I think the time has come to quit talking about “the victorious Christian life” in the abstract and start dealing with the needs in our own lives individually.
To be sure, there is such a concept as “victorious Christian living,” although I find that not all “deeper life” speakers agree on what it is. But what good does it do me to study the books and attend the conferences if I am not honestly facing and solving the problems in my own personal life?
Perhaps my pastoral experience has prejudiced me, but I have met many people who live in a dream world of “victorious living” only because they have isolated themselves—and insulated themselves—from the realities of life.
If they would get out in the real world and start witnessing to people who hate God, or if they would visit the nearest hospital or rest home where people hurt and bleed, they would discover that their “spiritual abstractions” just don’t work.
A young minister attended a “deeper life” convention and was so “blessed” that he visited the great Scottish preacher, Alexander Whyte, to share the excitement.
Dr. Whyte listened patiently and then said, “Aye, laddie, it’s a battle all the way to the gates of glory!” And it is! “The victorious Christian life,” said Whyte, “is a series of new beginnings.” It takes battles to have victories, and you don’t fight battles in the abstract. They are very concrete!
The way to enjoy a “victorious Christian life” is to handle it in the concrete, moment by moment, and one day at a time.
We will not change everything immediately; we must tackle our weaknesses and problems one at a time.
Yes, by a sincere act of faith and surrender, we can enter into a deeper relationship with the Lord; but if that one act is not followed with new attitudes and actions, nothing will be changed.
We need to say to ourselves, “Today, with God’s help, I want to be victorious in my discipline.
I’m going to watch my eating, I’m not going to waste time, and I’m going to get up early enough to read my Bible and pray.” Or perhaps we need to focus on some other personal challenge—not gossiping, for instance, or (to be positive) making it a point to encourage others and witness for Christ.
A victory in one area usually encourages victory in other areas, and when small “concrete victories” are combined, they lead the way to a “victorious Christian life.”
Nothing is so safe as an abstract idea that shelters me from reality. But nothing is so dangerous! The Christian who deals only in the abstract is living in a fool’s paradise. He is also missing exciting opportunities to grow and to serve others.