Forty Years Ago and Now
In 1915 the Gospel Advocate published several special articles on missionary work, as well as other subjects. These articles were reprinted the following year in two volumes entitled Christian Treasures. Excerpts from these books should be of interest to us today because they remind us of the wonderful progress that the gospel has made since that time in many sections of our nation. They should also serve to encourage all who are laboring in places where the cause of Christ is weak and where growth seems extremely slow.
At that time John E. Dunn reported that to his knowledge "there are but two sections of country in the world that are fairly well evangelized. They are Middle Tennessee and Central North Texas." He then added, "There is one sad - very sad - condition in both of these districts. Nearly all the churches and preachers are at ease in Zion. They are very much like the church at Laodicea. (Rev. 3:14-22). O, for more zeal, sacrifice, and consecration after the type of Paul and Timothy."
Claud Witty wrote that there were but few areas of strength in all the northern United States and Canada. Churches were well-established in Detroit and Toronto, but elsewhere the situation was much worse. He reported small churches of twentv-five to 100 members in most of the following cities: Seattle, Portland (Ore.), Spokane, Denver, San Francisco, Kansas City, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha, Chicago, Des Moines, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Boston, Portland (Me.), New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Another writer reported that in St. Louis, for example, "struggling Christians meet in a rented hall, or house."
E.C. Fuqua said that there were not 300 disciples in all of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. He added, "I cannot understand why this country should be so neglected, unless it lies in the fact that the churches of Christ have yet to learn what mission work is and how to do it - a thing the denominations have known for 200 years." John E. Dunn reported from El Paso that there was only a man or two in all of New Mexico, one in Arizona, and one in the Western part of Texas.
Great growth has taken place since then, yet many problems remain the same. Not the least of these is the problem of awakening sleeping churches to the need of doing missionary work. M.C. Kurfess stated, "It is probably a safe estimate to say that where one church today is coming up to the full measure of its ability and opportunity in the work of spreading the gospel abroad, 100 churches are not doing so."
Unfortunately, hundreds of churches are still asleep, doing almost nothing to help take the gospel to the rest of the world. These words from the pen of J.C. McQuiddy need to be taken to heart: "For the churches to fail to do this work means death to them. In activity there are life, growth, and development; in idleness, stagnation, decay, and death. No church can live and grow without being heartily interested in the conversion and salvation of the world."
We would that all churches and preachers realized this, and that much more be done to carry out the Lord's commission. These stirring words written by E.C. Fuqua over 40 years ago, are deserving of our attention in this generation: "There has never been more preaching of mission work than now; but what we need is practice. Let some who write so well upon mission work move out to one of these states and practice the thing for a while; that would be a weighty contribution to the cause of missions. There are enough preachers within the environs of Nashville alone to furnish a living epistle in each of these states - a contribution to the cause of New Testament mission work that would practically render useless the pen on the subject forever. Writing about the mission field is very good, but sweating upon the mission field is infinitely better at least, it will more likely bring a benefit to the nine states above named. The churches of Christ are probably taught all they can receive about mission work already; what they need is for more preachers to 'lead out' by going to some needy field and practicing what has been preached. If, now, these Western opportunities are to be slighted, how are we to frame an answer to our judge for not having embraced them? They are waiting, they are calling, they are dying - unheeded!"