Being Careful Not To Drift Away

Editorial March/April, 1998 Volume 33, Number 2
The theme for the 1998 Church of the Brethren Annual Conference centers around the word “faithfulness.” Faithfulness implies a loyal devotion to one’s duty and an undeviating allegiance to a cause. As a disciple of Christ, we have entered into a covenant with God and confessed our commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord. Faithfulness means that we will seek to live our life in accord with His Word, and that we will no longer be tossed about by human deceptions and superficial illusions. In the book of Hebrews there are seven warnings (inserted at key intervals) to encourage obedience, maturity, and perseverance. The first warning is found in Hebrews 2:1-4. Verse 1 says, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (NKJV). The words “drift away” picture a river in which a boat is aimlessly drifting by. The dock, or point of anchor, is like the truth of the Scripture. The boat, slowly drifting with the flow, is like professed believers who refuse to attach themselves to the doctrinal and spiritual truths of God’s Word. We must not ignore, dismiss, or forget the eternal message of God’s revelation. Unless we devote ourselves to observing the truths of the Bible, we can faithlessly drift along, carried by alien currents into dangerous waters. Drifting is a dangerous thing–both physically and spiritually. Physically, when a boat drifts, we may not be aware that any movement is taking place. It is the same spiritually. The greatest danger to us spiritually is not that we will deliberately do some evil thing in open defiance and rebellion against God. The real danger we face as a church is that of gradually drifting away from adherence to God’s truth. It is easy to slowly drift, little by little, and bit by bit. It is the nature of all created things to wear out and wind down. It is the nature of a fire to go out; of sheep, to wander; of love, to wax cold; of people, to forget; and of the church, to drift away from its moorings. Change is a part of life, but we must guard against carelessly drifting away from God’s truth which is eternal and enduring. Dean Garrett, in the article featured on the following pages, gives some guidelines that are intended to keep us from drifting away from the rich heritage which we possess.
–Harold S. Martin

Being Careful Not To Drift Away

By Dean Garrett

The New Testament speaks to us with clear words about holding fast to those things that are good. The admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 is, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” And in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 we are told to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” The young man, Timothy, was told to “continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Timothy 3:14). In Hebrews 2:1, we read, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” And in Revelation 3:2, the church at Sardis was instructed to “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” The NIV translates the passage with these words: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” Four books that have been published relatively recently, in my opinion, have an excellent potential for renewal among Brethren people, if we will only allow it to happen. The books are: Brethren in Transition, edited by Emmert Bittinger; Brethren Society, by Carl Bowman; Moving Toward the Mainstream, by Don Fitzkee; and New Testament Beliefs and Practices, by Harold Martin. Reading these books is like holding a mirror up before the church so that we can see ourselves as we really are. They either point out where we are, or at other places, point out where we ought to be. Two of the recently published books helped to motivate my own study of how we should hold on to what we have and strengthen what remains, lest we drift completely away from the faith. Don Kraybill, in the Foreword of the book, Moving Toward the Mainstream, says: Some will cheer this move toward the mainstream, while others will despair. Some will read the story as a liberation from cultural tradition. Others will read the same changes as signs of spiritual decay in a wayward drift toward worldliness. Regardless of how we interpret the signs, non Fitzkee (in this book) prods us to ask what it means to be faithful to a religious heritage, while we struggle to respond to the changing currents of modem life. These are important questions for Brethren and non-Brethren alike. In the last few paragraphs of Fitzkee’s book, after having described many changes which occurred in Eastern Pennsylvania churches during recent decades, on pages 310-311 we read these words: Many questions remain, is such diversity to be celebrated or lamented? Have Brethren merely updated an ancient vision, retaining essential kernels of truth while offering the chaff to the winds of change? Or has the vision itself become blurred, even lost? Is the Brethren transformation a tale of liberation from narrow parochialism, or (the story) of surrender to the world? Have Brethren heeded the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or been led astray by the spirit of the age? Indeed, many 20th century changes were promoted as promptings of the Holy Spirit, as necessary steps for Brethren to be faithful to their divine calling…But has abandoning such positions really enhanced the Brethren witness? The future of the Church of the Brethren may well depend on its willingness to honestly evaluate the past and forge a unique identity that is both consistent with its New Testament heritage and relevant for a new century. Some of the great timeless principles which Brethren have taught and practiced through the years are spelled out in a concise form on the Brethren’s Card, which some congregations print in their annual local church directories. The book on New Testament Beliefs and Practices–A Brethren Understanding is a commentary on the Brethren’s Card. 1. HOLDING FAST THE WORD OF GOD The first tool for our swim against the current of the mainstream is a sound grounding in the Word. If we steadfastly seek to be in tune with the truth, we will more readily be able to stand against that which is false. We need to know why we believe what we say we believe. It is not enough to just take someone else’s word for it; we need to own our convictions for ourselves if we want to pass them along to others. We are to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The Bible is reliable. Psalm 119:9 says, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” The answer comes back in the next sentence: “By taking heed according to Your word.” Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In 1 Timothy 6:20-21, Timothy was told to “guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith” (NIV). The written Word is dependable, as the Bible itself declares in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. In 2 Timothy 4:2-4, Timothy was told to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” Henry Holsinger was a leader in the Progressive Brethren movement in the late 1800s. In his book, History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church, page 232, he says: What they believe and teach may be comprehended in the statement that they accept the New Testament as their creed and discipline. That is, the New Testament as it is, and not as they would have it, or as they understand it, but as it reads. They believe that the Book is inspired of God, has been preserved by His almighty power, and (has been) translated into the various languages through His direct instrumentality; that the Book means what it says, and says what it means, nothing more and nothing less, and is not to be added to nor taken from, and will suffer no deviations. That is Tunkerism, briefly but accurately, stated. Near the beginning of the 20th century, Brethren author, L. W. Teeter, said of the Brethren : Holding as they do, the whole of the New Testament as the perfect will of God to men, they most fully, sincerely, and devotedly believe every statement contained in it, whether historical, doctrinal, or practical. Accordingly they are just as earnest and careful in obeying every ordinance, commandment, and obligation as they are in believing them to be from God. Contrast the view of the Scriptures just described, with a more recent approach. The editor, in the January, 1995 issue of Messenger, says that he hopes that we “do not act like the Bible is a clear-as-crystal set of rules to live by. Rather, we will acknowledge (that) it requires ongoing study and interpretation, done in prayerful discussion together (page 32). Since Bethany Seminary is not far from our home, I have had the opportunity to sit in on some classes. The approach taken to Bible book studies in our classes is that we must understand the Bible in light of the culture in which it was written. I find that this approach almost always by-passes the obvious or literal understanding of Scripture. No longer do many Brethren hold that the Bible “means what it says, and says what it means, nothing more and nothing less”–and no longer do they “believe every statement contained in (the New Testament), whether historical, doctrinal, or practical.” For the Church of the Brethren to prosper and please God today, we need to hold fast to a sound understanding of the Bible as the trustworthy Word of God. 2. CHOOSING STABLE AND ABLE LEADERS For the church to prosper, we must be careful who we call to positions of leadership in our local congregations. As Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2, “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” We should choose leaders who will take us in the direction toward which we believe God wants us to go. Titus 1:9 says of the minister, that he must “hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” And in 1 Timothy 3:9 we read that deacons are to “hold the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.” My father-in-law has testified to the fact that as long as men like Otho Winger and Edward Kintner had an influence on the Manchester, Indiana congregation, the line was held against acculturating liberalism. But when they left the scene, things started to change quickly. When visiting in the Pleasant Hill congregation (Southern Pennsylvania District), I have sometimes asked members there the question, “What has made your church what it is today? What has given your church its personality?” A number of people there pointed to the leadership of such elders as G. Howard Danner and Samuel M. Lehigh. The natural influence of a leader’s example can work in other directions as well. When a prominent minister in the Church of the Brethren was elected governor of Pennsylvania, it was his duty to call up the state militia during World War I. Here was a Brethren minister in the awkward position of commander-in-chief of the state militia. Some have seen this as a turning point in the church’s outlook on nonresistance. Since that time, the majority of Church of the Brethren young men have taken up military service during times of war. Leaders must be careful about the kinds of examples they set, and the church should carefully and prayerfully consider who they call as leaders, whether it be at the district, national, or local levels. Our churches need leaders who are faithful to the Word of God and are not focused on merely trying to please people. 3. MAINTAINING CHURCH DISCIPLINE A third factor that is necessary for standing fast in the faith is church discipline. Church discipline is an essential aid for nurturing the body of believers into a life of discipleship and obedience. Some have claimed that the answer to bad church discipline is no discipline at all. While in the past there have been abuses of healthy discipline, eliminating the practice altogether is not a biblical solution to the problem. Corporate discipline is not a shameful custom left over from the 1800s, as some claim, but is something that comes from the Anabaptist desire to imitate the example of the early Christians. Many years ago, John Lawrence Mosheim, in Mosheim’s Church History, page 43, spoke about effective church discipline: One of the circumstances which contributed chiefly to preserve at least an external appearance of sanctity in the Christian church was the right of excluding…(those who) had been guilty of deplorable transgressions, and to whom repeated exhortations to repentance and amendment had been administered in vain. This right was vested in the church from the earliest period of its existence, by the apostles themselves, and was exercised by each Christian assembly upon its respective members…(Church discipline) was not, however, irrevocable; for such as gave undoubted signs of their sincere repentance, and declared their solemn resolutions of future reformation, were re-admitted into the church (no matter how) enormous their crimes had been. There are also those who say that limitless tolerance is a virtue. While tolerance does have a place, the truth is that when we deal with those who teach doctrines contrary to the foundation beliefs of the church as found in Scripture, the New Testament is very specific. Romans 16:17 says, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” A further instruction is given in Titus 3:10, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition .” A few other Scriptures relevant to the topic are Christ’s method for reconciliation outlined in Matthew 18:15-17, and also the incident of immorality at Corinth described in 1 Corinthians 5. The same erring, but repentant, brother was later restored to the fellowship (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). The home, school, community, and society at large–all need a system of just discipline in order to function smoothly. By the same token, the church needs its pattern for order as well. We receive discipline (that is, training and instruction) through being grounded in the Word, and sometimes as a last resort, through whatever steps the corporate body may need to take. As discipline in our churches has declined, so has the level of faithfulness and commitment of its members deteriorated. 4. REINFORCING SOCIAL CONTACTS A fourth tool for guarding against drifting from the faith, is that of refreshing social contacts. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” While we accept Christ as Savior and come into the church one by one as individuals, we do not walk our Christian walk as individuals. We need the fellowship and encouragement of one another. Proverbs 24:6 says that in a “multitude of counselors there is safety.” For our own social reinforcement, it is helpful to attend revival meetings, visit friends in neighboring states, go to church conferences, and listen to preaching from various branches of those bodies that have grown out of the Anabaptist and Pietist heritage. It is valuable to subscribe to some Christian periodicals. All of us can benefit from social reinforcements of our beliefs and convictions. The published sociological studies seem to imply that one of the factors that helped to break down the practice of the sister’s Scriptural headcovering was that the church assigned a task to the sisters, that a number of the Brethren were not willing to help them bear. Carl Bowman relates stories of how persons were faced with little social reinforcement when attending Bethany Bible school or when moving to an area where the local church was more liberal. Some young people in the 1920s and 1930s saw this as an opportunity to throw off that which they had supposedly been “embarrassed” with. It seems that we often have trouble being different from everyone else, and that if we are different, there is a tendency to change so that we will not seem to be out of place. It reminds us of Old Testament Israel who wanted a king so that they would be like everyone else. Dr. James Dobson, in Preparing For Adolescence, pages 32-34, tells a story about how some psychologists gathered a group of ten teenagers in a room and told them that their “perception” was going to be tested. The test consisted of a series of cards that were held up in front of them. Each card had three lines on it. The young people were instructed to raise their hands when a psychologist up front pointed to the longest of the three lines. (What one youth did not know was that the other nine had been instructed to raise their hands for the second longest line.) The fellow later explained: “Somehow I must have missed the point, and I had better do what everybody else is doing or they will laugh at me.” Over and over he went with the group, even though he knew they were wrong. More than 75% of the young people placed in this situation behaved in the same way. They sat there time after time, saying that a short line was longer than a long line. But here is an interesting fact: If just one other person recognized the correct line, then the chances were greatly improved that the person being studied, would raise his hand for the longest (or correct) line. Let us all resolve to “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose firm, and dare to make it known.” It is a source of great strength to know that others stand with us in our beliefs and practices. 5. CULTIVATING SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT A fifth tool for holding the line and not drifting away is the cultivation of spiritual discernment. In everyday life we are bombarded with a variety of influences, and so discernment is a valuable commodity. Out on the Ohio frontier many years ago, when pioneers built their log cabins, oftentimes the only book in the home was a Bible. Today there is a proliferation of books, magazines, newspapers, and other literature. The pioneers were self-employed more often than we are today, and thus in our day, the work-place can often become a source of many influences. At one time there were no telephones, so people communicated mostly with those in their own neighborhood. The people on the frontier basically made their own goods and supplies. Today there is a rapid spread of department stores and shopping malls. The early settlers had no automobiles or airplanes, and so transportation was more difficult. Our opportunities for travel expose us to still more influences. One cannot drive down the highway without being exposed to the influence of billboard ads. At one time there were no radios, televisions, online computers, or tape players. The church in the past did not have a seminary-trained minister imported from outside the local congregation. This is not to say that all the change has been bad. It simply reminds us that in a world of many and varied influences, we need to exercise discernment when our values are challenged. In 1 Corinthians 12:10, we read that discernment is listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit. To “discern” means to perceive or recognize as different, to make a distinction, to distinguish between, and to prefer that which is correct. The Bereans were discerners (Acts 17:11). The Bible says that they searched the Scriptures to make sure that what was being preached was true. In Acts 20:28-30, the Apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd (feed) the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves.” Also, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15, 20), Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves, therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Discernment is certainly an activity that our Lord expects us to engage in. It is true that time marches on, and change takes place, but Bible principles are timeless, and should not be open for elimination. The tools which will help us not to drift away from the truth are: a) holding fast the Word of God, b) choosing stable and able leaders, c) maintaining church discipline, d) reinforcing social contacts, e) and cultivating spiritual discernment. It is our hope that all of us will be challenged to maintain values and principles that are rooted in Scripture.
Dean Garrett lives near West Alexandria, Ohio. Dean is a minister in the Poplar Grove Church of the Brethren, is moderator of the Prices Creek Church of the Brethren, was a member of the BRF Committee, and works as a teacher aide in the Preble County, Ohio Head Start Program.

In 2023, Brethren Maine Missions (BMM) purchased the Building Materials Exchange.  The Last Sheaf Building Materials Exchange provides exposure and connection with the community of Lisbon while offering a variety of new, used, and salvaged building materials, tools, and supplies at greatly reduced prices.

Why “The Last Sheaf?”

The Last Sheaf is a reference from the Bible where God says:

When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Deuteronomy 24:19 (NKJV)

Links:

  • https://lastsheafbme.org/

Highlights:

   GOD is faithful! The sun shines and GOD is with us, the rain comes down and GOD is with us.

 

   Since we’ve taken ownership of the Last Sheaf BME, we’ve made roof repairs, insulated the ceiling, repaired walls, etc. There were times it felt like every step we took there was another thing to fix. 

 

   We have two people on staff (Craig Keeney and Peter Bucher) assisted by a tremendous team of volunteers. We work together to make repairs, do pricing and inventory work, assist customers and more.  Interacting with and helping customers is the highlight of our day. People come with material needs; they need product to build or repair their home. People come with spiritual and emotional needs, as well. We purpose to get to know the individuals who come through our doors in order to share hope, truth, and love.

 

   One individual who had visited the Last Sheaf a couple of times was loud, large, and in charge. He had a “Goliath” personality. He made me quake in my boots a little (maybe a lot). His language was at times not appropriate anywhere, but especially not in a public place. One day he was standing right beside me and was about to speak that which I did not want to hear.  In a very quiet voice, I called him by name and before I could say any more, he apologized and said, “You are right. I shouldn’t be talking like that.”  Then he launched into a spiritual conversation with me. I was totally taken off guard by the change. He has been a different person ever since. Now he is more like a “David” personality. I now look forward to opportunities to speak with him.

 

   Donations of products/materials as well as finances are always appreciated, but the prayers of the saints are as vital a need to the work at the Last Sheaf, as anything.

Just as in biblical times the last sheaves of grain from a harvest were to be left behind to benefit the needy, we are taking leftover building materials, tools, and supplies and making them available at greatly reduced prices to those in need.

Our Mission:

Our mission is to benefit low-income homeowners, and to reduce waste in the environment by repurposing surplus building materials, enabling low income homeowners to better maintain their homes.

Register Now

BBI Registration Now Open!

Come explore God’s Word with us!. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. – Romans 10:17”

THE BOOK OF DANIEL

Captivity… Dreams… Rulers… Fire… Lions… Prayers… Kingdoms. From a dedicated youth to a faithful sage, Daniel’s life stands as an example to follow.  Yet beyond his personal life, God gifted Daniel with a message of future events.  Though difficult to grasp, these events would shape the world for the coming Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ as King.

STUDIES IN LUKE

Luke presents a warmly personal and historically accurate account of Jesus as “the Son of Man.” This course will survey the Third Gospel, with emphasis on the unique events, miracles, and parables of Jesus found in it.

HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

This class will provide a broad overview of general church history. We will then focus on the Anabaptist and Pietist movements, especially as they relate to the formation and development of the Brethren groups. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.

ONE FOUNDATION

This course is intended to lay down a measure in a world where truth is slippery and often subject to interpretation. Where “Christian Values” become a political slogan, and “good people” are our allies despite their faulty core beliefs. Where Facebook “friends” post memes about the power of God, despite a lifestyle that is anything but Godly. In the process we often fight among ourselves, doing Satan’s work for him. The purpose of this course is to lay the measure of Jesus Christ against the cults, religions, and worship in our contemporary world.

THE APOCRYPHA

While Protestant translations of the Bible contain 66 books, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize additional canonical books as well.  Where did these books, collectively known as the Apocrypha, come from and why aren’t they part of our Bible?  How reliable are they, and what value is there in studying them?

STUDIES IN 1 AND 2 PETER

The goal of this class is to acquire a firm grasp of the teachings and themes of these two general epistles. Peter covers topics from salvation and suffering to spiritual deception and the return of Christ. These letters are packed with warnings and encouragements for Christian living.

THE GREAT I AM’S OF CHRIST

A detailed study of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the “I Am” metaphors in John’s gospel. Why did Jesus describe himself in these terms? How do they relate to each other? We will look at spiritual and practical applications to further our Christian growth.

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES: AN AMERICAN CULT

Have you ever been visited by someone who said they wanted to study the Bible with you so that you might discover the truth together?  Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to have much in common with evangelical Christians, and they seem to be well versed in the scriptures.  But what do they really believe and how can we effectively witness to those who have been ensnared by this false religion?

THE BOOK OF HOSEA

While we may consider Hosea as one of the minor prophets, his message vividly illustrates the major doctrine in all Scriptures.  The theme of God’s unconditional love is magnified and extended beyond those deserving it.  God expresses tender words towards His erring people inviting them to turn from sin to reconciliation with Him.

CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND ADMINISTRATION

This course will look at basic principles and polity of leading the local church. We will examine the balance between upholding a spiritually focused organism of ministry and cultivating proper order for effective organization. Practical applications will be emphasized. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.

STATEMENT OF CONDUCT

The Brethren Bible Institute believes in the discipline of the whole person (spirit, soul, and body). We will aim to train students not only about how to study the Bible in a systematic way (2 Timothy 2:15), but also how to live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:12). God calls Christians to the highest of character when He commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15), and holiness requires discipline.

Indulgence in the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, drugs, profanity, and gambling are forbidden at BBI. Objectionable literature will be prohibited. Students are asked not to use the college pool during the Institute. Each student must be thoughtful, and respect the rights of others at all times, especially during study and rest periods.

A friendly social group intermingling of students between class periods, and at general school activities is encouraged. Each student should enjoy the friendship of the entire group. At all times, highest standards of social conduct between men and women must be maintained. This means that all forms of unbecoming behavior and unseemly familiarities will be forbidden.

Personal appearance and grooming tell much about one's character. Students are expected to be dressed in good taste. In an attempt to maintain Scriptural expressions of simplicity, modesty, and nonconformity, the following regulations shall be observed while attending BBI.

MEN should be neatly attired and groomed at all times. Fashion extremes and the wearing of jewelry should be avoided on campus. The hair should not fall over the shirt-collar when standing, nor should it cover the ears.

WOMEN should wear skirts cut full enough and of sufficient length to at least come to the knees when standing and sitting. Form-fitting, transparent, low-neckline, or sleeveless clothing will not be acceptable. Slacks and culottes are permitted only for recreation and then only when worn under a skirt of sufficient length. Wearing jewelry should be avoided on campus. Long hair for women is encouraged and all Church of the Brethren girls (and others with like convictions) shall be veiled on campus.

The Institute reserves the right to dismiss any student whose attitude and behavior is not in harmony with the ideals of the School, or whose presence undermines the general welfare of the School, even if there is no specific breach of conduct.

The Brethren Bible Institute is intended to provide sound Bible teaching and wholesome Christian fellowship for all who desire it. The Bible School Committee worked hard and long at the task of arriving at standards, which will be pleasing to the Lord. It is not always easy to know just where the line should be drawn and we do not claim perfection. No doubt certain standards seem too strict for some and too loose for others. If you are one who does not share all these convictions, we hope you will agree to adjust to them for the School period, for the sake of those who do. We are confident that the blessings received will far outweigh any sacrifice you may have to make. If you have a special problem or question, please write to us about it. To be accepted as a student at BBI, you will need to sign a statement indicating that you will cooperate with the standards of the School.