Lipscomb on the Poor VII

This piece from David Lipscomb in 1866 speaks for itself. “The spirit of the church must be changed–radically changed in this respect,” he writes, “before it can be truly the Church of Christ.”

“The crowning characteristic of the Christian religion in the esteem of its founder, is that the “poor have the gospel preached to them.” The church that fails to exhibit that its first, most important work is to preach the gospel to poor, has utterly failed to appreciate the true spirit of its mission, and the character of work it was established to perform. The congregation of true worshippers of Jesus Christ always exhibits the greatest anxiety to have the poor preached to. In all of its provisions for worship, the comfort and accommodation of the poor must be its first object. The congregation that erects the costly and elegant edifice, that furnishes the floor, the seats, the altar, the communion table, in such a manner, that makes the poor feel that they are not for them, cannot be the Church of Christ. The congregation whose members dress in the “fine linen and purple” of wealth, whose equipages and bearing are of a character to prevent a home-feeling in the plainly dressed, humble poor, in their midst, is not a congregation in which the spirit of the Redeemer dwells. The individual, man or woman, who attends meeting in such style of dress, that the poor, plainly clad laborer is made to feel the unpleasant contrast in their equipages, is an enemy of the religion of Jesus Christ. The poor of the land are driven from the religious services of the so-called Church of Christ, because the whole surroundings at those services, plainly say by their costly and gilded equipments that they are for the rich, not for the poor. The profession of Christianity, has well nigh run into the sheerest mockery of the religion of primitive times upon this very point. Where is the house for worship in the city or the country, that is now builded with a view of its adaptation to the wants and customs of the poor, and not rather to exhibit the tastes and minster to the pride of the rich? The poor fail to attend religious worship, especially in the cities, not because they are less disposed to be religious than the rich, but because the pomp, dress, parade, equipages and style of these services declare plainly to them, they are not for you. The spirit of the church must be changed–radically changed in this respect, before it can be truly the Church of Christ. The thousands of the poor in the cities and in the country, must be sought out –preached to–must have congregations whose dress, style, manners and associations will draw them, rather than repel them from them, and these congregations, so conforming themselves to the true spirit of the Gospel, and adapting their habits to the necessities of the poor, will alone constitute THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.”

David Lipscomb, “The Spirit of the Church,” Gospel Advocate 8 (13 February 1866) 107-108.

6 Responses to “Lipscomb on the Poor VII”

  1.   John Says:

    Were some of the Orthodox buildings in eastern Europe and Russia quite elaborate? Did the poor come into them to pray? Perhaps if we removed most of our pews it would welcome a more diverse crowd. It would be interesting if we came to our buildings to pray at various times, on our own, during the week. Of course, I don’t reckon they even had church buildings in the 1st century. When was the first one built?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      In cultures where the Orthodox dominate, you see poor (especially the elderly) coming to the building to worship (at least in my experience). I cannot speak generally about it other than what I have seen and read. Orthodox have an attachment to the icons which transcends some of these factors. So, it is context…context..context. Nevertheless, in my experience, there are those in Russian and Ukraine, for example, who resist the Orthodox because of their buildings, icons and perceived “wealth.”

      The question, it seems to me, is how do we welcome the poor in our current context? Will the poor give the gospel a hearing when we spend such wealth on buildings, cars, etc. I don’t know, but in my experience the poor are rather uncomfortable in our upper-middle class buildings (generally speaking). There are many exceptions to that, especially if the poor are served in those buildings (support groups for addicts, etc.).

      The first known building exclusively used for assembly is found in Dura-Europas (Syria). It dates from around 250 or so. Surely there were others before that, but it is a converted domestic dwelling.

      Blessings, John

      •   John Says:

        So, how do we reach out to the poor? Jesus could heal. I can’t. His healing not only helped the subject and confirmed who He was, it also caused multitudes to present who He could then teach. Some groups substitute entertainment for healing, in a sense, and draw crowds that way. The context of a traveling rabbi was common to them and it is not in our culture. If I posted up on the street corner, I doubt I would get many hearers. With all the socialism in our civil government, one is made to wonder, “If you are poor, why aren’t you getting a check?” I am not trained to help those with chemical addictions. I would feel a need to refer them.

        Now, none of that is intended as excuse making or criticism. It is a legitimate question – how do we reach out to the poor in some kind of meaningful way?

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        I don’t think it begins with building but identifying people in our context with whom to build a relationship. It involves sharing meals with others, etc. Inviting them to our building is not the best approach but inviting them to our homes or other venues. But ultimately, it seems to me, it means downsizing our buildings and their decor to something more community-sensitive and welcoming. I think what that looks like is going to be different in various situations and contexts. One size does not fit all here, but the principle that the poor ought to have a primacy in our ministry is rooted in Jesus.

  2.   johnkking Says:

    This issue is addressed in the Disciple Making Movements by planting the gospel into communities rather than extracting people from those places and telling them to act like church. There are so many points of overlap between Lipscombs thoughts and DMM/CPM!

  3.   eirenetheou Says:

    Ironically, one mark of affluence in our own time may be seen in those who walk into Sunday morning worship wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and running shoes but no socks. These are people who care only for their own comfort; they have no concern or respect for the feelings of others. They are not “poor”; far from it. They are simply, in every sense, careless.

    We do well to dress to honor God and to lift up God’s glory in all that we do. We do well, then, to avoid calling attention to ourselves and to attend to the service of God. “That which is exalted among humankind is an abomination in the sight of God.”

    May God have mercy.


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