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Are We Relevant?

Several times in the history of Watchman Magazine I have written articles explaining the present state of the effort, and desires for the future.  As many may know, Watchman Magazine is my personal project, for better or worse, and the ebb and flow regarding its relevance and prolificacy are almost entirely a result of my efforts or lack thereof.  That means that my organizational abilities, mental state, and life circumstances all play a part -both in my writing, and in my publishing of the magazine.

Watchman Magazine began in January of 1998, and continued a regular publication schedule, for the most part, through 2004.  Toward the end of this initial iteration of the magazine, publication became more sporadic, as I personally dealt with a bad case of editor/publisher burnout.  After a hiatus of several years, publication resumed in January of 2010, with several changes.  Primarily, the magazine took on a blog format, rather than maintaining a monthly schedule.  With the advent of social networking, and powerful blogging software platforms, I believe this change to be a positive one.  It has made it possible for the Watchman writers to post articles on their schedule, and my editorial responsibilities have lightened.  It is nice to no longer be responsible for coding HTML, and fighting the compatibility problems of earlier years.

This new format has allowed the magazine to continue, despite the fact that my personal circumstances in the past two years have been rather challenging.  In addition to my local responsibilities as an evangelist for the West Side church in Fort Worth, TX, I spent much time helping my mother care for my ailing father.  Dad fought a long and hard battle with chronic leukemia, which evolved into a more aggressive cancer in the middle of 2011, taking his life in October.  Throughout his illness, trips were made to Dallas so that specialists could treat him.  Most often these were weekly trips, sometimes bi-weekly. On occasion a complication or infection would necessitate daily trips for a week or more.  My dad was a special man, and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to serve him by driving him to these appointments.  I will always treasure the time, conversations and companionship those trips afforded us.  Even in the midst of trial, God’s blessings flow.  If you haven’t read my tribute to my father (A Quiet Man of God), I would consider it a special favor if you would take the time.  He was a quiet man, but his goodness and kindness as a child of God is worthy of praise, and the grace he exhibited throughout his illness is worthy of emulation.

Though the magazine continued through this period, I was certainly not satisfied with it.  Watchman is not everything I want it to be, and it is my desire for it to improve in the future.  Articles have been relatively scarce for two main reasons:  1) I have not written as much as I have intended to write; and, 2) I have not done enough to solicit articles from other writers.  It is my intent to improve on both fronts in the coming year.

My thanks to the men who have written in the past couple of years.  There are some “self-starters” among them who have been diligent in making contributions to the magazine.  Men such as Jeff Smith, Heath Rogers, Marc Smith and John Robertson have written even when I was unable to do so.  Others have contributed as well.  For these efforts I am thankful, and I intend to search out others who are willing to contribute their pen to this worthy cause.  We have several young men who have expressed a desire to write.  Though their efforts may not be as polished as their more experienced brethren, I am anxious to give them a voice.  Writing is a wonderful discipline for the preacher, and the written word serves as a permanent and enduring witness for Christ.  Few works are more rewarding.  They will surely grow in scholarship and ability, and their efforts will greatly benefit you, the reader.

I recently read an article poking fun at the call for distinctive preaching.  Though the criticism raised in the piece was subtle, and though there were some valid points made, the general attitude expressed was disturbing to me.  I find that it is mirrored by many of my brethren today.  I have been preaching the gospel now for 34 years.  I have been in full-time local work for the past 27 years.  I have worked with the West Side congregation here in Fort Worth for over 22 years, and have edited Watchman since 1998.  I am less than four months shy of my 50th birthday.  I may not be the most perceptive among us, but I can say that I have seen a change in attitude toward God and His word in the brotherhood in that time.  Especially in the last several decades.

I have personal knowledge of brethren who do not respect the parameters God has established regarding spiritual fellowship.  I know of gospel preachers who defend the concept of stellar evolution, in advocating the Big Bang Theory as reconcilable with the Biblical account of creation.  I have heard and read teaching on the subject of grace that exhibits very little difference from classic Calvinism.  There has been an obvious drift toward the social gospel among some.  I fear that too often young Christians are pandered to, rather than challenged in their faith.  Emotionalism is being confused with spirituality.  Some are equating reverence with raised hands and lowered lights, and decry the respectful worship practiced in many congregations as dry and boring.  The list could go on and on, but it is obvious to experienced observers that there is a deleterious trend that can be seen in this generation.  Yes, I went there… a trend.  The term is most appropriate.  It means, “the general course or prevailing tendency; drift” (dictionary.reference.com).  Other shades of meaning include:  “to emerge as a popular trend; be currently popular”, and “to veer or turn off in a specified direction.”

The very fact that I mentioned a trend makes me objectionable to some brethren.  The phrase, “trend toward apostasy” has become a joke among some, and a sure sign to others that you are paranoid, a “watchdog”, and one of those judgmental types who are always spoiling for a fight.  Does it not matter that the Hebrew writer exhorted, “give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (2:1)?

The most destructive tactic used against those who are concerned about this present trend is rather passive in nature.  It is simply the view that these complainers are irrelevant.  The warnings are shrugged off, and the complainers are ignored.  If complaints are made about such treatment, it serves to establish that such are merely wanting attention, and are throwing a tantrum precisely because they are not relevant.  It is possible that this article and my voice will be considered a prime example of such petulance.  So be it.

I ask, however, that you consider Noah, whose preaching was ignored by all mankind.  Or perhaps Elijah, who in delivering the message of God to a largely uninterested nation, despaired to the point where he cried out to God, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:14).  In fact, all of the prophets of God, though their message was His, were rejected by rebellious Israel (cf. Acts 7:51-53).

Consider our own history in this nation.  The majority in the 19th century clamored for the instrument, and determined those who stood for truth to be irrelevant, and unworthy of serious consideration.  Those who opposed the innovation were marginalized.  The same thing happened in the 20th century.  In December of 1954, Gospel Advocate editor B.C. Goodpasture called for a “yellow tag of quarantine” to be placed upon all congregations and preachers who objected to the institutional practices that were gaining a foothold among brethren.  As time progressed, the calls for authority for such practices were ignored as irrelevant by the majority.

Was Noah irrelevant?  While he most certainly was ignored, his warnings were true.  What about Elijah?  The man who was charged by Ahab as being the “troubler of Israel” is acknowledged as one of the greatest of the prophets.  During the two great divisions in the restoration movement, were the faithful relevant or not?  It is a mistake to equate relevancy with popularity.  Relevancy has nothing to do with how many are listening.  It has to do with who is proclaiming the truth!

Consider the words of Paul, “As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:9-10).  Our purpose is to serve Christ.  Any who does so successfully is relevant, whether he is heeded or not.

Perhaps the problem among some is that they confuse relevance with acceptance.  The popular way is seldom the way of God.  “…wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Matthew 7:13).  I fully understand that popular is a relative term.  Even the most ear tickling preacher among us does not approach the popularity of a Joel Osteen, for example.  Please remember, though, that the standard for relevance and true acceptance is God and His word; not men.

So, we will continue to write, and invite others to do so.  We will write on myriad topics, seeking to declare the whole counsel of God.  We will not be hobbyists, but we will address the issues that trouble brethren, and we will deal with the error that endangers the souls of men.  We will not concern ourselves with how many deem us relevant.  We will try to get as many people as possible to read and listen.  We will soldier on in the spirit of Noah and Elijah.

I have heard that some believe my magazine to be the center of an effort to control the brotherhood.  If so, it is a miserable failure!  But no, it is not, and never has been.  Watchman Magazine is one person’s effort to edify and teach.  I sit in my office, and write about things that I believe to be important.  I invite others to write as well.  That is all that it is – but that is enough for me, and I hope for the Lord.  I pledge to you that I will try to do it better in the months and years to come.