Jump Start # 2333
Hebrews 12:28 “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe”
The name was Dutch Bethel. That always struck me as a unique union of two concepts: Bethel, from the Bible. Long ago many places were designated with Biblical names. The “Dutch” part I’m not real sure about. There was a community of Pennsylvania Dutch and maybe that is where the name came from. But Dutch Bethel is no more. I just learned about that this week while in a meeting. Most of you have never heard of Dutch Bethel, but it was the name of a congregation of God’s people that met in Indiana. The congregation started in the 1820’s, and was probably the oldest existing church connected to the churches of Christ in the state and nearly one of the oldest in the country. Through all the ups and downs and troubles that changed so many churches, this congregation stayed the course. There was a time when it numbered over 200 members. Several other congregations were started out of it. But now, it has dwindled down to nothing, and death has taken what was left and the doors have closed and there no longer is worship taking place there. The building remains and an old cemetery sits across the street. I’ve been to this place a couple of times. It’s hard to find. When locals say “It’s way out in the sticks,” it’s really way out in the sticks. A gravel road takes you to where it is.
But a sadness came to me when I head that the church at Dutch Bethel was no more. I love history. I have always wanted to preach one time there. Many of my early ancestors were part of that church. But we know things change. We see this not just out “in the sticks” but in the cities as well. Sears is gone. Toys R Us is gone. Gas stations that pumped gas for you do not exist. Life moves on and things close and new things open.
Our verse helps put some of this in perspective for us spiritually. The kingdom of God cannot be shaken. In Daniel’s vision, the kingdom can not be destroyed. The kingdom of God is made up of people, individuals, saved people. Congregations come and go. There are new congregations forming, some for good reasons, some because folks can’t get along. There are congregations that merge. Location, size all play a role in that. And, some like Dutch Bethel, are closing their doors for the last time. There won’t be a thriving congregation in Dutch Bethel any more. One reason is that there are so few people that live around there now. It’s just too hard to find. So does the merging and closing of congregations affect the kingdom? Does it make the kingdom shift or change? No. The kingdom is not made up of congregations, but of individuals. People move around. People leave one congregation for another congregation. The makeup of God’s kingdom is the hearts of people.
Sometimes we see the world and especially the kingdom only through the eyes of the congregation where we attend. For young people who haven’t traveled about much, it’s easy for them to conclude that all congregations are about the same. We are all about the same size. We are all doing about the same thing. Like a McDonald’s. I was driving the other day, and wanted some sweet tea. I dropped in a McDonald’s. This was in a different city from where I live. I noticed the menu items were the same as they were back home. One McDonald’s looks pretty much like another McDonald’s. It’s not that way with congregations. If we are all following the Bible closely, we will be the same doctrinally, but the size, the atmosphere, the leadership, the goals and the drive can be very different. Some congregations have a stale and old feeling to them. Others seem very fresh, exciting. In some places, you rarely see a new face. In other places, folks are visiting all the time. Some congregations are not doing much to reach others. Some are using every tool they can find, from print, to social media, to videos. Congregations come in different sizes. Some are small. Some are large. Congregations have different histories. Some are very old, like Dutch Bethel was. Others, are less than a decade old. Some have elders. Some don’t. Some have a lot of money and are doing all kinds of things to reach others. Some don’t have much and the budget is very tight which makes it limited to what they can do. Some have lots of young people. Others have very few. Some are near college towns and there’s a lot of college kids that come. Others have never seen a college student, unless he’s home for the summer. Congregations, like our homes, take on the personality of the people there. Some are very laid back. Services may get around to starting five or ten minutes late each time. No one seems to be bothered by the time. Others are very precise. Some congregations are like visiting an old friend. Lots of smiles, hugs and you just hate to leave. Other congregations are like sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. No one really talks to any one and you hope you can get out of there as quickly as you can.
It does one good to visit other places. You get ideas. You see how others do things. It’s good for the elders to visit other places and to learn what others are doing, so they can become better. Preachers need to share ideas. We’re not rivals on different teams, we’re all in this together.
The kingdom is made up of individuals. The kingdom will survive until Jesus comes. Congregations come and go. Some are doing well. Some, as we see in Revelation, are lukewarm and some are dead. And, some have closed their doors, like Dutch Bethel.
Plans are being made so I can get back inside old Dutch Bethel one more time. Hate to see it close, but it’s time. No one is left. It’s closed, but the kingdom hasn’t. It never will. It cannot be shaken. You can, as the old folks say, take that to the bank! There’s one thing we can count on, God’s kingdom will never go out of business. There may come a time when preachers from other countries come to the United States to evangelize. There may come a time when there are more Christians in foreign lands than there are in America. God’s kingdom flies only one banner, the banner of the cross.
Congregations come and go. Congregations change. Some start out great and lose their love, like Ephesus. Some go through the motions like Laodicea. Some no longer exist. Look at all the congregations we read about in the N.T. How many of those congregations are still around? But the kingdom…it continues to grow and grow. As congregations come and go, don’t fret that God may go out of business.
The kingdom cannot be shaken!