REPORT OF THE CHURCH EXTENSION DIRECTOR
to the 104th Annual Conference
Daniel G. Ziegler
"....Who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts no one opens". Revelation 3:7
We live our lives on earth by the grace, and under the eye, of a sovereign Lord. It is He "who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11). In carrying out His will, our Lord Jesus providentially opens and closes -- and there is no being on earth or in heaven who can foil or undo the will of our sovereign Lord and God.
It is our duty and privilege to yield to His will and follow His direction; to move ahead when He opens and to pause and to cease when He closes.
OPEN EYES THAT WE MAY SEE
"Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Thy law" -- Psalm 119:18
By God's wonderful grace we have been made able to receive the wonderful truth of His wonderful Word. It is there that we find what we need to know about our God, our world, ourselves and our duty. In the Scriptures we discover God's great plan and program for His world, His kingdom and His Church.
In the Bible we discover from the lips of our Lord His Great Commandment (to love the Lord God with all our beings and to love our neighbors as ourselves) and His Great Commission (to present the Good News to all humans and urge them to believe it). As we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bring together obedience to these two supreme mandates, Christ's program is accomplished and His Church built. As we study the Scriptures we are led to see the standards, goals and methods that we are to use as we build for Christ.
Yet we may often feel weak or alone or overwhelmed or afraid. We need to have our eyes opened again.
Elisha the prophet was the object of the rage of the king of the Arameans, who dispatched an army to surround Dothan and capture God's spokesman. The young man who was Elisha's attendant, when he saw the surrounding army cried "Alas....What shall we do?" The prophet replied, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (II Kings 6:16). Then Elisha prayed, "O Lord....open his eyes that he may see" (v. 17). The Lord answered the prophet's prayer and the young man saw the Lord's host all around Elisha. And the prophet and his attendant were delivered.
The Lord of the Church assured us that He will build His church and the gates of Hades will not withstand its onslaught (Matthew 16:18). He promised to be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). With opened eyes we see that "the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses" (I Corinthians 10:4) and we know that "greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (I John 4:4). Boldly, then, we shall move forward at home and around the world to take the Gospel and to plant the Church for the glory of God.
With God-opened eyes we see the truth of the Scriptures, that we may believe, and see the reality of the Lord's spiritual forces allied with us, that we may rely on them. But we also have been sent to open the eyes of others, just as Paul the Apostle. He stated to King Agrippa that the Lord had sent him to the Gentiles "to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified in Me" (Acts 26:18).
This lesser known statement of the Great Commission should burn in our souls so that we of the Bible Fellowship Church might be able to say with Paul, "Consequently....(we) did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision" (v. 19).
OPEN MINDS THAT WE MAY UNDERSTAND
"Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" -- Luke 24:45
On the very day that Jesus arose from among the dead, He walked with two of His disciples enroute to Emmaus. "But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him" (Luke 24:16). The living Christ was with them, but they did not see Him. Had they known the Scriptures, they would have known Him. "O foolish men," He said, "and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!" (v.25). When Jesus took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them, "their eyes were opened and they recognized Him...."(v.33).
A bit later that same evening Jesus was with the eleven disciples in Jerusalem. After discussing with them Himself and the Scripture, "Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (v.45). Part of the understanding they received was "that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (v. 47), another iteration of the Great Commission.
May our minds be open that we might understand the Scriptures and the Commission and that we may perceive what Christ is doing among us. Only He can make a blind man see and a dead person live. Only He can make a Church!
For the third consecutive year this Conference is asked to receive a new church into its membership -- five new churches in three years. Christ has brought Cornerstone Bible Fellowship Church of Bangor into existence. We recognize His work.
Some of Christ's work in building His church occurs in somewhat quiet ways.
Having fully supported itself for three years, Calvary Church of Finesville, NJ graduates from the Department at this time. Special recognition for this achievement is due to D. Thomas Phillips, who served Calvary Church for over 14 years and brought it to self-support. During the year Brother Phillips was succeeded by David H. Jones.
As of September 1, two more churches have requested that their financial assistance be discontinued -- Poughquag, NY and Newark, DE. They join four other Department Churches in self support: Camden, DE; Kutztown, PA; Mt. Pocono, PA and Wappinger Falls, NY. These six congregations reached full self support in an average of seven years from their starts.
In Delaware there is another very tangible evidence of Christ's work among us -- a new building in Newark, DE. Dedication of this spacious new edifice is expected yet this fall.
The financial gauge of progress is also evident as several other congregations have moved toward greater support for their pastors and less dependance on the older churches for assistance. These include the church at New Fairfield, CT and the missions at Newark, NJ; Whaley Lake, NY and Somers Point, NJ.
Jesus is present and at work among us to build His Church. May our eyes see Him and our minds understand His work.
OPEN LIPS THAT WE MAY PRAISE
"O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Thy praise." -- Psalm 51:15
When we see and understand what Christ is doing, it is incumbent on us to praise Him for this work. Why is it that we are so slow to praise?
When the Jewish captives returned to the land, they were "like those who dream" (Psalm 126:1). They could hardly believe it!
"Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting" (v.2). Their joy and laughter and praise called attention to what the Lord had done for them. "Then they said among the nations, `The Lord has done great things for them.'". In turn, His people re-echoed, "The Lord has done great things for us. We are glad" (v.3).
May we acknowledge what our Lord is doing, and rejoice and be glad -- and may our open lips praise Him.
OPEN MOUTHS THAT WE MAY PROCLAIM
"And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached
Jesus to him". -- Acts 8:35
We have been given Good News to share and orders (the great Commission) to share that News with all people.
Philip the Evangelist was directed by the Lord to a particular place and to a certain person, the treasurer of Ethiopia. He began conversation with the man by a question when he saw and heard him reading the Scriptures, "Do you understand what you are reading?" (Acts 8:30). It was in answer to his host's question that Philip opened his mouth and proclaimed the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. Through Philip's witness the Ethiopian man believed and was baptized and went back home rejoicing (v. 39).
Such opportunities may be ours also if we open our mouths and proclaim the life giving Good News. Part of our church planting work is to challenge and train the believers in our young churches to be forthright proclaimers and witnesses of the Gospel.
OPEN HEARTS TO RESPOND
"....And the Lord opened her heart to respond to the
things spoken by Paul" -- Acts 16:14
Lydia was the first convert to Christ in Europe. Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke had come to Philippi by divine call to preach the Good News there. Lydia of Thyatira is a lesson in conversion. She listened to the message. "How shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14).
For conversion to occur there must be the hearing of the Good News. But that message is incomprehensible to the person in his natural state. "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (I Corinthians 2:14). For Lydia to be converted, God had to do something in her. He did. He opened her heart. Had the Lord not opened lydia's heart she would not and could not have responded to the Good News. Because He opened her heart she could and did respond, repent and believe, and in consequence she confessed Christ in baptism.
During the year just passed literally thousands of people have heard the Gospel through the ministries of our Church Extension Department. Among these there have been many, scores of them, whose hearts the Lord has opened. They have repented and believed. Many have been baptized and have committed themselves to membership in Christ's church. In this we rejoice and for this we are grateful.
OPEN HANDS THAT WE MAY GIVE
"...You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your
needy and poor in your land". -- Deuteronomy 15:11
In the Law, the Lord recognized the poor and provided for their needs to be met through the giving of the people. "The poor will never cease to be in the land". He tells the, therefore you must give to meet their needs. The Lord adds His promise of blessing if they will give, "....for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings" (v.10).
In the United States of America there is great affluence. Most participate in plenty, and even most Christians are caught up in the quest for more and bigger and better and newer. In the midst of this, America has many who live in poverty, some of them homeless and many hungry. Believers and their churches must see those in need and move to help them.
But there is a greater, more extensive and graver poverty in America -- poverty of the Gospel. There are vast areas and a great many communities where the Good News is seldom told, where there are few believers to demonstrate the power of the Gospel and credibly model it and where faithful evangelical churches are rare or non-existent. As we open our hands to give for extending the church, we provide for the Gospel-poor in our land and may expect to incur the Lord's promised blessings.
The fiscal year just closed has shown a beautiful open handedness among the Bible Fellowship Churches, as they increased their support for their Church Extension Department by 11.35%. We thank God and His people for this generous support and count in its continuing growth as we make plans and write budgets toward meeting the need of more of America's spiritually impoverished.
OPEN DOORS THAT WE MAY ENTER
"Behold, I have put before you an open door which
no one can shut....." -- Revelation 3:8
"....they began to report all things that God had done with them
and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" -- Acts 14:27
"....for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and
there are many adversaries". -- I Corinthians 16:9
"Devote yourselves to prayer....that God may open to us a door for
the word...." -- Colossians 4:2,3
Open doors, especially those which God the Lord has opened, demand action. Particular ones may lead to believing (Acts 14:27), to speaking (Colossians 4:3) or to serving (I Corinthians 16:9). Whatever response is appropriate, open doors are meant to be entered.
A great open door is being presented to the Church in the U.S.A. It is the peoples who are coming to this country from many parts of the world. Leaving the old and coming to the new fosters openness and receptiveness. The Bible Fellowship Church must plan to enter these God-given open doors. We have begun to do so during the year with a new mission to Southeast Asian refugees in the Philadelphia area. David H.C. Sng has accepted a call from the Board of Church Extension to this ministry and began his work in June, after being graduated from Biblical Theological Seminary in May. Brother Sng and his wife, Judith, are natives of Singapore. They have one child, Joanna, who is 7. The Sngs remain in the U.S. to engage in this ministry under a special visa which requires that they be supported in the ministry and forbids Brother Sng from engaging in other employment. To date, 42% of their 1987-88 support has been committed. This work of evangelizing, discipling and churching Southeast Asians into the Bible Fellowship Church will be difficult and long-term. Their needs are varied and great; the work among them will need to be many faceted and holistic in its approach. Brother Sng seeks to build a multi--gifted ministry team to work with him.
By faith we have entered the open door in needy Atlantic County, NJ in Project Beachhead. Roger Reitz continues to labor intensively to build a church in the Somers Point area, where there are presently four potential committed families worshipping together, along with others who are more casually involved, plus visitors. Through the summer many people from different Bible Fellowship Churches who were vacationing in the Shore area worshiped at Somers Point, bringing great encouragement. "Together in the Park Again" on June 13 (see my 1986 report) brought together a large group of volunteers from the churches who blanketed Somers Point with flyers. There was a good attendance at the afternoon concert at Kennedy Park.
During the summer, under our PISCES program, Carol Watson worked in Somers Point, with most of her work focused on children's Bible clubs and door-to-door visitation.
Early in the year, Brother Reitz's partner, Harold C. Weaber, resigned the mission at Mays Landing. We hope soon to call a successor as organizing pastor in the fast growing Mays Landing-Hamilton Township area, where the work has been dormant for these recent months.
Another open door is the populous Edison, NJ. Dennis Cahill has served diligently at Edison. The Lord has been pleased to bring several to confession of Jesus as Lord during the year and a good number of new folks into the congregation.
Sometimes doors are obviously wide open; at other times their degree of openness is not so apparent. In some such cases the Lord sends men to push on the doors to see whether they are open. One such door-pusher was Robert S. Commerford, who went a few years ago to Whaley Lake, NY as a church-planter/evangelist. The door was open and a church is forming, with eight committed families on board and steady growth over the past 2-3 years.
In Irvington, NJ, Ron Erb was the door-pusher. After six years of faithful, hard labor there, he and the Board had to conclude that the door was not sufficiently open or, to change the metaphor, the field not sufficiently ripe for us to be able to plant a church in Irvington at this time. A good number of people professed faith in Christ through this work, but a viable core group did not form. June 28 was the last Sunday's worship at Irvington. Several of the Irvington people have become faithful participants in the life of the Newark congregation. Brother Erb has accepted the call to be the first full-time pastor of the Mt. Pocono Church, succeeding A.L. Seifert, the founding pastor. We are pleased that Brother Erb continues in the Department. We are grateful for the fine ministry of Brother Seifert in bringing the Mt. Pocono congregation together.
Another door-pusher, Dave Carver, found a less than wide open door at Selinsgrove, PA. He and the elders of the mother church, Emmanuel of Sunbury, had to terminate the Selinsgrove mission. Again, many were reached with the Gospel and there were conversions, but not in sufficient number to form a credible core group.
Failure to achieve the church planting goal is always disappointing. Good stewardship demands discernment and courage to decide when a mission must be terminated and precious and scarce resources deployed elsewhere.
After four years of diligent labor in Hillside, NJ, Dennis Spinney found it necessary for reason of extended family needs that required his help, to resign from the Eastern Union County mission and relocate his family to Dudley, Massachusetts, where the family has found housing and he has found employment as a social worker. Because of the brevity of Brother Spinney's time in Hillside and the fact that his service was bivocational, the receptivity in the Eastern Union County target area of over 100,000 people in six municipalities has not been fully ascertained. We are seeking another man to take up this bivocational ministry.
A new door of opportunity may be opening to us in New England in the area where Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island meet. A potential team of three church planters in that area has met four times over the past three months. The team would include Dennis Spinney and two other men who are candidates under care of the Ministerial Candidate Committee. The three would support their families fully or primarily as "tent makers" (bivocationals). We may pray that God will open a wide door of opportunity in New England.
WIDER HORIZONS is about open doors. In praying and planning for growth to at least 14,293 members by the year 2000 we in the Bible Fellowship Church know that we must look to the Lord to open our eyes to see the possibilities and our minds to discern His will for us. We shall open our mouths to proclaim the Good News, and our hands to give that the spiritually impoverished be fed the Bread of Life. And we look to God to open the hearts of His chosen ones to respond in faith and obedience.
Part of the WIDER HORIZONS goals call for the planting of 55 new churches. Sixteen of these are to be daughter churches, of which Cornerstone of Bangor, PA is the first. Only Christ can plant a church. It will take His work to open eyes, minds, hearts, hands and doors to see this achieved. Broken into small units, the goal may be achieved by the formation of one daughter church per year plus one extra by 2000. We know of one established church that is seriously considering an imminent daughter church start. Which church will be next?
The Church Extension Department goal for WIDER HORIZON church starts is 39. It is fitting that the first of these is our ministry to Southeast Asian refugees. We hope that a new bivocational team in New England will target three communities, and will be formed yet this year, which will put us right on target. Our goal for 1988 is three more new starts. We have potential target areas in view. We may pray for laborers (Matthew 9:38) and for their support. The latter is embodied in the Development section of the Department's 1987-88 budget.
Achievement of the total membership goal can only happen as many of the churches grow significantly in the next 13 years. Our goal for 1988 is 6,513 members. In succeeding years the percentage and number growth goals rise steadily and relentlessly. We shall need, by God's grace, to see open hearts and doors for this to happen. We may not expect this to happen, we are not likely to believe that it will, without much prayer and planning now on our part. Toward these ends the churches may call on the Church Extension Department for help and counsel, especially our WIDER HORIZONS Co-ordinator, Robert W. Smock.
Looking ahead to the final years of the WIDER HORIZONS goal period, the size and relentlessness of the goals for membership growth in those years will impress and overawe us. The final five years, 1996 through 2000, we shall have to average 1017 new members per year. As of now, this is unthinkable. But we shall look to God the Holy Spirit to grow, empower and enable us and our churches so that we shall be far beyond the people we are today -- in vision, boldness, power and faith. And we shall look to Christ to give us by 1996, 37 vital new congregations to join their older sister congregations in adding to our growth.
An eighteenth century hymn by William Cowper might well be the WIDER HORIZONS hymn.
Jesus, where'er Thy people meet,
There they behold Thy mercy-seat;
Where'er they seek Thee, Thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground.
For Thou, within no walls confined,
Inhabitest the humble mind;
Such ever bring Thee where they come,
And going, take Thee to their home.
Dear Shepherd of Thy chosen few,
Thy former mercies, here renew;
Here to our waiting hearts proclaim
The sweetness of Thy saving Name.
Here may we prove the power of prayer
To strengthen faith and sweeten care,
To teach our faint desires to rise,
And bring all heaven before our eyes.
The final stanza of this prayer is apropos the 1000 new believers whom we look for our Lord to add annually to the Bible Fellowship Church, 1996 through 2000.
Lord, we are few, but Thou art near;
Nor short Thine arm, nor deaf Thine ear;
O rend the heavens, come quickly down,
And make a thousand hearts Thine own.
Two matters to be decided by this Conference have a significant bearing on open doors to the Bible Fellowship Church. The Conference is being asked to adopt a purpose statement of the Church Extension Department that will encompass most of the North American continent, which would recognize great open doors in a continental strategy.
After some fifteen years of struggling with the issue of total abstinence from all use of alcoholic beverage as a requirement for church membership, this Conference seems to be on the verge of resolving the issue. It appears that through our firm commitment to the Scriptures as our only rule of faith and life and to each other to keep our unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) and by the Holy Spirit's guidance we have before us an opportunity to put this vexing problem behind us. The strict adherence by the Department to an older standard that exceeds the Scriptures has handicapped our church planting labors -- destroying some congregations and inhibiting the growth of others. The removal of this hobble will enable us to walk more strongly and rapidly through the open doors which our Lord places before us.