In 2000 a movie entitled, O Brother, Where Art Thou? hit theaters nationwide. It was purportedly based loosely on Homer’s Odyssey, but it came off as nothing more than a farcical account of three lovable rogues who escaped from a chain gang in Depression-era Mississippi. If there was some sort of message behind the movie, it was likely lost on most moviegoers.
The title, however, raises a significant spiritual issue that is worth considering. In Eph. 4:11-16, Paul spoke to the church in Ephesus about how God had ordered His church. He said that God had placed workers of various sorts within it to do the many things necessary to grow and sustain it. The goal, Paul said, was for the body to be built up by the combined talents and efforts of every part of the body. Christ is the source by which the body grows, but as Paul said in v. 16, “the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” This exhortation to a first century church with whom Paul was intimately acquainted shows us the danger that can overcome even the best church.
The key to the tremendous growth of the first century church was not because there were apostles in it. It was not because there were eloquent preachers in it, like Apollos. It occurred because ordinary Christian men and women “went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). The powerful miracles and preaching of the apostles were complemented by the daily testimony of the godly lives of Christians all over the Roman Empire. Indeed, it is likely that many more disciples were made, and more congregations established, by ordinary Christians taking their faith with them as they moved about, than by the work of the apostles.
We may wonder why the church does not grow as it did in the first century, or why it does not grow as it did in the early 20th century. The answer to these questions may itself be the question, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Somehow through the years many in the church have concluded that the work of the church is actually the work of the preacher, and perhaps the elders. This very statement reveals the subtle change in attitude that has taken place. The work of the church is “their” work, as though the individual members of the church are not in any way responsible for it. The church is “them”, so individual members may or may not get involved.
Many years ago, when schools still taught typing classes, one of the exercises students practiced in order to learn touch typing (i.e., typing without looking at the keys) was to type this statement: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.” This exercise helped students learn the positions of the key letters used in most words as it increased their typing speed and accuracy.
As we consider the needs of the church today, it is time to revive and revise this statement to: “Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their church.” The church, after all, is not “them”, but “us”. If the church is going to grow, it will do so only when each of us does what he or she is capable of doing in the Lord’s service. Too many, it seems, are content to sit on the sidelines, either unwilling to change their lifestyle to be qualified to serve in an official capacity, or just unwilling to serve at all. Then these spectators complain about the lack of growth in the church. This is not what the Lord intended, and it simply will not do. So then, the question remains, “O Brother, O Sister, Where Art Thou?”