Walter Scott: “A Church That Is All Mouth”

Walter Scott: "A Church That Is All Mouth"

George Darsie (1846-1904) from Frankfort, Kentucky wrote a sermon entitled, To Every Man His Work, which was published in a book edited by J. A. Lord – On the Lord’s Day: A Manual for the Regular Observances of the New Testament Ordinances. In the sermon, Darsie illustrated the importance of Christians fulfilling various roles in the work of the church by telling of a visit by Walter Scott (1796-1861) to the Brush Run Church.

“Walter Scott, an associate of Alexander Campbell in the early days of our religious movement, one time went from his home in Pittsburg over to Washington County to visit and spend a Sunday with Campbell at the Brush Run Church. He found the church service quite lengthy, as every male member of the church was called on for a religious address. After long hours had passed and all had spoken, Scott was asked to make the closing address. He did so. But whether he was hungry for his dinner or worn out by the length of the service, his remarks, though quite pointed, were rather testy.

“‘Brethren,’ he said, ‘my Bible tells me that the church is like a human body, of which one member is a foot, another a hand, another an eye, and still another a mouth. That, in fact, it has, or should have, as great variety in its membership as the human body has. But I regret to see that you have reversed all this. You have here a church with but a single member. You have, in fact, a church that is all mouth!’” (On the Lord’s Day, p. 95)

Reading this account is humorous, but it does illustrate an important point – not everyone in the church needs to carry out the same works.

Of course, there are some things that all Christians should be doing – worshiping, praying, Bible study, personal evangelism, etc. However, other things – like public teaching – do not need to be done by everyone. James wrote, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). When Paul addressed the activities that were done in the assembly at Corinth, he wrote, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” (1 Corinthians 14:29). There may have been more than two or three who could have spoken, but they were to put a limit on this. Not everyone needs to speak.

In a situation like the one Darsie described at the Brush Run Church in which every male member got up to speak, it is possible that every male member was a capable public speaker and well-equipped to expound the Scriptures to others. But it is probably more likely that a few were capable and the rest were ill-equipped for the task. In either case, here are a few points to consider:

  1. The assembly is to be conducted in a way that is “properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40) that allows those who are present to be edified (1 Corinthians 14:26). This means that those who are ill-equipped at teaching do not need to be called upon to do so when there are other capable teachers present (cf. James 3:1). It would certainly be good for such men to develop their skills and learn to do this (cf. Hebrews 5:12), but the assembly is not necessarily the best place for this initial training and practice to take place.
  2. Not everyone who can teach needs to teach at the same time (in the same assembly). Paul told the Corinthians, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” (1 Corinthians 14:29). It is a great blessing to have several men who can capably preach and teach the gospel in a local church, but they can do so in turns rather than thinking that everyone needs to speak in one, long, protracted assembly.
  3. If the church has an abundance of capable teachers who are regularly “competing” for speaking opportunities, one option may be for some to go elsewhere to work with a congregation that has a lack of capable teachers. The church in Antioch was blessed with a multitude of prophets and teachers (Acts 13:1-2). Rather than having them all remain there, the Holy Spirit called upon Barnabas and Saul to go on and preach elsewhere. In many places, especially in the United States, if a congregation has an abundance of capable preachers, Bible class teachers, song leaders, etc., there may be congregations not far away that are lacking such individuals. For one (or more) of these individuals to decide to work with one of these other congregations and make use of his talents in that way would be a huge help and encouragement to the (typically) smaller congregation.

Regardless of the capabilities of the speakers, the way in which the assembly was conducted during Walter Scott’s visit to the Brush Run Church was unnecessary. There is plenty of work for all of us to be doing – inside and (especially) outside of the assembly. Let us be committed to doing the Lord’s work in whatever capacity we are able – while always striving to improve and expand our abilities – to fulfill the needs that exist around us.

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    Interesting article and seems to fit in many ways of many churches today except there is only one “Mouth” – the preacher who preaches, prays, teaches and in some cases is the song leader. We have leaders who won’t LEAD and members who don’t do any work except are quick to criticize. But a lot of it all gets back to the leadership just like in business or government. Lot of TALK with little leadership or inspiration. Or in many cases preachers that do elders work and elders that do deacons work with the average member doing nothing. It all goes back to who is in charge just like in business – the example set.

  2. This is a great idea (lending people whose gifts are needed in other bodies) but, most of these bodies will still want to use members who already attend, regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof. I call this the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome.

  3. Everyone should be able to teach some one the plan of salvation outside of the assembly. Passing out tracts can be done by everyone. This is one form of preaching and teaching. 2 Tim 4:2. What are you waiting for. lost souls Are waiting for you. JP

  4. JP, absolutely. While not everyone can take a public role in teaching/preaching, every Christian can and should be engaged in reaching the lost around them.

  5. Frederick, I think you’re right that many congregations will still want to use their own members. What I meant was not that one congregation would “lend” members to a smaller congregation to help them out; I meant some Christians seeing the need in these smaller congregations and going to them, placing membership there, and then start being involved in the work.