When the searching historian looks for the details of a region’s past, the local newspaper is often the first source to be probed. For obvious reasons, details and facts should be more plentiful within the community in which certain events took place, and if there was a newspaper, even if the views are a bit slanted, it will be the most likely source for those facts.
Such is also true with a local congregation of God’s people. If you want to find out what the emphasis of that church has been, a careful consideration of their church bulletins will project a pretty plain picture. By such an examination we can determine the depth of teaching, the attitude of the elders and preachers through that period and their attitude toward the Bible. The records will often reveal the members to be either generous or stingy with God’s prospering. The attendance entries will usually give an accurate reflection of their respect for God’s commands on that subject, and the articles written by the preacher tell us much about his effectiveness and his soundness in the faith.
In the 1990s, the records of this congregation came to the attention of several of us. Several collections of old bulletins had been discovered on crowded shelves and in cardboard boxes. I began searching through them, and saw and read several years’ worth of local publications. I read about the births of Brannon Hyde and Ryan Bonnett. There were records of the deaths of Ira Combs and Paul Sorrell, the marriages of Joe and Diane Williamson, Monty and Linda McNair, Dart and Gail Hyde, the baptisms of Tammy Hyde, John Moore and Brent Templeton. Gospel meetings with Dick Still and Johnny Ramsey were announced, as well as the appointment of elders, congregational singings and various social gatherings. Whether we realize it or not, when we publish a church bulletin we are recording the history of a local congregation, and also we are announcing the direction and depth of our convictions for all to see, for today and for those who read about us tomorrow.
As I read those faded pages, I saw the chronicle of a church that had publicly stated a determination to walk in the “old paths” of God’s Word, Jeremiah 6:16. This church’s bishops have stated for years that only the truth found in the Bible is to be preached from this pulpit and taught in these classrooms. The articles in those bulletins, going back over twenty years, revealed that, for the most part, the preachers who have stood in this pulpit have been determined to stand boldly for God’s divinely revealed truths, and firmly against those doctrines and practices that are not in harmony with that truth. There have been articles on God’s love and grace, God’s creation of man and the universe, the inspiration of the Bible, church discipline, marriage and divorce, and God’s plan of salvation. The sins involved in immodesty, dancing, drinking, smoking, adultery and pornography are prominently discussed in the pages of those bulletins. The truth concerning church history, denominational doctrines, scriptural worship and the qualifications of elders and deacons were capably expressed by various writers.
In other words, this church, this congregation of God’s people, has received good, solid instruction in the Bible for many years. For over fifty years this congregation has stood firmly on the solid rock of God’s “faith, once for all delivered to the saints,” Jude 3. Religious error has been exposed, immoral behavior has been opposed, and the joys of being a simple, New Testament Christian have been proclaimed. And those who presently serve as pastors of this church are resolved to be more diligent than ever before. We purpose that every teacher that molds the minds of our children be sound and faithful in their convictions and their daily living. We are determined that every person receiving financial support be fully committed to proclaiming “all the counsel of God,” Acts 20:27. It is our resolve that every effort that receives our encouragement or support be a matter of edification to the church of the Lord, and that every member will receive the kind of attention that is in their best interest.
No doubt we will fall short in many ways. We will likely make mistakes of judgment, and leave undone matters of importance, just as all of us will. But we want those little ones that are now sitting in those new classrooms in their tiny chairs to be able to look back twenty years from now and know that this church did not turn her back on her commitment to God. And if this old world lasts another fifty years, we want those who browse through this bulletin in 2043 to see that determination, and to say, “We thank God they encouraged us and taught us to stay true to the book!”