The title “churchman” is not very familiar to us. But it should be. It is a simple and clear description of a beautiful quality found in any believer in Jesus Christ. A “churchman” is a man or woman who has a great love and concern for the church of God. He or she loves the church as a whole, as an organism—the body of Jesus Christ. He or she also has a great love and concern for the church in its institutional form, that is, in the local congregation of which they are a member, in the denomination of which their church is a member, as well as for the true church wherever she manifests herself on the earth.
It is worthy to note that the church is one body. Either the whole church is saved or not one of us is saved. We must realise too that it is in blessing the church that God blesses each individual saint. What each saint needs, as a part of the church, the whole church needs. The church is the one body of Jesus Christ.
A churchman, while absolutely motivated by a love for and fear of Almighty God, has also a great concern for God’s church. His concern for the church arises first from the simple fact that the church is God’s. His great concern for the church is also because the church has such an impact on his own life. Therefore he is concerned for its well-being, i.e., its spiritual health and development and its physical health and development.
A churchman prays for the church. He knows what to pray for with regard to the church. And he knows how to pray for the church. He prays for the church day and night. He prays even (and especially) when he does not see changes for the better.
A churchman labours for the church. He gives himself selflessly for it, and he does so all his life.
A churchman always includes the church in his consideration of things. He sees events in history and present circumstances from the viewpoint of their impact on the church of Christ.
The apostle Paul identified Timothy as a churchman when he described him as a “man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state,” who sought “the things which are Jesus Christ’s” and served with Paul “in the gospel” (Philippians 2:20-22).
A churchman whose attitude and conduct I would like to highlight is Nehemiah. He is identified as a man who was moved “to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (Nehemiah 2:10). He did not say that about himself. While God would have said it directly, the record of this wonderful description of Nehemiah comes out of the mouth of the enemies of the children of Israel: Sanballat and Tobiah. Nehemiah was known by the world to be a man who sought the welfare of the church of God. Even the world could identify him as a churchman.
Nehemiah came to Jerusalem around 446 B.C., which was about 160 years after Jerusalem was destroyed and the church was taken into captivity, and about 90 years after Zerubbabel led about 50,000 Jews out of captivity back to the land of Canaan. To put that in terms of today, if Nehemiah heard of Jerusalem’s troubles in the year 2015, then the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babyonians was in 1855 and the return from captivity led by Zerubbabel would have taken place in 1925. The temple’s foundation was laid two years after the captives returned, but it was not finished for another eighteen years.
Who is Nehemiah? He did not return to the land of Canaan, either with Zerubbabel (likely not yet born) nor with Ezra (who led a band to Canaan thirteen years before Nehemiah came to Jerusalem. While he did not do so, he was obviously a God-fearing man. He held the very prestigious position of cupbearer for Artaxerses, the king of Persia. He lived in luxury and in earthly splendour. He was very trust-worthy and learned how to govern, just as Moses learned to govern while in Pharaoh’s court. Nehemiah was not a prophet, priest, nor a king. One does not have to be an office-bearer to be a churchman! While Nehemiah was not a prophet, he surely did know the Scriptures as they were available to him. And though he was not a priest, he surely was devoted to God’s church.
Nehemiah’s heart was in Judah. He sought news of Zion out of genuine concern and not because of mere curiosity. And he grieved in response to the news of the poor physical and spiritual condition of Judah and particularly of the capital city of Jerusalem. After 90 years nothing had been done to restore the wall of Jerusalem. It was a “reproach,” that is, a shameful disgrace. It was an embarrassment that the capital city of the country of his fathers was in such complete disrepair and that it was so for so long a time. At no point in the 90 years since 50,000 Jews had returned to Canaan under Zerubbabel had the people done anything to repair their capital city. A city in ruins, without any protection indicated poverty, oppression, a lack of unity, and a failure to put things in order.
A churchman grieves when he hears that the church is in such poor condition with nothing being done to repair and restore it. “Not songs but sighs to us belong when Zion’s walls in ruin lie” (Psalm 139).
What brought “great affliction” to Nehemiah was that Jerusalem was the true church of God in the world. Nehemiah knew serious distress, misery and adversity because such a condition of the state of the church brings blasphemy on God! The wall of Jerusalem represented the spiritual safety and defence of God’s people because the wall is the nature of God’s saving relationship to His people. Isaiah 26:1 and 60:18 identifies the walls as “salvation” and the gates as “praise.” Gracious salvation is the wall in which God secures His people and defends them from Satan, his host, and those humans who seek their destruction. This wall is the church’s security against any foe. Jerusalem’s wall consists of divine gracious salvation, which not only saves and secures but also defends and protects against error in teaching and life. Further, the secure wall and gates of Jerusalem indicate that everything was in place and in good order. The fact that nothing was done to Jerusalem’s wall after 90 years indicates that the people could not and would not agree to work together for such an important cause!
Nehemiah “sat down and wept and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). If you would read through the book of Nehemiah you would quickly see that Nehemiah was a man of prayer. In this particular situation he prayed “day and night” (6). And he did not weary to pray day and night—not for a few days, nor a couple of weeks, but for four months (compare the Jewish months mentioned in 1:1 and 2:1). Such a response indicates that the church was the love of his heart. Even though he did not return with the band which Ezra led back to Canaan thirteen years earlier, he loved the church. He did not voice some criticisms of the church in Canaan and then quickly get back to his work. Nor did he self-righteously talk about the sins and liberalism of the church over there, but he fasted and prayed for the church. He loved her and was committed to her well-being. He desperately wanted the walls of truth and godliness to be built.
His day and night prayer over four months is recorded in Nehemiah 1:5-11. His prayer indicates how much Nehemiah was familiar with the Scriptures of his day. He quotes Moses, Daniel, David, and Ezra. He knew God’s promise to punish sin but also to gather His people upon repentance (Deuteronomy 28 and 30). His prayer indicates that He knew God to be great, a living God who sees and hears, a God who has redeemed His people and who keeps Covenant and mercy. His prayer indicates his identification of himself with the saints in Canaan and Jerusalem, confessing his sins with theirs, and doing so in great humility so he has no right to demand but only beseech Jehovah. His prayer indicates that He knew that God’s relationship to Israel is that they are “Thy servants”, “Thy people”, and the “redeemed.”
A churchman is motivated by love for the church of Christ. Nehemiah was concerned that the church prospered spiritually and whether the pure doctrines of the Gospel were proclaimed. What counts in my life? My job, business, family, or the church of Christ?
A churchman thinks corporately— not independently. Nehemiah did not think about those guys over there in Canaan, but he knew the Covenant union of all of God’s people. He always included himself in their sins. The important key to such thinking is that we think humbly and repentantly.
A churchman knows that “God of heaven,” who is “the great and terrible (awe-inspiring) God” who kept and “keepeth Covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe His commandments.” The display of God’s grace in the past assured Nehemiah that God would be faithful and not cease to keep His Covenant because of His boundless mercy.
Nehemiah was a churchman who loved and lived for the living God. Thus, the cause of God in the church of Christ was the centre of his soul and life.
Written by: Pastor Ronald Van Overloop | Issue 36