As I sit on my scheduled “day off”, soaking in the after effects of our Palm Sunday services while also ruminating on all that I see in the news of the day, I can’t help but reflect on all the insane finger-pointing. The United States is a nation in decline. Yes, our economic state is slightly improved, but that is rapidly being undone by uncontrolled Federal spending (thanks to a brand new Omnibus spending bill of over $1.3 Trillion that carries us through 6 months… seriously!) We see lots of senseless death, from school shootings, to a literal epidemic of young black males killing each other on the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago and other major cities. We see a radical discrimination – where the media and rabid freedom-hating protestors get emotionally up-in-arms, organizing widely-expensive “March For Our Lives”, funded in large part by radically Leftist (and almost universally unregenerate-acting) celebrities, over a single school shooting where the victims were, interestingly enough – caucasian, while these same deep-pocket celebrities essentially ignore the hundreds already dead in inner-city, predominantly black communities. It takes the “tears of white mothers” to stir up action? And then the “action” is against inanimate objects and totally ignores the perpetrators, the government and law enforcement agencies that flat-out failed to take any action that would most certainly have prevented this most recent mass shooting altogether – all adding up to a failure to see our problems as symptoms of a greater illness – indeed a disease that is absolutely going to destroy this nation. It isn’t guns. It isn’t video games. The disease isn’t violent entertainment or misogynistic, hate-filled music, or a failure for people to be able to even acknowledge basic biology (gender). The problem is not a tool or the endless list of symptoms above – but a heart issue.
Scripture is clear – Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that:
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
We have a problem known as sin – and it is a disease that has infected mankind since almost the very beginning. In fact, Scripture clearly says that All have sinned… (Romans 3:23). And the sin problem in our nation (and world) is not improving – and I would like to propose that a major part of the problem is “US” – the evangelical world. Oh – we may say we love Jesus. For that matter, we have libraries full of love songs to Jesus (that too often sound more like love songs between high school sweethearts than adoration of the Holy, Righteous, and glorious Sovereign Creator!)
We have a sin problem – and while the problem isn’t new, the “Church” (especially evangelical churches) have dropped the ball – whether it is simple laziness, complacency, or even proclaiming what the Apostle Paul called “false gospels” – we have actually contributed TO the sin problems in our nation. Doubt this? Take an honest look into your local church. Look around – what do you see? Yes, you see a room full of sinners – we all fit that category. BUT – do you see in those same people – growing, maturing, and sin-shunning (constant-repenting) believers who are walking by faith? Chances are, in many “evangelical churches” (regardless of denomination), you will find quite the opposite. You will find a percentage that fit the above, but you will find far more who are little more than church attenders who have two persons – a Sunday Morning face, and the other 6.5 days personality. Let me further explain.
Jesus gave His great command to His church to make disciples. For many years, from the first church in Jerusalem, we see a model laid out before us – people lived out their faith in a way that strengthened said faith, that aided each other to grow together in their walk – to see lives genuinely transformed in such a way that they were a beacon of hope, even when under incredible persecution. We still see some startling examples today in nations that are far from Christ-friendly; where Christians indeed walk in faith and where they absolutely understand the need to make disciples.
Return for a moment to the USA – where many see a man-centered religion. What happened? Back in the late 1800’s, a wave swept across evangelical Christianity – some look back with fondness, while most Bible-believing Christians who look through a more Berean lens (discerning) see something far different. Preachers like Charles Finney began preaching dramatic, emotionally-charged sermons pleading for listeners to come to Jesus. It was the advent of the “ask Jesus into your heart” movement – where “decisions” were made based on feelings and tears (often contrived) verses genuine conversion via the Holy Spirit’s conviction and regeneration. The movement became all about what is known as “synergistic salvation”: a gospel that lays as much or more of salvation’s work on the heart of men (remember the Jeremiah quote near the beginning of this entry?). A feelings-based, emotionally-driven profession of faith, followed rapidly by baptism and adding to a church roll. Great! But where are the growing disciples who are then to be disciple-makers? That just didn’t really happen. Numbers-driven ministry only continued to take over Gospel-driven ministry. In fact, it was this same existential, pragmatic religious movement that gave birth to what we now know as pentecostalism and other Charismatic faiths, and the erroneous belief that mankind, once genuinely saved, can somehow be plucked form Jesus’ own hand (John 10:28-30). As the dramatically evolving Christianity in America began to spread – Christianity became more and more man-centered and less God centered. We saw church building expanding along with growing church staffs to manage these growing churches – and with it the ever-growing budgetary needs to sustain these growing organizations.
But it wasn’t just these growing local churches (and so-called “mega-churches”), but even smaller local churches also started to shift towards man-centered ministry and beliefs (even doctrines). With this came the various degrees of the “prosperity gospel” and now the Social Justice/Social Gospel that substitutes the doing for proclamation and motives.
Let me return in this rambling post back to core doctrines that have contributed to our national issues – We have two common models that have evolved since/from the Finney/revivalist era – those that have attempted to remain true to core doctrines and biblical teaching – but have slipped into a form of practical legalism: after a person says a prayer for Jesus to come into their heart (I have yet to find a biblical reference or example), and we get them quickly baptized – we then throw what amounts to a list of rules for Christian conduct at them – then hope it sticks. Keep the 10 Commandments – Don’t make or bow down to idols – yet we have no problem with filling our homes and lives with literal shrines to our favorite sports team, entertainment stars, or hobbies (Whoo Pig Sooie!), don’t kill (though we forget Jesus equated hate towards a neighbor to be like murder), honor your mother and father (while we sit idle by watching society tell kids to dishonor parents and always buck the system). We say to not steal (while many cheat on their taxes, have no problem with being accidentally under-charged for a purchase, or take advantage of someone’s lack of understanding to gain an extra dollar). We say “thou shalt not commit adultery”, while turning a blind eye to the rampant divorce and remarriage rate WITHIN churches. We MIGHT say to not “covet” what others have – yet we church folks can run with the best of the “keeping up with the Joneses”. And the list goes on –
On the other branch, we see churches that make similar please to “love Jesus”, yet make no expectation at all of change. Indeed, the functional message is – come as you are (great!), and when you go home – go home unchanged – except with a smile on your face! We see a catering to the tastes and preferences of specific “target groups” through affinity-based churches (churches that are centered and founded on interests or lifestyles – think biker churches, cowboy churches, outdoorsmen churches, etc.) We see the growth of entertainment/flash-based churches where style, excitement, and experience reigns supreme over the Word of God and the clear-preaching of it.
The Gospel, when it is proclaimed is a gospel that helps people understand the genuine nature of sin – the genuine cost of sin (both in this temporal world and more importantly – in eternity). The Gospel isn’t just about God’s love that was demonstrated in Christ’s perfect sacrifice, but is also recognized as genuinely good news because we see also Gods’ wrath that is poured out on ALL unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). And when God (not man) applies the true, and full Gospel to the hearts of men – regenerating their heart of stone for His heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), we should anticipate – indeed fully expect change to come. A desire to please God, to know God, to serve God who paid such a high price for our forgiveness – the same God who, through Jesus Christ, who endured the wrath WE deserve.
And with that change of heart and progressive sanctification (the ongoing growing more like Jesus) we begin to better reject sin and more interestingly – we begin to be able to exercise Judgment/Discernment. Yes – that ugly word that so many, even professed Christians, are so scared of. We mis the understanding of just what KIND Of judgement we are suppose to exercise. Our judgment should be connected to and based on Scripture. We should see God’s Word as inerrant (in its original manuscripts) and completely trustworthy from cover-to-cover and trust it to be the judge of all that we see and must make decisions about. See more about this HERE.
And as we bring this all forward and look to the downward spiral of our nation- where we point fingers at guns, politicians, organizations, etc – let us not forget that many who march against rights, who point blame, who even spew some pretty nasty words – are folks who sit in a char or pew on Sundays. Let us not forget that many who commit crimes and other acts of violence were “brought up in church” and were even considered by some to be “good people”.
Some shout: “THEY NEED JESUS” to which I give a hearty “AMEN!”. But they need Jesus then they need to see good, biblical, Godly examples – not a soup of rules and contradictions along with selective picking and choosing of what parts of the Bible are applicable and dependable. They need Jesus – and discipleship. They need churches to not just throw rules at them, but preach doctrines that are 100% Bible-based. They need genuinely born-again Christians to extend a hand to them to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ (that we can’t forget included whips and overturning tables as well as calling sin – sin, and calling wolves and snakes what they are). It means that, while we recognize that God is the “Great Physician”, He owes us nothing! While God can and will provide our needs, He is under no obligation to provide the lusts of our flesh! It means recognizing the absolute necessity to die to self every day (to prefer the will of God and the needs of others over ourselves).
This also means that we must come out of our little protected enclaves we call “churches” and open our hearts and lives up to “those people” – whether they look different than us, act differently than us (are we shocked when people who are unregenerate and without Jesus act like they are unregenerate and without Jesus?). It means we must be willing to call out those who profess to be born-again believers in Jesus who walk in unrepentant sin, reflecting the flesh of the world instead of the Light of Christ.
Lest we forget the message of this little Jewel from the Mark Trammel Quartet:
We cannot guilt and arm-twist people into saying a “sinners prayer” and expect real change. WE must recognize that salvation is not of man, of grand speech, or clever argument – it is 100% of the Lord – as a FREE GIFT, granted by faith, not of any merit of ability we have – (Ephesians 2:8-10). But again, this is just the beginning. While genuine salvation is sure – and we can confirm it by seeing the very change it brings both immediately and long-term, we are called to repentance for a purpose – to be the living, breathing Gospel to those around us as we ourselves journey to know Christ and to make Him known!
And the sooner we realize and trust that it is God who converts the sinner into a saint, the quicker we begin to get about doing what Jesus actually commanded US to do – MAKE DISCIPLES. Not mindless religious zombies. Not another generation of unrepentant and shallow “church members”, but to teach, equip, and walk along-side those who we know and seeing them through from lost, to saved, to growing and mature Disciples who then become disciple-makers themselves. If we in the Evangelical world would take Christ’s command as given, turn lose of measures that revolve around numbers (seats filled in church services and offering totals), and get serious about helping people to grow to be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ – we will see first – a resurgence of the true Church of Jesus Christ – we will see churches that are spiritually healthy. But as an extension, we will see communities changed for the good, the needs of those around us better met – and we will see the Kingdom of God as never before!
But as I preached yesterday (Palm Sunday) – it will cost us something – it will cost us our idols, our selfishness, our prejudices, and our comfort zones. But let us not forget – it cost Jesus everything!
It isn’t about being a “social justice warrior” as many en the evangelical world have become – for the works of our hands alone will make no real difference. It isn’t about a social “gospel” – for that makes no eternal difference at all (indeed – it makes do-gooders who can’t seem to do real good at all). Let us be Christ-followers – as individuals and as local churches.
If you currently are a part of a local church that not only proclaims the whole and true Gospel of Jesus Christ – a church that places a top priority on actual, one-on-one, Bible-based, Christ-glorifying disciple making – congratulations – you have found a Jewel! Treasure it and be an active part in it.
If, on the other hand, you find upon real, Berean-like examination according to Scripture that your “church” really isn’t much of a church at all – but a purveyor of man-centered doctrines and theologies – of flesh-pleasing programs, of man-glorifying religion – then I implore you – seek out a church that truly sees the Bible as the Word of God: every page of the 66 books of the inspired, divine revelation of our Lord – a church that takes seriously the command to make disciples – submit to sound Biblical teaching and to being discipled – with a goal of becoming a disciple-maker and using what God has given you in material and spiritual gifts to serve Him.
And to that – I humbly submit the church I pastor – not because I am the pastor, for anything good First Baptist Church may have or display is more in spite of my leadership than because of it! Yes, we have “issues”, as any and every institution made up of human beings will have. But you will also find that we recognize our shortcomings and are constantly seeking ways to grow in Christ, to deal with the “demons”, and to be the salt and light. We would love to have you visit, but even more – if you genuinely want to be what Christ has called people to be – join us in our journey! First Baptist Church.