FIRST-PERSON: Everything is in decline
HOUSTON (BP) -- Missiologists say the church may become unable to fulfill the Great Commission within 12 years. Hundreds of unfunded missionaries wait in Richmond. Pastors are quitting. Churches are closing. Islam is the fastest growing religion in America. Baptisms have spiraled downward for 14 years in a row. Our children are shot down in grade school. Gangs are the new family. Homosexuality is celebrated. Politicians are scandalized. Most marriages end in divorce, while more young adults choose to cohabitate. Terrorism threatens.
The government hasn't a clue.
You bet your boots we do.
Society is comprised of millions of individuals. It can only be changed from the inside out, and nothing changes anything except the transformation of the heart by the unchanging power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sadly, America is virtually devoid of Gospel preaching.
Jesus was seeker-friendly.
He intentionally drew people. He healed them. He fed them. And they crawled on their knees to touch the hem of His garment. With open arms and a great big smile, He said, "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
If they don't like stained glass and pipe organs, get a warehouse and bongo drums. If they can't get in for the crowds, get a ladder and cut a hole in the roof. If you get out of church too late to make the cafeteria, break out those loaves and fishes. If the wedding reception goes flat, turn some water into wine.
Do what it takes to get people to church. But don't change the message when they get there.
The Apostle Paul said, "I've become all things to all men that I might by all means win some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). Whatever it takes -- anything -- everything.
But he also said, "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16). Are we ashamed of the Gospel? Do we worship the god of success? Is it about crowds or conviction? Success or salvation?
I fear we may have taken our seeker-friendly methods too far into seeker-friendly messages.
The number one theme of the New Testament is the Gospel of salvation, and understanding what it means includes understanding why you need it. They'll never understand how good the Good News is until they understand how bad the bad news is.
Jesus began His public ministry by contrasting the devastation of sin with the joy of salvation. His first sermonic words were, "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).
We need to preach the Gospel. All of it:
-- What I'm saved from, and what I'm saved to.
-- What happens if I do, and what happens if I don't.
I wonder if we've forgotten half the message, let alone the call to respond to it -- right now.
How long has it been since you've heard a sermon on:
-- The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
-- Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).
-- Whosoever's name was not written in The Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
-- The Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).
-- The unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31).
-- Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8).
-- For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)
The most seeker-friendly sermon ever preached was the Sermon on the Mount. It's a classic. It's the gold standard. It is the constitution of the Kingdom of God, and its introduction is a preamble of happiness. "The Beatitudes: Nine ways to be happy." Advertise a nine-week sermon series on nine ways to be happy and you'll pack 'em in.
The first words of the body of the sermon -- Matthew 5:13, "You're the salt of the Earth" -- are at once a stirring challenge and beautiful compliment.
The highpoint is the incomparably beautiful Lord's Prayer in chapter 6. Beautiful. Inviting.
The glorious conclusion of the sermon is the sweetest phrase ever penned, The Golden Rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Matthew 7:12).
Does Jesus then simply pronounce the benediction, make the announcements and invite folks to the lobby for coffee? No. He gives the most strident, straightforward, in your face, get saved and do it right now invitation in the New Testament:
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23)
Whereupon He sets forth two options and demands that a choice be made.
-- Make the wise choice -- the right choice: live, thrive and be blessed. "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock" (Matthew 7:24-25).
-- Make the foolish choice -- the wrong choice: fall, crash and burn. "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall" (Matthew 7:26-27).
I rest my case.
John Bisagno is the retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston. This article first appeared in the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.