The Purpose of Gospel Meetings
"Why should we have gospel meetings? We are not baptizing people any more. Gospel meetings used to accomplish a lot of good when America was a rural nation and non-Christians would visit the meetings. But, now non-Christian Americans will not visit gospel meetings, so they are a left-over relic from a by-gone era which are no longer effective in reaching the people. Gospel meetings need to be discarded."
Though these are not the exact words used, these are the gist of the argument which I heard a gospel preacher use while conducting a gospel meeting in our area. If this gospel preacher felt this way about gospel meetings, he should not be holding them and surely the church ought to accommodate him by not inviting him to conduct any more.
Let us consider the purpose churches have when they conduct gospel meetings. Reminding ourselves of the legitimate goals of gospel meetings and refocusing our aims on those goals should help us to have more effective gospel meetings.
Faith Comes By Hearing
The purpose of preaching the gospel is simple: this is God's ordained method of creating faith. Consider these verses:
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:13-17).
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (1 Cot. 1:21).
The only means which God has of reaching the hearts of men is through the preaching of the gospel. We preach the gospel in gospel meetings (or any other time) for the purpose of creating, building, and strengthening faith.
To Save the Lost
None can be saved without faith (John 8:24; Mark 16:15-16). We preach the gospel to save the lost. One of the primary purposes we have in gospel meetings is to win the lost. Even though we admit that fewer non-Christian visitors are attending gospel meetings than at times in the past, still there are non-Christians attending most gospel meetings. Think of the non-Christians who attend the meetings where you attend the teenagers, mates of Christians, and friends who occasionally come. In nearly every gospel meeting I conduct, there are some non-Christians present and I am preaching the gospel in an effort to save them.
Christians can develop an evil heart of unbelief and fall into sin. The writer of Hebrews said, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in
The Purpose of Gospel Meetings .. .
any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (3:12). We preach to save the erring Christians who have developed an evil heart of unbelief. Inmost gospel meetings that are conducted, there are erring Christians who would freely admit that they are presently in an unsaved condition. We preach with the purpose of saving their souls and restoring them to the Lord (cf. Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20).
Many erring Christians have been taught the truth on such things as institutionalism, church sponsored recreation, instrumental music in worship, unscriptural divorce and remarriage, and other forms of sin in which they were engaged through the efforts of gospel meetings. Some have repented of their sins and been restored to God through these efforts.
To Keep What We've Got
We preach in gospel meetings to strengthen all Christians. We want to hold the ones we have. To do so, we must keep their faith strong in the Lord. The means of doing that is to continue to teach them the word of God's grace. As Paul departed from the elders of the church at Ephesus, he said, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). The teaching of the word of God's grace is what strengthens one's faith. We preach the gospel to hold what we already have won for Christ.
Many families have had their marriage strengthened through lessons on the family, received words of encouragement or hope, learned to pray more effectively, and otherwise been strengthened through the efforts in gospel meetings. Are the Christians in your local church so strong that they need no more strengthening?
Less Preaching is the Wrong Answer
If we understand that preaching is the divinely ordained way to create, build, and strengthen faith, we should immediately see that less preaching will produce less faith! In recognizing the fact that we are reaching fewer people today with the gospel, we must understand that less preaching is not the proper solution and answer to the problem.
What does a person do who wants to eat fresh fish when the fish are not biting? Does he quit fishing or fish less? I used to fish a good bit as a young man. I learned that a person had to fish a lot harder to catch enough fish for dinner when the fish were not biting than when they were biting. We are living in a time when the "fish" (non-Christian world) are not biting. We are, therefore, going to have to work a lot harder to find the good and honest in heart who might respond to the gospel.
As A Testimony to the World
What was God's message to his prophets when the world became unwilling to listen and hear his word? Did he tell them to quit preaching. I am reminded of God's word to Ezekiel. He instructed him to go to the hardhearted in the house of Israel, knowing full well when he sent the prophet that the people would not hear. Yet, God said,
But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted. Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house (3:7-9).
Noah ministered as a "preacher of righteousness" for 120 years while the ark was being prepared. Yet, he was only able to save his own household. Should he have done less preaching?
We must admit that Americans are less interested in spiritual things today than they were several years ago, if the measuring stick is how often non-Christians attend gospel meetings. We are not stating that gospel meetings should be the one and only means of trying to reach the lost. Home Bible studies, correspondence courses, radio and television programs, bulletins, newspaper articles, and other means of reaching out to those who are lost in sin must be used in the most effective manner possible. Those who calling for fewer and shorter gospel meetings seem ready to discard one of the ways which has been most effective in reaching those outside of Christ. If a person has another effective way of reaching the lost, by all means use it. However, what is gained by discarding another effective tool which also has helped reach the lost, especially in light of the many other goods which are being accomplished through these gospel meetings?
To Save Our Own Souls
We have a responsibility to make sure the world knows the word of God. As God appointed Ezekiel as a watchman for the house of Israel, he said,
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul (3:17-19).
Paul reflected the same concept when he told the elders of the church at Ephesus that he was "pure from the blood of all men" (Acts 20:26) because he had declared the whole counsel of God to them. Can we be free from the blood of all men without preaching the word of God even to those who are unwilling to hear?
No Excuse For Not Working
I have heard brethren excuse themselves from working by saying that no one is interested in the gospel we have to preach. We cannot salve our consciences by such statements. The fact of the matter is that too many churches have fallen into the rut of having a spring and fall gospel meeting from habit and custom. The church buys printed announcements which are mailed to area churches and the meetings are attended by the most spiritual ones from area congregations and many of the saints in the local church. The trouble is that sometimes a goodly percentage of the local church does not care enough about the preaching of the gospel to come to the meeting (or other services than the Sunday morning worship to observe the Lord's supper). Many Christians are not inviting their friends, relatives, and neighbors to hear the gospel preached. They do not talk to those with whom they come in contact to open doors of opportunities for the gospel. Then when no one comes to the meeting, they say, "Gospel meetings aren't doing any good any more." What we need to be saying is this: "We have quit working to reach our friends and neighbors with the gospel. Many of us are too pre-occupied with the cares of this world to even come to the meeting ourselves, much less bring someone with us. We need to repent of our sinful negligence and apathy and give ourselves totally to the Lord's work." When this happens, brethren will be tremendously surprised at how much good can be done in gospel meetings.
Let's not use the excuse that meetings will do no good to salve our consciences when we do not put forth the effort to reach those who are lost.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 16, p. 3-5