August 19, 2017

What Are We Preaching?

By Mike Willis

The cycle of life continues endlessly; a new generation will always be moving on the scene which does not know the fundamentals of God's word. God's people constantly need to be teaching their children the first principles of the oracles of God. Asaph wrote in Psalm 78:

I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (78:7).

The need to teach every generation the foundation principles of God's revelation will never cease.

Emphasize the Basics

Without denying the need to move beyond the elementary principles of the oracles of God to feed on strong meat, I would like to remind us of our need to emphasize the basics. As a young preacher, I distinctly remember thinking, "Everyone has heard sermons on the church and baptism. I want to preach something different." I was fortunate to have my brother Cecil to redirect my thinking by feeding me many good books which emphasized the fundamentals of the gospel. Until I began reading and preaching on these fundamentals, I did not realize how little I actually knew about the basics.

Another thing surprised me as I preached on these topics. I was surprised by how many Christians expressed to me their appreciation for these sermons. They were learning as I was learning. Many times someone said, "I never heard a sermon on that before." I am confident that they had heard such lessons, but they did not register with them at the time. Too, there were young folks growing up in the church, visitors to the services, and new converts who needed to hear the basic fundamentals emphasized. We do the congregation a great disservice by not emphasizing the fundamentals of salvation and the church.

Drawing A Crowd

Gospel meetings can be effectively used to teach "what must I do to be saved?" and to emphasize the "New Testament church" in contrast to denominationalism. Unless our visitors recognize they cannot be saved in their denomination, they will never become concerned about their own salvation. Unfortunately, some are consciously steering clear of these messages in their gospel meetings.

In writing about evangelistic meetings, one said, "Subjects like, 'If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?' or 'Bible answers for a hurting home' are excellent because they deal with immediate human needs and show the Bible to be relevant in people's lives. Subjects like 'Why do you believe the doctrines you believe?' are also excellent. The idea here is not to deal with any specific false doctrines but to show that false doctrine is prevalent and encourage them to examine their own beliefs. Denomination 'bashing' doesn't go over well with first-time visitors and should be reserved for one-on-one Bible studies."

I am not sure what this writer means by "denomination bashing" (bash: "to make ashamed"). None of us wants to belittle, ridicule, and mistreat any person - whether he is an erring brother or an alien sinner visiting for the first time. Furthermore, we should follow Jesus' directive: "be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16), Having said these things, I must confess that these exhortations quoted above leave me with the distinct impression that sermons which contrast the Lord's church with denominationalism, the Lord's conditions for salvation with those which denominationalists teach, and other distinctive messages should not be preached in gospel meetings for fear that we might drive off visitors! If I have correctly understood this material, I am opposed to what is written.

In a recent copy of The Buckler, the bulletin of the church which worships at 1216 W. Sixth Street in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Lowell Blasingame mentioned the topics for a class of young Christians conducted at a liberal church in Mississippi. Here was the list of topics:

"How Good Is Your P.A. (Positive Attitude) System?"

"How To Get A Turtle On A Fence Post"

"Snake Bites That Snafu Your Life"

"Pain, Problems, and Pearls"

"Crisis Sparks Opportunity"

"A Million Dollars Worth of Asset"

These topics reminded me of a couple of meeting advertisements from some of my own brethren. In a "special lectureship" on "Guides To True Spirituality" aimed at non-Christians, the speaker's topics included "Self-Analysis and Spiritual Awareness" and "Human Relationships: How to get along better with your fellow man. " The meeting advertisement touted this as a "how-to" guide "to help us rise to the heights of spiritual maturity" with emphasis on "selfanalysis," "personal sharing," and "the beauty of 'triangular' relationships."

Another "seminar" advertisement designed for non-Christians was entitled "How To Improve Your Lifestyle" and included these topics: "How can I be truly time efficient?", "How can I love more effectively?" and "How can I eliminate stress in my life?"

Am I over-reacting to be alarmed by these announcements? I think not! I have preached long enough to witness the impact of this shift in preaching on churches. When I first started preaching in the late 1960s, the shift in preaching emphasis had already begun to occur among the liberals. Their meeting announcements featured topics similar to those mentioned above. Their bulletins were filled with material which could be published in any denominational church bulletin in town. A concentrated effort was made to eliminate from their preaching those things which offended denominational folks who visited the meetings. What has been the result? Many liberal churches are full of "Christians" who can not distinguish the Lord's church from denominations. The same sowing will always produce the same harvest!

Conclusion

The gospel does not appeal to every man. Some men do not like its teachings about the deity of Jesus, miracles, and the supernatural. Some do not like its moral demands on their lives. Some do not like its teaching regarding the church. When these men hear the gospel, they will turn away from it. We dare not change or dilute the message of the gospel to appeal to these men.

Instead, we need to preach the gospel. The gospel will appeal to those who recognize their sinful and lost condition, have the humility to submit to Christ as their Lord, and be obedient to his word. Should we live in a period of human history or a geographical location where those men are few in number, we simply must preach to more people to convert the same number as we have been used to converting. Should our fate be to live in times like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Noah, let us have the fortitude to cling to the word. God told Ezekiel:

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).

Let us never compromise, dilute, or change the Lord's message to gain numbers. Conversions never occur by compromise.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 7, pp. 194, 212-213
April 5, 1990

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