It has taken me many years to come to this conclusion, but I believe that one of the ripest harvests is the pews of churches in the American South. I understand that many people have “shaken the dust off their feet” and moved on from the established churches in the South, but I believe that this is a mistake. The question truly is this, have American’s heard the Gospel and rejected it or have they never heard the Gospel? I believe the answer is the latter. They have heard a perversion of the Gospel which is not the Gospel (Galatians 1:6-7.)
I mean no disrespect to anyone in what I about to say, but it simply is the truth. I fully take responsibility for my own lack of reading comprehension or memory lapses. In most of my years growing up in church we were never taught the Gospel. Many of the famous preachers of our day do not preach the Gospel. Even though I received an excellent education in college, I was barely taught the Gospel. (Just a few weeks ago I had a conversation with a fellow classmate that confirmed my memory.) I am not saying that I was not taught correct theology or that I was not taught the Word of God. After all, you can be given a pile of boards and a bucket of nails, but that is hardly what I would call a house. Was I given all of the pieces? Definitely! Were they put together for me? Rarely.
Now let me be clear, I am not saying that no pastor or professor in my upbringing believed the Gospel. I am saying that they did not explain the Gospel. Much of what I was taught in church was moralism; it was all about Christian character. However, it was rarely taught that I could not have Christian character apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. I was taught concerning sin, and I was taught concerning Jesus. What I was not taught is how the Law of God exposed my condemnation and how Christ’s death brought about my salvation. Again, I am not saying that there was no call to repentance or even a call to faith in Christ. What was absent is an explanation of how all this worked and what it all meant.
“The proof is in the pudding”
Everywhere we look in our culture, it should be painfully obvious that your average “Christian” is not a Christian. Around 90% of professing Christians will never share the Gospel with one person in their lifetime. Could this be because they themselves have never heard the Gospel? Most church members cannot answer simple questions like what is the Law? Why can’t works save you? Why did Jesus have to die? Why is salvation only through faith? What is faith? What did Jesus mean by, “It is finished”? What is meant by propitiation or substitutionary sacrifice? What is grace? What are you saved from? These are not deep theological questions. However, most church members cannot answer these question.
Again, look at Christian culture. Maybe the reason there is no discernible difference between a Christian and their neighbor is because there is no difference. They are both lost! However, they do not even know what lost means! They do not know the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t common observation tell you that the problem with the church is that the people are unregenerate and still in their sins? Wouldn’t the fact that they are still in their sins be enough evidence?
Most sermons and Gospel tracts do not mirror the teachings of Jesus or the Apostles. They contain Scriptures, but they are not presented the way Jesus and the Apostles preached. If we are not preaching the way Jesus preached, can we really call ourselves His followers? Jesus spoke of being born again; Paul talked of being a new creature. However, most of our converts show no signs of a new life. Doesn’t the very word “convert” have inherit within its meaning a change of some sort? Why are we not seeing the change that is promised through the proclamation of the Gospel? There is only two possible answers: Jesus lied or we are not preaching the Gospel.
Again, I am not bashing everyone from my upbringing and training. However, when you can give a chart on Revelation, can debate “husband of one wife,” but cannot explain propitiation is this not getting the cart way before the horse? I know that we all want the “deep things.” However, common sense tells you that you cannot go deep unless you have first gone shallow. We are trying to teach Quantum Physics to people who have not graduated Kindergarten. The problem with the church is not a discipleship problem. It is a lack of the Gospel problem. We should not move “deeper” in our teaching until we know that people are converted and have a complete understanding of the Gospel.
I am not in any way claiming exclusive knowledge of the Gospel. I am not going on some rant. I am not even attacking the sinners prayer. I am simply saying that the reason churches are dying is that their members are Gospel ignorant. Don’t believe me? Ask them! Ask them what the Gospel is and what that means. Ask them how they know they are born again? Their answers will surprise you. I know that they can probably quote John 3:16 and the Romans Road, but remember, so can Satan. Can they accurately articulate the Gospel? Sadly, the vast majority cannot.
What do I mean by the Gospel? I mean the good news of God’s dealings with man in the person of Jesus Christ.
God gave us His Law which is perfect and good. The Law was never intended to save us, but the Law was only meant to expose our condemnation, our inability to please God, and our need of a Savior. We are sinners not just by action, but by nature as well. It is this nature and the proceeding fruit of this nature that makes us the just objects of God’s wrath and cuts us off from the life of God. We are totally unable to do anything (works) to please God. Our only hope is that God would do something on our behalf (grace.) We need to be delivered from who we are and what we do (salvation.) That is where the good news, or the Gospel comes in: God already has done everything for our salvation in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
God’s Son Jesus lived a sinless life and satisfied the righteous requirement of God’s Law on our behalf. He then died bearing the wrath of God for our sins. He then rose again from the dead. His life and death were in our stead. He is our substitute or propitiation. With His dying breath He declared, “It is finished.” This means that everything is done and completed; there is nothing left for you to do. With His resurrection He proved that His life and death were an acceptable substitute, and He showed His power to give new life to His people. The only question that remains is, “Do you believe this?” This is salvation by grace alone by faith alone in Jesus alone.
What is my main point? Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ within your church. Do not give up on the church. Most of her members have never been taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If anything, the people who are most receptive to the Gospel are the lost people sitting in the pews. That being said, if you are going to see a revitalization of your church, it must begin with the preaching of the Gospel. “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”