Friday, 18 October 2013
The Forgotten Gospel
“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.” (Matthew 21:28-30)
As I was handing out gospel leaflets in the town centre, a young couple came toward me. The young man, whose girlfriend was pushing a small child in a buggy, was in his late teens, or early twenties. He said he had a question. The couple recently started attending a local church, a plant by the Church of England, which had presented itself as highly contemporary, emergent in style and anything but traditional. I asked the young man what the question was. He looked up at me with a pained expression and said, “I just want to know how to get rid of my sins.” Flabbergasted, I asked if he had not enquired of other members of the congregation, not least the Minister! He replied that he had and they “didn’t seem to know.”
About a year or so later I met another young man who attended the same church. The church had grown and was very active in the community, running a local drop-in centre, parenting courses, toddler group, free-cycle, gardening, litter picking, garage sorting and car washing. The young man said it was a fantastic, growing church and I really ought to join them! So I asked if they preached the gospel. He thought for a moment and said that they hadn’t got round to that yet. When I asked why not, his reply was priceless, “we’ve been a bit busy!”
We live in an age where churches are doing their best to at least appear busy. In the summer months it’s face painting and Fun Days and as the cold weather draws in, churches are ploughing their funds into suave and cosmopolitan style cafes. Now I enjoy a Decaf Mocha and a cherry scone as much as the next man, so I saw no harm in checking them out. It was a nice enough experience and I guess church hospitality has moved on a bit from stewed tea and stale Battenberg,
yet there was something that left an unpleasant taste in my mouth; where was the gospel? The staff were polite, fairly friendly, efficient and yet nobody had talked to me about Jesus, no one. I scoured the walls for Scriptures: There were none. There were also no tracts on the tables, no free Bibles to peruse. The customers were eating and drinking; they were coming and going; and yet not a whiff of the gospel. What was the reason? Perhaps they also were “a bit busy?
As the waitress approached me, I recognised her as someone who used to go to the same church as me. As we reminisced, I asked her the question, “do you get much of an opportunity to witness to people here?” She leaned in and looked cautiously around her, “actually,” she whispered, “we are not allowed to witness, in case it puts the customers off!”
One wonders how many churches are too busy to preach the gospel. How many are fearful that it might put their “customers” off? How many could even tell a lost sinner how to get rid of his/her sins? Is the Evangelical church really in such a lamentable state as this?
As a Pastor I don’t get much of an opportunity to hear preaching in the flesh (no pun intended!) but the last time I heard it, I got a double whammy! Two evangelical Pastors delivered messages that I would describe as a string of jokes wrapped around a couple of Bible verses. I was not expecting a lot, I just didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was; and it was truly awful! The laziness of the preparation was surpassed only by the inappropriateness of the illustrations, one of which bordered on suggestiveness. I could not even say that the jokes were funny! Neither Pastor mentioned the Gospel nor do I remember hearing the name Jesus more than once or twice. Why has the gospel been so forgotten? Jesus said:
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:15-16)
As Christians should we not be giving precedence to the commandment of Christ? Is the great commission not something that we should make room for, however busy we find ourselves? Jesus said:
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
The evangelical church is in danger of letting Christ’s words pass them by, not because they are denied access to them, but because “doing church” has been transformed into cracking jokes and cleaning coffee filters!
When every car has been washed and every garden has been tidied; when congregations have been regaled with enough amusing anecdotes to tickle their “uncircumcised… heart and ears;” when the last coffee cup has been put away and the floor swept clean, what a needless tragedy it will be, if the cry goes up:
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. “ (Jeremiah 8:20)