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Has the Church Lost Her Way? part 4

“Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Mark 16:14-15 KJV

A local church where I live has this year’s theme posted in the form of a question. It is this: “Are we There Yet?” The implication is no, as Christians we are not at the end point of our journey yet. That end point will not come until the Lord Jesus Himself returns and assumes His throne on the earth in Jerusalem. In the meantime, we have a job to do.

It is very important to realize where we are on the journey. Knowing that the journey isn’t finished puts us in a different frame of mind than when we arrive at our destination.

When I was a boy, our family took trips out west to the Rocky Mountains. There were no cell phones that could instantly relay tweets and posts. Instead we sent post cards (that were sometimes not received until after we had returned from our trip). So, I loved to send post cards to friends from the places that we visited.

I don’t recall ever sending a postcard detailing the long, boring nature of our travel on the road and writing, “wish you were here”. Instead, any postcards that I sent during the journey revealed our progress. My state of mind was one of ‘going and telling’…usually of my impatient readiness to get to our final destination.

It wasn’t until we arrived at our final destination that I sent postcards with a nice picture of where we were staying and wrote on it: “wish you were here”. You see, my mindset changed from ‘going and telling’ to “come and see”. So knowing that we were not there yet put me in the right expressive frame of mind.

In previous posts we have shown that the responsibility of the church is threefold: to glorify God; to equip the saints and to evangelize the world. This post brings us to the third of those responsibilities, preaching the gospel or, “going and telling”.

Where is Your Head?

Having a scriptural frame of mind will determine how we conduct ourselves in our local churches and in particular, our evangelistic efforts. In the Old Testament, the temple was the center point of Jewish life and their mindset was that the world should ‘come and see’ the glory of the Lord.

It was the place where the Lord had chosen to place His name and meet with His people. (1 Kings 11:26) It defined the nation of Israel as the seat of God’s Kingdom on earth. In that temple was a space called the Holiest of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant stood and where God manifested Himself in His ‘Shekinah Glory’. (Exodus 40:34)

Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies and only once a year to offer the sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. He could enter only after fastidious preparation in order that God’s holiness would not destroy him. (Exodus 28:43)

Tragically, the ‘Shekinah Glory’ that marked the presence of God with His people reluctantly left the temple after God’s people failed to repent from their corruption of the temple with horrific pagan rituals. God’s Kingdom on earth was postponed pending the appearance of Messiah. (Ezekiel 10:4,18; 16:60-63; 20:31,39,40; 22:4)

When Messiah did come to the earth in the person of Jesus Christ, there was a temple that the Roman King, Herod had built for the Jewish people. However, the glory of the Lord never entered it in the manner that He entered the temple that Solomon built.

In fact the Glory of God did physically return to the temple in the person of Jesus Christ Himself. When He entered into it, He cleansed the temple of its thievery by throwing out the money men.(Matthew 21:12) Of course, the Jewish rulers hated Him for this and they once again rejected Him. Their public rejection of Messiah is recorded in Matthews gospel, chapter 12:24.

From the time of His public rejection, the Lord Jesus began to teach a new mindset to His disciples. Rather than a ‘come and see’ strategy, they were commanded to ‘go and tell’ of the Coming Kingdom. (Mark 16:15) first to the Jew and then to the Gentiles.

This is what the mindset of His church is supposed to be now. Unfortunately, His church is continuously persuaded to return to a ‘come and see’ strategy. This mindset is in part what has contributed to the abandonment of large, ornate church buildings that invited and even shamed people into coming and seeing the Lord there.

What has happened is that the church has largely convinced herself that she has replaced Israel as the kingdom of God on earth. This mindset promotes a come and see strategy rather than a go and tell strategy. This sad state invites disaster for the church.

Go and Tell or Show and Tell

You will notice that the heading on this blog is titled, ‘Clyde Gospel Hall: That you may know’. That is because it is the website of a local church in Clyde, Ohio that recently had to close its doors in 2021.

It was called the gospel hall because it was built as a hall in which to preach the gospel. It was faithful in that role for over 60 years. While there are many reasons why it had to close, one reason I believe was because we failed to actively go and tell. We did not exactly adopt a come and see strategy because there really wasn’t much to see physically. However, rather than go and tell, we adopted more of a ‘show and tell’ mindset.

I say ‘show and tell’ because we wanted to show that, while we did not believe that the local church is the representative seat of God’s Kingdom on earth, our gathering was ‘the place where God had chosen to place His name’. So, we tended to adopt a mindset that this was THE place that people should come for the truth. As one of the pastor-teachers in that gathering, I am more than partly to blame for its failure in this regard.

I write this not as a warning against any teaching that recognizes the Lord’s presence in a local gathering of believers, since that is a clear, scriptural principle (Matthew 18:20). Rather, I write this as a caution to the leadership in any local church to take care and not settle into a ‘come and see’ mindset but rather to maintain an active ‘go and tell’ strategy.

The local church is intended to be a place where God’s people enjoy the Lord’s presence and where they can worship Him and be fed by His Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:26) While the gospel should also be preached there, it is called to be primarily a place of learning and equipping the saints for ministry where the emphasis of evangelism must be outside of its walls. (Ephesians 4:11,12,16; 2 Timothy 4:1,2)

The Kingdom is Coming, The Gospel is Now

“I charge [thee] therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” – 2 Timothy 4:1-2 KJV

So we see that the gospel of salvation that the church is responsible to proclaim is different than the gospel of the Kingdom that Israel is tasked to proclaim. The gospel of salvation is a ‘go and tell call’ to both Jew and Gentile to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and become heirs of the coming Kingdom.

In contrast, the gospel of the Kingdom is a specific ‘come and see’ call to receive Jesus Christ as Israel’s Messiah and thereby allow God to fulfill His unconditional promise to Abraham for Land, Seed and Blessing. This Kingdom gospel was offered by Jesus Himself prior to the Jewish leaders rejecting Him. It appears that it will be renewed again during the great tribulation period, after the church has been removed.

The message of the cross includes the promise of the coming Kingdom but it is a special call to become a member of something unique in the plan of God. The message commissioned to the church to go and tell is simple: There is only one sin that cannot be forgiven. That is the sin of unbelief. Every other sin grows from that root. The gospel message is a call to forgiveness of that sin through faith alone in the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.

For the church to fulfill her commission, there are a variety of outreach efforts available to believers for the public preaching of the gospel. These include sponsorship of missionaries to preach outside of the area of the local church.

It used to be in North America that open air preaching was an effective means of sharing the gospel. This has been curtailed to a large degree by local government ordinances. It is still possible to do a form of open air preaching by erecting a tent on private lands or sometimes in public parks if the proper permits are granted. Similarly, using booths at local fairs, radio broadcasts and social media postings provide opportunities to present the gospel to people going about their normal routines in life.

I suspect however that probably one of the most effective means of sharing the gospel is through personal evangelism. This is available to all of us today through informal conversations and/or small group bible studies with neighbors, friends and family members. These are often conducted in believers homes.

Evangelism is intended to be the result of time spent with the Master. The disciples of the Lord shared a lot of time together. There were times of worship when they marveled at His miracles and there were times of equipping when they received His teachings. It wasn’t until after these times that they were sent out to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom to the Jews.

This highlights the importance of our personal study of God’s Word, as well as the necessity of gathering together for worship, for prayers/intercessions and for instruction in the ways of God. if we are serious about being used of God for the salvation of precious souls, all of this is pursued in anticipation of bearing fruit by our gospel witness of Christ’s free offer of salvation.

Bringing the Glory of God’s Kingdom to earth is something that only the Lord Himself can accomplish when He returns physically (He alone has the Key of David – Revelation 3:7). However, proclamation of the gospel of salvation in anticipation of the coming Kingdom is the means that God has appointed of bringing many children to glory through faith and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 26:16-18)

All who come to faith in the Lord Jesus are immediately and irrevocably made heirs of the kingdom. (John 1:12; Romans 8:17; James 2:5) That is, we are waiting to receive our inheritance on that day when the King Himself shall establish His Kingdom on the earth. (1 Peter 1:4)

Opposition To the Kingdom.

“I am the vine, ye [are] the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” – John 15:5 KJV

Have you ever had a banana freshly picked from the plant? The first time that anyone from North America does this is immediately astonished by the wonderful sweetness and texture of the fruit. Some people may not like bananas and for good reason. The bananas that are available to us in North America were picked green and their ripening was artificially controlled on container ships that bring this fruit to our markets.

As much as I love bananas, what we consume here in tends to be bland, starchy and sometimes sour compared to the sweetness of vine ripened and freshly cut bananas that are found in tropical markets.

In the same way, many lose their taste for the gospel because it was presented by those who are separated from the vine and their fruit was, as it were, artificially ripened. In other words, the gospel that we share is often presented artificially without being connected to Christ through prayer.

The Lord was very clear about our dependence upon Him when He told His disciples that He is the vine and they were the branches. The lesson here is that we give up on prayer way too soon. There is a natural opposition to the kingdom message that requires persistence in prayer. In order to bring the gospel fruit to its fullest measure of sweetness to the soul. believers must stay connected to God (Luke 18:1-8; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

In the same way that the branches cannot bear fruit unless connected to the vine, neither are we able to bear fruit unless we stay in fellowship with Christ. This idea of fruit bearing is essentially a passive process. The branches are only conduits to present the truth that refreshes and nourishes.

The Church is taught to realize that we are in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12). Paul referred to the preaching of the gospel as ‘the foolishness of preaching’. (1 Corinthians 1:18,21) Just as young David was admonished for his foolishness in standing up to the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17:28-30,33), naturally speaking, the gospel is a foolish exercise.

However, because it is a spiritual battle, our resources are not with human persuasion (1 Corinthians 2:4). Prayers and intercession for the hearts of lost souls that they would be convicted of sin are essential to have any hope of success with the preaching of the gospel (1 Timothy 2:1). The task of conviction belongs to the Holy Spirit, our task is to stay connected to the vine and speak truthfully about God’s Word. (John 15:4,5)

The activity of evangelism then is first of all a daily exercise of communication with the Lord Jesus.

So, even though the production of fruit is a passive process, staying connected to the vine is a very active labor. Therefore, the primary opposition to the gospel is to dissuade us from that exercise. If the enemy of human souls can distract us from that source of power, then the battle is already won. So he and his demon forces will do this by any means necessary.

Anything that causes us to doubt or misunderstand God’s Word; anything that causes us to fear; anything that causes our flesh to rise up and separate us from our fellowship with God; anything that causes division among the Christians; or anything that convinces us we are not good enough to pray to God will be used to undermine success in the gospel.

Going Nuclear

This realization puts a new perspective on the truth of eternal security and the essential work of Christ’s High Priestly ministry that insures our security. The truth that nothing can separate us from the Love of God that is found in Christ Jesus and in Him alone is the nuclear option against demonic aggression (Romans 8:38,39).

When we confess our sins to God, on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial payment for our sin, He is both faithful and just to forgive us and restore our fellowship back to himself (1 John 1:9). When we submit to God in this way, demons have no choice but to flee:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” – James 4:7 KJV

Every element of opposition to the gospel of the kingdom is an attempt to distract believers from having close communication with our Lord. Is it any wonder that the church’s prayer meeting is the least attended meeting in any church? Is it any wonder that believer’s struggle to have an effective prayer life?

Perhaps we need to re think about what is emphasized in our prayers. Generally speaking, our emphasis in prayer is asking for physical healings and physical protections more than spiritual healing and protection. Physical maladies may be distractions from our walk with God but more often than not I suspect that they are the means that God uses to get our attention for us to be spiritually healed.

We have become so convinced that God does not want us to suffer when it actually may be His will that we suffer for a time in order to draw us to a closer walk with Himself. So, it isn’t wrong to pray for relief from physical maladies, it may also be done with the prayer that the suffering will connect a soul to God in order to produce the desired fruit. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Conclusion.

This series began by suggesting that many churches are emphasizing Christian growth from the perspective that we are God’s Kingdom now and our growth should be focused on taking back control of our society from the enemy.

What I have attempted to present here is that the church’s mission is not to declare that God’s Kingdom is here now. Instead, it is a call to proclaim the opportunity to become heirs of the coming Kingdom through faith. This is a continuation of the Lord’s work of bringing many children into glory (Hebrews 2:10). That glory is not fully realized now, but in the future because the kingdom is not now but in the future.

In the meantime, the church on earth has three main tasks through which she can glorify God until that Kingdom comes. These are: to Elevate God in worship of our risen Lord; to Equip the saints with the truths of the coming kingdom; and to Evangelize the lost world through the preaching the gospel of salvation.

As individuals, we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord in worship. This requires involvement in a local church that ministers to the saints and evangelizes the world (Hebrews 10:25; 12:1).

But what if my church is teaching that the kingdom of God is now and what if the gospel that they preach is a social gospel?

This question goes to the heart of the question posed by this series of articles: Has the Church Lost Her Way? Lord willing, that will be the subject of the final couple of posts in this series.

Maranatha!

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smc

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