For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."-- 1Corinthians 2: 2-5 (NIV)
The year 2012 is coming to a close. With the burials of 20 little children in Connecticut still seared into our national consciousness we close the year with a lot to think about as a church. Or maybe it is the sad memory of Colorado, where peaceful moviegoers were gunned down for no reason whatsoever. Or the recent ambush of firemen by a man who left a note saying he was "doing what he does best, killing people." Realize too that this is only the American toll. This country is remarkably shielded from the news around the world. Over 40,000 Syrians were killed in 2012 as a result of that nation's bloody civil war. Or that 33% of the world's population are considered to be literally starving to death. This past year also saw more severe weather, such as the devastation from Hurricane Sandy. This is not an exercise meant to depress but to awaken. There is more going on besides the American Idol -- over commercialized country in which we live. It is not about red states and blues states -- it is about the state of the saved and the unsaved. This past year continues to prove the trend over the past few decades. The birth pains are coming closer and closer together beloved. Jesus is coming back soon.
And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don't panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won't follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. -- Matthew 24: 6-8 (NLT)
So what is the church to do? What is our responsibility within this dying world? As the world gets ready to make their New Year's resolutions, what should the church be resolving to do? Whenever we need an answer, we should turn to the Bible and see what the answer from God is. In this case, we find the key verses above, written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth. It may as well be written to us today as well. The Word of God is transcendent. It transcends the time in which it was written to speak throughout generations. Within these key verses are the resolution and three important keys for us as believers to be watchful and wary of as we enter into 2013 so that the church may go forward proclaiming the risen Christ to a world that desperately needs Him and is woefully running out of time.
The resolution seems simple. We are to know nothing while in this world except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. While that sounds simple enough, the modern church has veered far off the tracks when it comes to this. We see a rash of money-grubbing mega-church pastors who have perverted the Gospel into a vehicle to bring the riches of this world unto themselves instead of bringing the lost to Christ. Their message is one of temporal prosperity in lieu of actual salvation. Jesus has taught us about this:
"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. -- Matthew 6: 19-21 (NLT)
This is an admonition not a suggestion. It does not mean that Christians take a vow of poverty but rather that their focus is not on attaining the riches of this world but rather on Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That is the only way to overcome this world. That is the only way to the Father and eternal life. If it is not prosperity preaching it is self-help and motivation speak disguised as preaching. It is smooth words delivered by excellent speakers who are lifting themselves up instead of the name of Christ. Walk down any book aisle in any Christian bookstore and you will see their pictures staring at you, with their titles. Beloved -- this is NOT your best life now. You do not need seven steps to a better you. We only need one step and that is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Even beyond these two obvious examples we see more and more distortion of the true Gospel in favor of becoming relevant to this fallen world. We see a mixture of human political motivations combined with an obsession with secular measurements for success that lead the church down the path of secularization and compromise. The new wave of Christian leaders are trained secularly to lead their churches and the result is that the Gospel is compromised on the altar of human progress. We already know this is not the formula God has provided:
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity - all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. -- Acts 2: 43-47 (NLT)
Read those verses carefully again and realize what is the responsibility of those that constitute the church and what is the responsibility of God. We are supposed to approach our Godly works with a sense of awe, worship together, share everything with each other, break bread together and live in great joy and generosity. God is supposed to add to our number daily. It is the Spirit that saves people, not new church schemes and guilt driven altar calls. Without a genuine move of the spirit, nothing matters. We need to resolve steadfastly in 2013 to stop building bigger buildings and start building the kingdom.
The first consideration for us today is to make sure that we are following the right people. I have seen the notion proffered that we should never criticize other Christian leaders because we are "all on the same team." I am sorry but that is simply untrue. We are not all on the same team. The Bible clearly says that not all who have said "Lord Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven. Look at how Paul describes his approach to his ministry in Corinth. He came to them in weakness and fear; with much trembling. Well, that certainly does not describe a lot of the new age Christian leaders! What does it mean practically however? Certainly there is nothing wrong with confidence -- as long as it is in the Lord and not yourself!
As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world's interest in me has also died. -- Galatians 6: 14 (NLT)
I remember my pastor always used to say that he was just "dirt talking to dirt." This consideration for us today is to examine how the people we choose to follow represent themselves - not only publicly but privately as well. In what do they boast? Are the sermons laced with personal successes without glory to God? Is the hero of every story themselves or Christ? How is the church being led? A pastor is an under-shepherd for Jesus Christ who is the great shepherd. Do all the sheep matter or only those who agree with him? Saying the name of Jesus is not enough. We must lead from the perspective that it is only about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Are they overly enamored with the things of this world? Look at this verse from Galatians and realize it applies to all of us but especially those who would claim a leadership mantle in Christianity. Our interest in this world must be crucified! Yet how many leaders in the faith spend ridiculous amounts of resources in trying to influence the world? It is because of that cross beloved! The cross of Jesus Christ should be big enough to blot the world out. Unfortunately, too often we see leaders trying to take the cross to the world instead of leading people out of the world and to the cross. What's the difference? When we try and bring the cross to the world, at best they will try and fit it into their world. The cross becomes secondary to their world and thus quite easy to compromise. The right way however, one must leave the world, crucify it in their lives and come to the cross for salvation. The Bible then describes us as pilgrims and sojourners through this world as we simply do not belong to it anymore. Where is that being preached today? It isn't. It has been replaced with the notion that we need to make the cross "relevant" to people Nonsense; we need to make people relevant to the cross. The next consideration deals not with what would be leaders do but rather what they say. One deals with their life and the other with their doctrine. These are the only two areas Paul admonished Timothy to guard:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. -- 1Timothy 4: 16 (NIV)
Doctrine was attacked in 2012 by the most popular mega church pastor and Oprah, the queen of new age theology, as being a dirty word. A list of do's and don'ts that we should not be weighed down with. While that may seem a more obvious heresy we need to realize that doctrine can be compromised in much more subtle ways. What does Paul say in the key verses? His message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration of the power of the Spirit of God! That is what is sorely lacking in churches across this country. We have traded in emotionalism for a move of the spirit. Our worship has become popular, relevant and catchy but scripturally unsound. We have mixed in all sorts of forms of distraction into corporate worship and somehow think because we call it "praise" that is all ok with God. Like the Baal prophets who danced around the altar cutting themselves, we too now dance around the altar of God while people are trying to be ushered into His presence and we call it worship. We are now in the business of entertaining the saints instead of arming them. The result is Christians who are unarmed spiritually and losing the spiritual war that is raging all around them.
And what of the preaching itself? We see a litany of smooth talking preachers and please realize that I am not against good public speaking. But if it is not centered upon Jesus Christ and Him crucified it is for naught. I remember when I was still studying for my ministerial credentials I suggested the notion to my pastor that there were two types of sermons. One that is more geared towards the unsaved for the purposes of bringing them to the cross and the other more geared towards enhancing spiritual maturity amongst the body of Christ. I will never forget his answer was that every sermon should be able to be brought back to Calvary's cross or it is not worth preaching. What is it all about? Say it with me again -- Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
These two considerations lead us to the third. Because when we resolve to approach the work of God as He intended, then the faith of the people will rest upon God's power and not man's wisdom. Let us not gloss over this without paying serious attention to it. This is what is at stake beloved. The end result of Christian leadership that is not centered on Jesus Christ and Him crucified leads to the faith of the hearers not being based upon the power of God! When we follow leaders who show no fear and trembling before God or preach with wise persuasion instead of sprit manifestation there is a price to be paid.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. -- Matthew 25: 31-33 (NIV)
I heard Paul Washer describe it once as we are preaching to congregations filled with goats and trying to teach them to act like sheep. We can act all we like but it will not matter when we stand before Christ. Remember the people who said "Lord Lord" seem genuinely surprised Jesus is saying He does not know them. They spent their whole lives possibly in what they thought was service unto God only to find out in the end that it was not. Realize that while leaders will be held to a higher account, we all will be held to our own account for our own choice and actions.
It is the subject no one likes to discuss but false conversion is going lead more people to hell than we realize. Saying a magic prayer does not save you beloved. Only giving your life to Christ and entering into a personal relationship with Him will. None come to the Father except through Him. Please, I am in no way trying to have people doubt their salvation because the Word clearly says that once saved, none can be plucked from the hand of Almighty God. But realize the implications of this final point in the key verses and how much is at stake. If our faith rests upon human wisdom than God will not maintain it. There are far too many who walk without any power of God because their faith is not resting upon that power. They are following man and not God. There is a rash of church worship and pastor worship that is leading people away from Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
And that is what we need to resolve for this coming year. We need to resolve to drop the fancy theories of church growth and get back to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We need to resolve to drop the motivational, self-help, and prosperity heresies and get back to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We need to drop leaders who refuse to approach their work with the reverent fear of God and who preach anything that compromises the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We need to move away from anything that promotes human wisdom over the power of God. There are eternal lives at stake beloved. The year 2012 is soon fading into history and 2013 will bring more birth pains which will come even closer together. The time has passed. The time is up. The time is now. There is only one thing that we need to know -- Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Resolve with me today.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- December 31, 2012