Recently I have become increasingly concerned with the message more and more Churches seem to be putting out: that Christians and the organised Church ought to be following Jesus Christ by ‘engaging with the community.’
When you look into the details of those Churches’ activities it is obvious that they are involved predominantly with trying to solve the social distress we see all around us.
This is a very fine motive for Christians to have – where would the world be without Christian hospitals, Christian drop-in centres, Christian schools and Christian drug rehab centres?
But it seems to stop right there. Where is the preaching of the gospel? Where is the evangelistic outreach? Where is the encouragement for Christians to be personally and financially involved in supporting gospel proclamations in homes, magazines, internet and TV?
What I believe has happened, and it has been happening for many years, is that the Great Commission has been hijacked. Jesus’ last words to His disciples are plain enough:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” Matt 28:19.
This has always been the primary purpose of the Church.
A Couple of Local Churches
After seeking some second-hand opinions about what goes on in some Churches, I decided I would have a look at the websites of a couple of my local Churches, both originating from faithful old traditions of Bible-believing, evangelical denominations.
On the first one I looked for its raison d’etre. It read: Our vision is “To be a church of influence in our community, city and world.”
They want to be influential, but nothing else on that whole website shows the real influence demanded by the New Testament, that we commit ourselves to the proclamation of God’s salvation from sin, through the Lord Jesus Christ.
It reminded me so clearly of Laodicea – the Church that thought it needed nothing, but was actually poor, wretched and blind.
By the way, its senior pastors are a husband and wife!
The second website is no better – again no indication that it might be preaching the Gospel of salvation – at least it’s honest in that regard.
There was no doctrinal statement, no statement of beliefs and nothing to suggest it existed to bring glory to God, just: “[this] Church has a strong desire to offer a wide range of programs and ministries to the community of Geelong and surrounds.” Huh, that’s it?
What about the salvation of sinners?
It seems that “evangelical” has lost all of its meaning.
Influencing the Community or Being Influenced?
When a Church decides it wants to ‘impact the community’ what does it mean? According to Paul and the New Testament in general it means it will live out and preach the good news of the Gospel. It will actually tell people we all are sinners but that Christ as our substitute has died to take our punishment if we repent and follow Him.
I am sure it doesn’t mean that a Church should run play groups, sports clubs, secular-type charities or befriend drug dealers and homosexuals and leave it at that.
Living as a Christian is an important issue: we are saved in order to do good works. This is often obscured and, in fact, it often also obscures the only legitimate reason for the social outreach many Churches get involved in.
How many Church clubs actually tell adults about what Jesus Christ has done for us? I played in a Church cricket club for over 20 years – only two or three outsiders became Christians as a result of it. This was just as much my fault as the few other Christians in the team, but I felt overwhelmed, even scared to witness too openly.
If our contacts decide to reject the message that is their affair. We can’t make them repent if the Holy Spirit hasn’t prompted them. All we can do is to obey Christ , witness for Him and let Him build His Church.
The Need For Prayer
George Mueller was a Christian in England in the 19th Century who saw a need and opened a home for homeless children where they were loved, fed and taught the Gospel. His simple, Christ-like life was based on devoted prayer for his young charges and their support. He never asked for government assistance but never had to refuse a child help, all because of his total reliance on prayer and the giving of Christian people, financially and in teaching the Word.
Mueller’s example has tremendous lessons to teach the Church today:
1. Pray for God’s leading first in your outreach.
2. Continue praying and relying on God when the work starts.
3. Still pray as you are materially assisting your clients, and,
4. Pray even more while you are engaged in their evangelism.
In this century many Churches are sucked into thinking a government grant will help them do the will of God. This is nonsense because such grants always come with ‘no preaching’ strings attached.
A Church that does not openly evangelise can never be a real Church.
Our prayers are more important than many of us realise. It’s not that God needs them, or that His power is ‘released’ because of them, but that, in praying we are obeying Him.
Jesus often encouraged us to pray to our Heavenly Father in any and every circumstance. Paul adds, ‘with thanksgiving.’
There is a place for both private and for corporate prayer, as long as the prayer is sincere, directed to the Father through the Son, and with reliance on the Holy Spirit.
We are told that the Holy Spirit actually supports us when we can’t even find the right words to pray.
God hears the prayers of His children and wants to see us be reliant on Him.