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Pulpits, Pews and Purpose

The primary focus in today’s preaching seems to be the saving of souls. We are told it is so that more people may come to Christ and be saved.  The altar call of the previous generation seems to have passed out of style but the emphasis and the rationale of preaching is very much the same, we need to save souls!    For many churches and preachers the real purpose behind this thrust is to increase revenues by winning new converts and getting the membership to continue to donate.  But putting these devious purposes aside and considering only the motives of sincere followers of Christ, we still need to examine the basic concept from a Biblical perspective.

First, we should recognize that it is God that saves, not men.  God chose His elect before the foundations of the world were laid (Eph. 1:4).  Yes, He uses preaching as a means to call His elect to Him but should this be seen as the primary purpose of preaching?  Should not the primary purpose of preaching rather be the expounding of the Scriptures so that all, especially the members that are in attendance week after week, may grow in the knowledge of the truth and benefit thereby?  Many that preach believe that any failure on their part to include the Gospel message in each sermon might be the cause of someone going to hell.  But this is not biblical; God’s arm is not so short that He is not able to bring all His elect to repentance and faith.  It is also presumptuous to think that God is dependent on what anyone does.  He is the ultimate sovereign and is in total control of the flow of history in its minutest details.  Rather than a call to invite Christ into one’s heart, a call to recognize His presence there would be more appropriate.  “Do you believe that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, came to save sinners like yourself?  If you do, thank Him for giving you the faith to believe and eyes to see your great need.  Thank Him for dying in your place and, if you love Him, keep His commandments.”  This is the appropriate tone for Gospel preaching; it gives God the glory and puts man in his proper place as the creature and servant.

Second, we need to see that the Great Commission is not merely a call to preach the Gospel and get as many people saved as possible.  It is a command to convert all the nations of the world to Christ and to teach them obedience.  This is a task that involves all Christians, not just those in the “Lord’s work,” ministers, evangelists, missionaries, etc.  The work being done (or that should be done) by church members requires and deserves a great deal more effort and financial support than does the preaching of the Gospel.  Scripture reflects this in the law structure God gave the nation of Israel where the tithe was given to the Levites, who provided a wide range of services for the community, including education, medical care, courts of adjudication, leadership and many other services.  This was where the bulk of the tithe went; only a tithe of the tithe (1 %) went to the Priests.

The primary thrust of preaching should be in support of the membership of the church, to help them come to a better understanding of the responsibilities that fall on God’s people as a consequence of this Great Commission Christ has placed on His people.  They are ever in need of Scriptural guidance to show them how to select objectives, establish goals and interact with the world in carrying out what should be a lifelong purpose for them.

The loss of focus on the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) as a comprehensive task for all Christians and its degeneration into a call to preach has robbed God’s people of the primary purpose He gave them.  In this scheme of things, the real work is now done in the pulpits, the Bible studies and the mission field.  “All the people need to do is live moral lives and set as good an example as they can to those around them.  There is no need for them to work for godliness in education, in entertainment or in government.”  As a consequence, Christians have withdrawn from the world to such an extent that they are no longer involved in any significant culture-changing activities.  The moral degeneration of America in the last several decades can be directly attributed to this abandonment by Christians of the responsibility Christ placed on them.  He instructed us to be the salt and light of the world and we have reduced this to light only, and a dim one at that.

The greater culpability in this lies at the feet of ministers and theologians who, having paid too much attention to the newspapers, have lost faith in ever achieving what Christ commanded us to do.  Their subsequent revision of Scripture teaching has moved the church from a hope of victory to one of despair.  The general belief is that the forces of evil are just too strong for us and victory is only possible with the Lord’s return.  This, of course, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy and, as a consequence, the church is now resigned to a struggle for existence in a world given over to the Devil.

These false teachings must change before the current slide into moral and religious depravity can begin to be reversed.  God’s people need to have their great purpose for living restored.  They need to both gain an understanding of what their responsibilities are and regain the hope of eventual victory before they can begin to take the measures required to alter the current trend into oblivion.  This process would be expedited if the pulpits would take the lead and begin to teach biblically.  But, realistically, it will probably not come about until the situation becomes so grave that the pews will rebel and demand new leadership.  The future is bright with hope; the only question being when! how long will it take for Christianity to get back on track and straighten out, first themselves and then the mess this world has become?