Preaching Articles

According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey on the fundamentals of the Christian faith, nearly half of U.S. Protestants (46%) say “faith alone is needed to get into heaven.” But about half (52%) say “both good deeds and faith” are needed.

Only 46% of the participants say the Bible is the “sole source of religious authority for Christians.” However, 52% say Christians should look both to the “Bible and to the church’s official teachings and traditions” for guidance.

Only 30% of those surveyed believe faith in God alone is needed for salvation and that the Bible provides all the guidance Christians need. However, only 18% believe faith in God alone but not the Bible as the sole source. Another 17% don’t believe faith in God alone but say the Bible is the sole source of guidance.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

Red lights. Flashing. Alarms. Blaring. That’s how I felt when I read these results. Folks, we are talking about Christians! The Body of Christ is in trouble. Many of the men and women who go to church Sunday after Sunday don’t understand the common faith or what it means to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 1:3).

A prophetic look at the Body of Christ.

What scripture says about the children of Israel in Jeremiah and Hosea is prophetic about the Body of Christ today.

“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

The individuals in the Pew Research survey show levels of disagreement with what the Bible says about faith and the role the Bible plays in how we are to live. And you and I know when that happens people are creating doctrines that works for them – cisterns they are willing to drink from. The Bible says this is evil.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge...” (Hosea 4:6a)

In verse 1 the Lord has an issue with the children of Israel “because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” And the Lord gives us the reason why in verse 6.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge. I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”

When we look at Jeremiah and Hosea together we see that the people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge because they are determining for themselves who God is and how He is to be served (cisterns). Guess who God holds responsible for this sorry state of affairs? The priests. He holds them responsible for the people not knowing or adhering to His laws. Instead of affirming the law, they yielded to the will of the people (verse 4).

Is it possible that God may have a similar issue with some of us?

Those of us who stand in the pulpit have the same responsibility and accountability to God as the priests. We are to teach the fullness of scripture – the unvarnished truth that most of society condemns and rejects. And sadly, we have people in our congregations who agree with society.

When we speak truth we are loving our people in the same way that Jesus loved the religious leaders. Yes, for some the truth will sting and be uncomfortable – and that’s a good thing. We’re in good company. For Jesus, a person avoiding an eternity in the lake of fire was infinitely more important than hurt feelings.

God’s primary goal: salvation then continually growing in truth.

Our role in this is to partner with God and help His children grow in their knowledge of the truth found in His Word. But is it possible some of us are only teaching what we know people will accept? Is it possible that some of us have fallen into the “trap of brevity” with messages that are 25 to 35 minute long so that the seats stay full rather than taking an hour or more to teach the full gospel?

These are not easy questions.

But they get at the heart of why we preach and teach what we do. I’m reminded of Peter’s first response to the religious leaders who demanded that he and John stop preaching Jesus. “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Peter’s second response clarified his first. “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Now I may have just offended some of you. That’s okay. I’m in the boat with you. I know what the Bible says about sin and many in our churches disagree with the Bible. But speaking the truth in love is a line in the sand that we – you and I – have to make and not look back. My heart’s desire is to please God and I believe this is your heart’s desire too.

The fundamentals are being sacrificed.

I know the Pew Research Center results present a general view of the Body of Christ on just two subjects. But it wouldn’t surprise me though if the results would be similar for other topics. And I do believe this information presents an opportunity for us to take a step back and prayerfully think about what we are doing in our services.

I believe we sometimes think those who regularly attend our services have a deeper level of knowledge and understanding of the Bible than they really do.

When was the last time you “tested” their knowledge and understanding?

For example, if you were to ask the members of your church the following questions, would they be able to support their answers with scripture?

  • What does the phrase “born again” mean?

  • Can you lead a person in the sinner’s prayer?

  • Can you explain water baptism and why it’s important?

  • Can you explain why we need to repent if we sin?

  • Why do we need a savior?

  • What is God’s grace and what does it mean to us in our everyday lives?

  • Can you explain the reasons why we take Communion?

  • What is Satan’s greatest weapon and why is it effective?

  • Is it okay to regularly miss church?

  • Why is abortion a sin?

  • If you were to ask God “What is important to you?” what would He say?

  • Is Hell real?

  • Is Heaven real?

  • Is financially supporting the church biblical?

  • What does the Bible mean when it says “we are not under the law”?

  • Can you explain why the homosexual lifestyle is sin?

  • Why is sex outside of marriage a sin?

I would be surprised if the Pew Research Center respondents could answer some of these questions with scripture – foundational questions that every Christian should be able to answer and explain.

Are we fulfilling our roles as God’s partners?

If the Pew Research Center results are any indication, all of us can do a better job of helping God’s people grow in the knowledge of the truth found in His Word. In fact, helping those we shepherd to grow and walk in truth should be one of the things that excites us and energizes us each morning.

The Apostle John writes “I rejoice greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from our Father” (2 John 1:4). He says something similar in 3 John 1:4. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

Let John’s declaration be the desire of our hearts. Joy should fill our hearts when we see the ones we shepherd, the ones we love, not only walk in truth but then help others do the same. Let us purposefully and prayerfully seek the Lord’s counsel on how we can best help our people, not only go deeper and deeper into the truth, but to walk boldly and lovingly in that truth.

Barry O. Johnson is a licensed, ordained Associate Minister at Grace Christian Center in Dayton, OH and is on the faculty of Grace Ministries Bible College. He delivered his first sermon at the age of eighteen and has worked in ministries in several states prior to joining Grace Christian Center. He publishes a monthly teaching letter that focuses on the foundation of Christian theology. He believes in the power of the Word of God and desires that all would come into the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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