Summary: Sermon explains that the Good News does not belong to a preacher, a church, or a denomination--it is the gospel of Jesus. Unity and humility are encouraged.
WHO’S GOSPEL IS IT?
Have you have heard of T. D. Jakes? Charles Stanley? Rod Parsley? Creflo Dollar? Billy Graham? Kenneth Copeland? Kenneth Haggin? Cho Yonggi? Which one do you like best and why? We can be attracted to certain amongst this list based upon our personalities, our church backgrounds, our ethnic heritage, or any other of a multitude of factors. Did you go to church when you were young? What was your pastor’s name? Chances are, it will be harder for you to remember the name of the pastor of the church you grew up in than to know these guys on TV, whom you have never met. Did you know there are about 27 different Baptist denominations and groups? There are also Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians? Are these groups good or bad? Most of them, for the most part, are good. We may have doctrinal or cultural reasons for gravitating towards certain groups over others, but most would agree that these groups are fulfilling the Great Commission in ways God has given them. Some people say they are just Christians. Some churches are nondenominational. Others are independent. Still others are interdenominational. What is best? So many groupings within the family of God! There is even one group that says that there should only be one Christian church in any town. So, what did they do? They created a new denomination that stresses “the local church.” What are we to make of these factions–most of which offer very reasonable justifications for their unique missions within God’s kingdom?
Please read 1 Corinthians 1:10-13
It is idolatry to place human loyalty before loyalty to Jesus. How do we do this? When we look to the preacher instead of to the one about whom he preaches we betray Jesus. It is wrong to idolize the preacher. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul highlights several factions that did more to hurt than to further the spread of the gospel. Some said, “We follow Paul.” These were the intellectuals–the upper-class Christians. Paul was a boring, long-winded preacher. Recall the story in Acts of the time when he preached so long that a boy sitting on a window ledge nodded off, and then fell to his death. Paul went to him and prayed–raising him from the dead. Then, he continued his preaching! This apostle was well-educated and probably had refined manners. Another group said, “We follow Apollos.” These were the “amen” Christians. Acts 18:24-25 tells us that he was both educated and passionate. Still another group proclaimed, “We follow Cephas (Peter).” These were the traditionalists. Peter was one of the original disciples, and one of Jesus’ three chosen leaders. He was also a well-trained Jew. The old-timers and the conservative personalities appreciated his stable testimony. Finally, there was the group that made the boldest claim of all–those who said, “We follow Jesus.” These were the know-it-alls. They claimed to have the true teachings and practices of Jesus, and did not hesitate to attack those who disagreed. Note that they were the enemies of Paul, and of Jesus. Did Paul ever criticize these preachers? NO, HE WAS ANGRY WITH THOSE WHO USED THEIR NAMES TO CREATE FACTIONS.
We might see the same situation with some of our more famous modern preachers. Robert Schuller exemplifies well-mannered, calm, intelligent preaching. T. D. Jakes and Rod Parsley are two who preach with great passion. Billy Graham is probably the most respected traditional evangelist alive today. Finally, there are far too many preachers and so-called spiritual leaders who would use certain issues to create division. They want to prove that somehow they are holier than the rest of us. Again, note that none of the preachers I have named deserve criticism. They do not oppose one another. In their own ways they glorify Jesus and preach his word. But, sometimes our appreciation for one of them turns into division. We argue about why our favorite is the most Christian, and begin to suggest that the others can be ignored. We make comparisons between our favorites and others. God forgive us!
We must move beyond glorifying the preacher instead of the one whom he preaches. However, we also sin when we emphasize our own religious practices, rather than the Good News that unites us. It is wrong to idolize our differences. Doctrine is a prime example. Denominations and churches tend to have certain beliefs that they consider important. Some emphasize water baptism, and others Holy Spirit baptism. Some emphasize the certainty of our salvation, and others our need to guard our hearts from sin, “lest we fall.” While it is certainly proper to study such issues, our conclusions should not become more important than the basic message. God loves us and wants to forgive our sins because Jesus shed his blood and died for us. Our differences of opinion on such teachings should not keep us from worshiping with Christians with whom we disagree. Another area of division can be rituals. For example, Holy Communion is practiced somewhat differently in churches. Some have it every week, others once a month, and still others only a few times a year. Some use wine, others use grape juice. Some use individual cups and others use one cup for the whole church. Water Baptism is carried out quite differently in the various Christian traditions, as well. Some baptize by immersion, others by sprinkling. Some baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, others in the name of Jesus. I went to one church that did both! Then there are the behavioral regulations that churches sometimes informally place upon members. Some prohibit drinking, smoking, certain types of clothing or make up, etc. Some require members to tithe. Other churches allow individuals a great amount of autonomy to follow their conscience, and do not make an issue of such behaviors. A fourth area of possible contention has become quite important in recent years–worship. Some have worship that is very traditional–with hymns and readings from church-approved liturgies. Others have a very free-flowing worship, with choruses that are sometimes repeated many times “as the Spirit leads.” Finally, churches have different organizational structures. Some denominations appoint pastors to churches, and the decision-making power resides in headquarters. Others allow churches to hire pastors, and the power is with the local church. Some churches give most power to the pastor, and others put the power in the hands of the deacons or elders.