We’ve been talking about the church in America, its shortcomings and needs. We will end this line of thought with the granddaddy of those issues, the drought that is being suffered today in biblical preaching.
Do you remember that scene with Peter and the resurrected Lord in John 21? On a walk down a beach our victorious Savior had three pieces of advice for him:
In verse 15, “Feed My lambs.” In verse 16, “Tend My sheep,” and in verse 17 “Feed My sheep.” That was it. Simple and to the point.
“I really need this, Peter,” He was saying. “Someone to do this.” Peter would be one of many preachers to take up the cause.
So, “feed” is mentioned twice, and “tend” once. Provide this to whom? “Lambs” are mentioned once, and “sheep” twice.
These are very good translations of the Greek. The word for “sheep” means literally “something that walks forward.” It has adult sheep in mind. The word for lamb is a lambkin, a little lamby-pie. Those that are very young, in much need of help. For some, they are so young that they have not yet been weaned. Later on in his ministry Peter says to new Christians (1 Peter 2:2), “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” That is infant young.
Remember Nathan in 2 Sam. 12:3 when he was telling the story of the “poor man” who had “nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished . . . it ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom.” That paints a pretty good picture of our word. Those that are tenderly innocent, very young, so defenseless, brand new to the world. Some sheep are like that, newly born and in much need of instruction from God’s Word. They are fairly desperate for it, whether they know it or not. The best ones are those who are bothered with nagging hunger pains. It’s inside them, goading them to get more, and more, and still more of God’s Word.
The quelling of that urge comes only in feeding, of course, giving God’s Word to them, both in church and on the way, in their homes, out in the world. Jesus shared the Word in a sermon on the mount, in upper rooms, beside a sycamore tree, and next to a favorite watering hole.
This week alone I meet with lambs (young) and sheep (older) several times to give them God’s milk and meat. This was outside of my Sunday pulpit and any formal Bible classes. We did this in my home on my couch, in two restaurants, around a table at the church on a quiet weeknight, and in two situations in other people’s living rooms. That was only this week and only with church related people. I did no hospice calling.
In every one of those situations, the best part came when we broke the Bread of Life together, God’s Word. That’s our word “feed” in John 21.
The word for “tend” would be a more general word to encapsulate all that a shepherd might do for his charge. Its root is the word for “shepherd” or “pastor.” It means to supervise, even rule over. This would be every chore: build the fold, mend the fold, get the sheep into the fold (rescue), ward off enemies (defend the faith), tend their wounds, lull their anxieties. Many disciplines are involved with this word, but again, the chief benefit would come when connected, in some way, to the application of God’s Word.
Here it is from Ephesians 4:11-13:
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,” Why? “. . . for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Pastors, preach the Word! Preach all the Word. Teach and tend to both your own growth and the growth of your flock.
If that is all true, and it is, then somebody, when you find out, please tell me, what in the world is going on?
In the church of Christ, biblical preaching is in a full galloping retreat. It has been replaced with poem reading, storytelling, whimsical antidotes, adding a light brushing of Scripture over the top, as if the recipe “called for a bit, but please, not too much, lest you ruin the dish.”
Whole doctrines are being ignored. Bizarre new ones are given seed. Watchmen and sentries are not on their posts. Some are AWOL, others sleep. This is being propagated certainly from our secular society, no surprise there. This has always been the mantra of the world. “Those wet blanket Christians.” In the tribe of the Scoffer our silence could never come soon enough. But the sad news today is that this is also being sought after from the pews. Worst of all, it’s being encouraged even from the pastor side of the pulpit.
This is happening in a myriad of ways. Preaching time is being abbreviated. The number of preaching services reduced. I saw one splashy ad in a newspaper for a new church that bragged loudly on the 15 minute sermon, and only once a week. The rest of the worship time would evidently be filled with praise worship. This is not to diminish the effect of song in church. On the contrary, the Word itself fans its flames, but never at the sacrifice of preaching and teaching.
Mentioning many wonderful and profitable spiritual gifts in the church in 1 Corinthians 12, the passage puts all those gifts on equal footing. One is not advanced over another. The encouragement is to look on all the gifts alike with the common goal of the edification of all. But then the chapter concludes with Paul saying in verse 31, “earnestly desire the best gifts.” This would be the speaking, teaching gifts. Not to exalt the ministers of those gifts over the ministers of other gifts, we are fellow laborers only, but do promote the teaching itself.
“Desire this corporately,” Paul is saying. In other places in the Bible it says to “increase them.”
Today the opposite is going on. The message is being watered down and DEcreased. Some ministries are walking back on dogma and doctrine altogether, trying to “avoid the good fight,” instead of “fighting” the thing. Some ministers out there demonize those who stand up for revealed divine truth. Ministers doing this. A much more open policy of acceptance of all things is being propagated.
Political correctness has stolen andthe mic completely away. George Whitefield once said, “It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” Now, I wouldn’t go out of my way to offend. Offense is no man’s goal, but if the truth would offend, then truth over camaraderie. After all, what is companionship anyway, if it’s not in truth. Nothing else will stand the test of time. We can surely stand together in the wrong, like children in ocean surf, but the next wave will sweep us off our feet and out to sea. Where then is our camaraderie. We get to drown together?
Ills in society are being wholly ignored. Some have even avowed to never, under any conditions, utter the words “sin” or “hell,” ever. It’s looked on as being too negative and dividing.
Now, while our message is certainly not sin and hell, (hardly, its polar opposite more like it) these need regularly to be the topics at hand. To be personal here, quite frankly such inactivity from the pulpits of America often takes my breath away, as if I’ve been slugged in the gut. What my eyes now behold rising from our churches and whole denominations, I can hardly believe. Our pastors are mothers who won’t nurse, doctors who refuse to examine, caterers who will not cook.
Some have regulated themselves to preaching (if you can call it that) only 5-10% of what is written. Usually it is something in the area of promoting upbeat thinking, avoiding anxious negativism, and finding real success in life. Three noteworthy topics worthy of our time. I am in agreement to help people with their thought lives. Maybe I would squabble on how the Bible defines “success.” But then, my fellow workers in Christ, there is also so much more that the Bible says. Let’s get on to some of that forsaken territory. Much of the church today stands in ruins precisely because its individual parts lie loose and unassembled on the floor for want of more than 5-10% of the owner’s manual.
Preachers of God, open your Bibles wide. Release water from the dam. Your people are parched. Maybe even consider taking down the dam entirely. Let the river flow. Study you Bible unabridged and unabated, then tell others what you witnessed there. Dam construction should be greatly encouraged. By all means, build them high and hold back much, but not the words of Christ. Not the prophets of old. Not the hand of God across Belshazzar’s wall or over the tablets of Moses.
Some have even gone so far as to preach the Bible’s opposite. Not just avoiding talking on certain topics (a hush-hush taboo), but condoning certain anathema behavior. Here I do not have any one sin in mind. Much is changing here.
The spiritual disciplines are hardly being taught at all, and diminished if they are. How much time is needed daily in prayer and in the Word is hurtfully being recommended to a few fleeting minutes of the day. All the while, the space that is left behind is being filled with the work and play and cares and mindsets of this world. Someone has said, “nature and cats, both abhor vacuums.” True. Something is going to flow into that space and fill every crack. So let it be, for you and I of Christ’s church, a compulsive disorder towards the words of God: needing it, wanting it, even nuts for it.
In churches today there’s not enough truth being served up to keep a shrew alive, let alone a lamb, let alone a whole flock of sheep. In some circles, intense biblical counseling is a thing of the past. Some ministries won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. “Too much liability there. Let’s just throw a good Christian read at them from the bookstore.” I wouldn’t half object that if it were a robust biblical “read,” something that might have arisen from the observations of Tozer or Spurgeon, or one of the great Christian minds of today. Charles Spurgeon once cut right to the quick of it with, “Preach Christ or go home.” My sentiment exactly. If they do throw a book at them that did teach the truth vividly, and might lead one to repentance, then I might be in favor of it, but that is not what’s happening.
Within the bowels of the church, as to any sort of biblical correction and restoration of errant, straying sheep, that’s being avoided at all cost. Correction is being done only when something absolutely must be dealt with, being the grossest sort of behavior. Only then will the leadership lift the proverbial finger, and then reluctantly.
In short, we have gotten ourselves into a great big heaving mess, folks. Long ago the first weeds started to show in this; now the lawn is full.
What is needed?
It’s already out there. Jesus to Peter: “Read and feed. Toil and tend. Intensely.
You can do your part. Start to foster a personal daily lively exchange with the the Lord through His Bible. If you don’t have such an urge, and you do need an urge, then give that to God. “Lord, my heart has grown apathetic, and my love for You weak.” Stir up the Spirit. Perform repentance actions. Ask for that urge to return. Read books from the greats. Look up the sermons and writings of A.W. Tozer, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Oswald Chambers, Watchman Nee, D.L. Moody, and John Bunyan. The list is long.
Increase your study of the Bible through your own church. Encourage your pastor. Challenge fellow Christians. Take up some of your own teaching. Teaching others is one of the highest, best roads to learning. This might at first sound weird, but it’s true. If not a class, disciple a younger believer one-on-one. Either disciple or be discipled. Have him or her over to your house for Bible study with an aim toward spiritual growth. Doing so is a hoot, trust me. You’ll flip for it.
And go to prayer. Pray for your church. Pray for other churches. Pray for a new breed of Christianity to emerge. A New Testiment kind. That would be a novelity. Pray for God to make Colossians 3:16 come alive in both you and your fellowship:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
May God bless our restorative actions.