Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 12 Page 20 December 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Christ A Kite
Whom Men Fly,
Not The Rock
Upon Whom We Stand

By Wellington H. Smith, Jr.

Here is a striking quotation:
“There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten paths of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true. There is an incessant craving after any teaching, which is sensational, and exciting, and rousing to the feelings. There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. . . .The whole tone of men’s minds on what constitutes practical Christianity seems lowered. The old golden standard of the behavior, which becomes a Christian man or woman, appears debased and degenerated. The tendency of modern thought is to reject dogmas, creeds, and every kind of boundary in religion. It is thought grand and wise to condemn no opinion whatsoever, and to pronounce all earnest and clever teachers to be all these. Mighty foundation-stones are coolly tossed overboard like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity, and enable it to keep pace with modern science. Stand up for these great verities and you are called narrow, illiberal, old-fashioned, and a theological fossil!”
When do you think these words were written? Were they penned by a faithful modern preacher, lamenting the glitz and guile of the contemporary Church Growth Movement? In fact, the words were written by J.C. Ryle more than a century ago. The pressure upon Christians in general, and preachers in particular, to be contemporary in the name of making the Gospel relevant is not a new one. The apostle Paul, knowing that preachers in every generation from his time to the end of the world would face that pressure, wrote to counter it. The apostle had himself determined to preach nothing in cosmopolitan Corinth except Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). He had reasoned with the sophisticated philosophers in Athens, not by offering to them a novel teaching for which they hungered, but by declaring to them the ancient truths of God as Creator and Sustainer of life, of man being a sinner in need of salvation, and of Christ being Redeemer and Judge (Acts 17:16ff). Accordingly, Paul set out a singular pastoral strategy for all ministers to follow. Preachers are to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5). They are not to analyze, anticipate, follow or set fads. Preachers are to preach and faithfully seek to apply the whole counsel of God whether men will listen and respond favorably or not.

Yet, to hear many in the church today, one would think that Christ is not a rock upon whom we stand so much as a kite upon whom we fly, blown by the ever changing fads and fashions of these modern times. Today, unless we are conversant in the jargon of demographics, small and large group dynamics, homogeneous units, fund-raising and membership expanding drives, celebratory worship, and church architecture which aims to employ family life centers and food courts as tools to evangelize sinners and edify saints, we are made to feel that we are not only out of touch with the contemporary world, but are marginalized in the church, and are sinning against the Lord.

It has been said that the ABCs of success in today’s churches are: attendance, building, and cash – all in large quantities. As pervasive as such a value system is, one is struck with how devoid the Scriptures are of such considerations. Not a word in the New Testament is written about large church edifices or budgets. At times notice is given that great numbers were added to the ancient church. Yet, as much, if not more, attention in the Word is given to the conversion of single individuals, such as the Ethiopian eunuch, and to the nurture of small but faithful churches, such as the one at Phillipi. We must resist the pressures to let personal values achieve ascendancy over objective virtues; to let the building of material edifices and transient programs eclipse the building of character in immortal souls; and to let a fascination with what is new replace faithfulness to what is true.

Men in droves may want what is novel. That does not give us justification to disguise or deny the fact that the faith once delivered to the saints is ancient, though ever living and relevant. The mercies of our Lord are truly new every morning. Nevertheless, Christ himself is the same yesterday, today and forever.
I fear that many in the church today fancy themselves wiser and more caring than Jesus. Men today, being rich in the trinkets of this world, refuse, as did the rich young ruler, to renounce such rubbish and follow Jesus. Yet, whereas our Lord was grieved and let the rich young ruler go his way, many in our day would run after his modern counterparts, endeavoring to refashion the claims of Christ in terms more amenable to the hankering of those heading away from the Lord of life and glory. The problem with such endeavor – and it is a fatal flaw – is that men are competent to fashion only false gods. Neither is our Lord nor is his Gospel raw material to be worked into the shape we desire. We, not he, need changing.

I know a man who was interviewed by a committee to determine whether he would preach for a church. He was asked what programs he would offer to make the church contemporary and appealing to the young and the unchurched. He replied that his work was to preach the Word saturated in prayer, as that is the only strategy God has given to evangelize those in darkness and to build up the children of light. He was told that he would fail in the ministry if he did not modify his naive thinking. He replied that he would rather fail while faithfully preaching the whole counsel of God than to succeed by doing anything else. Far from that man’s ministry being a failure, it has for nearly two decades produced some of the richest, strongest, most tenderly loving, faithful, and fruitful believers in the world today. While that ministry has gone on largely out of season, there are signs that it may soon be in season. Thanks be to God, whose Word and Spirit sustain his people through all seasonal changes, as fads can never do.

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