The Thesis or Antithesis? (part 2)

by Rick Shrader

I began last month pointing out the increasing differences between the conservative and contemporary churches.  I have tried to spend more time describing the conservative resurgence rather than the contemporary departure (but it has been difficult).  This will be a continuation of those descriptions.  I have titled these things with the words “Thesis” and “Antithesis” following Hegel’s famous dialectic.  I left off the obvious result which is almost always a “synthesis”  between the original conviction and the new protest movement.

In addition I ought to point out that, having been a student of the Postmodern phenomenon and an observer of the Converging Church movement and other supposed “paradigm shifts,” I think that fundamentalists and other conservatives who have also studied these things and yet have decided that a contemporary approach to ministry is necessitated by them are sorely wrong.  To have studied our current culture and then to have decided that we must become more like it in order to reach it is to be contrary to Scripture (James 4:4).1 For a Christian to be “culturally relevant” is not to be “in the spirit” of the age (that is what Demas loved, 2 Tim. 4:10) but rather to respond to the age in the way God would have him.  Results and popularity have never been biblical indicators of right and wrong in these matters.  Unfortunately, many have already committed themselves to comparing themselves among themselves, and are not wise (2 Cor. 10:12).  In the last days perilous times shall come (2 Tim. 3:1).  Paul’s admonition to Timothy (and to us) is to be instant in season, out of season (2 Tim. 4:2).  We’re not to vacillate up and down as a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed, nor be carried about by every wind of doctrine but to be steadfast like a anchor fastened to a Rock.

I continue now with the descriptions of conservative churches as opposed to contemporary churches.

Visitation and Invitations

One of the most noticeable marks of a conservative church is that it still has a visitation program during the week and that it still gives public invitations in the Sunday services.  The way these are done has never been exactly alike in all churches but the fact that they are done shows that a church believes in the power of the gospel to change people upon their hearing it.  To discontinue these practices shows a lack of trust in the power of the Word or a lack of interest by believers.  There is a growing antipathy for the public invitation, much of it by our Reformed friends and much of it by progressive churches who don’t do anything that is disturbing to their “seekers.”

One can see the evidence of the gospel followed by an appeal for a response (an invitation!) in almost every chapter in the book of Acts.  Where a gospel appeal is not being made, a church appeal to the believers is!  James says that visiting the fatherless and widows is part of pure religion (Jas. 1:27).  The rich man who died and went to hell wished for someone to visit his loved ones with the gospel (Luke 16:27-28).  Pastor James testified at the Jerusalem council that God had “visited” (the same word that James used in his book!) the Gentiles with the gospel (Acts 15:14).  Three times the word “persuade” is used in connection with Paul’s preaching ministry (Acts 18:4; 26:28; 2 Cor. 5:11).

Even though the appeals of the gospel are clearly in Scripture, still many try to blame Finney or Sunday or Moody for beginning this practice.  Whether or not they began the practice as we know it does not matter (most of us would be totally at home in those old meetings with their invitations).  It was William Carey and his friend Andrew Fuller in the late 1700s who, though theological Calvinists, pleaded with the churches to make public appeals with the gospel.  After being scolded by John Ryland, Sr. that God would win the heathen without their help if He wanted, they, nonetheless, began the Particular Baptist Missionary Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.  Carey published An Inquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.  Fuller wrote,

I believe it is the duty of every minister of Christ plainly and faithfully to preach the Gospel to all who will hear it; . . . I therefore believe free and solemn addresses, invitations, calls, and warnings to them to be not only consistent, but directly adapted, as means, in the hand of the Spirit of God, to bring them to Christ.  I consider it as a part of my duty which I could not omit without being guilty of the blood of souls.2

Recently I read the biography of John Broadus written by his son-in-law A.T. Robertson.  Broadus is best known for his Greek scholarship, co-founding of Southern Baptist Seminary, and authoring his enduring book ,  Preparation and Delivery of Sermons.  During the Civil War years Broadus traveled with the Confederate troops as a sort of chaplain, preaching often to the soldiers in their camps.  He describes one such service: “Many wept during the sermon, and not at allusions to home, but to their sins, and God’s great mercy . . .  Gilmer is dreadfully opposed to inviting men forward to prayer, etc., though Lacy, Hoge, and most of the Presbyterians, do it just like the rest of us.”3 An observer of Broadus’ meetings wrote:

The songs, simple old hymns, containing the very marrow of the gospel, were sung, ‘with the spirit and understanding,’ and stirred every heart.  The reading of the Scriptures, and the appropriate, fervent, melting prayer, such as only John A. Broadus could make—were all fit preparations for the sermon. . . At the close of the service they came by the hundreds to ask an interest in the prayers of God’s people, or profess a new-found faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I doubt not that our beloved brother has greeted on the other shore not a few who heard him that day or at other points in the army.4

Let me say again, it is not that every invitation is given exactly alike but it should be said that throughout the gospel age those who have loved souls have appealed to them for immediate change.  Iain Murray, in writing against the public invitation as we are used to seeing it, still has to admit, “Wherever preaching has ceased to require an individual response and wherever hearers are left with the impression that there is no divine command requiring their repentance and faith, true Christianity has withered away.”5 The omission of the invitation in our day will eventually lead to a reversion back to catechisms and confirmations, gradually making nice moral people into Christians through an education process rather than conversion because it is less offensive and much easier to do.

Seniors and Youth

A biblical church will honor both their senior saints as well as their young people by treating them as God treats them.  Paul told Timothy to Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters with all purity.  Honor widows that are widows indeed (1 Tim. 5:1-3).  John wrote, I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning.  I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one (1 John 2:14).

The contemporary church, frankly, has had no love for either.  The seniors are (in a shocking fashion) told to leave, die or get out of the way; and the youth are not told anything!  Rather than the church insisting (Biblically) that the elder saints lead and the younger saints follow, the churches have given leadership to the worldliest young people and have told the seniors to follow.  This can’t be honoring to God but it is happening wholesale with biblical blinders on.

I have been in a national pastors’ meeting where a teenage girl performing as a “worship leader,” dressed in jeans and T-shirt, at the close of a song presumed to lead the 1000+ congregation of ministers and their wives in prayer!  Many walked out.  I just read Rick Warren (web site: telling young pastors who are willing to take their church in his “Purpose Driven” way to push the older saints out of the way lest they get in the way! “I’m saying some people are going to have to die or leave.”  How can men of God read their Bible and still do what is being asked here?  Is success so important that a man ordained to the gospel ministry will blatantly violate the Word of God for it?

Godly saints, older and younger alike, are being held hostage by a few who threaten havoc in the church and at home if they don’t get their way.  This happens because true spirituality does not strive nor is it possessive of mere things.  It easily lets go of earthly possessions and can walk away in good conscience.  Immaturity, however, will seize the limelight as well as the property though it did not pay for it nor sacrifice for it.  What is harder to understand is the senior who acquiesces and participates in the immature worship, or the godly young person who does the same out of peer pressure and fear of being ostracized.  Where are the young men that John wrote about who are strong and have the Word of God abiding in them and have overcome the wicked one?  One wonders when the spirit of boldness left our Christian youth.

There are many senior saints across our land who are grieving sorely over having to leave their church of many years because they could no longer participate with a good conscience in the immaturity and worldliness of the church.  I think to myself, “how appropriate!”  It is a right thing for people to attach themselves to their church, to love it and sacrifice for it for many years.  It would be an unnatural thing if such people did not go through a grieving process in such a loss.

I have noticed another phenomenon surrounding the contemporary church.  If young people cannot perform, are not the beautiful children, cannot wear designer clothes and have perfect bodies, cannot dance and do not desire to be an American idol, they will be only pew-fillers.  After all, even in young churches, someone will be asked to just pay and pray.  Someone has to stand in the crowd and do as the crowd does:  sway back and forth with hands raised and clapping, because there is no room for nonconformists in such a crowd.

Even young people in our religious schools wonder if they can measure up to the success-standard that is expected of all students.  Can you climb the ladder quickly?  Can you pioneer a work into an obvious successful contributor?  Are you good enough to be invited back to speak where your mentors spoke?  The pressure will be too great for most young people.  They will quickly adapt to the accepted and ordained methodology that can bring them success.  Some ministers in mid-life are still “trying on” the latest method, waiting for some affirming miracle to happen.

Biblical Christianity with Biblical local churches will always be around.  They are around today, just not in big numbers and not in the cultural spotlight.  Many older saints are finding that they do not have to acquiesce to an unbiblical standard of being ruled by novices; that they still have good years of wisdom and service to give.  Many young people are finding that reward for ministry comes in the next life, not in this one; that spirituality is reward in itself, not a means to an end; that their generation needs true cultural observers who, rather than falling in line with the crowd, will not love the world, neither the things in the world, but will boldly and faithfully submit themselves to a biblical world-view and a biblical church organization.  Unbiblical ministries cannot last long.  There will be a resurgence of walking by faith, not by sight; of being in the world without being of the world; of walking with God when no one will walk with you.  Now that will be revival!

1. Some argue that culture is morally neutral and therefore never to be avoided, or that methodology is morally neutral  or that Fundamentalists are hiding their heads in the sand.  These points are catchy but nonsense.  More people have been reached by separatists than any other evangelizing groups.  Far from them being out of touch, they have always known exactly what their culture really needed.
2. A.C. Underwood, A History of the English Baptists (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1956) 164.
3. A.T. Robertson, Life and Letters of John A. Broadus (Philadelphia:  American Baptist Pub. Society, 1910) 208.
4. Ibid, 208-209.
5. Iain Murray, The Invitation System (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1984) 1.a