Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Are We Preaching A Sufficient Gospel?

I fully realize that there are many ways to try to quantify and assess church growth and health. However, in many circles it is done through numbers--baptisms, attendance, Sunday School, giving, etc. Some of them raise questions, some of the questions are never asked.

A story of the growth of a rural church was carried in a recent denominational publication. I am going to try to change the numbers some so as not to identify the publication, the article or the church, but not so much that they will fail to capture my point. It raises, or better, fails to raise a very significant question.

A season of growth began in this church 16 years ago. Their attendance was under 50. In the last three years, they have baptized 324 people. The current attendance is 425. Anyone see a problem here?

This is not the graph from the church in this blog
Here is a deadly serious question the church should be asking (if I was pastor, I would be asking it of my preaching): if the gospel we preach and invite people to respond to is not producing lasting results of discipleship, were the hundreds of professions over 16 years of people that cannot be found legitimate? Are we lulling people into a false security? Have we lowered the bar too low? The gospel that Jesus preached didn't have many false professions; it had people who followed hard or turned away because the path was too hard. The only thing that could be construed as a similar experience to the teaching or experience of Jesus is the parable of sower. How you interpret the middle two soils is for another blog post on another day.

The gospel is not complicated, nor are we called to make it that way. However, the road that leads to salvation is straight, narrow, and difficult, and we are called to issue a clear message of followership that includes genuine repentance, self-denial, cross-bearing, obedience, and radical savoring, treasuring, and loving Jesus Christ. Is your church seeing baptisms, is a question that should be asked. Are those baptized taking up their cross, this question is only rarely asked, and even more seldom addressed if the answer is no.

We must begin asking that question, lest we go down with churches that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nazi-imprisoned pastor, said were feasting on the carcasses of cheap grace.

" We Lutherans have gathered like the eagles around the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ…What had happened to all those warnings of Luther's against preaching the gospel in such a manner as to make men rest secure in their ungodly living?  Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church." (p. 54}

"This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. . .  Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience. . .  Having laid hold on cheap grace, they were barred for ever from the knowledge of costly grace.  Deceived and weakened, men felt that they were strong now that they were in possession of this cheap grace – whereas they had in fact lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience.  The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works."

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

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