The most important priorities and emphases
by Missionary David R. Cox
In all the things that a church could do, and all that most churches get involved in, we should say a word about priorities and emphases. Yes, there are a multitude of “important” things, but like in the human body, there are some things (like your heart beating and breathing) that if they don’t function, you die shortly. Likewise in a church, there are things that we cannot afford to fall to a lower priority without causing the spiritual life in the church to be ruined.
Of everything a church can do, and of everything churches do occupy their energies in, evangelism is what determines life or death. It is that critical. Let’s face facts, nobody likes going out arguing doctrine in the street, but it is the only way we can maintain a church healthy.
Evangelism has the most immediate benefit of providing new people, i.e. church growth, but it has other benefits also. God has given us evangelism for the health of the local church. When our people move away, stop coming, and for whatever reason stop participating in our church, this is how we recuperate. We should do everything possible to stop people from leaving, and when they do leave, we should do everything possible to return the lost sheep to the fold, but in the end, we do lose people.
When we have economic problems and cannot pay the bills, the solution to economic shortfalls is evangelism. Simply put, that is how we do more and undertake large projects, but increasing those in the church.
Often a church stagnates in its own empathy, which is caused by keeping our vision on ourselves. The solution to lack of vision and self-centeredness is evangelism. Introspection usually causes pride or depression, and can only be fixed by getting the vision off of one’s own situation. Churches who miss this are poor when it comes to local evangelism and world missions. They would rather spend their energies in fighting among themselves, arguing over whether they are going to have chicken or roast beef at the church suppers, and the great tremendous problem of the color of the walls when we repaint. Wise pastors get their people to see the spiritual need and unsavedness around them, and by doing that they get their own people for forget about themselves and serve God by serving others and reaching others with the gospel.
We should also understand that evangelism corrects spiritual problems in the local church. What? Are you crazy? No. But first let’s get clear understanding of what is biblical evangelism. Frankly, giving somebody a tract is not evangelism. Neither is having a church dinner and inviting the unsaved to come is evangelism. For that matter, neither is inviting the unsaved to come to the Sunday services evangelism.
Definition of evangelism – Evangelism is going to where the unsaved are, and presenting clearly without other pretenses the gospel plan of salvation. By this we mean, your up front reason for talking to the unsaved wherever they maybe is to give them the gospel plan of salvation. I am not necessarily against all the things I mentioned above, but that is not what is pure evangelism. You must talk directly with the person about his concepts of salvation, show him where he is right or wrong, and convince him with the Scriptures and common logic.
Let’s also while we are visiting this topic make it extremely clear that the goal of evangelism is never a sinner’s prayer for God to save him. This is the most common error in evangelism that there ever has been. The goal of evangelism is believing faith in Jesus as their only Savior.You may think the two are the same but believe me they are not. A prayer is work, and we do not believe works save anybody (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). For a person to be truly saved, there has to be real saving faith in that person. See Getting People Really Saved.
The fact that those who evangelize have to start with each person WHERE HE IS, and then take him to the Savior, means that the evangelists have to understand other religions and doctrines and practices, and they must understand where these other groups are biblical, and where they are unbiblical.
I witness to a lot of Catholics. It may surprise some people to hear that I agree a lot with Catholics when witnessing. If you study their doctrines, you find that for example, we believe very closely on the Trinity. No problem. So don’t make it a problem. Concede that God exists in a Trinity. It is counterproductive to object to everything that somebody says even when they are right. We skip discussing these things because it is fruitless to waste valuable time on them when there are other issues that beg to be treated intensively.
Another thing that may surprise may people reading this is that most Catholics who are in any sense really Catholics (because many only are Catholic because their parents were), well they all confess Jesus as their personal Savior. Here is my point. If you do not understand Catholic doctrine and practice, you are ineffective as an evangelist.
In the Vatican II Council, the commission recommended to the Pope which established “guidelines” which is what we deal with now, a recommendation that priests use the words and concepts of “receiving Jesus as their personal savior” in receiving the wafer in Mass. So every time a Catholic receives Mass, the Priest asks him does he receive Jesus as his personal Savior. The answer is to open your mouth and take the body and blood of Christ (which they think is the wafer with a drop of wine on it).
Only people who deal a lot with Catholics will understand how sinister this is. I use the counter argument of being married, and my wife would be crazy if she constantly wants us to get married again every month. Why? Because she wasn’t sincere when she gave her vows? The comparison makes accepting Christ a one time only event until the death. This they understand, and with this illustration they see the difference between accepting Christ and taking communion.
That was an example, but the point is that a church that is on the front battle lines makes these kinds of clarifications and explanations the common fair of their religious life. These things once discovered by confrontation come to the cutting edge of making people understand the truth. A church that has a muted or false evangelism cannot understand what I am talking about.
Often we promote church visitation. Seldom does anybody deal with false beliefs or salvation while on church visitation. What they do is invite the people to come back to church. Unfortunately neither does the pastor deal with these things in his sermons except rarely. If he did so more than rarely, his people would accuse him of always dealing with salvation and giving them no real meat of the word.
So we cannot get around the simple necessity of going out door to door and talking to people about salvation and their false beliefs about salvation.
Here we need to understand, where their pastor goes, they go. Church members do not go out evangelizing because they have not seen their pastor being faithful in doing it. Ah the glory of America with their big and complicated everything. Today we have visitation pastors because the pastor cannot find time to go out himself. Again we defend the example of the man of God with his sheep (Hebrews 13:7) and we rob the pastor and teachers in the church of the real conflict of spiritual ideas which they will only know by reading a lot of heresy and false cults and religions, or by simply dealing with people about the Lord on the street.
Let’s also add here that church people who have to argue Scripture on the street know their Bible if they don’t give up. That is because the cults and false religions know their arguments, and to counter them, our people must (1) know their Bible and argument for the truth (Jude 1:3) and (2) they must also understand how to discern false logic in debate.
Here we see that once you have “lost” an argument because somebody uses an invalid logical or debate procedure in the discussion, then we analysis and rework our arguments and preparations. In this we understand that there are invalid logic processes and we can derail these arguments by explaining how it is invalid from the beginning.
For example, I have argued with many a tongues speaker about tongues. For reference see my study on tongues. In the first times I argued tongues with these people, I “won” the argument and their own conclusion is that tongues is a demonic activity. But having “won”, they won’t concede the argument, but instead told me, “Brother, I don’t know how to answer what you have presented me. But I do know one thing. Tongues is of God, and I am going to pray for you that God will give you the gift of tongues so that you will understand this.”
I reevaluated my presentation and I saw that they really do not have the same authority as I do. This causes a great problem for me at the end because we return to a theological difference which I must address, and they are again antagonistic and will not listen further.
The basis for this difference is that I believe the Scriptures are my authority (which is what they tongue in cheek agree to), but the tongues speaker really believes in the authority of experiences (supernatural experiences) over the authority of Scripture. I begin every presentation now by noting this and stressing that experiences can be deceiving, and our authority is the Word of God. Beforehand they will agree with me because in theory that is what they believe. But in practice they do not believe that. This is part of evangelism, to get people to see the error and hypocrisy of their belief and practice systems.
These things come only by brute experience with haggling hours over issues with cultists. Our modern churches have done everything possible to remove this from our church people’s experience. We have a revival or an evangelistic campaign, and we go to church. Why? Are there unsaved in our church? No. Because it is supposed to motivate us to witness to others. Doesn’t work that way.
Does inviting people to church really present the gospel to them? Are we so incapable spiritually that 99% of our church members cannot present the plan of salvation to another soul? In practice and in reality, that is the point. Only the pastor can witness, because that is the only one who really does it. I doubt most fundamental Baptist pastors would have a problem presenting the gospel, but most of them would have great problems convincing or knowing where to go to confront a Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, or Catholic of his errors and false salvation. If there are a lot of pastors who could do that, I doubt they would do very well with Spiritualism, Psychology, Alcoholic Anonymous, and the other cults and false religions. Why? Simply because it is not what they do on a weekly basis.
This is disturbing when you think about it because a preacher’s sermons come out of his personal devotional life, and his personal experiences. We fall into a nice neat little sermon that does not do anything spiritually. The fact that Abraham had two sons is true, but how does it change my life? That is where modern Christianity has fallen on its face.
Here we find the other element that is absolutely essential in maintaining a local church alive. Let me explain or define expository preaching. Expository preaching means getting out the meaning of the actual words of the Scripture so that the hearer can understand and apply the meaning in his personal life.
Nehemías 8:8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
Explaining the text is part of expository preaching, but understanding is the key. Another key is to get out the meaning (exegesis) in place of putting in your own understanding and meaning (eisegesis). We have all too many preachers today who don’t have a clue about Scriptures. They approach the Scriptures with a prejudice, and they are prooftexting (looking for proof instead of looking for meaning and understanding).
For example, the preacher “predecides” what he believes (usually based on popular opinion in his preacher circles) and then he “finds” texts that support this prejudice.
“I argue and argue and get nowhere with people about the issue of pants on women.” The typical preacher prejudges that pants on women is wrong, and then goes to Scriptures to prove that assumption. The passage that he finds is Deuteronomy 22:5.
Deuteronomy 22:5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
The problem here is that this passage does not mention pants on women. It mentions cross dressing. Women wear women’s pants, and the argument breaks down here. Furthermore Moses was probably wearing a gown (a dress) when he wrote this. The Bible does not “address” this issue under the pants problem. The Bible addresses this as a modesty problem, and the difference is great.
Women can wear skirts and dresses and still be immodest. Men can wear pants and be immodest. So by sidetracking on the pants issue, we have missed the boat. This is typical cult Scripture twisting. They grab what they want, and dump the rest. For those preachers who think I am wrong here, why do you force verse 5 to the extreme, but skip gleefully over verse 11?
Deuteronomy 22:11 Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.
They are both in the Bible, and most garments today are mixed. See what I mean when I say that prooftexting is simply a cultic mental game that they use to prove their points, whatever their points may be. This is not expositional preaching.
If we apply expositional preaching to the issue of pants, we find that pants originated with Moses in the case of the priests making offering on a raised platform, and pants were so that the men’s robes would not rise up when the priest raised the offering up to God, and not having underwear, the people down on the ground below the platform got a nudie show.
The emphasis should not be on one particular kind of clothes, like socks, or shirts, or whatever, but on modesty. Modesty with those who are without, because the woman is to be “immodest” with her husband in the privacy of their bedroom (1 Corinthians 7 obligates her to have sex with him and visa versa). The issue here is that the woman is to be the man’s sanctification, that is, she protects him from fornication (1 Thess. 4:3-4).
So there are principles here and issues to be dealt with, and starting with pants does injustice to these important things. But for the life of me, people cannot get beyond the issue of pants. The women who want to wear pants always take the first part and say I give them an okay on wearing pants. Those who oppose me because they say I say pants on women are okay. The issue is complex and deep, and the point is that most of our “mature” Christians are too immature to understand it at all. The point that I am able to do something but refrain from doing it because it might cause problems to others is beyond them.
At the bottom of all of this is the issue of Christian liberty and the false prophets who wish to control the brethren’s lives when God has left that up to an individual basis. The good old Baptist distinctive of “soul liberty” simply is a dinosaur. Nobody believes it any more, because in practice they cannot tolerate a fellow Christian with different standards than they have.
I should say that my wife does not wear pants, and in my experience, I have known many elderly women that were extremely godly and I have never met one that used pants. But that is of little value in this argument because people jump to what they want to believe without understanding what God has said, and without any concept of the complexity involved in telling somebody that something is a sin without a valid Scripture verse to back that up. We can recommend on the basis of many factors, but this issue is not black and white like lying, stealing, or fornication. It should be dealt with on the basis of what we find in Scriptures, and not something else like our desires in the matter.
Expository preaching is the backbone of a good church. Without it, the church is hopelessly in a tailspin. To be true expository preaching, we have to limit ourselves greatly.
Expository Preaching – We say what God says, no more, no less, and no changes.
I wish at times that God would have clarified more than He did, but in His wisdom (not mine or yours) He has said what He has said, and that is sufficient (sufficiency of Scripture). We can explain and help people understand what God has said only once we ourselves have an understanding on the matter.