1 Peter 4:17-18
"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"
"If you love me, keep my commandments."
There are a lot of writings and blogs that pick on the church as a whole, some of it well-meaning, some of it is downright negative and inflammatory. However, they are not written without a cause. The American church is struggling. I say struggling, because, though numbers seem to be gained and lost with little net-change, the caliber of the believer's moral character is waning. So I hesitate to add to the chorus of critique, but we all must understand that such criticisms as this, for any well-meaning Christian, is out of concern, alarm, and even desperation.
First, we must understand that the church is a body, a collection, comprised of individuals. The quality of the individual spiritual life creates the measure of the church's spiritual life. The quality of an individual's spiritual life is measured in it's obedience to the Christian Life and commands as described by Christ and the Apostles in the New Testament. So to say the church is struggling, it is because individuals are struggling. The church is morally weak because the individuals are morally weak. The church is failing in its mission because the individuals are failing in their mission. I am among this failing crowd.
This brings me to my diagnosis: We are not teaching the moral precepts of the New Testament. We are not preaching the explicit commandments of the Christian Life given by Christ and the Apostles.
They may be mentioned, or read over. But they are not taught, expounded, and emphasized.
Sermons are often given on the basis of what people want to hear. Topics are given based on addressing the felt-needs of the community. Most preachers won't admit this. They "get a word" or some such. But the reality is people tend to go to church to feel better, and preachers try to make people feel better. But people's felt-needs tend to be the felt-needs of the flesh, not the Spirit, since the flesh speaks so much louder. The goal of the preacher should be to help the hearer subdue the flesh and grow in the Spirit.
So what we end up with are a continuous string of messages of "God is on your side", "Christ will bring you to victory", "Hang in there", "God will provide." Or we get some interesting tidbit from breaking apart a word and discovering the third cousin root of the Chaldee means something profound.
Not to mention many of these wonderful promises are actually conditional, at the very least one must repent, belong to Christ, be a new creature, and seek to obey the gospel.
The fact is, we major on the minors, while the explicit commands, injunctions, and adjurations of the New Testament go largely ignored.
We speak of intangibles. We may talk about "walking in the Spirit." But what does that look like? We may speak of being a "new creation in Christ." What does that look like?
The proof of this is the fact the church as a whole bears little or bad fruit, not the "much", "good fruit" that will "last" that Jesus promised.
Few evangelize. Most are entangled with the love of this present world. Many Christians are unkind. We are known in the world as judgmental, hypocritical and ignorant. Instead of striving for peace, many embrace war. Instead of embracing the poor, we clamor for wealth. "You will know them by their fruit." And they know us by our fruit too.
Anyone who reads the New Testament would come away with this assessment.
Therefore, when we preach the explicit commands, we must also preach and demonstrate what it looks like in action.
Important things to emphasize on a regular basis:
1. The Great Commission, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." Matt. 28-19-20
2. Personal Holiness, "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation, because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." 1 Peter 1:15-16, Matt. 5:48
"And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." 1 John 3:3
3. Explicitly Against the Works of the Flesh, "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Gal 5:19-21
"Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice" Eph. 4:29-31
4. Forgiveness, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
Mat 6:15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Matt. 6:14-15
5. Against Friendship with the World / The Otherness of the Kingdom, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" James 4:4-5
"My Kingdom is not of this world." John 18:36
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. 1 John 2:25-17
6. Love in Action, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." John 13:35
If there is something unchristian going on in your church, preach against it.
Otherwise, you become those preachers who Paul predicts, who preach to the "itching ears." It is the the responsibility of the preacher to guide, correct, and admonish the flock in the whole counsel of God, regardless of the consequences. You may lose some, but you are losing those who care not for the things of Christ. You lose the prideful, you gain and grow the humble.
Consider if you spoke against backbiting, gossip, murmuring, divorce, cowardice, marrying the divorced, lust, and adultery.
Consider if you emphasized generosity, evangelism, holiness, modesty, forgiveness, love, and heavenly pilgrimage.
One would increase, the other would decrease.
One is of the flesh, and will grow if not actively plucked up. One is of the Spirit and will not grow unless actively planted.
To end with the famous and wise Leonard Ravenhill, who said, "The world is not looking for a new definition of Christianity, it is looking for a new demonstration of Christianity."