I have always wondered why the church has all the same problems as the rest of the world. My son was molested by a missionary, the mission and their supporting churches covered it up. My ex-wife had an affair with her boss (she was the daughter of an American Baptist preacher who thought she could do no wrong). A Christian Education teacher from Wheaton College, my alma mater, was convicted of pedophilia. An alumnus – the former Speaker of the U.S. House and a one-time high school wrestling coach – was blackmailed by a member of his wrestling team for sexual molestation. Another alumnus killed his wife. Christian churches have to do background checks on their workers to protect their children from pedophiles. Average giving is only 4% of income. And pastors struggle with addiction to pornography.
How can this be if the Holy Spirit is supposed to transform a person at conversion? The simple answer is that many people in the church have never really been converted. Sure they have raised a hand at an evangelistic service or “accepted Jesus as their Savior” or “asked Jesus into their heart” or prayed a simple prayer of salvation, but they have never been reborn by the Holy Spirit. You see, neither Jesus nor any of the apostles ever asked anyone to “accept Christ as Savior” or “ask Jesus into their heart” or follow a four step plan of salvation. They called people to repent and believe.
Repentance is seldom preached in modern churches. Pastors and evangelists are too afraid of scaring people away by confronting them with their sins. So they try to coax them into the kingdom with promises of blessings that only come by renouncing self and giving up everything else to follow Christ.
If pastors and evangelists truly trusted the Holy Spirit to do a work of conviction through the preaching of the Word of God, there would be far fewer people in the pews, but they would all be genuine Christians who live genuine Christian lives.
I am from a Reformed tradition. That means I follow the teachings of the Reformers who recaptured the gospel when they broke away from all the false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Reformed preachers and teachers follow the doctrines of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the early church fathers, and the apostles. They believe that all scripture has one unifying message and that message has one meaning – the one God intended it to have.
They get to that meaning by interpreting the Word in light of the language and culture and history of the writers. They don’t take it out of context or interpret it according to their own personal whims.
The techniques employed in personal Bible study and small groups and Bible Study programs today often depend on some popular Christian author’s take on the text. Bible study leaders ask “What does this passage mean to you?” There are no wrong answers. Imagine getting a letter from a loved one and sharing it with family members who all take a different meaning from it. The author would wonder, “Whose letter did you read?” That is essentially what Jesus told the Pharisees when he said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.“(Jn 5:46) They misunderstood the Old Testament and it cost them eternal life!
Naturally, personal interpretations downplay the difficult or offensive parts of the Bible in favor of a Jesus who is all love and no judgment. This is a very palatable gospel that makes folks feel good about themselves when they should be feeling the exact opposite. People like this never get around to acknowledging or confessing their sins, yet they fill the pews of big churches all over America.
People often say that Reformed preaching divides churches. That is true. Because it does not compromise the teaching of Scripture, it does drive away the chaff. But it nurtures those who have been genuinely born again and produces the kind of faith that manifests itself in a life of obedience to the Word of God.
Jesus did not compromise the word of God to keep his followers. In fact, after issuing a very difficult teaching, many of his followers left him. In John 6 it says, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it? After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
Peter’s answer is instructive. He said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
It is the very words of life that divide the wheat from the chaff. But we need not compromise those words for fear it will drive some of the wheat away as well. For just prior to this Jesus had said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”