When missionary Lesslie Newbigin returned to Great Britain from India he said that he found a greater mission field in Britain than he had left in India. Key to this was his observation that Indian believers had confidence in the gospel and those in Britain did not. Christians with whom Newbigin worked in India believed in the power of Christ’s shed blood to wash away sin and guilt. They believed that death had been defeated through the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. They believed in the power of the Holy Spirit to raise a repentant sinner from death to life. But things were different with the church-goers he encountered in Britain. They were timid and apologetic in the face of a culture that was increasingly hostile to, and dismissive of, biblical truth. It shocked him.
What Newbigin experienced in Britain is far too common in American churches today. Thank God Baptists have not abandoned biblical truth as some have. But that is not to say we haven’t too often neglected to teach and live the truth we claim to believe. Denial of Bible truth is three steps too far for a good Baptist. We wouldn’t do that. But neglecting to teach the truth, and demonstrating a lack of confidence in the transformative power of the Gospel to bring eternal life, is much too common for far too many.
So how do we restore the confidence of God’s people in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Let me suggest a few things.
First, pastors and Bible teachers must be convinced that the Gospel is true and we must teach it with confidence. The first question a listener has of any speaker/teacher is, “Does he believe what he says?” We have abundant reasons to have confidence in the gospel because it is supported by historical events. Our faith is not a leap into the dark. Our faith is not mere philosophy. It is history. Our Savior did things and said things in history. Peter, James and John and Matthew and the others changed the world because they heard Jesus speak. They saw Him act. They watched Him die. They saw Him raised. They touched and spoke to our resurrected Lord. They watched Him ascend back to heaven. And then they travelled the world for the next 30 years and more, preaching this good news until most of them surrendered their own lives in a martyr’s death.
These are some of the historical facts of our faith. There are many more. We have reason to be confident that Jesus Christ lived, died, was raised, and that one day He will return to judge the living and the dead. Our preaching and teaching must reflect our strong confidence in the gospel message.
Second, when believers gather for worship our gatherings must be saturated with confident, gospel praying. The reading and preaching of the Word of God must be the central act of our worship. And Scripture reading must be restored to a place of primacy in worship. We should sing gospel songs that speak of Jesus and what He has done and what He will one day do.
There was a time that Baptist worship services were characterized by Kingdom and gospel praying, the singing of gospel songs (songs that teach and celebrate who Jesus is and what He did on the Cross), the reading of Scripture, and a message from the Scripture. From my observation, most Baptist sermons focus on proclaiming and applying the teaching of a particular biblical text. That’s good. But much of our praying and singing does not reflect on gospel truths and kingdom concerns, and we rarely hear Scripture readings in our worship services. I believe most of our churches could benefit greatly by adding more Scripture and prayer to our worship services, and by including some songs whose lyrics present and declare gospel truths and actually use the name “Jesus.”
Third, the witness of each local church is more vibrant and confident when the church is sent into the world from a worship experience in which gospel power was expressed and experienced. When God’s people are confident in the power of Christ to change lives, and when we express and experience this in corporate worship, we are more likely to live our faith positively and confidently.
One of the tragedies of a presidential election year in the United States is that the term “evangelical” is associated with a particular political candidate. “Who do the evangelicals support?” is a familiar question in news reports, which makes evangelical Christians (including Baptists) sound like we’re a political organization. Even worse, I fear people think that we believe the church’s agenda is accomplished through politics (and maybe some of us believe that too!) rather than gospel witness.
It’s not that we don’t have a legitimate interest and concern regarding who our political leaders are. We do and we should. But the bottom line is that the only thing the church has is Jesus and the gospel of His saving grace. We don’t have good ideas. We don’t have political clout. We don’t have strategies or programs or anything other thing that remotely compares to Jesus’ presence and His power to replace a heart of stone with a heart for Him. Gospel preaching, gospel singing, gospel praying, all of which flows from God’s Word, that’s where the power is. In times like these, the old hymn says, we need a Savior. That we do. And that we have. Rejoice and be glad! Be confident in Him!
P.S. This morning in my devotional time I read Jeremiah 9:1 in which the prophet writes, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” I don’t pretend to know the sorrow that Jeremiah knew as he watched the utter destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the slaughter of thousands. But like many of you, I’ve felt anger, and, at times, a depressed resignation when I look at the goings on in our nation. The one thing, the only thing, that grabs me by the throat and awakens me to what is really real, is God’s Word and my confidence in Him. When I consider the glories of Christ, my hope and my joy soon returns.