Our Greatest Need Today
What is the greatest need of the church today? The answer to that question may well produce a variety of answers. Some might say more people attending, others may think the need is more finance or being more in step with the age in which we live so that it will be more effective. For the majority in our country today the church is largely irrelevant. Man looks to the world and all that it offers to satisfy and to numb the mind from the real issues of life. Just recently we came across the writings of a faithful servant of God in a past generation. He described the present ineffectiveness of the church in his day as being due to the absence of truth.1A generation earlier Horatius Bonar was to write, “Truth is not the feeble thing which men often think they can afford to disparage. Truth is power; let it be treated and trusted as such.”
Sound Biblical Teaching
We live in days when the palates of many professing Christians are satisfied with entertaining worship rather than that which feeds the soul and satisfies the longing heart. The fact that the Waterfront arena in Belfast can be filled to capacity for three consecutive nights for a Getty/Townend concert (good as though their hymns and songs of praise are) while most churches in Northern Ireland struggle to get 100 to Sunday evening worship says much.
It is the calling of the church to proclaim the word of God and to proclaim the glorious doctrines of grace. Preaching must be central in the life of the church, the apostle Paul writing to the Corinthian church said “we preach Christ Crucified,” further reminding them that he “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”. Walter Chantry says “When truth is silent, false views seem plausible.” Biblical preaching has always been the means by which God blesses his church. So often today there is a low view of preaching in the Christian church yet history teaches us and the Bible tells us that faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. (Rom 10:17). Preaching leads to hearing and hearing to believing. Paul impressed upon the early church the importance of preaching the whole counsel of God.
Some years ago J I Packer spoke of “much non-preaching in our pulpits”. He was pointing out that not all 20-30 minute discourses heard in public worship is actual preaching. He defined preaching as “essentially teaching plus application” (invitation, direction, summons). “Many in the church,” he continued, “have never experienced preaching in this full biblical sense of the word. The primary need of our day is the recovery of sound Biblical teaching”.
Serious Christian Living
The result of sound Biblical teaching will always produce men and women of faith. Doctrinal preaching should bring forth true Christian character and Godliness in the lives of God’s people. Sadly today Christian ‘worldliness’ marks our generation as the church conforms more and more to the spirit of the age. Christian lifestyle is hard to define today, there is a casual approach to the Lord’s Day, there is little discernment in what Christians do and the places they attend, the books they read and films they view. A W Tozer comes to mind when he said, “Spiritual Christians look upon the world not as a playground but as a battleground”. Much of the language of the New Testament speaks of Christian warfare and the battles that the followers of Jesus encounter.
Engaging with the world on its terms results in ineffective Christian witness and an inconsistent lifestyle that will deny the very faith that we are trying to uphold. Sinclair Ferguson reminds us “Do not merely speak the truth, but live truthfully, openly and honestly with one another.” Christian living in today’s world is a challenge. We are faced with many pressures on every side, materialism, idolatry and securalism to mention just a few. We live in a consumer driven society bombarded with advertising that is always telling us that we cannot really exist without the latest gadget. Yet as Christian people the apostle Paul gives instruction for Christian living. We are to be imitators of God, walking in love, walking as children of light and walking wisely, making the best use of time because the days are evil.
When we are known to be Christians the world is always watching, seeking to trip us up and looking for the inconsistencies in our lives. Some words from an anonymous poet sums up for us the need to be displaying a consistent and serious Christian lifestyle,
I am my neighbour’s Bible, he reads me when we meet;
Today he reads me in my home, tomorrow in the street.
He may be relative or friend, or slight acquaintance be;
He may not even know my name, but he is reading me.
Serving the Lord Faithfully
God’s call to his church is one of faithfulness and service. In every generation God raises up men and women, calling them out of darkness and “from idols to serve the living God.” The great commission given to the disciples was “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We are called to serve God where he has placed us. Each of our congregations is situated in a particular neighbourhood. There is a mission field on all of our doorsteps and our responsibility in evangelism must be to the people who live there. The strategy for our evangelism must be worked out in response to our location; it may be an inner city situation, a rural one or one in a rundown deprived area. Whatever our situation, the call is the same to all – serve the Lord with faithfulness. Local church evangelism, according to John Stott, “can claim to be the most normal, natural and productive method of spreading the gospel today. If all churches had been faithful, the world would long ago have been evangelized”.
The great need of our day is the recovery of true Biblical preaching, pointing men and women to Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of sinners, seeing lives transformed through faith in Christ and serving him faithfully and diligently making the most of every opportunity.