The days of the Apostles were marked by sound doctrine, and growth by multiplication. Later, the successive stages of “church development” were plagued by doctrinal drifting. After the Reformation, denominations formed and were quickly divided over everything from Bible doctrine to the shape of the steeple. Diversity made it hard for many to know what to believe.
Today the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. There is a cry for all “people of faith” to celebrate the things they have in common, and ignore their age old differences. The problem? …what they have in common is not always truth. Churches are laying aside their doctrinal distinctives for the sake of unity. There is increasing pressure to be more tolerant of others, more accepting of beliefs that are contrary to our own, or the Bible.
In the beginning, an increasing number of people were hearing the gospel year after year, but now that number is decreasing. In the beginning the church was the redeemed bride of Christ, but in the end, the Bible tells us that the church will fall away from everything that Christ taught. We are certainly moving in that direction.
Some will disregard my remarks as being alarmist, outdated or just ignorant. Others may accuse me of being “one of those legalist pastors who believes everybody should come to his church.” But my goal is not to have the largest church, and I hate legalism – No one will ever enter heaven because they have faithfully “kept the rules.” Salvation is by faith in Christ, plus nothing.
Still there are those who argue, “But the more ‘progressive’ churches have more people than your church.” That is certainly true, but again, it is not about church or numbers, it is about God and truth. Where do you stand with relation to God and truth? Remember, there were more people outside the ark than within.
These are among the most powerful words known to man. They have singly settled disputes, won battles, and changed the course of history. These two words can melt an icy heart and make friends of enemies. It is probable that your own life has been touched by these timely spoken words, and perhaps you have felt hurt or loss when they were lacking.
It is distinctly Christian to say “thank you,” a virtue to be sought by every child of God. And though we extol the virtues of thanksgiving among men, its first object and recipient must be God Himself. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. (Psalm 100:4). The reason is obvious. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17).
Unbelievers are also capable of true thankfulness. They give thanks for things that are pleasant and, in their estimation, beneficial. But Christians have the capacity to be thankful even in the face of devastation and loss. Giving thanks to God in every circumstance is a virtue that dazzles the minds of unbelievers. Down through the centuries, many have been stirred to ask “Why?” The answer, of course, is the believer’s faith. Christians are the recipients of some very special promises. Promises like, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28).” And then there is, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5).”
As believers, we have confidence that God is in control and that, no matter what, He has our best interest in mind. So, dear brother or sister, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1Thessalonians 5:18).”
The memories are still vivid and real. I shudder to recall what happened Sunday evening, July 17, 1988 on a country road just south of Winston Salem, NC where I grew up. A lone gunman shot ten people as they casually drove by his place of business. Five of the ten were dead within the hour and two others were fighting for their lives in a local hospital. Perhaps the most troubling remembrance is that of a young lady of sixteen who drove around a roadblock where two men were trying to warn on-comers of the impending danger.
The two made every attempt to stop the young lady, including placing their cars across the road, waving their arms, and shouting their warning in slow, deliberate tones. She simply drove around them on the shoulder of the road as if avoiding a trashcan that had inadvertently blown into her path. They had done all that they could to warn her, but now she had passed and their attention was turned to the next car.
The young lady was shot once as she drove by and again when the gunman ran to the window of her stalled car to deliver another shot point blank. She died at the scene. I still shudder to think of the terror that embraced her as she realized what was happening.
This event illustrates perfectly what I feel as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. You, my friend, are like this young lady, traveling on the road called Sin, and headed for certain eternal destruction. It is my duty to sound the warning. Your only hope is to turn from your sin and place your trust in Jesus Christ who has already endured your terror and offers you peace. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6).