Robert Jeffress - America's Last Hope
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Every day, our country seems to wander farther away from the Christian principles that made us great. The Bible teaches that countries that defy God will eventually crumble. So how should Christians respond right now? Jesus made it clear, that Christians are to be salt and light, in order to delay the demise of our nation and have time to proclaim the Gospel. My message is titled, "America's Last Hope" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, remember him? It was the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield and the local church that both have something in common. Both get no respect, as the late comedian used to lament. I mean look at it today, the local church is under vicious attack. And not just from those with, from without the church, but also from those within the church. In fact what is so deeply disturbing to me about the most recent attacks from within about the church, is they're coming actually from Christian leaders. One pastor who later had to resign his church because of sexual immorality wrote, quote, "Sitting down with a friend over coffee is every bit as spiritual as going to church together. The casual setting provides just as great an opportunity for supernatural influence, as being in church does and often, even more".
Now, if there is no more value to going to church than sitting down with a friend for coffee, why in the world would you get up and go through the hassle of coming to church on Sunday morning? And why would you give sacrificially to an organization like the church, it's not doing any more to advance the Kingdom of God than the local Starbucks? And that fact is, with the leaders disparaging the church like that, no wonder church attendance continues to decline. And futurist George Barna predicts that attendance in church will continue to decline. "Within a few years," Barna says, "Millions of people will never travel physically to a church, but will instead roam the internet in search of meaningful spiritual experiences".
Now apparently that's all right with Barna, since he says, "The essence of Christianity is the development of people's character. Spiritual transformation or even intimate worship," he says, "does not require worship service, but a personal commitment to the spiritual disciplines". How contrary that is to what the Word of God teaches. Hebrews 10:24-25, Paul said, or the writer says, "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to faith in good deeds, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as is the habit of some". Spiritual development, even our own spiritual development doesn't take place just in a vacuum. We need the stimulation, the encouragement that comes from other believers. But you know I have to be the first to admit that local churches do have some serious flaws.
I can identify with Mark Buchanan who writes, I assume you're like me, I can get itchy skinned and scratchy throated after an hour or so of church. I can get distracted and cranky when it goes too long. My feet ache, my backside numbs, my eyes glaze over, my mind fogs, my belly growls, I find myself fighting back yawns, and I'm the pastor. I mean, we all identify with that. But you know those who would write off the church as an antiquated organization that needs to be replaced by a new paradigm, forget one important fact. The church, the local church was created by God. The church is God's idea. It is his way of fulfilling his mission. He is the one who came up with the composition, the organization, the polity, the priority of the church.
Why do Christians, especially Christian leaders, feel at liberty to discard and replace what God created at the expense of the death of his own Son? The centrality of the church, the local church in fulfilling God's purpose is seen throughout scripture. In Ephesians 3:20-21, Paul concludes that section by saying, "Now to him who is able to do exceeding, abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to him be the glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus, to all generations forever and ever". How is it that God is going to be glorified in this world? It is through the church. God's plan to fulfill his mission is through local congregations the church is the visible representation of the body of Christ.
Well, what is the purpose of the church? Certainly the spiritual development of individuals and groups, but it goes beyond that, as well. God has another purpose for the church besides your individual spiritual growth. Just as God formed the nation of Israel to be his representatives on earth under the old covenant, God has created the church to proclaim his truth and reflect his holiness in the world today. Remember Peter's words in first Peter 2:9, he said, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood. A holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness, into his marvelous light".
Now stay with me on this. God could have created a massive organization called the church, with one pastor and everybody is a member of that massive organization called the church, but that was not his plan. Instead God's plan was to blanket the landscape, throughout the world with local individual communities of believers we call, the local church. And after all, look at the New Testament, most of the books of the New Testament were written to individual congregations, Corinth, Ephesus, colossi all with their own unique opportunities, their own problems, their own challenges.
Remember in the Book of Revelation, we studied a couple of years ago, that book was addressed specifically to seven real specific local churches in Asia Minor. Six of them received the firm reprimand from God, one was even accused of apostasy, and yet in spite of it, all of their flaws, God said these churches were like a lampstand by God, in the darkness of the world. And that is what the church is. The church is a light in a dark world. You know in this series, twilight's last gleaming we have said, that as Christians, our role, Jesus said is to be salt and light. Salt, to preserve our nation, to extended it's life, so that we can be light and share the Gospel with as many people as possible. That is our job, to be salt and light. But think about salt for a moment, to be an effective preservative as it wasn't Jesus's day. To preserve, to extend the shelf life of meat, what is more effective, one grain of salt or a whole clump of salt? And what about a light?
If you're in the darkness, what would be better, to have one little 10 watt lamp or a whole cluster of lights? It's the same way with us. Yes individually we have an assignment, but salt and light are much more effective in mass rather than acting as individuals, and that's why the church is so effective. As Solomon said, "Two really are better than one". We can more effectively be salt and light in this world together in local communities of believers than we can individually on our own and that's why God created the church, not just to help you in your own spiritual development, but to be salt, a preservative, and to be a light in this decaying and darkening world. And that leads to the thesis of what I want to share with you tonight.
Tonight's message is entitled, America's Last Hope. Do you know what America's last hope is? What America's greatest hope is? It is the local church. And I want to submit to you tonight this thesis, the preservation of our nation, for the proclamation of the Gospel depends upon the effectiveness of local churches in fulfilling their mission. Let me say that again, the preservation of our nation, for the proclamation of the Gospel depends upon the effectiveness of local churches, just like First Baptist Dallas, fulfilling its mission. And then I want to go one step further, the effectiveness of churches in fulfilling their mission, depends upon pastors fulfilling their calling. And that is what I want to talk about specifically tonight.
I realize that watching this broadcast, listening by radio or podcast to this series, we have numerous pastors and church leaders who are tuned in to this series. And I want to talk about tonight specifically, the role that the pastor has in helping the church achieve its mission, so that our nation can be preserved for the proclamation of the Gospel. You know, the fact is, no local church is any more effective in fulfilling its mission than its pastor in fulfilling his calling. Why is that, why is the church so dependent upon the pastor?
John Maxwell explains in his book, "The Law of Leadership, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership," he calls it the law of the lid. And the law of the lid is simply this, no organization rises above its leadership. No organization ever rises above the commitment of its leader. I know today it's fashionable to say, "Well the pastor is not that important in the church, he's just one among many, you know, we're all in this together, we don't need to, you know, play like the pastor is anything different than anybody else," that's very popular in some churches to say such a thing. And yet the fact is in First Timothy 3:1, the Bible refers to the pastor as the overseer or the ruler, the leader of the church.
When God had a message to deliver to those seven churches in Asia Minor, notice how he addressed those letters. He did not address the letter to the pastoral oversight committee of the church at Sardis. And when he wrote the church at Sardis, he didn't say, "To the elders, at the church at Sardis". He said, "No, I'm addressing this letter to the angels, the messenger, the preacher, at the church at Sardis". The fact is, you can debate about church polity as much as you want to whether it ought to be congregational or whether it ought to be elder ruled or this kind of rule or this kind of rule, really, it doesn't matter.
As my late friend, Adrian Rogers used to say, "Anything in nature with two heads is a freak, and anything with no head is dead". Now that is true in marriage. It is true in the company you operate and it is true in the church. Any organization has to have a leader. And in the church that leader is the pastor. He is the overseer, the ruler, the leader of the church. Now pastor listening to me tonight, understand what I'm saying, your leadership of the church, your headship of the church, is not a privilege to be exploited, it is a responsibility to be fulfilled. Because the Bible says, "As the undershepherd," I mean Jesus Christ is the head of the church, but he's left the building for a while, okay, he's up there in heaven and he's appointed you pastor as the undershepherd of that congregation. But before you feel all empowered and high and mighty about it, understand this, the Bible says, all of us who are pastors are one day going to give an account to God for how we've led our congregations.
Hebrews 13:17, the writer says, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. And let them do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you". People who cause their pastors grief and sorrow, and heartache, are going down a dangerous path. And it will lead to unproductive results for them as well as the church in which they serve. If you are a pastor, God has given you the responsibility for your congregation and specifically the responsibility is to help mobilize your church to be the salt and light, God has commanded us to be.
So how is it that the pastor fulfills his calling? Tonight, we're going to look at the three distinct callings of every pastor, and I'm going to take a walk with you down memory lane tonight as well. And first of all, we're going to talk about the pastor as preacher. You know the pastor's primary responsibility is not vision casting, it is not comforting, it is not managing, it's not overseeing the staff, all of those things are a part of a pastor's job description, but the number one responsibility of any pastor is to preach the Word of God.
In 2 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul told the spiritual protege Timothy, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by the appearing of his kingdom, preach the word, be ready in season and out of season reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction". What does it mean to preach the word? That word preach means to herald, or to announce. In Paul's day, an emperor, if he had a message to deliver to a township, he would send his herald to announce the emperor's message. That is what the pastor is to do. He is to preach. He is to announce the word. And the clarifying words, reprove, rebuke and exhort give the sense of urgency, with which the pastor is to deliver the ruler's message.
That word reprove means to speak persuasively. To rebuke means to convince of wrongdoing. To exhort means to come along and encourage in a positive way. But Paul's message here is not simply to preach, it is to preach the word. No herald in Paul's day was free to formulate his own message. He was afraid to say, "Well I know the emperor said this, but I have something else I want to share with you today". Now his job, was faithfully announced the message that had been entrusted to him, and that is the same way with pastors. We are to preach the Word of God and that is one way we help our congregation be the salt and the light that they have been commanded to be, the pastor as preacher.
The second role is the pastor as a prophet. Now my experience has told me, that the world as a whole is pretty general, is pretty comfortable with pastors preaching. They don't want to listen to it, but they don't mind, they're not threatened by pastors preaching. Even the most hardened atheist doesn't mind a pastor standing up in his church and preaching to his people, I mean, if he's got a congregation filled with gullible people listening to these silly stories and myths and they want to sit there and pay their money to do that, most atheists don't have any problem with that.
Well, let the pastor preach the word. However, when a pastor starts criticizing the city council for allowing a topless bar to open. Or when a pastor starts confronting the state board of education about using a textbook that includes creation as well as evolution. Or when a pastor organizes a protest in front of a local abortion clinic, suddenly he is accused of forsaking his primary calling and getting involved in the world of politics. And yet, look at the Old Testament prophets. Think of Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, Michael, they, Micah, they didn't compartmentalize their message, they just didn't speak to the citizens of Israel, to God's people, the fact is, they confronted people with more than just about their personal relationship with God, they confronted their culture as a whole, when that culture departed from the teachings of God's word.
You know that's what a prophet did in the Old Testament. The prophet was simply a man who confronted his culture, with God's word. The prophet realized that God's interest extended beyond the four walls of the temple or the tabernacle, God was interested in all of his creation. And when government and when people as a whole, started forsaking God's commands, the prophet did not hesitate to confront that departure. Why isn't that happening today? Why are pastors so reticent to confront their culture, when it departs from God's commands? I think there are three reasons, pastors are hesitant to act as prophets. One reason is a misunderstanding of the Bible.
You know when citing the Old Testament prophets as a model for the pastor's prophetic role today, some will say, "Well, now there's a difference between Israel and the church". Israel was a theocracy and so that means when the prophet spoke to the ungodly citizens of Israel or even the ungodly kings, they were still speaking to those who were in a covenant relationship with God. Now that's certainly true. But there are also prophets who spoke to other people than Israel. Think about Jonah, Nahum, Daniel, John the Baptist, they all confronted gentile rulers and people with God's word, and they reminded them of the dire consequences of disobeying God's commands.
Some people like to point out 1 Corinthians 5 that we looked at a couple of years ago, where Paul was criticizing the Corinthian church for not disciplining one of its members, and Paul said, "Don't judge those who are outside the church, but those who are inside the church, God judges those who are outside the church". Yet when you see what Paul was saying he was simply saying the church cannot execute a sentence against sinners, who aren't a part of the church. We can't fine people, we can't put people in jail. We can only discipline those who are part of the church. But he wasn't saying you don't criticize ungodly behavior by unbelievers. The fact is, we are called to be prophets and that means not only speaking to ourselves, speaking to God's own people but speaking to the culture.
The second reason pastors many times, don't act as prophets, is because of a misunderstanding of the constitution. Now, some pastors and many laymen believe that the separation of church and state prohibits pastors from addressing controversial issues like abortion and same sex marriages because such issues are quote, politics, rather than spiritual issues. Now obviously any policy, any law that violates God's standard is a spiritual issue. Furthermore, and you know this from previous messages, the phrase separation of church and state appears nowhere in the constitution, much less in the Bible. Obviously, it has been twisted and perverted to mean something that it doesn't mean.
You've heard me say before this phrase originated with Thomas Jefferson, he was writing a letter of baptist in Danbury, Connecticut. They had heard the rumor that Thomas Jefferson, then president, was about to make the congregational church, the state church that everyone would have to be a part of. And of course you know baptists get nervous when somebody else is going to be in control other than they. So they, you know, they got all hot and flustered about it and they wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson saying: is this true? Are you about to make the congregational church the state church? And he wrote back to these baptist and said: don't worry about it. We're not going to institute a state church like we had in Europe.