Robert Jeffress - For Pastors Only
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. These are challenging days for our nation. I'm sure you agree with that. The coronavirus has left America in a state of fear and uncertainty. And while the pandemic has brought many Americans closer to God it has also turned many more away from God. Is there any hope for our great country? The answer is a resounding yes! And today, I'll explain why the preservation of our nation depends not on individuals or political leaders but on the local church. My message today is titled, "For pastor's only," on today's edition of Pathway to Victory!
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, 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 to 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 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 a 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. 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 than the Bible. Obviously, it has 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, they wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson saying, is this true? Are you about to make the congregational church the state church. And so president Jefferson borrowed a phrase from the leading baptist of the day, roger Williams, he took that phrase, separation of church and state, that originated with the baptist and he wrote back to these baptists and said, don't worry about it. We're not going to institute a state church like we had in Europe.
The fact is, there is a wall of separation and Jefferson's wall of separation was meant not to protect the government from the church but to protect the church from the government. That's how he used that phrase, but never did Thomas Jefferson or roger Williams have in mind that pastors and churches would not try to influence the culture in which they existed. Nevertheless groups today like the American Civil Liberties Union, and my favorite group, the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, they regularly tried to intimidate pastors and churches from influencing legislation or elections by threatening their tax exempt status.
Now, while a handful of churches through the years have been fined for violating this no substantial part of money being used for legislation or other issues, what you need to know is, no church has ever lost its tax exempt status in the 57 years since Lyndon Johnson headed that amendment. Do you realize that? Not one church in history has ever lost its tax exempt status. And then my friend Barry Lynn won't tell pastors that. He tries to intimidate pastors first. Oh, you're going to lose your tax exempt status. Not one church has ever lost her tax exempt status.
There is one church, the pierce at Creek Church in Binghamton, New York that lost its tax exempt letter ruling, which is something different, because during the 1992 election, they ran a full page ad in USA Today claiming that Bill Clinton was the antichrist. Not a wise move, okay. And IRS notified them that they couldn't do that anymore but if they didn't do anything like that, again, they would be just fine. But here's the bottom line for pastors. No local church has ever been fined, no local church has ever lost its tax exempt status for anything the pastor has done in the pulpit. So pastor, you are free. Okay? You are free to stand up and speak out against those moral issues.
Here's what's even interesting, back in the 2008 election, 37 pastors with the support of the allied defense fund decided to challenge this IRS regulation about not endorsing candidates. And so they all plan together on the same Sunday they were going to stand up from their pulpit and publicly and officially from their church endorse John mcCain for presidency. And the reason they wanted to do this, they wanted to get the IRS to go after them so that this could go to the Supreme Court and finally get a decision on the matter. 37 pastors did that, the IRS did not investigate one of them. They didn't want to get involved in it at all.
Now, I don't encourage, I would not advise any pastor to officially endorse a political candidate from the pulpit. But what I'm saying to pastors is, don't be intimidated from sharing what you believe is the truth of God's word from your pulpit. It is a fear many times of misunderstanding of the constitution that causes pastors to silence themselves.
A third reason pastors don't act as prophets many times is a fear of controversy. Now pastors make for easy targets of criticism, even from church members. You know, it's easy for laymen to say, well pastor we're behind you, keep standing for the truth, we're right there with you. Unless church attendance starts to fall and receipts start to diminish a little bit and then suddenly, it's off with his head, you know. It's very easy for that to happen in churches and most pastors recognize that. Any true shepherd of a local congregation is concerned about the spiritual, the organizational and yes the financial health of his congregation. And although the universal church will never cease to exist, the fact is many local congregations have shut their doors because of diminishing attendance. No pastor wants to be the catalyst for killing his church.
Now I'm sympathetic with that. I'm sympathetic with pastors who are concerned with taking control adversarial stands that could send their congregants out the door and discouraged new members from coming in the door. But preaching biblically based messages on controversial topics, encouraging your members to vote, challenging laws that violate God's laws are just some of the ways that you can fulfill your role as a prophet. Now at the risk of offending some, let me be very blunt, pastor, you will never be criticized by the world for building a homeless shelter. You will never be criticized by this culture for asking your members to give sacrificially to build water wells in Africa. In fact, the culture will applaud you as a pastor for doing those things because they think that's what a pastor is supposed to do.
Encouraging nice people to do nice things. That is their idea of a pastor. Nobody is going to criticize you for that. But if you dare stand up and point your finger at the culture and say this is wrong, thus saith the Lord, you better be ready to suffer. You may be suffering, not the loss of your life as the Old Testament prophets did, but be prepared to suffer the loss of your reputation, your career, your livelihood. And that's why Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:2-5, be prepared to endure hardship. Timothy was told that if he fulfilled his role as a prophet, it was going to get hard at times. But that's the pastor's role. Not only as a preacher, but as a prophet.
2 Timothy 4 explains the third role of the pastor and that is, as an evangelist. Do the work of an evangelist, Paul reminded Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5 and when Paul said I want you to be an evangelist Timothy, he didn't have in mind I want you to travel the countryside with five suits and five sermons, okay? That's not his idea of an evangelist. He meant, do the work as a pastor or an evangelist proclaiming the good news of the Gospel. You see, the great commission in Matthew 28, is first to go into all the world and make disciples, fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
Now, before you can be a disciple though, you have to be a convert. You have to be introduced to faith in Christ. And while it's possible to be a convert without ever being a disciple, it is impossible for somebody to be a disciple without first of all being a convert and saved. And so one of the primary things that a pastor is to do is beyond his own ministry, he is to be involved in evangelism. How can a pastor, beyond his own personal witness, be and do the work of an evangelist? Let me suggest several ways. First of all, through his preaching. Through his preaching. Yes, a pastor is to preach the word but what word is that the word to preach?
Listen to 1 Corinthians 2:1-2. Paul said "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to do nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified". Now Paul was not saying I never preached about anything other than the crucifixion of Christ, look at Corinthians, he talked about marriage and divorce, lawsuits, Lord's supper, the resurrection, he talked about a variety of things but the point is, Jesus Christ was foundational in his message. And he needs to be foundational in our message too.
One way we do that pastor, make sure in every message, no matter what you're talking about, there is some explanation of the Gospel. Even as tonight it will be in the invitation time, don't ever leave the pulpit without some explanation for how a person can be saved. You know, Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, it didn't matter what passage he was in, he always made a beeline to the cross. And we're to do that as well. Also, I would encourage those of you who are pastors, when you're preaching, always challenge unbelievers in the audience to make a decision to trust in Christ.
Now I'm a southern baptist, I'm always kidded by my non southern baptist friends about, you know, your invitations, having people walk down the aisle and, you know, don't you realize there's no illustration of anybody walking down the aisle in the New Testament. And that's true. There is not one instance of anybody walking down the aisle to make a decision, mainly because there were no aisles to walk down. I mean, there were no church buildings for the first 300 years of the church's history. Okay, that's true. There's no public come forward invitation in the New Testament. But neither is there an example of anyone who ever preached a sermon in the New Testament who didn't call for a decision from the people. And I would say to you, pastor, if your tradition is not that people come forward, you can still ask people to make a decision right wherever they are. Give them an opportunity to trust in Christ, to respond to his message.
Second way we act as evangelist is through equipping. You know, the pastor is to be an evangelist but he's not the only evangelist in the church. My mentor and professor for so many years, Howard Hendricks, used to quote Bud Wilkinson in his definition of football. He said, "In football you have 22 men on the field, desperately in need of rest, being cheered on by 50.000 spectators in the stands desperately in need of exercise". Then prof would add, you know that may be and make for exciting football but that is a lousy way to run a church. God never meant for just a few people to be out on the field doing all the work. We're to all be involved in ministry and especially evangelism.
Remember the words of Ephesians 4:11-12. "And Christ gave some as apostles, he gave some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ". The reason we meet here on Sundays is to equip you, that word katartismon means the loading up of a ship with supplies before it sets out on a long journey. And the reason we gather here on Sundays is to give you the supplies you need to go out and do the work of ministry. To build up the body of Christ, not only spiritually, but numerically. And that means as a church, what we need to do here is make sure you're equipped to share the Gospel.
Now you're going to be hearing about this later, this spring, and we do this once or twice a year. We're going to be leading a four or five weeks seminar, Walter is going to be leading on how to share your faith with other people. If you haven't gone through that class, you need to go through it. Other times I have taken a Sunday and I've actually gone through the evangelistic book that we give out here in our church and just showing people how you use this Gospel presentation with somebody, how do you get into it? How do you read through it? How do you close the deal with them? And you know, it's interesting when I've done that in the past, a lot of people left equipped to share the Gospel and a few unbelievers got saved just by going through that presentation. That's a way, pastor, for you to equip your people for the work of ministry.
A third way we do that, a third way we act as an evangelist is through organizing. You know, you read through the book of acts, the Chronicles, the ministry of Paul and you quickly come to the conclusion that Paul was a man with a plan. He had a plan for reaching his world for Christ. Now, sometimes his plans didn't pan out. I mean, sometimes his plans got vetoed by God, one time he wanted to go Bethania, God said, no, you're going to Macedonia instead. But the point is, he had a plan. He just didn't sit there and wait for something good to happen. He wanted to take the Gospel to everyone. And I would say pastor, ask yourself the question wherever you are, church family, what is our strategy for taking the good news of Christ to the community we're in? We need a strategy. We have to have a plan. If God has placed your church as a lamp stand to illuminate the Lord Jesus Christ, then maximize that opportunity that you have by developing a plan.
Now, think about D. L. Moody, somebody came up to him very angry said, "Mr. Moody, I do not like your plan of doing evangelism". And Moody said, "I like my plan of doing evangelism better than your plan of not doing evangelism". In fact as pastor, you don't have to adopt our plan but what plan do you have? What strategy do you have for being that light in that community where God has placed you?
You know in speech classes, we were taught there are a number of ways to end a talk. You can do so with a penetrating question or a relevant quote or an interesting story or a poem or a song. Don't get afraid, I'm not going to sing the song. But one way to end a message is by repeating the major thesis of that message. And that's the way I want to end tonight. I want you to listen carefully to these words. The preservation of our nation for the proclamation of the Gospel depends upon the effectiveness of local churches in fulfilling their mission. And the effectiveness of local churches fulfilling their mission depends upon pastors fulfilling their calling, as preachers, as prophets, and as evangelist. Pastors tonight especially God help you as you fulfill your God given calling.