“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
“For I determined not to know anything among you, save Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).
These are wonderful verses. One of them outlines the work of the gospel, and the other, the work and attitude of the gospel preacher. It seems that in both analysis and result there is a great gulf between then and now. This difference is not only apparent in the purpose of the preacher, but in the power of his proclamation. You may argue, “But our church won and baptized ‘x’ number of ‘converts’ just last month.” I answer, there is an eternity’s difference in salvation and the modern “profession racket” that sees 95% of its “converts” back in the same old sin within a year.
Every honest heart that is not gripped by the power of darkness has to be grieved with the sham of today’s “evangelism.” We hear reports of thousands saved in city after city across America, yet most of those churches do not grow except in direct proportion to the increase in the value of what they give away, or the popularity of the clowns who entertain them. Beside this is the sad fact that while enough people are acclaimed “saved” in many cities to change its very personality, the consumption of booze, the crime rate and the erosion of morality all continue to skyrocket. Could it be that the great numbers of professions result from the techniques of men, not the power of the gospel, and that the great crowds that gather in many places are the result of recreation and not regeneration? I am sure that this not only could be, but is the case.
PREVAILING CIRCUS ATTRACTIONS
I could not, in many times this space, title all the spiritual perversions running rampant today, but to name a few, I will start with entertainers. There are the “gospel singers.” They range from hillbilly to hippie. Then there are the dog and pony shows, the karate shows and ex-everything from stripper to dope addict.
Another great attraction to the flesh is the “contest.” These range from competition in bringing visitors to church to contests in “winning souls.” There are also preaching contests. Can you imagine anything so sacred being put on display? Churches compete for attendance, the loser paying and the winner collecting something, just like down at ye ole pool hall or at the race track. This works marvelously, because it perfectly relates to the flesh in at least two ways: lust and emulation. Any child can be enticed to “visit” or “witness” if the potential reward is a new bicycle, a trip to the ski slopes or a wrist watch. In this, he need not labor patiently in faith, trusting God to give the increase in due season and the reward at Christ’s return. He can see the “increase” Sunday and have the reward in a couple of weeks or months at the most. For the contestants with richer tastes, the “ante can be upped” to motorcycles and upward. One “Baptist Church” (If you can call it that and brother, I do not.) gave away a new Chevrolet some years ago. For years Baptists have condemned Catholics for selling indulgences and raffling off cars. I still do, but brother if there is any difference this old, ignorant, country boy needs an explanation.
In addition to lust, the contest and prize thing works well because of emulation. In Galatians 5:19-21a, we read that the works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, etc. Most of these words we are familiar with as far as definition is concerned, but do you know what emulation means? According to both Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Webster’s Dictionary, the word means desire or ambition to equal or surpass another, or rivalry. For a synonym you are instructed by Webster to see competition. According to the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:20, it is a work of flesh and is categorized with idolatry, witchcraft, adultery, murder, etc. Think of this the next time you start or enter a “Sunday School Contest.”
Another very successful and common Sunday morning circus act is the classroom ventriloquist. As far as I know the New Testament has nothing to say about this, but did you know the Old Testament does. The term familiar spirit appears ten times in the Old Testament, and every time it comes from the Hebrew word owb, pronounced obe. It means a necromancer or ventriloquist. It is equated in the Bible with witchcraft and the penalty for it is death. Now, I know that these people are not trying to indulge in witchcraft, but ask yourself, “Is it comely before God to toy with such things?”
AN IMITATION GOSPEL
The problem is that men have forgotten or do not believe that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, and not only so, but the only means by which God will save. They thus conclude that we as preachers and teachers have the right, indeed, the responsibility to develop techniques of presentation that make the gospel more understandable, more acceptable and more attractive to the world. They have forgotten the words of John 6:63. “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” From this vain philosophy there has risen an imitation gospel. It ranges from a form with vague similarities to the gospel, to messages with remarkable likenesses in almost every detail. All of these forms, however, have one thing in common. They are imitations, and not the gospel. Since this gospel is imitation the product has to be the same. It is tragic but true that many young men spend three or four years in Bible schools and yes, even Baptist Bible schools and come out unable to preach the gospel. They can preach circles around it, but not the gospel. They can do a good job preaching commitment, consecration, separation, dispensation, prophecy, history and speculations, but not the gospel. Some of these men often do nothing while others of the same flavor build “great churches” which fall apart at the seams months after, if not weeks before this “great man of God” moves on to a greater work.
THE FLAWS OF THEIR MESSAGE
What makes this an imitation gospel? Well, it must somehow resemble of all the ingredients of the gospel and yet not be the real thing. First, sin is dealt with only in respect to man’s condemnation. In other words, where the gospel states that Christ died for our sins, which truth is the seed-bed of the true gospel, this vital truth is just touched and man is hurried off to see what sin does to him. He is then taught that sin is to be dealt with, or has been dealt with, basically to prevent his condemnation. He is not shown by God’s law the extreme sinfulness of sin or its nature to offend a Holy God. He is not shown the holy justice of God in condemning sinners, but is assured that God has done all He possibly can to let him off the hook and is now biting His nails until man does “his part.” It is, therefore, not sin from which he is to flee, but sin’s condemnation. This is a false gospel, a sham and a shame.
The second great area of flaw in this false message is what it is designed to do. The content of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried and that He rose again for our justification (I Corinthians 15:1-4). Herein are a few words, but many truths. The intent of the gospel is to bring man to repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). These inseparable graces are imparted totally through grace by the Holy Spirit through regeneration and are implemented only by the preaching of the gospel. The false messenger, however, can settle for much less than this. He is looking for profession, commitment, decision, etc., and his message is geared to secure them. Since the intent of this message is different, the content and emphasis of the message is different. Even though to most people it seems essentially the same, it is as false as a three dollar bill. The terrible result of this form of “evangelism” is a great many people doing “their thing” religious style in their own particular flavor. It may range from separated Christian activity to modernistic “Christian activity.” All of it, however, is alike in this respect; it is a product of the flesh and is worthless in God’s sight.
AFTER THE CIRCUS
Have you ever noticed that most people act a little insane around a circus? They ride crazy rides, spend their money foolishly and seem to float with the current of activity. On the other hand, when the music stops, the lights go out and the tents are removed, we feel something like a combination of sympathy and contempt as we watch the debris blow across the grounds. We realize that nothing has really been done. No lives were really changed, no problems were solved and no broken hearts really mended. The crowd was just drawn aside from self for a little while and they must return to what they were, indeed, to what they are. So it is with religious circus acts. As long as the circus continues all is exciting, but let the noise subside and both the performer and those entertained are left empty and disappointed.
THE NEW BIRTH
On the other hand, when the true gospel is preached without the circus, it will do nothing more and nothing less than what God ordains. Men will be truly saved, for that is God’s purpose in the gospel. Few false professors will be enticed for the gospel will repel them. Professions will be fewer, but after all, what good are they anyhow if they are not real? The gospel will result in salvation, the new birth and nothing else will. Let us then become very sensitive to the accuracy of our message and leave the results strictly to God. Let us not be ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation and if a circus was needed to make it effective, God would have instructed us as to its use. Get out of the circus and into a church where the gospel is counted sufficient to do what God purposes.