This upcoming Sunday, I will be preaching from Mark 6 on the death of John the Baptist. As we consider how his head ended up on a platter, it provides an important commentary on the recent events with ISIS, the church shooting in Charleston, and the Supreme Court ruling regarding same-sex “marriage” in America. While it may be tempting at times to separate from modern society and go out into the wilderness and live off of locusts and wild honey, that’s not exactly what John the Baptist was doing. He wasn’t starting a compound to get away from the world, although he did dress strange and his diet did include large grasshoppers and local honey.
Christians must learn to live in a complicated world of sin. One of the first lessons that a Christian must learn is that we’re not home yet. Sadly, many professing Christians are too comfortable in our present world. Others are overly offended when depraved sinners behave like depraved sinners. As we stand upon the shoulders of many Christ followers from history, we can learn lessons about life as we consider how they navigated the complexities of sin in their day. John the Baptist provides us an interesting point of reference as we consider our present sexual revolution in America. What can we learn from John the Baptist about modern life in a confused culture?
In the aftermath of the terror attacks on America, September 11th, 2001, a religious service was held at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. where many people and various faiths gathered to mourn the death of thousands of Americans. The Rev. Nathan Baxter prayed during the service, and as he finished his prayer, he said, “Respecting persons of all faiths and traditions, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus, the Christ, Amen.” John the Baptist would not have cared about respecting other religions had he prayed on that day. In fact, it was duty to another religion that brought on the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
In our culture, American evangelicals often work overtime so as not to offend other religions. I’m certainly not suggesting that Christians should aim to be offensive or scandalous in tone, character, or speech. However, Christians must realize that the message of the cross is a scandal to the world and one that we cannot “dress up” or avoid. To mention the name of Jesus is offensive in our day, and to claim to be a follower of Jesus is to open yourself up for ridicule and attack. John the Baptist would stand firm and remain unashamed of Jesus Christ in the midst of a perverse culture. In fact, that’s what he did in the midst of his perverse Jesus hating culture too.
Where is the spirit of John the Baptist today?
To preach the gospel is to preach truth, and to proclaim the truth is to shine light into the darkness. That’s not always a popular thing. To be clear, the message of the gospel is not centered upon monogamous heterosexuality. The message of the gospel is centered upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, Christians approach life through a gospel lens and when asked why it was necessary for Jesus to die on a bloody cross, all of the sudden human sexuality is a relevant issue.
Jesus died for sinners, and in His death He accomplished the salvation of a diverse group of sinners – including sexual sinners who would one day bow their knee to Christ as Lord. Jesus’ death was sacrificial; however, it wasn’t the end of the story. On the third day, Jesus was victoriously and miraculously resurrected from the dead. His resurrection validated His claims of deity, and thereby the right to address all sin – including sexual sin (divorce, adultery, homosexuality, etc).
Therefore, the gospel proclamation is not merely a proclamation of facts about Jesus. It goes beyond that into the dark abyss of sin and human depravity. That’s why John the Baptist wasn’t merely saying, “Jesus loves you this I know, for the Bible tells me so, now come down here and get baptized, because Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” John the Baptist was proclaiming the truth, and the truth involved the facts about Herod’s incestuous and adulterous relationship with Herodias – his brother’s wife. Mark gives us the details in his gospel account:
For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her.  For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:17-18).
John MacArthur was right on target in his book, Hard to Believe, as he stated, “You can’t be faithful and popular, so take your pick.” John the Baptist was willing to be faithful to the truth and his popularity didn’t matter so much to him. The popularity of the truth was more important to the Baptizer. As truth proclaimers, we must have confidence in the Bible. We can allow those who oppose to throw their questions and criticisms toward the Bible. Those who oppose the Bible can’t harm it with their criticisms, doubts, and questions. As we see with John the Baptist, to stand on the truth often means to stand exposed and to stand alone.
Where is the spirit of John the Baptist today?
Calling out Herod Antipas was not the politically correct thing to do in John the Baptist’s day. John the Baptist wasn’t willing to trade his pulpit for a political stump. He understood the risk, and he boldly proclaimed truth. Christians must be willing to take risks in order to proclaim the gospel. In fact, to spread the gospel in private or on a public stage is risky business. It could cost you your job, political advancement, friends, family, and perhaps your very life.
Let’s be honest, it’s a sad reality that the divorce culture of the world has been welcomed into the church. Could the divorce culture in the church be related to silence from the pulpit from pastors who were paralyzed by “fear of man” issues? What will the landscape of the church look like in the future? Will similar men refuse to speak out about the sexual sin of homosexuality and welcome it into the “church” because of “fear of man” issues?
Many people are willing to risk their reputation, but not their life. When clear lines are drawn in the sand of culture, Christians must be willing to stand with Christ rather than the popular crowd. John the Baptist proclaimed the truth even when he was opposed. He was warned to keep quiet, but he continued to thunder the truth about God and the sexual sin of Herod Antipas.
We need faithful and loving men who would be willing to walk in the footsteps of John the Baptist and call out the Supreme Court and the President Barack Obama on their open sinful sexual revolt they’ve been leading in America. Those who speak out must do so in love. Don’t misunderstand love and think that it’s weak, soft, or capitulating on principles. The fact is, love is bold and strong. John the Baptist told the truth and risked his life in love.
A risk-taking Christian is not a reckless Christian. John the Baptist wasn’t reckless. Bold proclamation of truth requires a certain amount of risk. J.C. Ryle said, “Duties are duties. Results are God’s.” The reason people were drawn to him was because of his calculated proclamation of truth. May our God raise up an army of faithful Christians who, in the spirit of John the Baptist, will tell the truth about sin and point to salvation in Jesus Christ. According to Proverbs 28:23, in the end, a person who rebukes a person in error rather than having a flattering tongue will gain favor. That was true of John the Baptist. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
Where is the spirit of John the Baptist today?
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Jude wrote to the Church in his day saying, “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 3)” If there has ever been a time in history where that same warning was needed – it is today. The evangelical church seems to be shifting and sliding on the slippery ground of relativism and pragmatism as opposed to confronting error and false doctrine. The results are earth shaking and devastating! When people are allowed to come into the church and teach false doctrine in Sunday school classes or small group settings because of a lack of standards, ignorance among the leadership, or due to a desire to avoid controversy – people’s souls are led astray!
Recently Dr. Albert Mohler, current President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY led a ribbon cutting ceremony before witnesses and members of the press for the new building named “The Duke K. McCall Sesquicentennial Pavilion,” which will house the admissions and security offices at the Seminary. Along with other agenda items in connection with the 150th birthday of the “mother” Seminary of the SBC, President Mohler also wrote a letter that was placed inside a time capsule which is housed behind an encasement that will be opened in 2059 on the Seminary’s 200th birthday. The subject of Mohler’s letter was “truth.” Mohler said the following:
What I basically did was write in such a way that if this institution isn’t theologically where it needs to be whenever that thing is opened, they’re going to know it,” Mohler said. “It’s going to be the most embarrassing letter ever read if indeed this institution is not preserved in that way. That is our prayer — that it will be.
There is no room for compromise when it comes to the subject of truth. If a church buckles or bends in relation to the subject of truth, the results will be extremely destructive for generations to come. If the church endures many years – the generations affected will spill over into the community and it will breed a weak minded, surface level, theologically perverted, conviction-less people who have fancy buildings and programs but a people who do not know the Word of God. The result will be a group of people who are largely unconverted on the pews on the average Sunday morning.
Below are several reasons that seem to prevent local congregations from earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.
I. Weak Leadership
Weak pastoral leadership often prevents the church from knowing the truth and then rising up to preach it and protect it for generations to follow. Weak pastoral leadership is often the case as a result of constant turn-over in the pastoral positions in our local congregations. When pastors are only staying at the church for 1.5-2 years, the church is constantly taking on new leaders, new direction, new goals, and in most cases, the church never reaches any of them. Today the church needs a group of pastors who know their called to be a pastor and will commit to staying at a local church for 40 years. If that happens, the leadership in the church will be strong and able to see many of these goals realized for the glory of God.
II. The Numbers Game
The “church growth” mindset of many pastors and leadership teams pushes a set of models and plans that are built on a business scheme from the secular world as opposed to a God centered desire to see Him grow the church. This is often the case because of a desire to be viewed as “successful” in the eyes of the power players in the congregation or peers in the ministerial world. If fancy programs are the main foundation of the local church, the end result may lead to an increase in numbers, but the numbers may be full of unlearned, spiritually sick, and in some cases – spiritually dead members. Truth – a commitment to it – and a solid desire to teach it and defend it should be the foundation of the local church. At the core of this is Jesus Christ – who is the truth!
III. The “Evangelistic” Church
Many times we hear of churches who call themselves “evangelistic.” That sounds good from a distance, but often times the idea of an “evangelistic” church may be something that we should avoid! Some churches label themselves as “evangelistic” and by that they mean that each Sunday the main goal is going to be a message that preaches John 3:16 and then calls for people to respond to the Holy Spirit. That is not a truly evangelistic church – that is a spiritually shallow church. A church that expects all of the work of evangelism to be done on Sunday and refuse to go out and reach people with the gospel in the community is not an evangelistic church – it is a lazy church that does not know the truth. The church may know John 3:16, but under that model, it will not know the truth of God’s Word.
A truly evangelistic church views each service as a building opportunity to come together, fellowship, pray together, sing together, and grow in the truth of God’s Word as the assembly worships God. Yes, I am a firm believer that we should call for lost people to repent and turn to Jesus Christ, but if the church simply preaches an evangelistic message each week to the people – they will literally starve to death! Saved people are often referred to as sheep in the New Testament. Sheep need food. If they are only getting a message of how to be saved each week – they are not getting the full counsel of God’s Word – and thus they are starving sheep. A truly evangelistic church is one that comes together to worship – but then spills over into the community where they do the work of an evangelist each week with friends, neighbors, family members, and co-workers who need to hear the gospel.
IV. The Lost Art of Discipleship
Where has the discipleship training time gone in the local church? Many pastors and church leaders have cut it out of the weekly schedule of events due to a lack of participation. Most churches are overworked, under staffed, and full of people who would rather watch American Idol than attend a discipleship training class to grow in the knowledge of God and the doctrines contained in His Word. Where there is a lack of desire for God’s Word – there is a lack of desire for God – and a shallow self-focused people. The church must guard against that type of thinking and practice if the church will continue to love God and His Word.
V. The Music Church
The church that spends more time singing than studying is a church that will be guided by an emotional “worship” as opposed to a Spirit-led worship. When we hear people in the church talk, we often hear them make statements like – “We are going to worship and then the preacher will preach.” That is a mindset that is previlent in our local congregations. According to many, “worship” is another term for singing and the rest of the service is consumed with taking up money, praying, and a man standing up to speak out of a book. The service of the local church should be centered around the Word of God. The entire service is a worship service, and all aspects should flow together in order that we are worshipping through prayer, Scripture reading, song, giving, and it should all build to a climax with the Word of God. If forced to through severe persecution and meeting in underground locations, the church can go without song, but it cannot go without the Word – or it will dry up and die. The Word must be central.
This article should not be viewed as a complete evaluation of the lack of truth in our church today. It should merely be viewed as an introductory overview of the major problem we are seeing in our local churches across the world. There seems to be a lack of truth, a lack of desire for truth, and a lack of desire to defend the truth. If our local churches are going to survive and thrive – they must get back to the basics and focus on truth, preach truth, grow on the truth, and ultimately – defend the truth – all for the glory of God! Paul told the Galatians, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)”
Pastor Josh Buice