I recently had the opportunity to return to a former church for the celebration of their 50th Anniversary. I wanted to remind them, and all of us, of what should be at the center of our ministry, the center of our proclamation. Below is a shortened version of the message I shared from 1 Corinthians 2:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1-5, ESV)
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. It’s not that Paul was uneducated and unable to speak with lofty speech or wise words. We know better than that, don’t we? And it’s not that Paul didn’t address other issues as they came up, because we see all throughout his letters that this is exactly what he does; applying the reality of the gospel message to all kinds of different situations.
But at the heart of it all is this one thing: Jesus Christ and him crucified. I think we’ve lost sight of that central message in many ways. Let me suggest to you several things our proclamation is not; and then what our proclamation is, reminding ourselves that it’s not about us; it’s about Him.
I. First of all, WE DO NOT PROCLAIM GRATIFICATION. In the wisdom of this age, in the plausible words of wisdom, as Paul calls it, many have suggested that the primary mission of the church is to simply gratify the consumer. We’ve been told that the church is like any other business, and our goal is simply to find the customers felt need and meet it.
Dozens and dozens of church growth books have been written based on that theme. Whole movements within the church have been based on this basic concept; find out what people want, find out what will satisfy them, find our what will gratify their own desires and then make the church about that. And so the church has become nothing more than one big self-help, self-esteem building project.
And the point is, the wisdom of the world tells us this approach is effective. It’s pragmatic, because it works. It draws crowds. People are gratified and so they come back and might even bring a friend. But our message is not about gratification. Jesus never told us to take a survey and find out what people wanted to hear and give them that, did He? And sadly, the end result of this gratification approach has really become bizarre and absurd as we will go to nearly any lengths to get folks attention. Which is the second thing we need to be reminded that our proclamation is not.
II. Number two, WE DO NOT PROCLAIM GIMMICKS. Paul says, I didn’t come to you with lofty speech. Other translations call it excellency of speech. What he’s referring to is the common practice of the Greek rhetoricians of the day, who went to great lengths crafting just the right arrangement of words, crafted in just the right way so as to have the most appeal, to get your attention.
I wonder what Paul would think of the church today? We’re so focused on trying to gratify and satisfy that we’ll go to any lengths to get people’s attention, to entertain them, to make them want to come to church. Tantalizing sermon series on sex, and attention grabbing gimmicks like the one church who had motorcycle stunts in the middle of sermon. We have a church down the road from us that built a whole sermon series around a certainly bodily function, and passed out whoopee cushions to all the attendees. One of our folks has a friend who attends there, and all they can talk about is how cool their church is because they pass out whoopee cushions. Is that what the church is about? Is that what Christ died for?
If we truly believe in the sufficiency of Scripture in all things, we don’t need to resort to gimmicks and entertainment based on a worldly wisdom. That’s not the heart of our proclamation.
III. Third, WE DO NOT PROCLAIM GROUPS. Go back up in to chapter one. Paul addresses the issue of some division that had arisen in the church over loyalty to this teacher over that teacher. But Paul says it’s not about which teacher or preacher is your favorite. It’s about Christ and only Christ. Our problem is that often we are tempted to promote this or that group. We preach this or that denomination, this or that church, this or that group within the church. We preach Southern Baptists. We preach our particular church.
It’s good to have some loyalty to our local church, because after all it is the expression of the body of Christ in that place; and we ought to have some loyalty to our denomination, since if we didn’t agree with it’s teachings we’d be in another denomination… While all that is well and good, our primary message we share with the world is not “be a Southern Baptist.” Our proclamation isn’t primarily “join our particular church.” Our message is not become part of our group. We preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We don’t proclaim groups, we don’t proclaim gimmicks, we don’t proclaim gratification.
IV. And then fourth, WE DO NOT PROCLAIM GOVERNMENT. Again, according to the wisdom of the world, many see our primary goal in the church as forming a huge voting block so we can get this country back where it ought to be.
Now, I know I have to be careful here. Because the truth is, we are commanded to be good citizens. And as good citizens of this nation, we ought to be involved in the political process. I’m not saying we hole up somewhere and ignore what’s going on in government. But in the end, government isn’t the answer. Passing this or that law is not the answer. Voting this or that way is not the ultimate answer, and so it should never be our primary emphasis. Not that we ignore it, but it’s not our primary proclamation. It shouldn’t be our primary emphasis because our liberal opponents actually have it right. You can’t legislate morality. All the laws in the world will not cause people to become moral. And even if it did, all you end up with is moral lost people who are still bound for hell.
Please hear me clearly. I’m not saying we should give up on the fight to pass moral laws. Yet, if abortions were stopped tomorrow, and gay marriage was outlawed permanently, and gambling was made illegal, and all the other moral issues were settled rightly, and all the right people were elected, whoever they are; that would still not save a single soul in eternity. Yes we should fight for these things, yes we should work for moral laws and work to encourage morality in all its forms. But morality will not save a single soul, and so that should never be our primary goal or proclamation. Government will never save anyone. Denominations and gimmicks and self help programs will never save anyone. People need to hear the gospel.
V. WE PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL. Paul says I didn’t proclaim any of that other stuff based on the wisdom of man. I didn’t offer you any of those pragmatic, humanistic solutions. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
The plain truth is that people are not just a little sick and in need of a self help program to make them feel better. It’s not just that they’re distracted and in need of some quirky attention getter to put them on the right track. People aren’t just lonely and in need of joining up with the right group, or just off track and in need of the right government programs to set things right. People are dead in their sins and trespasses and in need of life; life that only comes through the sacrifice, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our problem is a sin problem, and only Christ can remedy that. Our problem is that we are born into rebellion against God and we need to have our rebellious hearts removed and replaced with hearts that are obedient to God. And only God, through Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit can accomplish that. And He has chosen to do that through the preaching of the gospel; Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
That’s our proclamation. That’s why we’re here. Don’t ever forget that. Don’t get distracted from the mission. Don’t let the world sidetrack us. Don’t fall into those traps that make us think it’s all about us, all about our satisfaction, all about our happiness and our popularity and our success. It’s all about Christ. It’s all about Him. We exist to proclaim His name, to obey His will, to accomplish His purposes, all for His glory. I challenge you to be the people of God He called you to be, proclaiming the message of Christ He called you to proclaim, and to God be the glory.