Gospel Meetings: Are We Relevant?
Larry H. Fain
Mark 16:15, "And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."
Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
2 Timothy 4:2, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching."
These are all passages with which the readers of this article are intimately familiar. They all deal with the effort of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Men who faithfully give their time and energies to the work of preaching the gospel do so under the authority of Christ. We must be careful as we handle the word which reveals that authority to us. We must ask ourselves questions before we act. What avenue(s) shall we utilize to accomplish this task? For example, is personal evangelism allowed, where we reach people one neighbor at a time? Certainly that falls within the scope of our commission. Shall we preach when the church comes together? Of course we shall. We have a direct example of such an occasion in Acts 20:7. We have just as much authority from that verse to have preaching in the service as we do to limit the observance of the Lord's Supper to the first day of the week. Both principles are significant and both are relevant.
Are there other times when preaching is authorized? Actually, it might be a better question to ask if preaching is ever not authorized. Certainly there are no limits as far as a time when we are permitted by God to preach the gospel of Christ. We often look at Romans 1:16 as the great theme of the letter to the saints in that great capital city. Look to its immediate context. Romans 1:15, "So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also." Paul was ready to preach since he was not ashamed of that which he preached on a very regular basis. When we have a love for truth similar to that of the apostle, we are always ready to preach it.
When we search the scriptures to derive biblical authority for our action, we find the command to preach. Mark 16:15, "And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.'" Preach "the gospel," the Lord said. The positive authority of the Scriptures limits man in his actions. We are to preach the gospel, not plane geometry. There is nothing wrong with teaching plane geometry, but not in response to Bible authority relevant to the work of the church. The gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation, not the grammatical parts of speech. The rules of grammar cannot save anyone. So, when we preach, we are limited to the preaching of the gospel, that which saves the souls of men. To that end, we make a distinction between the work of the church and the work of human institutions. Let the schools and colleges teach grammar and geometry. These are man made institutions teaching man's accumulated knowledge. It is a good system, and it works very well. The church is limited to the preaching of the gospel.
The church is seen throughout the New Testament sending preachers and supporting the work of preaching the gospel throughout the entire world. Preaching was heard by those who had never heard any of it before. Preaching also edified the saints, those who had become obedient to the good news which they had previously heard. That was a good system, and it worked very well. In fact, it was such a good system that it remains the biblical pattern for us in determining and executing the work of the church today. The church preaches the gospel of Christ. The human institution teaches what we call "secular" subjects.
The goal of this article is to remind us of the authority and the expediency of what we are doing today in the church as we preach the gospel of our Lord. What about expediency? The first rule of expediency is that whatever action we may propose must first be lawful. 1 Corinthians 6:12, "All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any." 1 Corinthians 10:23, "All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify." Obviously not every action is lawful, so we know Paul speaks of things he could do with divine approval. For any such action to be expedient, it must first be lawful. Paul speaks also of edification. The word edify is from a Greek word which means to build a house. To edify is to build up. Paul's goal was first to be lawful, then to be profitable, or expedient, and also to edify or build up. Paul never wanted to destroy that which was profitable to the cause of Christ.
How shall the house of God be built? In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul identified himself as a minister through whom the saints in Corinth believed. They, we know from Acts 18 and 1 Corinthians 15, heard Paul preach the gospel. They believed it, and they obeyed it. Acts 18:8; "...And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized." This is how the church, the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15) is built.
Few would consider what has been asserted to this point as controversial . That may change as you continue to read, but I pray not. The title of this article includes the term "gospel meeting." The gospel meeting could be called an icon in the church. It is a tried and true tradition which most local congregations continue to utilize, at least occasionally, to help build up the church. Even the least read among us have come across accounts of great gospel meetings in the past. Events where, either in a tent, or in some great hall or church meeting house, an eloquent and prolific speaker would preach for days the unsearchable riches of Christ. Often hundreds would respond to the invitation of the Lord during the course of the gospel meeting which might last for days, weeks or even months.
What of the recent history of the gospel meeting? What comes to mind anymore when we hear the term, gospel meeting? The question we seek to answer is, "Are we relevant?" By we, I mean to include those of the modern era who utilize the gospel meeting as a part of their work of preaching. Are we relevant? Relevance is only significant if we are first biblical. So, the questions which must first be asked have to do with authority. Can anyone successfully challenge the authority for Christians, even a local church, to come together for several consecutive days and/or nights to hear a brother in the Lord preach the gospel? No, authority for the gospel meeting is not at all challenged, unless we fail to meet the other requirements we have raised in this study.
What is being preached in the modern gospel meeting? If it is anything other than the gospel of Christ, our authority disappears. 2 Timothy 4:2-3, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers." I do not want to be guilty of splitting hairs here, but I believe Paul makes a distinction between "preaching" and "teaching." In too many instances, we have replaced the gospel meeting with the teaching seminar and we have thus fulfilled Paul's prophecy in heaping up for ourselves teachers who are not preaching the gospel of Christ. One sure sign of this epidemic is the prolific use of the phrase "Bible based preaching." Bible "based" preaching is not scriptural. Paul said, "Preach the word!" He did not say, "Preach about the word." Nor did he say, "Base your preaching on the word." He said, "Preach the word!" I have heard enough poems and songs and stories that comprise so much so called preaching today to last me a lifetime. Like the song says, "Give Me the Bible!" If I can't handle what the Bible says, the problem is mine. Do not change the message just to tickle the ears of the listener.
Several years ago, I was attending one of the popular multi-speaker lecture programs that have become so prominent among churches that can afford them, and heard a well known preacher comment on why they did not last longer than four days. The services were so edifying, a querist observed, why couldn't the programs just go on for days? The preacher said he would have a hard time going much longer, not because he did not have more sermons to preach, but that four days of illustrations was about all he had. At the time, I laughed along with everyone else, which I am certain was the intended response, but in retrospect, is it really all that funny? In a recent gospel meeting where I preach, a chart was kept to compare the number of illustrations, stories, etc., with the number of scriptures used in a week's sermons. The ratio was six to one, and the stories won. Not long ago a colleague related a remark made by his teen aged daughter upon hearing a very popular gospel meeting preacher. She asked her dad, "Does he have a story for every verse in the Bible?"
Ron Halbrook has faced no little controversy as he has preached all over the country his published sermon on Trends Pointing to a New Apostasy. I have heard the sermon many times and love it and love Ron for his courage to preach it. Too often Gospel Meetings are following the trend of making things popular and palatable for the masses. Don't offend my Baptist neighbor by preaching on water baptism for the remission of sins. Don't offend my institutional mother-in-law by preaching on the limits of Bible authority as it relates to the work and worship of the church. Many preachers have succumbed to such demands to the point that all they have left to preach are the stories about the good old days and the poems that encourage me to do better, whatever "better" is.
My dad asked me to comment on a fellow preacher who was scheduled to preach a gospel meeting where I grew up. I asked him if my remarks would prevent the preacher from coming. They would not. I, therefore, withheld comment and told my dad to make up his own mind, which he was quite capable of doing anyway. At the end of the week, I asked for his impressions. He said, "Oh, he preached a great meeting. Everybody loved it. There was only one problem. He never told anybody how to go to Heaven." I asked, "Did you book him for another meeting?" My dad was quick in his response, "Not as long as I am alive will that man ever preach in this church again." My dad is a great man, if I do say so myself.
Gospel Meetings -- Are we Relevant? Only in one way, if we preach the Word! It does not matter if it is positive or negative, and it really does not matter if it might otherwise be true, what it must be is the word of God. If preaching is to be relevant, it must first be scriptural. There is only one way for it to be scriptural, and that is for it to be the scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." Only the Scripture can equip us to good works. "Preach the word," brethren, preach the word.
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