“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land- not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.” -Amos 8:11-12
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” -2 Timothy 4:1-5
The next aspect of what we can do congregationally to try and reach “Christian” societies is to heed Paul’s advice to Timothy and “Preach the Word!” (2 Timothy 4:2). To many of us today this seems like such an old-fashioned thing, but as the Bible teaches, it is the foundational part of all Christian evangelism.
In many churches today there is a debate over just how to use Scripture. Some places the argument is over whether there is contradiction between the teachings of Paul and the teachings of Jesus, and if so, whose side should we take? In others it is a debate over whether the Bible is still accurate for us today or if its’ teachings should be rethought in light of how our culture has evolved (this is the idea of a trajectory hermeneutic)? And still in others, the debate is over what is the true Gospel and if we should change our perspective on the Gospel to make it more applicable to modern or postmodern culture? To all of this I would just say one thing: preach the Word!
As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2 something which I think we should take to heart again today:
“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 Corinthians 2:1-5)
Paul did not want to attempt, in this Greek town of Corinth, to use philosophy or intelligent words or complex thoughts to win the people. Instead he wanted to rest upon the “power of God” to work through his simple message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” to effect change in the lives of the Corinthians. If he were to recast this today it could not be said any better. It appears to me that too often in our postmodern church we try and win people over by doing everything but proclaiming “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” We offer up love and peace and radical new interpretations. We can see it most plainly in the book titles on our shelves: The Secret Message of Jesus, New Perspectives on Paul, The New Christians. For some reason today we feel the need to find a new angle on the Scriptures that has not been tried in the past 2000 years, and that without that we will be ineffective at growing the church.
However, to see a Biblical picture of what’s supposed to happen, all we have to do is look at the testimony of Nehemiah in Nehemiah 8. It is in this chapter that we see the first public church service in the newly rebuilt Jerusalem. And what is the message for that day? Well, we see that “they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses (v.1)”, which he did, and he proceeded to “read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. . . . They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (vv.3,8).” So, Ezra and his fellow scribes read straight through from Genesis to Deuteronomy, clearly, and while doing so they exposited on the text. They didn’t skip pieces or bring in extra-biblical texts, just the Law as revealed to Moses. And this took 4 to 6 hours, yet the people stayed and listened attentively. Then what happened next? “All the people wept as they heard the words of the Law (v.9).” The people had an emotional reaction to it. They were broken and they fell on their faces and cried for the sins and the disobedience that they had committed. And then what? “Then he [Nehemiah] said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’ . . . And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing (v.10,12a).” The people rejoiced for they knew that God had forgiven them and that he was their strength for salvation. And how did they know this? “Because they had understood the words that were declared to them (v.12b).” The preaching of God’s Word had done this change. Wow!
So, as we see here, the clear exposition of God’s Word, by his faithful and learned scribes (Ezra 7:6-10) unto the people led them to brokenness, repentance, and then joy for their salvation! Contrast this with what the Lord says in Amos, that the absence of his Word leads people to “wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD (Amos 8:12).” With his Word, people are found, and without his Word, they are lost! Keeping this in mind I believe that we need to honestly evaluate if the Word of God is truly being preached from our mouths and our pulpits or if we are vainly trying to win the souls of men through our “lofty speech and wisdom”, and only once this is set right can we begin to see revival in our wandering “Christian” societies!