In an environment of “doctrinal flimsiness” ministers must preach the gospel with clarity, Bill Harrell, pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Ga., said during chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 7.
“The most important thing you can do is have a proper understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and who he is, and teach it properly to other people. And I think it is also vitally important for people to understand the nature of the church and how she relates to Jesus Christ,” Harrell said.
The need to be clear in preaching the gospel comes with the influx of false doctrine that is taught outside of the church on television and in other media. This is especially important, he said, because two-thirds of Southern Baptists in the United States don’t regularly attend the main Sunday service.
Naturally, Harrell’s plea reflected his 25 years of pastoral experience. His message emphasized Paul’s pastoral concerns, specifically his “care of all the churches” in 2 Corinthians 11:28. Paul mentioned his zeal for the churches and his fear that they might be led astray.
Harrell listed many concerns that he and other ministers must face in dealing with the church: lost people both inside and outside of the church, a desire to achieve excellence when members are apathetic, the illnesses of members and the inability to change their circumstances, the administrative business of the church, and spiritual questions of members. Besides these, he said, the minister must challenge false teachings.
While these teachings often come from outside of the church, he expressed concern over the negligent attitude toward doctrine within the church. This influence, he said, is “far more sinister” than the political persecution of Christians. Satan weakens the church by diluting doctrine, he said. Doctrine is the basis of a person’s identity, thoughts, actions and friendships “and yet doctrine is being diminished in our churches today.”
Harrell attributed this cheapening of doctrine to gospel-marketing, an attempt to make the gospel common.
“The world is common, but Jesus Christ is superior. … The message of Jesus calls the people of this world to a different standard, and it’s a standard that they don’t want. It calls them to a different standard bearer. And they don’t want the standard bearer. … They want to make it common so the masses of society can find it acceptable to themselves,” he said.
In this process, the Bible becomes a “how-to-book” for success, worship is barely acceptable, and numbers become the main goal. The world would love this church, he said, but they would not hear the gospel in this church. “The church is not a marketable item,” Harrell said.
“Our worship of God and the preaching of correct doctrine is something you don’t dare cheapen. It’s a reflection about how we feel about God’s redemption of our souls through Jesus Christ,” he said. The church’s worship should aim to “mirror the gravity” of Calvary. Harrell said this focus would emphasize Christ and his sacrifice instead of worldly success.
On the other hand, Harrell said that it is easy for churches in the United States to find ministers who will preach what they want to hear. He added that many of these ministers don’t actually have a calling from God. They look at the ministry as only a career.
“You can do a lot of things in your own power. You can do a lot of things in your own strength, but if you think that you can force the Holy Spirit to put his stamp of approval upon what you’re doing just because you decided to do it, you are dead wrong. You’d better have God’s call because it will take you through all sorts of tough places that you’re going to have in you’re ministry to come,” he said.
Harrell encouraged ministers to be sure of their calling, and to live up to it. “You have got this special relationship to Jesus Christ,” he said. “Keep yourself right. Keep yourself as you ought to be.” Harrell said that the church’s spiritual health depended on the example of ministers. Spiritual leaders must live holy lives, he said.
“Here is the one constant: the purity of the gospel and the saving of lost souls. That’s the main thing we’ve got to be concerned about because souls cannot be saved with a flawed gospel. People have to have the truth initially, and they’ve got to have that truth maintained in them through faithful servants,” Harrell said.