Over the past few weeks, members of the congregation I pastor have been proclaiming the Gospel in the neighborhoods and apartment complexes in the neighborhood surrounding the church. Executing door-to-door, “cold call” evangelism is not without its challenges in the modern context. Rejections of the Gospel run the gamut from angry to flaky: One man told me that he hated religion, religious “zealots” and believed hell was made especially for those of our ilk; another woman said that she adhered to Jewish religion in which her father taught her that faith in any object, “even a rock,” would punch her ticket to heaven. None of my questions about the monotheism of the Old Testament and the Torah’s prohibition of worshiping idols made any difference. I even told her that the Scripture called Jesus the Rock, but she at last politely said goodbye and returned inside the door to her cats. Still, God’s Gospel is able to subdue both the rebellious heart be it seething or silly. I pray that God used us to plant a seed in these two individuals as well as in others whom we have and will visit.
One question some of our members have posed during our community outreach is a good one, but it is a question which makes many of us of a certain theological tribe a bit squeamish: Is there a good outline we may use to help us recall the Gospel when we are witnessing to lost people? There are many such outlines that are thoughtful, careful, and biblical which have been used effectively—“Two Ways to Live” and “Evangelism Explosion” (both arise from sound biblical/theological perspectives) come immediately to mind and I am certain there are others. But recently, in my regular reading of Spurgeon’s sermons, I have discovered an excellent and pithy approach to the Gospel, one that is fully biblical and establishes well both man’s universal dilemma and God’s antidote in Christ: Spurgeon’s “Three R’s,” Ruin, Redemption, and Regeneration. This past weekend, I taught this to my people to help them understand the entire scope of the biblical story of God’s redeeming love for sinners in Christ. I commend it to our readers for evangelism and to fellow pastors as realities that must permeate their preaching.
Spurgeon called them “three doctrines that must be preached above all else,” and he drew as his text for them “Three third chapters (of Scripture) which deal with the things in the fullest manner”: Genesis 3:14-15 (Ruin), Romans 3:21-26 (Redemption), John 3:1-8 (Regeneration). Why do I think it makes a good evangelism method? Because each of Spurgeon’s three words begin with “R,” making it easy to recall to memory and each text is a key chapter 3 in the Bible, making the references easy to remember, especially in the nerve-busting throes of personal, face-to-face evangelism. Spurgeon’s three R’s:
Spurgeon’s “Three R’s,” whether you use this scheme or not, should undergird all our evangelism. And like Spurgeon, pastors today should make certain that these three doctrines find a regular appearance in the diet of biblical exposition which they feed to their hungry sheep.
Many years ago, while serving in a traditional church in the Deep South, a lady just a few years older than me approached me after the morning worship with concern written on her face. She had always been supportive of my ministry. Her husband served on the pastor search committee that presented me to that church. I never knew her to gossip or meddle in situations at church. So her intense facial expression caught my attention. What could so viscerally bother her?
She told me, “When I come to church I want to feel good about myself. But I when I leave each Sunday, I don’t.” She then suggested that I make some changes so that she would no longer have that kind of feeling when leaving. Of course, she intimated that the place to start would be with my preaching.
Now, I do not doubt that she heard some poor sermons from me. Some of those sermons made me feel pretty badly, too! But not in the same way! Yet as I thought on what she said, I realized that it went much deeper than the sermons. Having earlier grown accustomed to church services that revolved around the “hip, hip, hooray,” “it’s fun being saved” mentality, to press the issues of God’s Word to the conscience was new to her. She thought it the duty of the pastor and those leading the worship service to keep things light, on the surface, non-intense, avoiding conviction, and certainly not cross-focused. Don’t pinpoint the issues of life and the reality of the gospel’s application. Don’t get too close to the truth about my life. Don’t make approaching God a big thing.
While she spoke for herself, this lady probably expressed the sentiments of many in that church—and in other churches. They view a Christian worship service as therapy for the emotions instead of an encounter with the living God. Ironically, she exposed her heart. She did not want to meet the God who left Isaiah crying, “Woe is me!” Nor the Christ who left Peter moaning, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” She really wanted the worship service to be all about her.
Not About Us
What is the antidote to that kind of thinking? While we can identify numerous elements, e.g. corporate Scripture reading, theologically-rich hymnody, passionate prayers rooted in the revelation of God, and faithful expositional preaching, one aspect of worship that must not be left out is corporate confession of sin. The act of corporate confession brings the congregation into focus: worship is not about us but about the living God. Confession brings us into humility before the Lord and one another, seeing ourselves as we are, as we express our utter dependence upon the grace of God in the cross of Christ. Confession moves us to a place of humility, which is necessary as we seek to enter the presence of the Lord. Such corporate sense of humility and contrition before the Lord enables the congregation to better understand its organic unity in the redemptive work of Christ.
Our practice has been to call the congregation to worship by the reading of God’s infallible Word. Confession follows as we reflect in confession upon the text of Scripture together. God’s revelation exposes both His majesty and our sinfulness. It urges us to rely upon Jesus Christ’s death for us in a fresh way. We’re united in seeking the Lord, confessing together both the affirmations in Scripture concerning God’s character, work, and ways, and how it exposes our sinful ways. Each act of confession ends with the consciousness of sins forgiven by the gracious gift of God through Christ. Below is an example of how we most recently approached the corporate confession after the reading of 1 Corinthians 1:1–9.
An Example of Corporate Confession
How overwhelming, our Father, that You would show such care,
such love and kindness,
to bring us not only into relationship with Yourself through Christ,
but also into relationship with the local church!
Your corporate focus on us—
sanctifying us in Christ Jesus,
calling us “holy ones,”
and uniting us with the larger body of Christ,
reminds us that Your will for us intertwines with
all of those that Jesus has redeemed,
so that united together in the Body
we discover immeasurable joy and purpose.
So in the church, joined together in union with Christ,
we experience grace to walk faithfully,
enrichment to our speaking and understanding concerning Christ,
confirmation that we belong to You,
gifts for service until Christ returns to present us blameless in His presence,
and fellowship with the Lord Jesus.
Consequently, we realize that our treating lightly the body of Christ
corresponds to neglecting Your choicest gifts.
Living with a focus on our individualism
instead of our relationship with the body of Christ,
shows how far we’ve strayed from Your purposes in the redeemed.
Having that “go-it-alone” attitude when facing difficulties and temptations,
neglects the very means You have given
to build us up in a most holy faith.
Forgive us of these sins of neglect and self-centeredness.
Enable us to know great joy as forgiven people,
united as followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Earlier this year I began this series of posts on Gathered Worship in the House of God, examining the role and responsibilities of the congregation in corporate worship. Part 1 of the series focused on how to prepare for times of worship. We now come to Part 2: Participating in Gathered Worship. How are we to join in the corporate worship of the church?
The first point that must be made may be the most obvious, but it needs to be said: We must come and gather! We are to come apart from worldly distractions and normal daily pursuits and regularly and faithfully join together in fellowship and worship.
Although we must certainly worship God continually in our hearts:
We must not neglect assembling ourselves together as God’s people for worship (Hebrews 10:25).
Worship begins in our individual relationships with God when He saves us and places us in Christ. But God does not save us to leave us on our own. In His wisdom and mercy He takes us, as living stones—those who once were dead but now are alive by grace in the power of His Spirit—and He places us into His church and builds us together in one house (1 Peter 2:5).
The church must gather because it is God’s purpose and design to bring us together. We need one another! We need Christian fellowship. We need corporate worship. God takes many members and fashions us together as one body. In 1 Corinthians 12:12–18 Paul explains:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose (1 Corinthians 12:12–18).
It is in corporate worship that we intentionally and vividly demonstrate that we are united together as one body—we are one building set upon the Cornerstone of Christ. We testify to one another in our praise and thanksgiving of the goodness of God.
And because God has joined us together, our joys and trials are shared. Paul says in verse 26 of 1 Corinthians 12: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” When one suffers, we all suffer and we pray together for the one who suffers. When one rejoices, we all rejoice—and unite our voices in praise and thanksgiving. We live as one body in Christ: supporting one another, serving one another, helping one another, praying for one another, and loving one another.
When we separate ourselves from worship and from being with God’s people, we place ourselves in spiritual danger, cutting ourselves off from vital means of grace and strength. When we isolate ourselves, we miss a large measure of God’s provision for our spiritual health and well-being. We miss the help and understanding that comes from hearing God’s Word read and taught. We miss the strength and comfort that comes from seeing God’s glory and power on display through our ministry to one another in the church.
Our trials, our suffering, our pain—all of life—will only make sense when we see it in the greater context of God’s glory.
This brings us back to worship. There is no better place to be in order to gain a larger perspective on the glory of God than in worship.
If things are happening to you in your life right now that you just can’t explain, that you just can’t figure out, trials or difficulties that are testing your theology and trying your patience, then your heart should long to be with the people of God in worship.
We see and example of this in Psalm 73. In this psalm Asaph, the composer, is trying to make sense of life. He is struggling with a question that perplexes him. His question is this: Why do the wicked so often seem to prosper and live care free lives, while those who love God must go through suffering and endure pain and trial and hardship? Asaph discovers his answer in verses 16–17:
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
It is when Asaph joined with God’s people in worship that things finally began to make sense. He finally began to understand. What he thought was prosperity was actually a slippery slope leading down to destruction and eternal misery. What he though was affliction and hardship was actually a blessing, a gift of God to cause him to lean and trust God more for his own good.
Worship corrects our thinking and causes us to see things in their true light.
It is as we rest in Christ and worship Him, that we realize more and more that all things exist for Him—that He is working all things together for our good and for His own glory.
As we come to worship, we are like the psalmist. We each have our own struggles and trials. By ourselves, even our small troubles may seem very large and be very perplexing and overwhelming.
But in worship, God draws us together as ONE, and He gives us ONE pursuit and ONE direction—His glory. And as we glorify Him together, all of our lives begin to make sense. Even though we may not understand the details, we see that we fit into a greater plan that exalts and magnifies our God.
(Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)
I don’t like to wait. No, let’s be completely forthright: I despise waiting. There is a certain highway in the city where I live that is notorious for traffic that is snarled for several hours on both sides of rush hour: I avoid it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship, and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I have to preach. They make me wait, and I don’t like it.
I realize that I am not alone in this. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour or so. Why is it so hard for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.
Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that makes us say with the prophet, “O Lord, your ways are higher than our ways, your thoughts higher than our thoughts.” We pray in hope, and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded, and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation, and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear, and we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.
The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as being in “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent many years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear: “But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.” What a glorious promise! And yet, our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait.
Yet waiting on the Lord many good things for us. It:
Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is populated with loads of resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.
Contributers to the blog:
Dr. Tom Ascol, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Tom Hicks, Pastor of Discipleship, Morningview Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL (Tom is the team leader of the blog).
Dr. Fred Malone, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clinton, LA
Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY
Dr. Phil Newton, Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN
Dr. Kenneth Puls, Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Jeff Robinson, Pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
Jon English Lee, Ph.D. Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY