One of the criticisms leveled against preachers such as me is that when we speak on certain topics, like “sin, death and hell”, is that it can easily cause offence. The temptation therefore is to either avoid tackling these subjects altogether or if these are spoken about then it is done so softly without any hint of fire and brimstone rhetoric. As I reflect on those particular topics, it occurs to me that however much we may wish to avoid such subjects, they are central themes to the gospel message (click here), and the crucial role of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.
Speaking once again to my friend who is looking to join a church in my town, it was evident that his experience so far has been one of disappointment and consternation that having visited a number of churches in the town he found these subjects were hardly touched on and instead the focus was on notions like love, justice and inclusion. I cannot be too specific because I do not wish to name and shame churches that are short changing their congregations, which are many, perhaps most or even all, since I regard it as a family matter (it stays in the family) and also pertains to where the truth lies (I haven’t heard from most of these churches on the whys and wherefores of what they preach). But I was made aware of one large popular church my friend visited that fell short in its message delivery also does a lot in terms of addressing issues around social justice and trying to bring in outsiders into the life of the church.
Of course there is a need for balance and our approach needs to be sensitive to our hearers, and having put my head above the parapet I have come across many horror stories of churches, often fundamentalist leaning, preaching about sin, death and hell, yet showing a callous disregard to the legitimate needs, hopes and aspirations of the people it purports to be (or should be) serving. As I have said many times before, what we believe and how we live out our beliefs and, pertinently, what it is the preacher should be telling the congregation, needs to take many things into account, but that includes most importantly the gospel message which has been entrusted to us. While I recognize the need to go that extra mile in serving the poor, bringing in the outsider and standing for justice, it should not be at the cost of neglecting the preaching of the gospel.
We have just been celebrating two of the most important days in the church calendar: Good Friday and Easter Day. If it were not for the fact we are hell bound sinners in need of salvation, Jesus would not have had to go to the cross. The good news (for us) is he did go, on Good Friday, and rose from the dead, on Easter Sunday. The good news too (for that is what the Gospel is) is where there is sin, there is also salvation; where there is death, there is also life (and eternal life at that); and while there is hell, there is also heaven. After all, perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16, requires that we need to repent of sin before we can receive the gift of eternal life.
I write this having earlier today attended the “men’s breakfast” at my local church, where our pastor reflected on the history of revival and its context, causes and aftermath, in particular the Welsh Revival of 1904/5, with which he had some familiarity. Like some, I hark back to the days of Wesley and Whitfield when many turned to Christ as a result of the preaching of the gospel.While revivals tended to be short lived and sadly the status quo was all too soon restored, they did make an enormous impact. I also write this in the light of my next preaching engagement when I consider the obscure passage in 2Kings 13, when King Jehoash hit the ground with arrows, having been told to do so by Elisha the prophet, ONLY three times and received as a result ONLY temporary respite from the oppressor. I see this as all too representative of what we see today in the life of the church, our community and our nation.
Given the state of the nation, I have no doubt that the need of the hour is revival (maybe it has ever been thus) and Christian folk need to be both living and preaching the gospel. My point is that we who follow Christ should be earnest and fully committed about loving God and our neighbour. Not only should we be prayerful, students of the Bible and wholehearted followers of Christ, and be serving the poor, bringing in outsiders and standing for justice, but we should not neglect preaching on themes such as sin, death and hell, in order that those who are outside of Christ find salvation, life and heaven.