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Church lamented as ‘asleep’ in an era likened to the Dark Ages

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Today’s church is in a crisis, evangelist Bailey Smith said at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, citing the plateau or decline of 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches and the fact that a disturbingly high number of ministers leave the ministry.

The renowned preacher and author, speaking in chapel at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus, compared the church today to the USS Californian — the ship that saw the Titanic’s flares but misinterpreted their significance and then turned off its radio and kept steaming in the other direction.

The church today is “asleep when it’s needed, but coming back to pick up a few stragglers to justify its existence,” Smith said in his March 24 message.

In a sermon drawn from Matthew 26:36-46, Smith said the disciples had fallen sleep in Gethsemane in direct disobedience to what Jesus had told them. “That is what is happening all over America today,” Smith said.

Smith cited four reasons Christians and future leaders of the church must be alert in a crisis.

“First, you will never go to sleep if you understand that just the physical things of Jesus are not the same things as the spiritual Christ,” Smith said. “Sometimes closeness dulls your excitement. Being close to the things of Jesus physically, like the church, the denomination or the cross you wear around your neck, does not mean you have God in your heart.”

Another thing the disciples forgot, Smith said, is that “He who has gone away is still here. In John 14:16, Jesus says, ‘I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.’ God is on earth today just as much as He was in the Old Testament and in the Incarnation.”

The Christian church is in the most critical hour of its existence since the Dark Ages, Smith stated.

“There is only one page in the Bible separating the disciples sleeping and Jesus being arrested,” he said. “And because the disciples are asleep today, Christ has been taken away from our schools, He has been taken away from Christmas and He has been taken away from our society.”

Finally, Christians must be willing to live in discomfort if necessary to do what God needs them to do. “The disciples could not give up their sleep, their comfort, for Jesus when He asked,” Smith said. “Three times He had a word for them, but they never heard it.”

Smith closed by admonishing young pastors to “awaken, be alert. God has something to say to you.”

A former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Smith is the author of “Real Evangelism” and several other books and a graduate of Southwestern Seminary, where his son, Stephen, is a professor of preaching. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., has established a Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism after receiving a $1 million pledge for the academic position.

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  • Melanie Lloyd