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FIRST-PERSON: God’s cultural strategy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The church doesn’t exist for Christians. The church is designed for those who are not members.

I recently made that comment and it drew quite a response. The context of the comment was within a discussion about discipleship. I said that Jesus is searching for true disciples in the evangelical church in America but is having difficulty finding many.

Need evidence? Read the headlines. The evangelical church in America is losing ground when it comes to effecting change in our culture. Instead of a trend in our nation toward godliness, the trend is toward secularism devoid of anything godly. Western Christianity has retreated from the battle for the souls of men to the hollow pursuit of self-comfort. True disciples follow Christ into the fray.

God’s design for the church is not that it exists for my comfort or for the convenience of its members but He instituted it as an equipping station to thrust us into the harvest for souls.

The church at Ephesus was surrounded by false religions and egocentric philosophies. People were consumed by their sexual appetites and practiced “every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more” (Ephesians 4:19). Did the Apostle Paul tell the Ephesian Christians to get inside their building, close the door and lock out the evil that permeated their society? No, and in fact, he told them to walk worthy of their calling, obey God’s commands, stay true to the divine strategy and be Christians right where they were.

We must first realize that the church is a divine institution. It was not an afterthought with God.

We are the strategy God designed to confront the godlessness of our culture. When Christ says we were the light on a hill, He meant that we are to shine in such a way that those struggling with the turbulence of life could safely navigate to the harbor of God’s grace. When the light from our churches sweeps across our culture, people see our good works and give glory to God in heaven (Matthew 5:16). It’s an intentional effort on our part to understand that church is not about us; it is about God, His Kingdom and making His name known among the nations (Psalm 46:10).

However, we become ineffective when we turn inward and our culture has no visible measure of eternal truth. There is no incarnational witness of the Savior. We rob hope from individuals who are on a collision course with eternal separation from God when we focus our energy on ourselves.

As we project the Gospel outward from our churches, we must follow the leadership of God. God does not overlook people’s sin. He extends grace and forgiveness in spite of it. We must be accepting of individuals without condoning their lifestyles.

I like the chorus of the song, “This Must Be the Place,” co-written and sung by Steve Amerson. “This must be a place where a broken heart can mend/This must be a place where the outcast finds a friend/For we cannot lift the fallen if our hand still holds a stone/And their sin that seems so great to us is no greater than our own/There must be a point where shame meets grace/And this must be the place.”

Is your church that place?
James T. Draper Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • James T. Draper Jr.