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Mohler: ‘Authentic ministry’ separated, yet confrontational

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Ministers in the midst of “post-Christian America” must restore the meaning of a truly separated church which is distinctively Christian and, at the same time, confront the nation’s cultural decay, President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told pastors in a Sept. 16 address at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“We had better come to understand the church as a unique society committed to the eternal truth of God’s Word and redeemed by the power of the lamb,” Mohler said during a luncheon hosting pastors at the seminary’s first-ever Pastor Appreciation Day. “And understand that in a genuine sectarian sense we will not think as the world thinks nor live as the world lives. Nor will we now expect the world to understand us.”
About 220 pastors from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio traveled to the Louisville, Ky., campus for the day-long event which included a chapel message and dialogue session with SBC President Tom Elliff, four seminars and the Mohler luncheon, the first event held in the newly constructed Chiles Conference Center. The $3.57 million conference center project completes the $12 million Honeycutt Campus Center facility which was opened in 1990.
Because the “believing church is now merely tolerated in this society and sometimes not even that,” Mohler said Christians must “learn what our true priorities should be and what our true identity is. We are the body and bride of Christ, separated out from the world.”
Although separated from the world, the church also is responsible to be “salt and light,” Mohler said. Referring to Elliff’s chapel message prior to the luncheon, Mohler reminded the pastors “we are not guaranteed success.” Nonetheless, “in the strangest way, by God’s sovereignty, we will be effective. Effective at what, we do not know. Because we do not know what God is doing in and through us.
“But God’s Word is always effective,” Mohler continued. “The preaching of the Word is never responded to or followed by emptiness. It may look empty, but it is not empty. We cannot see what the sovereign God is doing through the ministry of his own Word.”
Mohler’s message, “The church in the midst of culture shock: trends, trials and tough issues,” was based on the account of the sons of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32 who were described as “men who had understanding of the times.” Similarly, Christians in America at the end of the 20th century must comprehend the trends of their day and confront its theological, moral and social maladies, Mohler said.
An essential characteristic of Christianity, Mohler said, is its responsibility of “assertion,” quoting the great reformer Martin Luther. “Authentic ministry in this post-Christian culture will require direct confrontation,” Mohler said in stating the thesis of his address. Such confrontation is difficult because “we live in a harmonic age” in which “everyone wants to be at home in this culture. We all want to be comfortable,” Mohler said. “We will surrender the exclusive claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ if that will make it easier to negotiate in the multicultural, pluralistic society.”
Authentic ministry, however, must first confront “the secularization of the church,” Mohler asserted. As concerned as he is with the secularization of American society, Mohler said he is more concerned with the church’s secularization. “My concern today is not so much with the liberal churches that have explicitly abandoned the gospel, but with evangelical churches who think they are holding to the gospel, but it is not the gospel.”
The secularization of the church is evidenced by the theological and biblical ignorance of many who attend evangelical churches, Mohler said. Because most Christians are “captive to this culture” and “no longer know how to think Christianly,” pastors “must assault the worldview found in the pew,” Mohler said.
The narcissistic age also must be engaged by true Christian ministry, according to Mohler. American society is a “therapeutic culture” which tells people “no one is fundamentally wrong, that we’re all just psychologically incomplete.” No longer concerned with eternal truths, the “inward search is all that is left,” Mohler said, noting well-stocked “self-help” sections of bookstores. Even Christian bookstores have such sections, although “that is the antithesis of the gospel. The gospel is not about self-help. It’s about, ‘Help me!'” Mohler declared.
The culture of relativism which insists the “only truth it will reject is a truth that claims to be true” should also be the target of authentic ministry, Mohler said. With the rampant relativism of the culture, many believers have given up in “moral, intellectual and theological exhaustion.”
Ministers who insist on the sinfulness of abortion and homosexuality — the “two hottest fronts of the culture war these days” — are so contrary to contemporary culture that they are told, “Go back to your churches and keep that to yourselves,” Mohler said. Unfortunately, too many ministers oblige the culture and have stopped preaching against such evils. Where the “culture of relativism is accepted by the church, there is no authentic Christianity,” he said.
America’s entertainment culture must also be confronted by pastors, Mohler insisted, noting “our children are so immersed in popular culture that they never have to come up for air.”
An entertainment industry which is “at radical antagonism with the Christian faith,” captures the minds of children, many times without the notice of their parents, according to Mohler. Concepts of sin, salvation, the holiness of God and other “convictions of a biblical nature are not only absent from popular culture, they are the opposite of what is being portrayed and inculcated through popular culture,” Mohler said.
A “culture of death” characterized by abortion and the escalation of teen suicide must be confronted by authentic Christianity, Mohler continued. “We must confront the culture of death knowing that now death is tolerated and celebrated, not only in the womb, but now on the streets, even in the schools.”
Mohler noted a recent New York Times article which reported on the increasing popularity of entertainment which promotes death as a solution to modern-day problems. “This is inevitably where we arrive, having forsaken God, we embrace death. … We either turn to God for salvation, or we embrace death for what we think will be release.”
The response of authentic Christian ministry to the culture, Mohler said, is the same as the Apostle Paul’s inspired advice to Timothy: “Preach the Word, in season and out of season.”
Such preaching is the “perpetual test of faithfulness of the church,” Mohler said. “My prayer is that what was said of the sons of Issachar may be said of this generation of Christians, that we came to the Word, and by God’s grace came to our senses, and came to understand the times and to know what Israel ought to do.”

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  • James A. Smith
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