NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention challenged seminarians to become “modern-day Jeremiahs” who boldly confront sin in the culture and call people to repentance.
David Hankins, in a chapel message at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, drew a present-day parallel between the state of 21st-century society and Judah in the 6th century B.C., on the eve of the Babylonian captivity.
His message was titled “The Confession of the Lost,” based on Jeremiah 8:20: “The harvest has passed, and the summer has ended; and we are not saved.”
This Scripture, Hankins said, “speaks of lost opportunity. It speaks of ignored warning. It speaks of a certain, impending judgment that’s coming on the people of God.”
The collapse of God’s chosen people in Judah did not happen overnight, Hankins said. Instead, there was a “progression away from God by the people of God” coursing through Jeremiah 8.
“The people were pronouncing their own judgment by the testimony of their own mouths, and it led them to that final, fatal confession of the lost,” Hankins said.
The words heard by Jeremiah were not 2,600-year-old meanderings through history, Hankins said, but they resonate in modern times and should be heard by contemporary proclaimers of the Gospel.
“Those confessions of the lost that Jeremiah heard in his day are being heard in your day. And they’re coming from the mouths of your generation and your culture, maybe your family, maybe your church,” Hankins said. “And you need to understand that when you hear them that the persons who are confessing these things are on the pathway toward final destruction. It is the duty of the preacher of God to turn them away, if he can.”
Jeremiah is a discourse on doom and destruction, vengeance and judgment, Hankins said in his Jan. 21 message. But it is also a cautionary tale, aimed at turning the lost to repentance. Hankins urged students to be ready to preach the prophet’s words to a wayward world.
“My challenge to you today is to become Jeremiahs for your generation, so that when you hear these confessions of the lost being said, these people confessing doom and condemnation with their own mouths, that you will boldly, unashamedly, unapologetically call them to turn before it’s everlastingly too late, before there is nothing else to say but, ‘The harvest has passed and the summer is ended, and we are not saved.'”
In Judah, the people of God worshiped false gods, even the sun, moon and stars, while rejecting God’s call to repentance. Hankins compared it to present-day society’s rejection of the very notion of sin. Humanity also differs with God on the seriousness of sin.
“From my vantage point, it hasn’t gotten any better,” Hankins said. “It’s not breaking news for you to realize that this culture is awash in sin…. There’s no heart for repentance. The problem is that our culture has a diametrically opposed view of sin than God does.”
The Bible teaches that man is sinful, while man argues that humanity is basically good, Hankins said. Evidence of the opposing views can be in the culture through abortion, same-sex marriage and other sinful acts.
Modern-day Jeremiahs face a key challenge, Hankins said.
“Let me tell you what the challenge is for you Jeremiahs in this culture,” Hankins said. “It is for you to stand up and call sin, sin…. Baptist preachers, we ought to put on the prophet’s garb and call them to repentance.”
The culture also has lost God’s revelation, Hankins said. History is rife with illustrations of this, thanks to the pervasive influence of 19th-century post-Enlightenment thinkers who sought to remove God from the culture, from Marx to Freud to Nietzsche.
“When a preacher, when a denominational leader, when a seminary professor claims that their wisdom is better than the Word of God. … or when they handle it falsely, they are on the pathway to destruction,” Hankins said.
One of the fundamental reasons for the decline in new baptisms in churches, Hankins said, is that Christians are no longer on “home turf.” He pointed to the growing influence of the so-called “New Atheists” including Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, who see Christianity not only as delusional but dangerous.
“We’ve got an angry, anti-Christian culture that we have to speak to,” Hankins said. “The task, Jeremiahs, is to prepare for the apologetic challenge. You need to prepare to bring the truth of God’s Word to this growing antagonistic culture.”
Hankins added, “If we do not return to the revelation of God, there is nothing left. There will be no increase in baptisms. There will be no Great Commission Resurgence. There will be nothing but the final, fatal confession of the lost.”
As in Jeremiah’s day, the culture is in denial of the depravity of society. Hankins called on students to sound the alarm.
“Our message does not need to be ‘God bless America,'” Hankins said, “but ‘God save America.’ Too many segments of our culture are running as fast as they can away from God.”
So what is the task for these modern-day Jeremiahs? “Preach Jesus,” Hankins said.
In a culture where abortion and child abuse are rampant, when Christians are told to be silent in the face of militant homosexuality and atheism, and where constitutional freedoms are being eroded, Christians cannot afford to sit on the sidelines, Hankins said.
“The church needs to stand up on its hind feet and say something. We need to be Jeremiahs for our generation. Say something for God,” Hankins said.
Paul F. South writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.