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Recovering pastor preaches invincibility of the church

ATLANTA (BP)–Emerging from a struggle with Guillain-Barre syndrome that nearly cost him his life and confined him largely to a wheelchair, Ralph Smith, pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church, Austin, Texas, limped to the pulpit and proclaimed the invincibility of the church of Jesus Christ.
“I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” shouted Smith as he quoted the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 during the June 16 annual sermon to the Southern Baptist Convention.
“The church has stood for 2,000 years. It has survived the testing of Pharisees and Sadducees, dictatorship and democracy, prosperity and poverty, ritualism and emotionalism, war and peace, popularity and disfavor,” he said. “Satan, with all of his schemes, cannot destroy Christ’s church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it!”
Smith’s emotional appearance marked one of the few times in the 154-year history of the Southern Baptist Convention that a retired pastor delivered the convention message. Smith, whom SBC President Paige Patterson called “one of the great teachers of the Bible,” served as pastor of Hyde Park Church for 36 years and has been battling the debilitating disease to the point where he said he is “85 percent” recovered.
“What makes the church invincible?” Smith asked, preaching from Matthew 16:13-19, 24. He responded with three reasons: 1) the transformed nature of its membership, 2) its dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ, and 3) the unique spirit in which it does its work.
Smith said the transformed nature is rooted in the reality that every church member is to have two births — one of the flesh and one of the Spirit.
“Indeed, that is the message, mission and mandate of the church,” he said. “The church takes sinners and teaches them the way to become saints. It takes children of wrath and makes them children of God. It takes those dead in trespasses and sins and introduces them to him who is the resurrection and the life. The church leads the lost to be saved. It helps those in darkness find Christ who is the light of the world.”
Smith said life’s ultimate question is the one Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 16:13: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The ultimate correct answer is Peter’s response in Matthew 16:16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
“Jesus is God’s anointed Son come to deliver us from our sins,” Smith said. “Jesus saves! This is what makes the church invincible — the transformed nature of its membership. We passionately believe that Jesus is ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God!’ That belief can transform any life. It’s transformed mine.”
The church’s invincibility, Smith said, can be traced to three truths that contribute to its dynamic relationship with Christ:
First, the church is built upon Christ, Smith said.
“Small wonder that the church is invincible because the church has its foundation in no one less than Jesus Christ. He is the Rock upon which the church is built and we, like Peter, have become living stones that rise into a holy tabernacle of God in the Spirit.”
Second, Smith reminded messengers that not only is the church built upon Christ, but the church is being built by Christ.
“Nineteen hundred years ago, Jesus walked the shores of Galilee and chose Andrew, Peter, James and John, building his church. That same Jesus saved you in the 20th century and placed you in his church. Just as he chose those first disciples, he chose you and me!” Smith said.
Smith warned messengers not to disrupt the dynamic relationship between Christ and his church by rejecting those Christ has chosen and placed in the church. “There are no perfect churches because there are no perfect church members,” he said.
He illustrated with a colorful story involving the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, who was approached by a prospective church member. The prospect said he had observed some hypocrites in Spurgeon’s congregation.
According to Smith, Spurgeon responded: “In the first church one of its members, Thomas, doubted the resurrection. Peter, its leader, cursed and denied his Lord. The treasurer of the church, Judas, betrayed Christ and committed suicide. The first church was not perfect and since that day there has not been a perfect church. But if you find a perfect church,” Spurgeon told the prospect, “for heaven’s sake, do not join! When YOU become a member it will no longer be perfect!”
Smith said Christians are called to respect, love, accept and honor one another. “We must not reject those Christ has chosen and placed in his church,” he said. “Together, we are the body of Christ. The church is built by Christ. It is his body and every member is important in its ministry.”
Third, Smith said, the dynamic relationship between Christ and his church results in the church being successful through Christ.
Directing messengers to Matthew 16:18-19, Smith said, “This is the most controversial statement in the New Testament. It reveals what the church is to do and how to do it.
“When I was a college student, I pictured the forces of hell, or gates, attacking the church. Jesus said even Satan could not destroy Christ’s church. That is good doctrine but this verse states another truth. Here, the church is not on defense but on offense. Indeed, the church batters down the gates of hell and snatches men and women bound for perdition from sin. By conversion they are snatched from Hades and given passage to heaven,” Smith said.
The church is to ever be on the attack, he emphasized.
“I am glad we have taken ‘Hold the Fort’ out of the hymn book. We have no forts to hold,” he said. “Our theme song is ‘Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war.’ The best days of Christ’s church are before us. We must get our eyes off our taillights and onto our headlights. The greatest victories have yet to be won.”
Smith said evangelism is essential for Christ’s church to do his work. “This must ever be the mission of Christ’s church — to seek and to save those that are lost.”
Finally, he said the church’s invincibility is linked to the unique spirit in which it does its work.
“We just deny self,” Smith said, referring to Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24.
“This is the road to success in any field of endeavor, self-denial,” Smith said. “Water never boils until it reaches 212 degrees. Grapes do not become wine until they are crushed. Wheat cannot become bread until it is ground asunder. In four years of therapy, I have been repeatedly taught ‘no gain without pain.’ And we cannot bless until we bleed. Jesus said you and I must deny self.”
Smith said all Christians should be like the great missionary David Livingstone.
“Every night he would get down on his knees, read the Bible and pray,” Smith said. “The last day of his life he knelt, prayed and read the Bible — then wrote in his diary: ‘My Jesus, my King, my life, my All — I again dedicate myself to thee.’ — and he died.
“We who are Christ’s church must not, we cannot, let the world down. We are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. We have the keys of the kingdom of heaven. God, help us to be faithful in sharing his message of love, grace, reconciliation and forgiveness. The church, you and I, are entrusted to spread the gospel — God’s good news.”

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  • Don Hinkle