“If I Could Just Find an Issue…”
Many years ago, when I was just a very young pastor, I was in the company of two much older, much more experienced men. I respected them both and tried to glean as much as possible from their learning and experience.
After considerable discussion about various theological matters, one of the pastors began to lament the fact that he saw very little numeric growth in his congregation. Then he made this statement — “If I could just find an issue to arouse interest, I believe I could make things happen.”
I was, even as a very young pastor, shocked to hear a man who professed to believe and preach the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ make such a statement. But over the years I have seen many who would never make such a statement practice exactly what it implies.
Such a statement implies that the church and kingdom of God is built on controversy, on issues. Throughout church history preachers and theologians have drawn swords (and sometimes blood) fighting about issues. Sometimes the issues have been vital to gospel truth. More often they have been vital to the pride of men.
But the church and kingdom of God is not built on issues, no matter how vital the issues may be to the truth of God. Paul writes, “Christ sent me to preach the gospel.” There is only one foundation upon which the church of God is built, and that foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).
The Lord God has given us one issue and that one issue is our message — Jesus Christ and him crucified. Christ crucified is our message (1 Cor. 2:2). Christ crucified, though counted foolishness by those who count themselves wiser than God, is the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18-25).
Let us ever set forth as fully and clearly as possible all that Christ is and all that he accomplished, but let us ever do so by preaching and pointing sinners to the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Let me be crystal clear. I will not budge an inch on the matter of believer’s baptism. I will not be silent about the matter. But my message is not baptism. My message is Christ crucified. I do not hesitate to declare, and declare relentlessly, the glorious gospel doctrines of sovereign election, limited atonement, free
justification, irresistible grace, and the absolute preservation of God’s elect. But my message is not a system of doctrine, be it ever so orthodox. My message is Christ crucified.
Sinners need an omnipotent Savior, not an orthodox system! We must never give up any aspect of divinely revealed truth; but when any aspect of truth becomes the issue rather than Christ who is THE TRUTH, we are in trouble. It is not enough to embrace the right position on justification. We must embrace Christ our Justifier. It is not enough to hold the right view of sanctification. We must hold Christ our Sanctifier in the arms of faith. We believe and preach effectually accomplished redemption, limited atonement, and justice satisfied. (Any who say otherwise are either ignorant of our doctrine, or deliberately deceitful.) But our hope, our comfort, and our joy is our Redeemer himself.
Another implication of the statement (“If I could just find an issue to arouse interest, I believe I could make things happen.”) is that the church and kingdom of God is built by men. It is not. The church and kingdom of God is built by God himself. The Builder and Maker of the New Jerusalem is God alone. The walls of Zion are not built by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus declares, “I will build my church.”
Any time we begin to think the building of the church is our work we are in trouble. If the building of the church becomes our priority, we will compromise our message and employ whatever methods are expedient to do so.
Our sole business is the preaching of the gospel. We do so for the glory of God, the salvation of God’s elect, and the comfort and edification of his saints. We must faithfully commit ourselves to that great work, trusting God to build his church. If we attempt to build it, that which we pile together will be nothing but wood, hay, and stubble to be burned (1 Cor. 3:10-13).
There is a far more serious and far more wicked implication in this statement — “If I could just find an issue to arouse interest, I believe I could make things happen.” Such a statement implies a man’s wicked attempt to draw away disciples after himself (Acts 20:30). John the Baptist’s disciples were once upset because so many were following Christ instead of John (John 3:26). What senseless strife! John came preaching, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” His whole aim in life was to get people to follow Christ. He did not seek to build a following for himself, or to make a name for himself. Indeed, John’s attitude was (and it ought to be ours) — “He must increase, but I must decrease.”