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MY ANSWER TO BARNA'S BEEFS ABOUT THE CHURCHES

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, August 25, 2002


"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God...Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (John 3:3,7)


Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews.  He was the leading rabbi in Jerusalem.  He came to Jesus at night because he was afraid of being seen.  He asked Jesus a number of questions.  Jesus told him, "Ye must be born again."  And He says that to every one of you this morning.  "Ye must be born again."

George Barna is a pollster. He has been studying the churches and doing polls on them for several years. Pastors often cite his statistical findings in sermons, and his many books on church ministry are in Christian bookstores around the world.

The August 5, 2002 edition of Christianity Today has a cover story about Barna subtitled, "Evangelicalism's most quoted pollster is more fed up with the church than ever - So what's next?" The article goes on to say, "He believes his ten-year campaign to reform the church has failed." Barna then gives "nine challenges for American Christianity" (ibid., pp. 34-35). Barna is fed up with the churches, and gives nine "beefs" in this Christianity Today article. Here they are, along with my comments.

I. Beef number one: "The same old same old."

Barna says that more of the same won't get us any farther down the road to genuine discipleship. He says, "Religious energy may be experienced through new forms of music or dramatic architecture, but there is a noteworthy staleness to the faith experience of most Americans" (ibid., p. 34). He says that there must be a "strategic shakeup of what we do and how we do it" (ibid.). "More of the same won't get us any farther down the road of genuine discipleship" (ibid.).

Barna is saying that we need to recognize that current methods in our churches just aren't working to produce genuine disciples. It seems to me that he is saying that most people in our churches are "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 3:7).

Over the years, I have come to the same conclusion. But I believe that the answer lies in restudying our current doctrines concerning conversion. By studying the conversions of early Protestants and Baptists, like Luther, Bunyan, Wesley, Spurgeon, and others, I came to the realization that modern "decisions for Christ" were completely different from the older "conversion" experiences.

In the days of the Reformation and the Great Awakenings, people came under deep conviction of sin, went through an awakening to their hopeless condition, and then underwent a dramatic, life-altering conversion, in which they depended totally on the mercy of Jesus Christ to save them. Such "crisis conversions" have been replaced by shallow "decisions."

I traced this change in our beliefs about conversion to the ministry of Charles G. Finney in the first third of the nineteenth century. I have come to believe that the "decisionism" of our day came out of a replacement of the older "crisis conversion" with the mere superficial "decisions" that people so often make today.

I became convinced that we must return to the old idea of conversion through reading books like Richard Baxter's Treatise on Conversion, which I have reproduced in modern English (A Puritan Speaks to Our Dying Nation, Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., 2002). Dr. E. Robert Jordan, founder of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, said that my modern-English version of Baxter's book is "the most desperately needed book of the last twenty-five years." Iain H. Murray said, "I am sure that many will be thankful that Dr. Hymers has here reproduced [Baxter's] burning thoughts on conversion in this easily read and helpful format." Dr. Thomas K. Ascol (SBC) said, "God bless Dr. Hymers for making Baxter's work readily accessible to modern readers."

If you want to experience the true conversion that Baxter wrote about, you must have a complete change of heart, which only God can give. Baxter told us that

Those who have never had the conceit of self-sufficiency beaten out are still unconverted. Those who think they can do something [i.e. make some decision, commitment, or say a prayer] which brings about their salvation, are still unconverted…The person who has never been brought to Christ by God's drawing power for deliverance from sin and its penalty, is not converted (A Puritan Speaks to Our Dying Nation, p. 37).

Jesus said:

"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

So, Barna is right, as far as he goes. More of the "same old thing" will not bring about "genuine discipleship." We must have real conversions rather than mere decisions.

Are you converted? Have you been awakened to your lost state? Have you come under deep conviction of sin? Have you come directly to Jesus Christ? Are you washed from your sins by His Blood? Are you sure of that?

II. Beef number two: "The decline of the Evangelicals."

Barna tells us that "every day the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change. At what point does the collapse become a 'crisis' and merit concentrated and strategic response?" (ibid.).

In other words, Barna asks, When will we realize that we are in a mess? And when will we do something about it?

I am convinced that we are now living in the time spoken of in the fourth chapter of Second Timothy:

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears" (II Timothy 4:3-4).

What is the answer? It is given in verse two: "Preach the word…reprove, rebuke, exhort…" (II Timothy 4:2).

We have had plenty of "teaching." What we need is "preaching" which reproves, rebukes, and exhorts. Two different Greek words are used for "teachers" and "preach" in this passage. We have had much instruction, but "preaching" (as described in II Timothy 4:2) is almost unheard of in our day. I believe that old-fashioned, Hell-fire, law before gospel, preaching is the only answer to the mess we see in the churches at this hour!

Such preaching should be followed by the old-time counselling advocated by Dr. Heman Humphrey and Dr. I. S. Spencer (see A Puritan Speaks to Our Dying Nation, pp. 126-127).

But, remember the response to such preaching that George Whitefield and John Wesley experienced: "I must preach there no more," as church after church closed its doors to the preaching of Whitefield and Wesley in the eighteenth century. The pastors of those churches were afraid of old-time preaching. They closed their doors to it.

Also, remember that the situation in the churches in the eighteenth century was almost as bad as it is today. The churches were dead. But the pastors were afraid of the strong preaching of Whitefield and Wesley. If these men had not gone into the fields to preach, no Great Awakening would have happened!

People will not go into the fields to hear Hell-fire preaching today. What can we do? It can't be done on television because the media will not allow such preaching - as Whitefield and Wesley did it. If the churches (at least a few of them) don't allow such preaching, I see no hope for genuine revival. We are in a mess. Pastors will not allow the strong medicine of law-before-gospel preaching in their pulpits. What can we do to get out of the mess we are in? Humanly speaking, the situation seems hopeless. That's about all I can say from a human standpoint. Where, oh where, are the pastors who are "fed up" enough with the situation to risk everything, and allow strong medicine in their pulpits?

Will you listen to the strong medicine that you are a ruined sinner? Will you listen when you are told that you are going to Hell? Will you seek Jesus until He comes and rains righteousness on you?

III. Beef number three: "Ethnic Ascension."

Barna asks, "How will the church address the extreme ethnic diversification of [our] communities?" He says that attempts to build multiethnic and multicultural churches have failed "for various reasons," and that churches designed to reach non-white ethnic groups are not the answer either. I fully agree with him.

Many churches start ethnic missions in their buildings, but these are nearly always destined to break away and become small ethnic churches.  Baptists have a tendency to bring in a "little brown man" to lead a group in their building, but sooner or later he takes the people and leaves.  The Pentecostals have been better on this one point, I think because their movement was started by a black man and has always been integrated.  Our Baptist churches tend to move out, while the Pentecostals are moving in.  Baptists are always running away from the cities, yet we hang flags in the auditoriums and brag about how many nations we are sending missionaries to, while we run away from those same ethnic groups when they move near us.  Our young people see the sheer hypocrisy of missions without love, missions to be bragged on, without loving or wanting the people themselves.  Talk to the teenagers.  You will see that they think your mission programs are total hypocrisy, because you will not bring in the Spanish, and Orientals, and others who live in your neighborhood.  The teenagers sneer at you behind your back!

Many others think that they have to learn a foreign language before they can win non-white people. One preacher recently said in my hearing, "I wish we had someone who could speak Spanish so we could win some of them." I noticed that there was a high school directly across the street from his church. After the meeting, I asked him, "What percentage of the students at that school are Hispanic?" He said, "Over fifty percent." I didn't say anything, but I thought, "Every one of those students speaks English. Why doesn't he go and get some of them?" The answer, of course, is that he really doesn't want them in his all-white church. As a result, sooner or later, his church will have only a few elderly white people, in a rural town that is rapidly becoming Hispanic.

So, my first answer to Barna's "ethnic beef" is that we must want the ethnic people enough to aggressively go after them.

My second answer is that we must go after the young people, and stop focusing most of our attention on established "families." Young high school and college people are used to ethnic diversity in their schools already. They will actually enjoy having the same ethnic diversity in a church. And if we teach the older people that we must bring in people from every nation under heaven, those with spirituality will agree with us. Those without spirituality can't help a church anyway! That is my second answer to Barna on this question. We need a "back door" revival of those who do not have the spiritual insight to win the people in their neighborhood regardless of the ethnic background! Our own church is made up of people from five different ethnic groups. We never have a problem with this.

Jesus said,

"Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23).

We go to seven college campuses near our church and do just that - with young people from every ethnic background!

Will you come all the way into our church? Will you come to Christ and be saved?

IV. Beef number four: "What about the Bible?"

Barna says that people in our society increasingly

pick and choose the Bible content they like or feel comfortable with, but ignore the rest of God's counsel. This tendency seems especially prolific among young adults and teenagers. What can we do to elevate the prominence, credibility, and perceived value of God's Word in the eyes of a fickle and distracted public? (ibid.).

I believe that the answer is simple: preach the Gospel. Preach all sides of the Gospel, and little else! I do that about fifty Sundays a year! Our society is like that in the city of Corinth in many ways. And Paul said to the people of Corinth:

"For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).

"That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (I Corinthians 1:29-31).

"For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified…" (I Corinthians 1:22-23).

You can look at the word-for-word sermons I post on our own website (www.rlhymersjr.com) and see how I preach all different sides of the Gospel virtually every Sunday morning and Sunday night, year after year. Or a preacher can read Spurgeon's sermons, in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, and see how he built the largest evangelical church of his day by preaching little else but the Gospel of Christ!

We should preach and pound in all sides of the Gospel until lost sinners see the relevance of the Word of God in their lives! The reason young people and others tend to reject the whole counsel of God is that they are not born again! Jesus said, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). We must preach Hell-fire, law and Gospel sermons until lost people are converted, and then they will see the relevance of the Bible in their lives!

V. Beef number five: "A costless faith."

Barna correctly tells us that

Christianity has no cost in America. We've made it too easy to be "born again" - perhaps much easier than Jesus intended. When do we get to the point at which we accept smaller numbers of intensely devoted people rather than feverishly investing in filling auditoriums and stadiums with massive number of the lukewarm "Christians" that Jesus promised to spew from his mouth (Revelation 3:16)? (ibid., p. 35).

Wow! It seems like Barna sees the problem - at least partially! What can I add to that? Jesus said:

"Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

We must insist upon true conversion, as outlined by Richard Baxter in his Treatise on Conversion (see the modern language version in A Puritan Speaks to Our Dying Nation, by R. L. Hymers, Jr., Hearthstone, 2002).

Will you be converted, or will you be satisfied to go on as a lost person until it is too late for you?

VI. Beef number six: "Understanding the Supernatural."

Barna says:

Shockingly few Americans understand the power and significance of the supernatural world - the real supernatural dimension (ibid.).

Then he asks what to do about this spiritual blindness.

Again, I think the answer is simple: conversion and the new birth. Paul said:

"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:18).

Before a person is converted, he is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). A person must be "quickened," made alive, in conversion (Ephesians 2:5). Before conversion, a lost person is described this way:

"Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4:18).

Again, we are told:

"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14).

Only a thoroughgoing conversion can change that. You must come to Jesus Christ and be washed from your sins by His Blood. You must be born again (ref. John 3:7)!

VII. Beef number seven: "form and substance."

I will not give this point, because to my understanding it has little relevance. Without real revival, any "changes" the younger generation makes will only worsen the situation. Barna says that the younger generation will change the "theology" that many churches embrace.

Personally, I hope they do! But I hope that it will be a change back - to the old beliefs and practices, held before Finney ruined evangelism as we know it. We must go back to the old Puritan method of evangelism or there is no hope for real revival.

Will you go on in spiritual blindness, or will you become disgusted with yourself and search for Christ to save you?

VIII. Beef number eight: "Isolation and plenty."

Again, I do not think this point is very much related to the problems in the churches. Barna gives a version of the oft-repeated idea that the churches need to come together and cooperate. I think this idea was probably popularized for Barna's generation by the Beatles, in their song, "Come Together." But I don't see a Scriptural reason to join up and "cooperate" with Roman Catholics, liberals, Pentecostals, etc. Barna says, "We need each other." I'm not sure he's right. In fact, I don't think he is.

In my opinion, we need to stop thinking about "coming together" in the "church (universal church). I think we need to emphasize the local church, and come together in the local assembly. If we have "one mind" (Greek: homothumadon) in the local church, God can do a great deal through it. The Apostles founded local churches, and nothing else! There were no parachurch organizations, missions agencies, or evangelistic organizations in the Book of Acts. Yet look what they did! Their enemies said:

"These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" (Acts 17:6).

A careful student of the Book of Acts will notice that the world was turned upside down through the work of local churches! You can hardly read a single chapter in the Book of Acts without seeing this!

"And the Lord added to the church [the local church at Jerusalem] daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

"And great fear came upon all the church [at Jerusalem], and upon as many as heard these things" (Acts 5:11).

"Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch" (Acts 11:22).

"And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church [at Antioch], and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).

"Prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him" (Acts 12:5).

"Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul" (Acts 13:1).

"Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas…" (Acts 15:22).

"And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch" (Acts 18:22).

"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God [the local church at Ephesus], which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).

Those are just a few of the times local churches are mentioned in the Book of Acts. Instead of trying to bring "all the churches," many filled with heresy, false doctrine, together, we should concentrate on getting people converted and discipling them in and through local churches. That was the method of the Apostles in the Book of Acts, and no one has ever devised a better one!

Will you come to this local church every Sunday? Will you also come to Jesus and be converted?

IX. Beef number nine: "Where are the Leaders?"

I wholeheartedly agree with this complaint of Barna. He says: "The people who fill the positions of leadership in churches today are, for the most part, teachers…but not leaders. They do not have or understand vision. They fail to direct people's energies and resources effectively and efficiently. For the church [churches!] to become strong again, we must heed the guidance of the leaders God has called and gifted for that purpose…" (ibid.).

Barna also said, "The strategy [he employed for ten years] was flawed because it had an assumption. The assumption was that people in leadership are actually leaders. [I thought] all I need to do is give them the right information and they can draw the right conclusions… Most people who are in positions of leadership in local churches aren't leaders. They're great people, but they're not leaders" (ibid., p. 34).

I wholeheartedly agree. That is why people in positions of leadership are afraid to allow Hell-fire, law before gospel preaching in their pulpits. They are afraid of preaching which converts sinners because they are not leaders!

On the other hand, the Puritans were leaders. I think that's one of the main reasons that Dr. Tom Nettles, professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that "contemporary pastors…have few if any models of pastors who understand the work of evangelism" (jacket statement of A Pastor's Sketches, by Dr. I. S. Spencer).

To learn how to lead people in counselling the lost, preachers should obtain three books:

(1) A Pastor's Sketches by Dr. I. S. Spencer, reprint of the 1850 book. Phone Solid Ground Publications at (205)978-9469 to order it.

(2) Revival Sketches and Manual (see pp. 327-367) by Dr. Heman Humphrey, reprint of the 1859 edition. Phone (540)434-8840 to order it.

(3) Sermons From the Second Great Awakening by Dr. Asahel Nettleton, America's all-time greatest evangelist. These are the kind of sermons pastors who lead must preach, to see real conversions. Phone (515)292-9594 to order it.

We must remember this: it is as impossible to lead lost people today as it was for Moses to lead the "mixed multitude" in the wilderness.

"Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again"
   (John 3:7).

Will you come to Jesus and be born again - or will you be satisfied to go on being lost until God gives up on you?

 

Ye children of men, attend to the word So solemnly uttered by Jesus the Lord;
And let not this message to you be in vain, "Ye must be born again."
Ye must be born again.  Ye must be born again.
I verily, verily say unto thee, Ye must be born again.
    ("Ye Must Be Born Again" by William T. Sleeper, 1819-1904).

(END OF SERMON)


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 18:3.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Ye Must Be Born Again" (by William T. Sleeper, 1819-1904).

THE OUTLINE OF

MY ANSWER TO BARNA'S BEEFS ABOUT THE CHURCHES

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God...Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (John 3:3,7)

I.     Beef number one: "The same old same old,"
II Timothy 3:7; Matthew 18:3.

II.    Beef number two: "The decline of the evangelicals,"
II Timothy 4:3-4, 2.

III.   Beef number three: "Ethnic ascension," Luke 14:23.

IV.   Beef number four: "What about the Bible?"
I Corinthians 2:2; 1:29-31,22-23; John 3:7.

V.    Beef number five: "A costless faith," Revelation 3:16;
Matthew 18:3.

VI.   Beef number six: "Understanding the Scriptures,"
Ephesians 1:18; 2:1,5; 4:18; I Corinthians 2:14;
John 3:7.

VII.  Beef number seven: "Form and substance."

VIII. Beef number eight, "Isolation and plenty,"
Acts 17:6; 2:47; 5:11; 11:22,26; 12:5; 13:1;
Acts 15:22; 18:22; 20:28.

IX.   Beef number nine, "Where are the leaders?"
John 3:7.

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."