With dwindling congregations, and interest in secular things surpassing church meetings, some clerics are trying desperate innovations to attract people: A minister in Southsea, England, has taken to delivering sermons through a ventriloquist's dummy. "We have to think of new ways of communicating with the congregation," he told reporters. "This is a good method."
Another planned a dance in the graveyard next to the church. His purpose? "We want to show that the church is not dead, but very much alive."
In White Sulphur Springs, Montana, one church raffles a case of whiskey each year at 50 cents a ticket, for a $3,000 profit.
Meanwhile a Woolwich, England, church, not content to raffle whiskey, wants a license to sell alcohol to attract the sophisticated under-21 crowd and teach them to "drink sensibly."
A service billed as "a special for sportsmen" began with three blasts of a referee's whistle; a sermon on Jonah and the whale ended with a fish dinner and a prize for the one telling the tallest fish yarn.
One church in Somerset, England, is issuing "trading stamps" to children and youth in an effort to increase church attendance. When the stamp book is filled, its owner can swap it for a Bible or hymnbook.
A small-town minister brought a leather-jacketed motorcycle gang into his church for a special "blessing of the motorcycles." Several bikes were wheeled down in front of the pews. The service turned out to be lively, but permanent results were disappointing. The gang never came back. "All we did was get a. lot of grease on the carpet," the caretaker remarked wryly.
Some churches, such as the Los Angeles Metropolitan Community Church, with an estimated membership of 15,000, exist exclusively for homosexuals. Efforts have begun in Australia to organize similar groups.
Such aberrations indicate how far we have come from the time when the church was the center of the community and "men of the cloth" were looked upon with awe and respect. Many churches today are in difficulty; membership figures of many denominations are not keeping pace with the general population growth. Some are openly question ing whether the church will survive at all. Thus churchmen look for the ever more bizarre to rekindle interest.
But do such unusual measures get results? Apparently not. The churches that are growing and healthy are those that are more concerned to follow the clear guidelines of God's Word than to adapt themselves to the feelings and desires of sinners.
Nowhere do we read in the Inspired Record that New Testament preachers had to resort to alcohol, dances, gambling, and rock 'n' roll bands (or whatever was the first-century equivalent) to advance the conquests of the cross. They contented themselves with preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Their messages proclaimed the dire nature of sin and its inevitable end. They held before men the wonderful offer of pardon, cleansing power, sanctification, and peace through Jesus the Saviour. And the Scripture says, "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).
The church's commission is still the same as that given by the Lord to Paul: "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith" (chap. 26:18). When a church turns from preaching Jesus Christ as man's only Saviour, and His Word as man's only guide—diluting and deleting its message—then that church is destined for deterioration, decay, and decline.
The apostle Paul seemed to anticipate the spiritual decline evident in many quarters today. He wrote: "For the time will come when people will decline to be taught sound doctrine and will accumulate teachers to suit themselves and tickle their own fancies; they will give up listening to the Truth and turn to myths" (2 Tim. 4:3,4, Moffatt).*
The great doctrines of sin, the person of Christ, the atonement, regeneration, and salvation comprise the gospel mes sage, and there can be no true preaching without them. In the Word of God, which is a revelation of Jesus Christ and which tells of Christ's ultimate plan for humanity, there is food for every hungry soul. When we abandon these great soul-stirring themes for sermons on current affairs, politics, psychology, and the like, we cause our congregations to suffer spiritual malnourishment.
Of certain preachers in his day Isaiah declared, "His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber" (Isa. 56:10). God save us from being such today! God calls for faithful watchmen to warn, exhort, strengthen, and comfort His people. This is no time for weak, watered-down messages that gratify men's and women's desire for the unusual and bizarre, that excuse their negligence for not heeding the voice of conviction, and that lull them into a false security, leaving them unprepared for the coming of Jesus. May God make us to be preachers who do not shun to declare the whole counsel of God!
It seems there have always been preachers who delight in giving advice not based on God's Word. When King Ahab sought counsel whether he should go to battle, four hundred preachers urged him to go, and advised that God would give him the victory. They gave this advice, not because it was God's message to Ahab, but because they knew this was what the king wanted to hear. A single "prophet of God" had the temerity to declare the truth. And the outcome of this experience, as recorded in 1 Kings 22, illustrates the inevitable result of disregarding the word of the Lord.
Billy Graham has said, "Certainly there is a sense in which the church is to advise, warn, and challenge by pro claiming the absolute criteria by which God will judge mankind—such as the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount— . . . and by preaching the whole counsel of God.... As a result of the church's straying off the main track of its ministry, many of its members are restive and dissatisfied. Some refuse to give any more money to the church. Many are looking elsewhere for spiritual food. One of the great labor leaders of this country recently confided to a friend of mine, 'I go to church on Sunday, and all I hear is social advice; and my heart is hungry for spiritual nourishment.' A President of the United States told me he was sick and tired of hearing preachers give advice on international affairs when they did not have the facts straight. ... I am convinced that if the church went back to its main task of preaching the gospel and getting people converted to Christ, it would have far more impact on the social structure of the nation than it can have in any other thing it could possibly do."—World Aflame, pp. I80-182.
This, then, is the inspired challenge to us as preachers: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2).
We who have been entrusted with the whole counsel of God have no need to bless motorcycles or hold graveyard dances. We offer the Word that is able to make our hearers wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (see chap. 3:15).