THE DUTY OF PASTORS AND CHURCHES
by Bob Wheeler
Probably most American evangelical churches today have been working under an “attractional” or “seeker-friendly” model in which the church tries to make Christianity look as attractive and appealing as possible to outsiders. They invest money in facilities, and put on programs and special events, all designed to make the church look inviting. The hope is that the visitors will like what they see and eventually be induced to join the church. It is an approach designed to appeal to the consumer mentality.
The problem with this approach is that the churches are soon filled with nominal, half-hearted church members. They are content to show up on a Sunday morning to be entertained, but show little interest or appetite for prayer, Bible study and personal holiness. And the great tragedy of it all is that while they attend church regularly and think of themselves as Christians, in many cases they are not really saved at all. They have never come under the conviction of sin, exercised true repentance and faith, and experienced the new birth. They think they are going to heaven when in reality they are on the road to hell.
What does God think about all of this? The Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament gives us a clue. Ezekiel lived and prophesied during the troubled last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. Ezekiel was a priest, living among Jewish exiles already in Babylon following the deportation of 597 B.C. He was commissioned by God as a prophet five years later and was actively prophesying when Jerusalem was finally destroyed by the Babylonian army in July, 587 B.C.
What was involved in being a prophet? In many situations it was delivering a message that people did not want to hear. Yet what God told Ezekiel was that “You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious” (Ezek. 2:7; NKJV).
God went on to explain. “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel” (3:17). A watchman is a person who is supposed to watch for approaching danger and sound the alarm when he sees it coming. In Ezekiel’s case he was to warn Israel of the approaching judgment from God because of their sins. God then pointed out that “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand” (v. 18). If the wicked perishes because we have failed to warn him, then we are partially to blame.
On the other hand, “if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered you soul” (v. 19). The wicked was given fair warning; he failed to respond. His blood is on his own hands but the prophet is absolved of all responsibility in the matter.
Strictly speaking we today are not prophets in the same sense that Ezekiel was. We do not receive direct revelation form God. And yet we do have a message from God in the form of the Bible, and we are responsible to communicate that message to the world. The eternal destiny of our fellow human beings hinges on their hearing the gospel and responding to it. If we fail to communicate that message to them, their blood is on our hands.
This means, first of all, that we must alert them to their danger. We are, in effect, “watchmen.” The lost will not repent and come to Christ unless they see themselves as lost. That means that the church as a whole, and pastors in particular, must be faithful to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The apostle Paul could say of his own ministry that “for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 30:31). And so we must do the same.
Too many pastors today see themselves as paid employees of an organization, responsible to keep the organization viable. But a pastor is fundamentally a servant, and he ministers to people, to fellow human beings who will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. And what the pastor, and any other Christian for that matter, must continually ask himself, is what does God want? What exactly has the pastor been called to do? And the answer is, to warn the wicked of their ways, point them to Christ as the only Savior from sin, and build up the saints in the faith.
But in warning the wicked we must do it with the proper heart and attitude. We are not to do it in self-righteousness, simply condemning the wicked and leaving them in anger or despair. Rather, we are to do it out of a genuine concern for their wellbeing. God would go on to tell Ezekiel, “’As I live’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezek. 33:11). While God is genuinely angry with the wicked, He does not want to see them spend an eternity in hell. His desire is that they should repent and be saved, and that should be our desire as well. It is the whole aim and goal of the Christian ministry.
We are living in challenging times. The highest court in the land has pronounced sin a constitutional right. Christians are being called hate-mongers for opposing homosexual relationships. And yet we must never forget that we are accountable to God for what we say and do. He has sent us forth to call the nations to repentance. We do not have the option of watering down the message to make it more palatable to the unconverted. And yet we must deliver it with genuine humility and compassion. Let us discharge our duty faithfully.