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Preaching to Save

By Richard Norman

religion, articles, christianity

"[I]t pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21).

I was preaching for a congregation of several hundred, and a middle-aged woman who had been attending some weeks came forward at the invitation. She said she wanted to "join our church." In a brief discussion with her, I learned she had no concept of sin and salvation, being saved or lost, or conversion. She had been attending, and liked the people and the way we did things, so she wanted to "join." I knew that if I told her she needed to be baptized by immersion for the remission of sins, she would have said, "O.K." If I had said she must stand on her head in a corner 15 minutes, she would have said, "O.K." Whatever our "initiation requirements" might have been, she would have done virtually anything we asked because she wanted to "join our church."

From that time on, I have continually asked myself, "What have I been preaching? What am I preaching?" How can I preach my heart out and my hearers never understand one thing about God's plan of salvation? I have always considered myself a "conservative" kind of preacher.

In my defense, I preached a series of 13 sermons on "The New Testament Church" on Sunday mornings, and 13 sermons on Sunday evenings on "The Gospel Plan of Salvation." Several "members of the church" obviously understood nothing of what I had been preaching.

I have been struggling with the text of this essay, 1 Corinthians 1:21; "preaching to save" pleases God. Preaching that doesn't "save" doesn't please God. Could it be that "the foolishness of preaching" is too often "the preaching of foolishness"?

I am old enough to remember "preaching to save." I have seen 25 to 30 baptized following a single sermon - many times. Do we who preach today "preach to save"? When was the last time you saw 10 or more souls baptized into Christ following a single sermon?

Rather than rationalize, may I suggest we re-examine the sermons recorded in the New Testament. In every sermon, it was clear to the hearers that they were lost and were in desperate need of salvation. Every sermon recorded in the New Testament accused those in the audience of damning sin, warned of eternal punishment, and appealed to them to be saved - and they were baptized by the thousands.

I remember reading in Restoration History about brethren preaching before a denominational congregation, converting the entire congregation so that they changed the name on the sign in front of the building.

Recently, I was told that Max Lucado was invited to speak to a large denominational church here in Florida, but I did not hear that the entire congregation converted and changed the name on the sign in front of their building. I wonder what he preached?

Not since 1968 have churches of Christ been the fastest growing church in the world. Why? Has our preaching changed? What was it we did in the old days that made the church of Christ the fastest growing church in the world? I remember.

When Baptists and Methodists and Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Catholics, etc., were present, we told them what their doctrine was and what was wrong with it and that they were in danger of eternal damnation if they did not obey the truth and be saved as the New Testament teaches.

I can not recall how many Baptists I have tries to teach over the years that, after hearing me tell about Bible baptism, think that is what they did simply because they were immersed. They do not recall precisely why they were baptized, but because Baptists use lots of Bible in their preaching, they think they were taught properly about baptism. The truth is they don't really know Baptist doctrine, nor do they care since "one church is as good as another."

I know it is not popular to preach and "call names" any more, but somehow lost souls need to come to the realization that "my religion is wrong. I have accepted false doctrine, and I am lost!"

In the days when we preached and called names and debated issues and spent 45 minutes to more than an hour dealing with substantive issues, we were the fastest growing church in the world.

I don't want to be "mean" and "run people off," but I do want to learn to "please God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."


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Published September 1997