Here is the final installment of Dr. Adams' messages on the church. I hope they have been a blessing for you.
"Portrait of a Great Church"
A black man was trying to get into a white church during the 60's when racism was epidemic. Sunday by Sunday some of the deacons kept watch at the door and turned this black man away from every service. Finally, the black man summoned for the pastor to ask why he was not allowed in their church. The pastor met him on the steps and seeking to avoid the issue simply told the man, "Well, fellow, you just need to pray about it." One day, weeks later, the pastor saw the black man in town and wondering why he had not made any more attempts to enter his church facetiously asked him if he had prayed about the whole situation. The black man replied, "Yes sir, I prayed about it and the Lord said buddy, I've been trying to get in that church for 20 years and they won't let me in either."
You know some churches think they've got it and they're blind to the fact that they don't even count with God. I mentioned Samson this morning and the Bible says about Samson that he "wist not that the LORD was departed from him." Jesus is conspicuously absent from some churches and they don't even know it. Jesus said, "I will build my church." Somebody has hijacked the blueprint! The contractors of this age are building ecclesiastical empires they call churches that leave you scratching your head when you've got any knowledge of the New Testament.
Now, before I go any further I want to say that you can get into trouble saying you want to be a New Testament church. Which New Testament church do you want to be? Do you want to be the church at Ephesus who had lost her first love? Do you want to be the church at Sardis, that had a name of being a live church but was dead? Do you want to be the Laodicean church that was lukewarm and made God sick? Do you want to be the Philippian church for whom Paul said "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you," but had two fighting women in that church? How about the Corinthian church that was full of divisions and a man who had an affair with his stepmother? Which church do you want to be? The point of that message is that greatness in a church is not measured by the fruit but by the root. The fruit can be rotten on an otherwise good tree if the worms get in the fruit. We have the worms of superficial Christianity. What you see of their faith is just on the surface and it belies their heart. That's when you take the name but you don't take the aim. If you call yourself a Christian, you've took His name, you ought to walk with Christ. Your greatest pursuit must be to be like Jesus or you are a disgrace to all of heaven's causes on earth. We can never have great churches with fake Christians anymore than a hungry man can have delight when he picks up the fruit from the fruit basket and finds it is a wooden apple.
Secondly, we have the worms of shrewd confession. You know some Christians in some churches have made an art out of confessing sin that is nothing short of mockery to God. It is almost popular nowadays to say, "you know I know I'm not perfect; I sin just like everybody else; I'm trying to live the best Christian life I can even though there are some things I do I know is not right with God." The way some folks tackle repentance would make you think the Church was put in the business of just refurbishing the Old Adam. God's word says, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." My dear friend, you can get down at an old fashioned altar and cry great big crocodile tears for the sins you've committed and if that is all you do you'll get up with those sins embedded in your soul like leaches. We need some old-fashioned repentance in the church if we want to have a great church. We've got to get on beyond the business of confessing to the profit-making of forsaking known sin in our lives. Confessing is only the business. Forsaking sin is the profit. Any business that doesn't make a profit is soon bankrupt. Any soul that confesses the sin on Sunday and jumps right back into it on Monday hasn't forsaken anything and will soon close His account with God in the minus column.
We also have the worms of sick commitment. It is absolutely surprising today what some church members consider to be acceptable commitment in their eyes to their church. Why, if half the workers in the local town factory showed as much commitment to their jobs as some church members show to their churches the boss would fire them on the spot. Jesus said this would happen in Matthew 24;12, "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." I heard about two pastors that were discussing the lack of commitment in their churches. One pastor said, "my church is too near the lake and too many of my people love to go boating." The other pastor responded, "Well, my church is just as near to the lake as yours but the problem in my church is not that we are too close to the lake but that we are not close enough to the Lord." Churches never become great in the midst of divided loyalties and misplaced priorities. Well, that is just the introduction and now I've got to start preaching.
This morning we discovered that God defines a great church as one that has great power, great grace, and great fear. There is no power without the favor of God and there is no favor of God without the fear of God. I'd like to have a great church, wouldn't you, with the power of God, the grace of God, and the fear of God all over us. Let me move on tonight to give you three other things in the book of Acts that God says makes up a great church.
The fourth thing that makes a great church will shock you. It is great persecution. Look with me to Acts 8:1. Saul, who was soon to be the apostle Paul, had orchestrated the stoning of the great Christian, Stephen. They were about to bury the body of Stephen and Luke records these words, "And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles." Vance Havner, the great Southern Baptist evangelist, wrote in 1958, "We are not meeting opposition because we have come to terms with the world. We are living in peaceful coexistence with the age, forgetting that the friend of the world is the enemy of God. Such a policy will produce a popular and prosperous church, a great church in the eyes of men, but it will be part of the apostate world-church shaping up before our eyes." Paul clearly told Timothy, "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
You know it could be that the church no longer has the guts to upset the forces of evil in the community anymore which explains why we're not persecuted for anything anymore. The beer taverns are afraid of us anymore like they were afraid of Billy Sunday. The dope dealers aren't threatened by us anymore. On the contrary, half their business is in the church membership. The divorce courts, the multiple marriages, the unwed pregnancies, and the bedrooms of fornication in America wink at the modern day church because we've swept such sin under the rug with open invitation to one and all to be arrogant and proud of our lifestyles. Is it any wonder that the Church today has shrunk in God's eyes and Jezebel hasn't the least bit of fear of Elijah in our day? God is calling His church today to be done with the done with the comfort in sin and get on with the business of confrontation of sin. We need to get over making Christianity acceptable to the world. That is a waste of time. We need to get on with preaching sin kills, hell is hot, sinners are condemned, grace is not cheap, and God has not changed. That is what will make a great church even if we are disliked, disbelieved, discouraged, and disowned. One of these days the true church will DIS-APPEAR, and that great church will have left a message behind that the persecutors will have to swallow whether they like it or not. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Fifthly, God describes a great church in Acts 8 as one of great joy. Listen to it. Verse 6 says, "And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city." Did you see it? Their joy was based upon the experience of God's power and favor in their midst. The joy is missing in most churches today because they don't ever see God doing much that is unmistakably God. They see man doing a lot but God is not even answering their 911 calls. Do you know why that is? It is because the joy of the Lord stands on two feet. What two feet? John 13:17 tells us. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." There it is. The left foot is "knowing" and the right foot is 'doing." Joy comes from the knowing and the doing of the will of God no matter what the struggles may be. Listen, if you know what you're supposed to do for God and you back off from doing it you have just killed your joy. Did you know that?
So many churches today have become joy factories. The only problem is that it is synthetic or artificial joy. Big choirs, rockin' musicians, back-patting preachers, luxury buildings that dazzle the eye - all just to send you away home on Sunday with dazzled mind. Beloved, joy doesn't happen in the mind. Joy happens in the heart. It comes in an obedient relationship with Jesus Christ, not some eye-dazzling, ear-tickling, heart pulling church service that teases for the moment and leaves you empty later. The problem with all this is we've made joy the goal instead of the result. Joy comes as the result of all I've preached today. When God's people wait on His empowerment, walk in His favor, and work for His glory, not ours, joy automatically comes and stays. So many churches today look like the First Sad Sack Church of Pity Town, USA, or they look like the Second Put-On Baptist Church of Self-Righteousville, America. Either way it is missing God's true joy.
Now, finally I want you to know that God describes a great church as one of great numbers. Acts 11:21 says, "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." When I read the book of Acts and the record of growing Christianity in the first century I am sorely pressed in spirit as to why that is not happening today. I mean God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, right? So when they started out with 120 in the upper room, which grew to three thousand souls by Acts 2:41, which grew to 7000 souls by Acts 4:4, and who knows how many by the end of the book, and I see we can't get a corporal's guard on Sunday night in most Baptist churches, I have to ask myself whose fault is that. It sure isn't God's! When it says that multitudes of men and women were added to the Lord after the death of Ananias and Sapphira I question what is wrong with the church today. When it says they chose deacons in Acts 6 and "the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem, and a great company of priests were obedient to the faith, I can't help but wonder where is the missing ingredient.
The reality we need to come to grips with in the church today is God's kingdom is not about counting the numbers but making the numbers count. The text says, "and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord . Now that's a number that makes a difference. David made that mistake in counting the numbers of Israel for the wrong reason. When I was a teenager I found it a mystery that Moses was commanded to count Israel in the book of Numbers but 500 years later David does the same thing and God is so angry He makes David choose one of three punishments: seven months famine, three months on the run from his enemies, or three days of pestilence. David chose the pestilence and it infected and killed 70,000 men, 5 percent of the soldiers he counted. Why would God ask Moses to number the people and be angry when David numbered them. The answer is in the purpose. In Israel, the only time God permitted the numbering of the people was for the military draft or for taxation. David numbered the people because his rebellious son Absalom was leading the people against his father. Likely, David was tempted to see how many men would fight for him should it come to a battle. The scripture tells us it was 10 months before David realized he had sinned and then one day his heart smote him for what he had done. Why was he convicted? Because he had numbered the people for the wrong reason. He was putting his faith in the numbers rather than in God. Joab tried to get him to see that before he ever numbered the people.
Today, the church is falling into the same trap. One church is jealous of another church if that other church has more in attendance. Another pastor goes around bragging with a swelled head of all the nickels and noses he has in his church. Another pastor is traded off like a piece of spoiled meat if the powers that be in his church decide he isn't producing the numbers they want. God didn't call me to produce the numbers. God called me to preach the Word and to help you go after the numbers but remember this: no man produces the numbers. It is God that giveth the increase. On and on I could go of how we have totally gone blind to God's plan for a great church. The only reason God is interested in numbers in His church is if they really count for the glory of Christ. What good is it if you can pack the pews when you won't penetrate the world with the gospel message of Christ? Are those 50 witnessing for Jesus? Are those thousands growing in their faith? Are those 150 baptisms last year functioning in Christian service? Let me let you in on a secret about God's math for the church. If the additions are doing nothing for the Kingdom of God but sitting on the pews then it doesn't matter how much you multiply you still come up in the minus column according to God. Two or three times nothing is still nothing. God didn't just say fill up the pew. God said fill up the heart with "whatsoever He has taught us" so that they can be productive disciples in the church. We've got enough spiritual deadbeats in the church today as it is.
I'll close by telling you a story about numbers. A census taker stopped at this house and asked the mother who came to the door how many kids she had in the home. The mother said, "Well, there is Billy, Harry, Martha, and..." The census taker interrupted and said, "never mind the names, ma'am, just give me the number." Indignant the mother replied, "fellow, they don't have numbers, all they've got is names." Folks, if Aletheia Baptist Fellowship wants to be a great church we've got to really care about people. We may not like what comes with the name but if all we're out for is numbers everybody will know we're not as great as we think we are. Love the people for God's sake and let the Lord add to our numbers as He sees fit. Now, that is a great ministry.