Date: November 2, 1997
Bible Text: Matthew 16:15 | Roger Voegtlin
Series: Transcribed Sermons
Ephesians chapter five tells us that God loved the church so much He gave Himself for it. Matthew 16, beginning with verse 15 says, “He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I can’t think of anything in all the world more thrilling than God’s church.
One of the more exciting things about God’s church is the fact that He uses His men to build it. Looking through the Bible, you see the Apostle Paul and the other apostles going throughout the known world starting and establishing churches. That ought to do something for us. All the epistles are written to churches or to the pastors of those churches. They are written to the church of Rome, the church of Corinth, the church of Ephesus, and so on. God’s main emphasis is the church, and we see His timetable in the church also. God has a time clock — and that clock is not the world, but the church. You want to see where we’re at, Look at the church. If you want to see the spiritual temperature of today, look at the church.
In Revelation 3:1 we see a dead church. “And unto the angel [or the pastor] of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” Isn’t that sad? A dead church, but it has a name. A church can have a nice building, the name on a signboard out front, an order of services, a pastor, people — but God says it can be dead. How can we recognize a dead church?
The first thing I’d like you to see is that at one time it was alive. Some churches could not be called a dead church because they were never alive. They never were born of the Spirit of God. If you look at a dead dog you can say, “It’s dead because it was once alive.” You can’t call a brick dead. It was never alive. A dead church once had life—it grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ, it saw souls saved, it saw people baptized. It once had life, but it no longer does.
Secondly, a dead church usually looks good. If nothing is happening, the place looks pretty good. There will be no scuffs on the pews; the carpet won’t be worn. It will look sharp. Let me give you an example. Put a live two-year-old baby boy in a room with every variety and array of toys neatly placed all around the room. The room looks beautiful when you put that boy in it and you close the door for two hours. What is it going to look like when you open the door? It’s going to be a mess! This is simplistic. But if you took a dead two-year-old and laid him in the room, it would still look beautiful. A dead church usually looks good, and sometimes a live church has some problems. The size of the church doesn’t dictate whether it’s alive or dead, but activity does. You might say our little baby church — Independent Baptist Church of the south side of Chicago — was born last Sunday. Twenty-five in attendance, one saved, and a pastor out knocking on doors. It’s alive, it’s breathing, it’s doing something. We have a good attendance tonight. Praise God. We saw souls saved today already. We’ll baptize tonight. We’re knocking on doors. We’re alive! When you’re alive, sometimes you have problems. Sometimes the toys get torn up. Sometimes the engines blow up on the buses. Sometimes gas goes up in price, and the budget goes out of whack, and the preacher has to get up and say, “Here we go again. We’re $7,000 in the red.” But listen to me, we want to stay alive, and so we don’t cut back on the buses. We don’t cut our missionaries; we don’t cut back on the ministries of the church. Our job is not to pay bank bills or bond bills or utility bills; our job as a church is to go out and win souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so because of that, sometimes we have problems. Sometimes the budget is stretched because we’re always pushing. This coming week we’ll have the first Empowered Youth meetings. We’re adding ministries. You say, “How can we add? Our budget is always so tight. We always have to take offerings at the end of the year to reach it.” We don’t make decisions upon our budget. We just had TnT last summer for the first time. That affected our printing budget. So did our Spanish ministry. Our gas goes up, the buses wear out, and we need staff to teach. Sometimes a live church has some problems. Things don’t look too neat. Sometimes the budget looks like it’s bleeding to death. You say, “Preacher, what’s next?” Well, I’ve got lots of ideas going around back here.
I think one of the saddest things that has come to my attention in recent months is that we’ve allowed the liberals and the neo-evangelicals to dominate the translation of God’s Word and of Bible literature. We’ve heard people talk about the fact that the same presses that run Playboy print the Bible, and that’s why we need to print our own Bibles. I say, “Amen.” We must have more control, but I’m saying we need to go a step further. We need to do some translation. Let me remind you of the offering we had to take for Pat Gordon and the others in Zambia. Why did we have to do that? Because the neo-evangelicals who were printing the good translation of the Bible in Zambia decided to stop printing it and start a “Good News for Modern Man” in their language. We can do nothing but take an offering and buy up the remaining good Bibles. But what happens in a year or so when they’re gone? Isn’t it a shame that in the Spanish language — I’m talking about Mexico and most of South America — millions and millions of people don’t have an adequate Bible. Isn’t it a shame that in Russia, although they have a good Bible, one of our missionaries there could only find three good books that weren’t written by the neo-evangelicals. They don’t have John R. Rice translated in Russian. They don’t have R. A. Torrey translated in Russian. We haven’t had a fundamentalist take the time to translate some good books to teach these people. Already the president of Russia is saying that missionaries have to get out, and we haven’t even gotten some good books in their hands. I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do, but I want to make an impact in this area.
To get back to the message, I can’t believe how serene it is in our home since our kids left. I can’t believe how much more money I have. I’m a rich man! It amazes me. The kids are gone; it’s quiet and peaceful. Our church isn’t in that shape, praise God. Why? Because we’re alive. Because we have newborn babes all the time. There’s a false conception that a large church doesn’t need help. We need help. I hear it from my pastor friends all the time. “Man, you’ve got it made!” What do you mean we’ve got it made? Somebody without a bus ministry, without a school, without a building program may think we have plenty of people; but we need help!
The day you get saved, you have a position to serve. The position’s title is — Christian. Church member. If you’re newly saved, don’t sit there waiting for a position. When someone gets saved, baptized, and becomes a member, do you know what he’s supposed to do the very next day? Try to win other people to Jesus Christ! Tithe! Work in the bus ministry! We need bus drivers. We need bus workers. He can come to work night and help fix the buildings, work in the Spanish ministry, work in the Seed Sowers ministry. We can go on and on. It is a lie of the devil that you should seek a position. Once you’re born, be alive! Or, you’ll die. You’ll shrivel up and die. Maybe it’s because we have a college, but some people think they must be in full-time service to really be used of God. That’s pride. “I’m going to go out and work with this missionary, and I’m going to really serve God.” Well, why don’t you serve Him now? Any good church that’s alive and expanding needs faithful workers. Ask our staff. Pastor Voegtlin is in charge of the ministries. Ask him how we sit down and say we need a nursing home worker to love those people, give them time, and win them to the Lord Jesus Christ. WE NEED WORKERS! We need members to work, and tithe, and build. Don’t let the devil get you to seek glory. That’s what it is when you think you have to be on the mission field. If God calls you to the mission field, go. If He doesn’t, don’t get in the way.
Look at the results of doing things God’s way — through the local church. I mentioned the church in Chicago. That particular church wouldn’t be going except that God used our church to start it. Isn’t that a blessing? Even Brother Furse’s church out in Wyoming we were able to help. We could give him some monthly support. We could give him a van. We could train Pastor and Mrs. Furse in the college. Do you see what a local church can do? Three months ago, we sent a missionary couple — one of them who grew up here — off to Australia. Two months ago, we sent a couple to Belarus. One month ago, another to
Ukraine (another one who grew up in our church). We have more couples in the next couple months going to Africa. That’s the local church! I believe in sending everybody who is called to the mission field, but they wouldn’t be there without the local church. Praise God for Dave and Belinda in Utah. Danny and Suzy Vanhoose in Tennessee. I could name graduates all night who are being used of God. Again, it’s the church. I look down at B.J. God saved B.J., but I doubt that he would be saved without this local church. Do you follow what I’m saying? God saved Clint. Again, I don’t think he would be saved if it weren’t for this local church. After many years John Hall, Jr., got right with God through this local church, and he led Clint to the Lord. Josh was saved because of this local church. Basically all three of them weren’t even saved a year ago, and here they are in college studying for the ministry. What does the local church do? We have 20 young people from our Christian school right now in our college studying for full-time Christian service. Some four or five years from now we’ll have 20 more out there who grew up in our church, not counting people saved here like B.J. or the others. And it looks like the same number in the future will be going out or even more. God uses a local church! It’s the only way He does His job.
Don’t let the devil get to you. None of this could happen without a live church. Bus workers, bus captains (I can’t remember what we had this morning — 1200 or so), but listen to me, I think equally as important as the number is that you’re training future leaders for God on that bus route. A dead church looks real good. Just think what our budget could look like. Humanly speaking, if we didn’t have a college and a bus ministry, we’d have a million dollars in the bank. I’d never have to beg for money. The next time the devil says, “Why is he always asking for money?” remember, we are alive.
Thirdly, a dead church is well spoken of. Do you ever go to a funeral and hear the person in the casket being criticized? I’ve never heard it. I’m a pastor, and I’ve never heard it. Now they may say, “Old Joe didn’t go to church, but he was a good man. Old Joe did drink a little bit and he gambled, but he didn’t hurt anybody but himself.” Right? Everything is said to make old Joe look good. A dead person is always well spoken of, and a dead church is always well spoken of. These dead churches in town never get criticized. When the world starts speaking well of us, we’re in trouble. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t like it any more than you do; it makes me as mad as it does you. That’s why we liked Frank Terry’s article in that magazine. Everybody was looking at that and thinking “Isn’t that something!” This is the first time we ever saw anything in print that said something nice! The only way we got it is that one of our members wrote it! I don’t like lies and the negativism in our community, but it happens. Somebody came to one of our members recently and said that a teacher at a local school here told her students we took one of our bus kids and tied him to the front of the bus. Can you imagine? They get up in front of a science class and say, “Little Tommy won’t be going to Fairhaven anymore because they strapped him in front of the bus and played bumper bus.” Some of you college students come and say, “Ooooooh, do you hear what people say? What a negative picture this church has in the community. There must be something wrong!” No, there would be something wrong if the community loved us. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I challenge you to look at what they said about John the Baptist. What did they say about Jesus? What about the Apostle Paul? We’re stirring the pot. We’re seeing souls saved. Our buses go up and down their streets. We dress different. We stand for what’s right, and the devil doesn’t like it and neither do his children.
Don’t let the devil convince you that souls won’t be saved because of a negative attitude in the community. I try to get that across to the college students all the time. A negative attitude in the community has nothing to do with souls being saved. God saves souls! They’re saved through the power of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the only way they’re saved, and the only way we have God’s power is to be clean and to stand. When you’re clean and you stand, the community talks. Now if we were a “nothing” church, just doing nothing but trying to be accepted by the community, some of you might be happy. But we’d be dead. God would not be blessing. The only way we see action is when we’re right. Let them talk. We’re alive! They don’t just talk here either. They talk out East; they talk down South. We’re too strong; we’re too strict; our standards are too high; we’re pharisaical. Let them talk, we’re alive! Our little girls aren’t having babies out of wedlock. We’re not bringing Southern Baptists in to preach. We believe something.
I got an article last week by an independent, fundamental Baptist pastor going into great depth as to why a pastor should be able to divorce his wife, bring another woman into the parsonage, and keep on preaching. That’s prevalent today. How in the world can we hold our standards high if the pastor doesn’t do it? How am I going to preach against divorce if I’m divorced? How am I going to preach against adultery if I’m an adulterer? The devil is trying to take the leadership, the pastor of the flock, and water him down to nothing.
I got another tape extolling the virtues of people whose kids go to the devil, and they just keep on going. The wife of one guy they talked about is a star in the pornography magazines, and they are in pornography films. Filth. Adultery with dozens and dozens of women, but “Praise God for the father who raised that boy.” Praise God for the pastor father who allowed this to develop from a young teen on, who covered his boy’s sins all through his teenage years. What are we doing? You say, “I don’t like this kind of preaching.” We’re using the Book, and the Book says we need to be right in order to be pastors. If a man cannot take care of his home, how can he take care of the church of God? Is it Bible, or is it not? We need to get back to the Bible and get away from personalities. A dead church is well spoken of, and we believe pastors ought to be pure. I’m not talking about a pharisaical thing. I’m not talking about anything hateful, but I’m talking about a Bible standard. “Well, don’t you love?” Yes, I care. Yes, I love. But I love God more and I love His church more, and we better have a standard. There are dead churches with no power from God. You know what they have to do? They have to put on a front because they have no power. They have to change doctrine. Up until recent times, I never heard of anyone praising somebody who raised a reprobate or promoting divorced pastors. As long as your pastor can say, “Follow me as I follow Christ,” then follow him. When that cannot be said, we cease to follow.
There’s no difference between us and the Presbyterian church regarding consequences. That’s where Martin Luther’s Lutheran church went. That’s where John Wesley’s Methodist church went. That’s where Bob Jones, Sr.’s Methodist church went. That’s where Billy Sunday’s Presbyterian church went. THAT’S WHERE THEY WENT!
I believe we ought to go to funerals. When one of our regular members die, I love the fact that you fill up this auditorium and the town talks about the hearse being on the other side of town in the cemetery and our parking lot still half full of cars waiting to join the procession. I think that’s a testimony. But people who would never come to a church service will go to a funeral because they don’t have to do anything. Some of the sweetest sermons you ever hear are given at funerals. Nobody’s sin is condemned. There are no commitments. There’s never an offering. You can go to a funeral, just sit there, and people think well of you. You’re a good guy because you went to the funeral.
Isn’t that the picture of dead people in dead churches? They go there, and nothing is expected of them. If a pastor doesn’t make you mad, including this pastor, you ought to get out. Every once in a while your pastor ought to make you mad. Isaiah 58:1 says, “. . . lift up thy voice like a trumpet. . . .” I’ve had people come from other churches and say, “Why do you yell so much? Your veins stick out, and your face gets red. Why do you have to yell?” Because I’ve got something to say! The Catholics and Lutherans and some Baptists aren’t used to preaching. Imagine an army on the field of battle, and the commander says, “Charge!” Instead of the sergeant picking up a trumpet, he picks up a kazoo and goes “Zzzzzzz.” The enemy would die laughing. When a preacher speaks, it ought to be with authority, with clarity. We ought to make it clear, and we ought to make it strong.
A dead church also must be carried. When I visit the family of somebody who has died, one of the first things I ask is, “Do you know whom you want as pallbearers?” It’s an honor to help carry the body of a loved one. They are carried with dignity and love and respect. So a dead church has to be carried — by pomp and circumstance and programs. It’s carried by everything but the Holy Spirit. They have to have candles because they don’t have any power. They have robes; they have altar boys; they have Little Lord Fauntleroy. They have program after program.
A lot of our independent Baptists are going right down that road. They don’t have altar boys, but they’re using worldly music. Now why would they do that? Why do so many of the colleges have such worldly music? Because they have no power. They have to get the world’s music in there to pump things up. They’re joining with the Southern Baptists having plays instead of preaching. They are taking standards and just pushing them aside. Some of my friends ask, “Have you been over to Willowcreek?” Willowcreek is the largest church in the world, and it’s as worldly as any church could be. They don’t stand for anything, but our independent Baptist brethren are going there to see how to build a church. I just read in the paper recently about how reporters were accusing the guy who started Promise Keepers, McCartney, of a problem with alcohol and adultery. Promise Keepers’ answer was, “No problem. That’s what Promise Keepers are for — men helping men.” I heard of an independent Baptist youth group getting drunk and the pastor saying he believes in social drinking. That’s where we are going! And you sit there and say, “I don’t believe it.” Believe it! Go to Wheaton College or Moody. Their doctrine as far as I can see is straight as an arrow, but they have no standards. Their music is rock. They drink socially. They see nothing wrong with it—they haven’t for years. The independent Baptist name doesn’t keep you from that. Independent Baptists, a group of them, are going right down that path. You that are a little bit older, could testify to these young people. Pastors divorced? Remarried and in the pulpit? Never! Adultery was the line and you didn’t cross that line. They’ll never be empowered by God. I so want to be empowered by God, and you must be right with Him to have that happen. The devil says, “Compromise to build.” The Bible says, “If you compromise, I won’t build.” You can build two ways. I want God to build.
Now I’ve spent all my time on the dead church, but I’ll just briefly look at some other churches. Revelation 3:14. Here’s a lukewarm church. “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods [now isn’t this a picture of American Christianity today?], and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. . . .” This church thinks it’s okay, doesn’t it? But it’s blind, that’s the problem. That’s what is happening today. Our churches are blind. “It’s okay to have sex with dozens of women. Just forgive. Aren’t you forgiving? It’s okay to be a pornography king. Aren’t you forgiving?” Yes, I’m forgiving, but you’re disqualified. The church that says they’re not disqualified is blind. It thinks it’s okay, but it’s blind and poor and naked. Lukewarm means neither hot nor cold. Heat comes from the Holy Spirit. That gives us our power. If you turn the power off, you will become lukewarm. Mix boiling hot water with the ice cold water, and it will become lukewarm. That’s why I preach hard. Either way, unfaithfulness is the result of being lukewarm. Unfaithfulness in marriage will break everyone’s heart who is involved. Unfaithfulness in a church breaks my heart also.
It bothers me when Christians are unfaithful. Sunday is the Lord’s day. We don’t believe in the universal church idea that all you have to do to be faithful to God is just be faithful in a church. We not only believe in the local church, we practice it. Don’t tell me you believe in the local church if you’re cutting out of it all the time and going over someplace and attending another church. The Bible shows that God created the local church for a reason. God put you here as a member to fulfill those reasons. We work here. We serve here. We encourage or discourage here. And it’s a lukewarm Christian who uses his weekends to bless churches around the country. Look over in Hebrews 11:36, “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise . . . .” These people were slaughtered. These people didn’t have a place to live or food to eat or clothes to put on their backs, but by faith they kept on going. Some of us can’t even be faithful to church. As a whole, our church is faithful. But there are some of you who get up in the morning and say, “I’ve got a headache.” Or, “I’ve got a fever.” What’s your temperature — 99 degrees? If you had the right kind of fever, you’d be in the house of God. Often people get saved and join the church but won’t take their place in service. You’re going to dry up; you’re going to shrivel. Listen, we’ve got enough for you to do. We could work you new members 24 hours a day. But again, we’re not going to give you responsibility until you show yourself faithful. Everybody needs to be faithful. The choir needs to be faithful. You may have the greatest voice on earth; but if you’re not faithful, I’d rather hear Dr. Behrens sing than you. And that’s pretty bad. If I were Steve Brady, I wouldn’t be yelling at the choir, I’d be kicking you out. Be faithful; be on time. We don’t want you if you’re not. God only blesses faithfulness. And ladies, don’t use your kids as an excuse. You say, “My baby is sickly.” I could give you some free advice. If you use your little baby as an excuse, you’re going to destroy that baby. The only thing wrong with some of these babies is “mama-itis.” The best thing you can do is put him that nursery — let him eat somebody else’s formula and get somebody else’s pacifier! I have watched people use their child as an excuse to miss church week after week after week, and I’ve watched them destroy that baby. You will, too. I’ve lived long enough to say I told you so. Dad, why don’t you have enough guts to tell her what to do? Every time they cry a little bit, you take him to the doctor. The doctor takes your money, and you keep him home from church. I’ve watched this hypochondriac type of thing. You’ll destroy yourself, and you’ll destroy your children. You’ll destroy your marriage; you’ll destroy your family. You’re not only helping them to be more sickly, you may send their soul to hell. God doesn’t hear your prayers unless you’re faithful. I’m not saying that if they get diphtheria you should bring them in the nursery! But unfaithfulness makes lukewarm churches. Isn’t it something? A guy can have a broken foot and play football. But if you don’t feel good, you can’t come to church. Athletes will tell you that a lot of times if they don’t feel good, they go for a run. If I don’t feel good, I come and preach. Almost always I feel better after I preach. What do you think I do when I don’t feel good and have to fly to Los Angeles to preach that night. Call up the pastor and say, “I don’t feel good”? No, I get on the plane, and I go. I take two Excedrin; they make me feel good. “Well, I thought I would visit the relatives for the weekend.” It’s the Lord’s day, not relatives’ day. Take your vacation. If you can’t get it all in at one time, take two vacations. But when you start going off for the weekend to “see the leaves” or to visit relatives, God says He wants to spue you out of His mouth. “Well, I want to be nice. She needs me.” Stop living on emotions. You don’t like when our president does it. God doesn’t like it when you do it. Don’t make decisions on emotions; do right. I don’t drink tea, but I’ve heard people talk about sweet tea becoming syrupy, almost like jelly, when it gets lukewarm. It makes me sick to think of it. I believe that’s what God thinks when some of you say, “Well, I have to go visit her; I think it’s the thing to do.” You “sweet” Christians make God sick. Show me your faith by your works, Jesus said.
Then there’s a half-hearted church. In Hosea we read about Ephraim, and it’s described as a cake not turned. In those days they would get a flat rock real hot and put a cake on it, similar to a pancake, and cook it. God is saying in His description, “Okay, you look like a pancake. You’re nice and brown on one side, but you’re bubbly and gooey and yucky on the other side.” How would you like to eat that? He’s saying, “You look good toward the earth, but you look sickening to me. You look like a soggy, bubbly pancake, half-turned, half-cooked, toward Me.” Half-hearted unfaithfulness. You say you will do a work for God, but you push it off and you push it off. The word is called procrastination. You’re putting the things of the world before God, and you should never do that. You’re not faithful enough to do the work. Half-hearted, but looking good. You’re not looking good to God if you don’t do what He wants you to do. Half-hearted in separation; half-hearted in soulwinning; half-hearted in condemnation of sin; half-hearted in your life for Him. You let your wife’s emotions rule the roost instead of following God. Half-heartedness. I wish I could preach that more.
Let me move on to the glorious church. It’s filled with disciples. It’s filled with learners — people who want to know more about Jesus. “More about Jesus would I know, more of His grace and mercy show.” The glorious church is full of debtors. The dead Christian says, “If everybody would do what I do . . .” I find that the person who gives the least thinks he gives the most. The person who works the least thinks he works the most. “If everybody would give like I do; if everybody would work like I do, this church would be okay.” You’re kidding yourself. The glorious church is full of debtors. The glorious church is full of people who could never do enough for Jesus. The Apostle Paul said, “I’m a debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians.” See Paul coming back from his experience on the Damascus Road. This was a rough experience: knocked off his animal, blinded. You say, “Saul, what are you going to do?” “Praise God, He’s going to let me preach!” He didn’t say, “I’m blind. He knocked me off my animal.” He said, “Praise God, I’m going to preach.” See him in the jail at Philippi. They beat him bad, but at midnight he’s singing! They release him, and you ask, “Paul, where are you going?” “I get to serve Him more.” What would most of us be doing? We’d be whining and crying saying, “I’m trying to serve Him, and I got whipped and beaten. I’m going home. Things aren’t going right; I’m quitting school.” There he is in Lystra, being stoned. They think he’s dead; they drag him out to the garbage heap, but praise God, he gets a glimpse of Heaven. See him lying there. He starts to move. Those sores are tender! He probably had broken bones. We don’t know. There is no doubt he was hurting. But he said, “Glory to God, I can keep on serving Him.” He didn’t complain at all, did he? That’s what makes a glorious church. That’s the spirit that makes a Bible church, the kind of church that God wants us to have. This is the kind of spirit that you should have. It’s an honor to be a part of it. It’s God’s church and God’s work; we need to act like it.