Were God’s primary purpose for believers the purest worship of his name, why would he not simply take us to heaven? There won’t be any worship wars there. No one will debate the legitimacy of the style of music used in heaven. No one will be feeding their flesh, no matter what music is used. We will worship free from the distraction of sin and the pressures of life. We won’t notice the lady’s hairdo in front of us, the cologne of the dude beside us, or the screaming child that should be taken out. It will finally be truly all about God.
Were God’s primary purpose for believers pure fellowship, why would he not take us to heaven? There won’t be anyone who lets his accountability partner down. There won’t be any who fails to give biblical and righteousness encouragement. There won’t be any there who fail to direct our thoughts and attentions to God. Our conversation will not slip into the mundane. We will not be tempted to build on the foundation of self-esteem. The “day approaching” in light of which we are to provoke one another to love and good deeds will have already come. We will not fear gossip, nor the condemnatory response when we admit our failures.
Were God’s primary purpose learning, why would he not take us to heaven? Surely, at the feet of the master Teacher, with minds unfettered by sin, life, and pressure, we could learn much better. All talk of theological systems will be put to rest. We will no longer debate how God’s sovereignty works in salvation, and whether or not Christ will return before the Tribulation or after it.
Why does God leave us here? To use Paul’s words from 2 Timothy 2, it seems that he has left us here for the sake of his elect, so that they might obtain salvation and with it eternal glory. God, in his eternal and unchanging wisdom, has chosen to use the saved to preach the gospel to the unsaved so that they might respond in saving faith. That is the only thing that we can do better on earth than we can do in heaven.
I thought I was alone in this. Then today, I came across this statement from John MacArthur in his commentary on 1 Timothy.
If the primary aim of the church were fellowship, knowledge of the Word, or holiness of the saints, all those goals could be accomplished perfectly by taking us to heaven. The central function of the church on earth is to reach the lost.That resonates with me, not because I am good at reaching the lost. It resonates with me because I am bad at it. The one thing that the church is supposed to do that cannot be done in heaven is reach the unbeliever and turn them into a follower of Christ. And the one thing we seem to do the very worst is reach the unbeliever.
It seems the church is so easily sidetracked. We discuss church polity, theological systems, styles of worship, whether or not we should be culturally relevant, whether we should have families together or families separate, whether or not we should go to Christian schools and colleges or not, whether or not we should drink wine, and the like. And all of these things are good, important, and necessary things. But it seems that somewhere we have lost sight of the only thing that we can do better on earth than in heaven.
Does your church have an evangelistic strategy? I mean something besides “Let’s go get ‘em”? Has your church actually thought about what the church can do to reach unbelievers? Pastors, just because you mention it from the pulpit and teach a few times about “How to Share the Gospel with Your Unsaved Friends in Five Easy Steps” does not mean that you have an evangelistic strategy. (There are no five easy steps, and talking about it will not get it done.)
I think churches need to develop a conscious strategy for evangelism. Notice, I did not say "church members" need to develop a conscious strategy. I think churches need the strategy, something besides half-way through the message seeing someone you don't know and wedging the Romans Road in between your last point and "Just As I Am." There are a variety of opportunities and strategies we could use.
Might the reason for our lack of evangelism in our churches be this very problem? We have devoted all our time to things that can be better done in heaven while devoting precious little time to the only thing that can be better done on earth. Pastors spend 30 hours or more a week preparing messages in hopes of wowing the mature Christians with some new theological truth, a catch outline, and a cool illustration. We spend far less time preparing to speak to the lost, who don't agree with us. And thus, when we stumble on the opportunity to speak to the lost, we trip over ourselves because they don't understand and buy our pat church phrases that elicit hearty amens from the faithful. They just don't get it, and so we quote a few verses, promise to pray for them, and invite them to church where they will hear a message that took thirty hours to prepare for an entirely different group of people. I am not suggesting we give up on the things better done in heaven. But perhaps some thought is in order about why we are so ineffective in communicating the gospel to those for whom we are here.
More on this later so I don't wear out my welcome in your browser.