But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. -- 2 Corinthians 11:3-4
During his earthly ministry, Jesus did not teach religion. He taught us to live according to God's Will. He taught about love and mercy and faith. Somewhere along the line, men distorted the teachings of Christ. That this is true may be proved by a round of visits to churches of different denominations, or within the same denomination. In so many ways, the new Pharisees have adjusted the teachings of our Lord to satisfy worldly needs.
My ministry takes me into many churches. I am blessed to participate in a variety of worship activities. It is not my purpose to identify a particular church or churchman as theone shining light in an otherwise muddy darkness. That is not my job. (Romans 14:4) I believe all who fulfil the requirements in John 5:24 are in Christ. How they apply their faith in their daily lives is another matter, subject to divine review, which does not bear on their salvation. Once saved, always saved. I believe in eternal security.
Some groups, particularly those which seem fixated on material well-being, appear to have strayed so far from Scripture they stand outside the bounds of what I understand to be Christian doctrine. Some of these groups deny the Trinity. Some dare claim Jesus was just a man who, because of his holy living, was sanctified and made a god. Some go so far as to claim those who closely follow the teachings of their particular anointed can become gods themselves. Clearly, those who hold such beliefs stand in need of prayer and salvation.
What follows is a story I wrote after visiting several churches. The worship services described in the tale are reasonably accurate accounts of actual meetings I attended just prior to writing this little story.
The story begins
"And so, my friends, I conclude by reminding you of the biweekly fellowship supper, to be held in the church hall after Wednesday's Bible study. I hope all of you will join in this important love feast. Support your church by your participation." With that, Pastor Wynn D. Breez turned and walked from the dais, a beatific smile wreathing his totally wholesome countenance. Pastor seemed quite pleased with himself, having delivered yet another perfect expository sermon.
At least one of the congregation did not share Pastor's high opinion of the service in general, and the sermon in particular. Barry A. Nizguy remained in his seat, watching as church ushers gently herded the faithful toward the various exits. Some, Barry noted, gathered just outside the front entrance to the sanctuary, waiting to express their praise to Pastor for another job well done.
In his mind, Barry reviewed the service just ended. The church choir, accompanied by the church orchestra, opened the session with a beautifully arranged anthem. Then, everyone joined in singing a few hymns. Precisely 20 minutes after it began, the singing ended. Assistant Pastor Sobersides came to the lectern and, for exactly ten minutes, addressed the congregation on matters pertaining to church business, noting that collections had fallen off somewhat. Mr. Sobersides concluded by reminding the assembled faithful they were robbing the Almighty each time they failed to pay their tithes. The choir sang a sweet song, as the ushers collected the tithes and offerings. This ceremony required another ten minutes.
As the offerings were laid on the dais, Pastor Breez began his sermon. And what a sermon it was! Barry could not even recall the text Pastor had chosen. He did remember there had been the usual talk of God's mercy and love, together with the promise of sweet salvation for all who gave their sins to Christ and accepted Him as personal Savior. All of this was true, of course, but Barry wondered why anyone should bother to become a Christian. He saw no real incentive to submit to the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit.
"After all", thought Barry, "God seems an accommodating sort of deity. Would anyone who loves as much as Pastor says He does really condemn a person to an eternity of pain and suffering?"
Barry suspected Pastor might be leaving something out of his teaching. Determined to get to the truth of the matter, he decided to "shop around"; to listen to what other preachers had to say about the nature of God. Barry began his search with a Pentecostal service the following Sunday.
The Pentecostal form of worship was a revelation to Barry. Having attended services in a large mainline church since his conversion, some four years previously, Barry was not prepared for the experience. As the band played (far too loudly, in Barry's estimation), the church choir swayed and clapped hands to a drum beat quite different from any Barry had ever heard. While he could not understand the words the choir was singing, Barry was certain they sang the same verse over and over again, for nearly 15 minutes.
Certainly, the music was strange to Barry, but what really freaked him out were the antics of the congregation. As the choir swayed and clapped, as the musicians wailed away at peak volume, people began to fall under the influence of the music, or the Spirit, as most present likely would have said. It began with singing and hand-clapping among the standing faithful. Then, one lady started to move as though she were a marionette manipulated by some unseen force. Soon, people were dancing in the pews, in the aisles, and in the area before the altar dais. Some of the choir dropped out of line and joined in, abandoning themselves to the beat of the music and the passion of the occasion.
An elderly dancer shrieked and fell to the floor. Barry almost died right then and there. None of the others seemed to notice the stricken woman. As he moved forward to help the afflicted woman, other dancers crumpled to the floor, or into the waiting arms of deacons and elders.
Barry returned to his seat and watched as the dancing ended and the congregation returned to their places, leaving those who had fallen lying on the floor. One by one, as they regained their senses, the men and women who had succumbed to whatever power had felled them rose and shakily made their way to their seats.
A woman approached the lectern and began to harangue the congregation for their poor showing the previous week in the area of tithes and offerings. She reminded us of the commitment to build a bigger and better permanent home for the church, and impressed upon all present the importance of sacrificial giving. She suggested mothers save money by having their kids not eat lunch at school. Adults, the woman suggested, could similarly fast at lunch time, and give the money thus saved as an offering to God, by way of the church building fund. She suggested some might wish to demonstrate the depth of their faith by choosing not to pay rent or utility bills that month, sending the money instead to the church building fund.
To add power to her exhortation, she began to prophesy, claiming to speak the words God gave her in a vision. Apparently, God is vitally interested in completing that new church building. The woman added a few words of what she called wisdom, as they allegedly were given to her. By this wisdom, she declared some individual in the congregation had committed adultery; while another had taken something that wasn't his. A third unnamed sinner had tarried too long at the neighborhood bar. Saying these folks "know who you are", and warning them to change their ways, she yielded the platform to her husband, the pastor.
Pastor continued to talk about tithes and offerings, and the sorry state of the building fund, for another ten minutes or so. Then, he warned the congregation he planned to close his sermon with a revelation that would greatly shock everyone present. He suggested children, and those of tender health, might wish to leave before that terrible revelation was pronounced. With that, Pastor called for the offering.
Barry watched as Pastor and his wife, flanked by deacons and elders, lined up on the front edge of the altar platform. Below and ahead of them, the seven ushers lined up, collection baskets at the ready. In single file, every member of the congregation passed before the ushers. Each church member had a little envelop with his name on it, and a place to indicate how much they were giving. Under the vigilant eyes of the church hierarchy, they deposited their envelops in the proffered baskets.
"Wow!", thought Barry. "Talk about pressure. I'll bet these people are afraid not to give sacrificially."
Pastor then spoke a sermon about thunder and lightning. He explained how, as a child, he had been struck by lightning. For years after that experience, he had been terrified of these natural phenomena. Then he discovered, in his Bible, how God had sometimes spoken in a voice like thunder. Since gaining that understanding, Pastor no longer fears the storms. He cautioned the sinner should be terrified of thunder, for it surely signals God's wrath to him, and is a warning of impending disaster. Pastor went on in that vein another 20 minutes before warning the weak of heart to leave. He was about to reveal the terrible truth which the Lord had made known to him. Of course, no one left.
After a lengthy pause for emphasis, Pastor placed before the hushed congregation that which had been revealed to him in a dream-vision. Within two weeks, Pastor warned, God was going to speak audibly to at least one member of the church family. The way Pastor told it, the Almighty was going to personally reprimand someone caught in sin. That this would be a terrible thing was understood by all. Again and again, Pastor avowed he certainly would not wish to be the one chosen for God's tongue-lashing. He pleaded for all sinners to cease their wrong-doing, lest they "hear the thunder." As he closed, Pastor asked people to remember their tithes and offerings, if they wished to avoid the thunder.
Then came the altar call, and that was another revelation for Barry.
Altar call began when Pastor stated he just knew there was "someone out there who needs to accept Christ". That person would have to approach the dais, so Pastor and the elders could pray for him. Nobody moved. Pastor said there were people in the congregation who needed to get right with God. They were told to come forward, so Pastor and the elders could pray with them. Nobody moved.
Pastor began to coax. Over and over again, as the choir softly sang, Pastor pleaded with sinners to come forward for prayer. Still, nobody moved.
Then, Pastor played his ace. No one was going to leave until that person who was holding back came forward for prayer. That did it. A woman walked to the front, where she stood before Pastor.
"One more," said Pastor. "Just one more sinner needs to come forward, and we'll all go home."
Others shuffled forward, and still Pastor called for just one more soul. This began to wear thin; the service was already over three hours old, with no sign of ending soon. At last, Pastor decided to pray with those who had yielded to his importuning.
It was not going to be that easy. Mrs. Pastor grabbed the microphone from her husband's hand and shouted, "Not yet. There's another one out there who needs to give himself to the Lord."
And so it went. The microphone bounced between the two in what appeared to be a spiritual tug-of-war. Barry suspected the winner of the contest would be the one who forced the most people out of their seats. This altar call lasted over 20 minutes. Even the choir seemed fed up. The prayers offered for the sinners who came forward were spoken perfunctorily and were over in a moment, the Pastor's anointing having once again been confirmed by his ability to save souls.
As Barry drove home, tired and somehow unfulfilled, he reviewed what he had learned from his first visit to a Pentecostal church.
"It was a total experience" mused Barry.
The music was incredibly loud, and made conscious thought virtually impossible. The beat, the volume, and the swaying of the choir all combined to produce a hypnotic effect among those in the audience. With the normal thought processes virtually blocked out, one was forced to run on the input from his senses. Emotions ran rampant, and some people were overcome by their own ecstasy.
There was plenty of prophecy and many words of wisdom, but it was either vague or else perfectly in line with the project closest to Pastor's heart. Despite the shouting and emotional fireworks, the message preached was disjointed and poorly prepared, and appeared based more on Pastor's intentions than Holy Writ. As in the denominational church, tithes and offerings were given a lot of attention by the church hierarchy. Finally, there seemed to be virtually no discipline, not even between Pastor and his wife.
The next week, Barry attended a Roman Catholic mass. Once again, he saw many things that were new to him, but the Catholic service had very little in common with that of the Pentecostal church. Where the Pentecostals had been exuberant and ecstatic, the Catholics were subdued and orderly in their worship. They spoke very little, and then in unison as they responded to cues from the altar area. Like the Pentecostals, several people were involved in the service: four different persons read from the Bible (but did not always cite chapter or verse); six others distributed communion wafers and wine at the Lord's supper; and half-a-dozen ushers took up the offering.
The priest did most of his work at the altar, his back to the congregation (Barry thought that had been changed recently). Now and again, he would face the audience, and he did give his sermon while standing in front of the altar. The priest spoke a sermon every bit as well-prepared as any expository sermon Barry had heard in his own Protestant church.
Driving home after mass, Barry reflected on his Catholic experience. The church was a multipurpose building; the service having been held in a large, general-purpose room. Barry had arrived a little early and, after dropping a few coins at a bake sale table near the entrance, was surprised to see a large concession ooths in one corner of the sanctuary. People were seated at a double row of picnic tables near the booth. They chattered animatedly as they munched breakfast tacos and sipped their morning coffee. As the time for mass approached, workers closed the concession stands and the customers wandered to their seats, a few with tacos and coffee in hand.
The Catholic priest also talked about money, though not for the church itself. He was concerned for the status of a church fund to buy toys for kids at Christmas. Nothing like the high-pressure pitches of the Pentecostal or denominational pastors, the priest's pleas only lasted about five minutes. The worship service was brief, and ended abruptly, without an altar call.
With mass ended, the concession booths re-opened and resumed a flourishing trade.
The beginning of wisdom
What was missing? Barry felt something, he did not know what, was absent from the worship services he had attended. Rather than spend time visiting additional churches, he determined to seek the answers himself, in Scripture.
As Barry read in his Bible, he discovered a side of God he had not known. Not only was God kind and loving and compassionate, He was also a "consuming fire, a jealous God" (Deut 4:24). He can be provoked to anger (Deut 32:21-22) and vengeance (Deut 32:35). Why had Pastor not told of the ferocity of God's anger? Why had Pastor not warned that God, our compassionate and loving God, had also said:
It never occurred to Barry he easily could have discovered the truth himself, had he but opened and read the Bible that for years had lain untouched on his bookshelf.
Barry was not very comfortable with the things he learned by reading in the Old Testament. He decided to seek solace in the New Testament.
"Now, let's see", he muttered. "Where is that good stuff? Here it is! Right in Chapter Five of the Book of Matthew."
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake Matthew 5:3-11
Barry felt better, having been reassured of God's love and mercy.
"I suppose God was different in the olden times, back when He was getting His plan started," Barry decided. "Now that Jesus has come to set things right, He doesn't have to act so mean."
(Barry had not yet read Malachi 3:6: "I am the Lord, I change not.")
As he read the words of Jesus, Barry was struck by the realization the Lord did not take up offerings (although He did receive financial support from some of the faithful), or give altar calls. Nor did He demand that listeners pray a sinner's prayer. Jesus never seemed to dwell on church business, or to plan Sunday outings for the congregation.
Pastor Breez always preached a plain vanilla sort of message; one which never offended even one of the congregation. Jesus, on the other hand, got right down to the nitty-gritty; teaching solid doctrine and making distinct points. The Master seemed unconcerned that some member of the assembly might be offended. He used parables, illustrations, and hard-hitting sentences to drive home His message.
Pastor Breez rarely talked about sin, and then only in vague terms; and he never mentioned Hell. The Pentecostal preacher and his wife had talked about sin and even warned the congregation not to continue in sin, but they never really got into specifics. In the Catholic service, the message had concerned pride, which is a sin, and not much else.
Jesus and the Apostles talked about sin a lot, and were very specific. Not only did they describe sin, and sometimes attribute sin to individuals, they went into great detail to explain how sin and sinfulness condemn a soul to the eternal torments of Hell. In terms that must have caused their listeners to tremble and quake in fear, they described the fate that awaits every unredeemed sinner. They destroyed any lingering hopes that, by living a good life, one could somehow spare himself the torments of the damned. They did not seem to care whether they were popular or not, but were determined to tell it like it is.
The Master and his disciples did not talk about sinners, they talked to them; wanting each listener to take the subject personally, to seek salvation by the only means possible: direct appeal to Jesus Christ Himself.
Barry read Jesus' words, as He explained the parable of the tares to His disciples:
"Whoa!", exclaimed Barry. "This heavy stuff is in the New Testament, too. I need to learn more about God, and His plan for mankind."
>Barry embarked upon an ambitious Bible study program. He enrolled in Pastor Breez' Bible college, but soon dropped out; the pace was too slow for his needs. He read and studied, hour after hour, day after day, with virtually no more time away from the Good Book than absolutely necessary to keep his job and to sleep a few hours. At the end of six months, Barry arrived at a momentous conclusion.
"The treasures contained in the Bible are without limit", he thought. "No matter how long and hard I study, I shall never plumb to the depths of God's Holy Word. The more I learn, the more I am reminded how little I know."
A new direction
Barry determined to end his monkish lifestyle, although he would continue to search Scripture for so long as God granted him life. In coming to this decision, he was prompted by Scriptural admonitions not to isolate the Word from man but, rather, to give it the widest possible dissemination:
A call from within
Barry decided to become a preacher. He was convinced he had been called to this labor by God Himself. How else to explain his sudden longing to bury himself in Scripture?
"When I preach", he promised himself, "I will avoid all the doctrinal errors and weaknesses I have seen in other preachers. I will preach all of the Gospel, not just that which comforts my congregation and loosens their purse strings."
One consequence of Barry's voluntary six-month withdrawal from society was that he had accumulated a substantial amount of money in his checking account. This, he decided, was one more proof God was preparing him for a pastoral ministry.
For the next six days, Barry drove around the city, seeking a site for his ministry of truth. He signed a short lease for a store front in an affluent neighborhood.
He spent his evenings and days off cleaning and decorating the new church. Barry bought advertising space in local newspapers to announce the opening of Searchlight of Truth Christian Center. He recorded announcements for play over Christian radio stations, and even hired a Christian television studio to tape a few sermons he could run on the public access cable channel.
At last, everything was ready. The time had come to proclaim the Gospel, the true Gospel, to the multitude of sinners languishing in the desert of ignorance and thirsting for the Water of Life. On that momentous Sunday morning, Barry stood in the doorway of Searchlight Center, waiting to greet the many seekers of truth he just knew would come.
Eighteen people heard B.A. Nizguy's first official sermon.
Despite his unspeakable disappointment, Barry determined to continue the work. He was confident the news would get out, and people would flock to hear the Word of God as it was meant to be preached. Driven by his conviction that God Himself had called him to this ministry, Barry forged ahead with the labor.
In the evening hours, after work, Barry distributed salvation tracts and leaflets advertising his ministry. On weekends, except when preaching, he knocked on doors and talked to neighborhood residents about the new church. A few souls were added to the congregation by this extra effort, but Barry soon had to cancel his outreach program. There still were not enough congregationalists to support the financial needs of the ministry. Barry had to take an extra job, in order to pay the rent and utility bills.
Just a little accomodation
Barry searched for a solution to his difficulties. "Maybe they don't like the way I preach", he concluded. "I'll change my style, and soften the message just a little. Not enough to compromise the truth, but sufficient to conform more closely to the taste of the congregation."
The following Sunday, Reverend Nizguy instituted his little changes. The assembly seemed pleased; a few even complimented him on his sermon. A week later, six new members were added to the church roles. And, collections improved markedly.
"That's it!", exclaimed Barry. "They liked my sermon. Next week, I'll soften the message just a bit more. I'll avoid difficult doctrines which could make people uncomfortable. I'll be cool and, although I will try to address the emotions of my listeners, I will keep my delivery mellow and controlled."
And he did just that.
As Barry adjusted his preaching to the desires of his congregation, membership began to grow, and collections got better and better. Barry decided to make a few more adjustments.
As he fine-tuned his message, Barry assured his listeners salvation is by grace, but he carefully avoided mentioning the condemned and lost condition of the unsaved. He did not want to frighten church members, so he avoided any mention of Hell or divine retribution. He preached that man is not really at fault for his fallen condition, since he is incapable of obedience to God. Not to worry, though, for the Gospel is the remedy for every sinner. Besides, he would argue, every man has some moral goodness in him, so only a little change is necessary in order they find salvation.
The Searchlight of Truth Christian Center outgrew its first home, and moved into the former quarters of a failed mainline church. The weekly total of tithes and offerings had grown to the point Barry was able to quit both his jobs and devote full time to the Center and its congregation.
Life was good.
Altar call was a special time in Searchlight Center. At the end of each service, even Bible study, Barry would stand before the congregation and invite all who desired to make Christ their personal Savior to come forward for the sinner's prayer. He invited all who wished for special prayer to come to the front of the church, where he and his assistants would lay hands upon them and lift up intercessory prayers in their behalf. As he grew more confident of his spiritual authority, Barry began to heal the sick and injured; even drive out demons.
Barry was pleased. He had brought many sinners to the Lord, and he had healed countless sick and injured. Surely, he held special anointing from God.
As Barry's fame grew, so did his congregation. Once again, the church moved; this time to their own new building. Tithes and offerings were running far ahead of expectations, and Barry's salary grew apace.
Life indeed was good.
As a consequence of his outside preaching commitments, and the press of church business, Barry had little time to shepherd his now quite large flock. He convinced the church elders of the need to hire assistant pastors to handle the new music ministry, the youth ministry, the counseling ministry, and yet another to handle the worship chores when Barry was tied-up elsewhere.
When someone suggested they hire a person to operate an outreach ministry, Barry said his work before the public was sufficient outreach effort for the church. He vetoed hiring a helping services minister, because "we simply do not have money to run a relief program; salaries and mortgage payments eat up just about all our income."
By this time, Barry's total compensation package was well into the six figures. As his empire grew, Barry withheld himself more and more from the rank and file membership. He instructed his executive secretary to allow no one to see him without an appointment. Barry enjoyed the power he wielded within his church. He fed upon the adoration of his sheep, particularly the ewes.
All in all, Reverend B. A. Nizguy was well-pleased with his ministry, and with his new life. "Like they say on that television beer commercial, " he would boast, "It doesn't get any better than this."
Then, a dream turned his life around.
One Sunday night, the Right Reverend Nizguy (for so he now called himself) retired early to his bedchamber. It had been a particularly trying day, what with two worship services and a pot-luck dinner to administer. He was not to spend that night in the soft arms of Morpheus, however. No sooner had he dropped off to sleep than Barry had a dream unlike any he had ever experienced.
In the dream (or was it a vision?) an angelic being appeared to him. The angel, or so he seemed, spoke:
"Be warned, you who call yourself `Pastor', for you are leading the sheep astray. You were not chosen to care for the flock. Rather, you anointed yourself shepherd in Christ's Name. Know that you do not serve Him, but the prince of this age. You have twisted His words and made a lie of Scripture."
"As one of the elect," the angelic visitor continued, "you are to spread the Gospel of Salvation. Instead, you spread lies and vanities. In your pride, you have denied God's Commandments. You have lusted after the things of this world, and love for Christ is dying in your breast. Repent and make amends, while there yet is time, for although God is a wrathful God, so also is He compassionate."
Barry bolted upright in bed, wide awake and trembling with fear. "Was that a dream, or a warning from God Almighty?"
The rest of that night, the Right Reverend Nizguy lay prostrate on his bedroom floor, earnestly praying to God for mercy and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). When morning came, he canceled his appointments and asked his assistant to handle the Wednesday Bible study. Barry devoted the remainder of that week to prayer and fasting.
And then it was Sunday.
Barry was no little worried, as he prepared to face his congregation. Although weak from fasting, he drew upon an inner strength and walked out to the podium. Before the music minister had a chance to cue the choir, Barry bade them all sit down.
"Today, dear friends, is going to be a little different from our usual worship gatherings."
On his knees, Barry prayed for guidance and asked the Lord to bless the assembly. Then, he stood and faced the congregation.
"Dear ones, I have sinned against our God, and in my sin I have wronged each of you greatly."
In halting voice, stopping occasionally to choke back a sob, B.A. Nizguy confessed his sins. He explained how pride had led him to distort the Word of God so as to be found pleasing in the eyes of the congregation. He told them he had neither confronted them with their sin, nor warned them of the certain fate which awaits all unredeemed sinners. For this reason, he explained, he would be called to account for any souls he could have helped bring to salvation, but did not (Ezekiel 33:7-8). Barry closed his confession with a fervent promise to preach "God's own truth" from that moment forward.
As Barry began his sermon, he felt a power come upon him. Never had he spoken with such authority. Not once had he so captured the attention of his listeners. For the first time in his life, Barry Nizguy experienced the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He challenged the assembly with the full power of God's Holy Word.
The change in their pastor was not lost on the congregation. They had never heard him preach with such passion and authority; and he had never before confronted them with their sins. Some listeners became uncomfortable, as Barry explained how a sinful man is an abomination in the eyes of God and will surely be cast into the fiery furnace if he fails to believe the Gospel message. Some left when Barry described the torments of Hell and the second death which awaits those who are not in Christ.
Then Barry explained it is not we who accept Christ, but He who accepts those whom the Father has given Him since before time (John 6:37, 44, 65). More of the congregation walked out when Barry warned that sinners need a radical change of heart.
When he ended his sermon, having given no heed to any clock, those of the congregation who remained were in a dreadful state. Many were crying. Some hung their heads in dismay. A few seemed to have fainted. No one smiled. No one turned to make a comment to his neighbor. Except for a few muffled sobs, the sanctuary was deathly still.
Barry also was silent, though a fire raged within his breast. Now was not the time to speak, for the Holy Spirit was at work to convict some who sat in the silent church. No altar call, no ritual demand for sinners to come forward, no yielding to the human tendency to cut a notch in preacher's Bible for each soul saved. The Holy Spirit needed no one to come forward, for He was well able to reach into the heart of every repentant sinner, no matter where that sinner might be.
Without warning, a woman cried out. "Oh, dear God! I am so ashamed. Everything about me is a lie, even my Christian witness. I never really believed my sins have been forgiven and that I am saved because Jesus Christ paid the just debt for my sins. I just went through the motions so all of you would think I was saved."
She stepped into the aisle and, crying softly, walked to the front of the church. "Oh, my Lord! Please forgive me.", she repeated again and again.
When she reached the altar rail, she turned and stood, head down and tears flooding her cheeks, as she truly offered herself to the one true Redeemer.
Near the back of the sanctuary, a man rose to his feet. With purposeful stride, he moved to the front of the church, where he took his place beside the weeping woman.
"I've got something to say", he blurted. "Pastor, I have been coming to this church because I'm comfortable here. No one made any demand of me, and you never preached a sermon which caused me any bother. And that is just the way I liked it.
"Now, everything is different. Today, your message really hit home. For the first time in a long while, I was compelled to take a close look at my life. I tell you", the man continued, "I was not very impressed with what I saw.
"I don't feel very good at this moment. In fact, I feel lousy, and I don't like it." The man shifted slightly, "I figure I have a lot of changes to make in my life, before I can feel good again. Pastor, I want you to teach me what I need to know."
And so it went, for nearly an hour. People kept stepping forward; some to confess Christ, some to witness in His Name. Barry had never seen the like. When he dismissed the assembly, he told them: "Tonight, my text will be from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter Two, Verse Two ("I determined to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified."), go home and meditate on this verse."
The elder who acted as church treasurer approached Barry. "You forgot to take up the collection, Pastor. We needed that money, especially since a lot of people are going to leave the church."
Barry asked the elder to assemble an emergency meeting of all the assistant pastors, deacons and elders. He announced he would take an 80% cut in compensation, and declared the money thus saved would be used to fund a program to assist the needy. The assistant pastors were not enthusiastic when Barry suggested they also might wish to accept pay reductions.
Barry detailed how church teaching would now reflect Biblical truth. "No longer will congregational approval be the criterion by which we judge the content of our teaching. From now on, the Bible will be the only standard used to measure everything this church does.
"From now on, there will be no altar calls at the end of a service. Jesus never made an altar call, and He was a pretty good preacher. We are commanded to spread the Good News to all the nations; the work of conviction is rightly the province of the Holy Spirit. Let us resolve not to interfere with His divine labors.
"Should anyone be led to come forward for prayer, or for healing, or whatever, there will be no sinner's prayer. Any sinner who truly has been convicted will know how to call out to Christ. Again, let us not presume to do God's work for Him.
"We will not seek to interfere with God's work in any way", continued Pastor Nizguy.
"We will discourage display of bumper stickers, particularly those with the clever little cliche sayings. And we will be extremely careful that any so-called salvation tracts we distribute do not interfere with the Holy Spirit's efforts to convict. There are so many little tracts around that actually lead a sinner from salvation, these must be the work of the enemy. Remember what the Lord said in Proverbs 10:26: `Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke in the eyes, so is the unfaithful messenger to him who sends him.'
"And we must immediately establish an outreach program. There is no need to send missionaries to India or to Mexico, unless God so commands. There are plenty of lost souls in this very city. If necessary, we will go door to door, or stand on street corners. If we can only reach those who must be reached by going into bars and dance halls, why then we will go into bars and dance halls. God must not be denied.
"We'll take a different approach to church revenues. There will be no spiritual blackmail, or any other form of coercion. If anyone needs refreshing on voluntary giving, I refer you to Chapter Eight of Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians."
This drew an immediate response from the church treasurer. "Pastor, how can we be certain we'll take in enough money to meet expenses, if we do what you ask?"
"If revenues drop, we'll just have to reduce our financial needs. We will not compromise the Gospel, nor will we put the church on a commercial basis. Let us trust in the Lord in this matter, as we should in all things", responded Barry.
"Each of us must take care to avoid wrongdoing (1 Thessalonians 5:22),
avoiding even the appearance of sin. "Let us close this meeting in prayer", said Barry. All present
bowed their heads and called upon the Almighty for His guidance. After only a
few moments in silent prayer, everyone stood, except for Barry A. Nizguy, the
man who had anointed himself pastor. With one accord, the deacons and elders drew close to Barry, and each placed
his hands on the now humble man. One elder spoke the thoughts of all. "Pastor, it came to me, as I
prayed, that God now has chosen you to shepherd this congregation."
He continued, as everyone nodded their agreement, "As our God commanded
all Israel to lay hands upon the Levites, thus setting them apart for service
(Numbers 8:10-11), so we lay hands on you, that you might serve God for so long
as is His pleasure." With that simple ceremony, a new era dawned for Searchlight of Truth
Christian Center. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he
will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your
hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and
mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to
heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
(James 4:7-10 )
"Each of us must take care to avoid wrongdoing (1 Thessalonians 5:22), avoiding even the appearance of sin.
"Let us close this meeting in prayer", said Barry. All present bowed their heads and called upon the Almighty for His guidance. After only a few moments in silent prayer, everyone stood, except for Barry A. Nizguy, the man who had anointed himself pastor.
With one accord, the deacons and elders drew close to Barry, and each placed his hands on the now humble man.
One elder spoke the thoughts of all. "Pastor, it came to me, as I prayed, that God now has chosen you to shepherd this congregation."
He continued, as everyone nodded their agreement, "As our God commanded all Israel to lay hands upon the Levites, thus setting them apart for service (Numbers 8:10-11), so we lay hands on you, that you might serve God for so long as is His pleasure."
With that simple ceremony, a new era dawned for Searchlight of Truth Christian Center.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (James 4:7-10 )