More is at stake in 2020 than public policy and political leadership. Recently, Decision spoke with Erwin Lutzer, author and pastor emeritus of The Moody Church, about what’s at stake for the church in a culture that seems ever more secular and opposed to Biblical truth.
Q: What issues does the church need to address this coming year?
A: I believe that as the church enters 2020, many of the issues we’ve already seen are going to have to be confronted, and there is really no place to hide. Courage will be essential—the willingness to stand for truth against incredible odds.
Recently at a church in Missouri, the pastor preached on Genesis 1:27—gently declaring that God created only two genders. By the next day, there was a firestorm. They were in the newspapers and on the news, being called hateful. Will we have the courage to take the criticism that is going to come if we stand for truth, no matter how lovingly we speak?
Q: How do we balance truth and love?
A: We need to stand for truth, even when it conflicts with popular sentiment and compassion. Under the banner of compassion, frequently we find that the truth is compromised. Certainly we find this, for example, in sexual issues. Parents are confronted by this if their child says that he is transgender or gay. We know that they should continue to love him, but some will completely change their minds simply on the basis of being compassionate, when point of fact, truth has to be held even in the face of these kinds of issues.
Love and truth are not enemies. The contemporary view is that if you’re loving, you can’t really be truthful, and if you’re truthful, you’re certainly not loving. But Jesus said that if you’re in His love, you’ll keep His commandments.
So, we have truth in conflict with culture, and we have truth in conflict with love and sentiment within the home. Proverbs 23:23 says, “Buy the truth and sell it not” (KJV). And the point is, under what condition are we willing to sell the truth? When does the price of being truthful become too high for us?
Q: What specific issues will be prominent?
A: The church is going to have to face issues regarding transgenderism. What do you do when someone in the congregation comes and says, “I’m trans; I’m a boy but I want to use the girl’s washroom”? Churches need to think this through ahead of time, both Scripturally and legally, because this is exactly where our culture is headed.
I never really bought the old idea that we need to be known for what we are for and not what we are against. But today it certainly is true that if you take a stand for anything, you’re going to be known for what you’re against, and people will quickly forget what it is that you are for. The whole thing comes down to whether or not we’re going to have the courage of our convictions.
During Hitler’s regime, Martin Niemöller said that the church is being sifted, and “it must now become manifest whether we are wheat or chaff.” I think of Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis: “Strengthen what remains.” And I think that that’s a word for the church as we go into 2020. We have to strengthen what remains because much is falling by the wayside.
Q: In what ways is the church failing today?
A: The church has a serious image problem, partly because of the number of high-profile cases where pastors and Christian leaders have fallen and have compromised their stand. Remember what God said to David. He said, “You have given the enemies of the Lord a reason to blaspheme” (see 2 Samuel 12:14). The church has to confront that, too. That’s why humility is so incredibly important. If all you have is truth, you become judgmental. If all you have is humility, you become a coward. We need to have humility and truth. We have to speak truth with brokenness and humility.
Q: In general, churches seem to be less evangelistic than they used to be. What are the consequences of that?
A: People usually do not believe the Gospel until they have met a Christian who has integrity, who loves them, who knows what he or she believes and is willing to stand for truth. I was reading the other day, where the Apostle Paul says, “We are a letter known and read by all men” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:2).
We can complain all we want about our culture and where it’s going, but we can still have people over for dinner and share the Gospel with them. We can still have a meeting in our home with our friends and neighbors and represent Christ to them. Are we going to use the opportunities that we still have to evangelize?
One study found that the reason Christians don’t evangelize is because of unconquered sin in their life. Their sin convicts them, and their conscience says to them, How can you recommend Jesus to someone when He has not delivered you from your sins? So, that’s really the issue that I think has to be confronted.
If we would evangelize and see souls saved, it would rekindle our faith in the Gospel to live up to its promises.
Q: What about prayer?
A: Well, if you want to take a lesson from Israel, God had to really put them in a difficult box of persecution before they really cried out to Him. We certainly see this in the Book of Judges, where God let them be overrun by their enemies, and then in desperation they called to Him.
In general, I think that only desperate people pray. Other people pray, too, but if you’re desperate, you’ll really cry out to God. I don’t know what else God might have to do before we get desperate. The fact is, it’s easy to become cynical. We prayed, and God hasn’t answered. So we turn away, when in point of fact, unanswered prayer should really be the fuel to continue to call on God.
Q: What’s at stake for the authority of God’s Word?
A: Many who genuinely believe that the Bible is the Word of God nevertheless only focus on the positive aspects of Christianity. You know: God will help you in this and He’ll answer this prayer, and, of course, we have the health-and-wealth heresies.
Some preach only grace. It’s always what God can do. We need to give people a more balanced view of God. “Our God is a consuming fire,” says Hebrews 12:29. And Hebrews 10:31 says “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” People think it is safer to sin today than it used to be because we’re under grace. But no, it isn’t. We have domesticated God, even among those who believe the Bible as the Word of God.
Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version. The scripture quotation marked KJV is taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version.
Interviewed by Bob Paulson, Editor.