While much of this article likely pertains to most Bible believing churches especially in the South, Midwest, and Southwest, I am focused specifically on my tribe because I know “us” and understand our particular plight with its own quirks. I am less astute in regards to the particular nuances of other denominational and non-denominational churches and their ability to apply the gospel in our generation.
The culture of America is quickly changing and it has been for quite some time. Those of us who live in the South and Midwestern United States are late in realizing the grassroots effects of what I consider epic cultural shifts. Particularly, I think Southern Baptists at the local level are having difficulty processing the changes taking place in light of the gospel. Generally the resulting response is anger expressed in closed circles that has little impact on the world. I believe there are 4 issues most local SBC congregations will wrestle with in 2014. If we take our cues from Scripture in each of these categories we will bring glory to God in our culture. If we yield to unbridled, conservative emotion, we will break the greatest commands of the Christian faith: Love God and love people (Matthew 22:37-40).
Issue #1: Gospel and politics – Whereas the country is completely divided on fundamental issues such as individual rights and responsibilities, fiscal responsibility, and foreign policy to name a few, the arena of politics is cataclysmic and opportune for Christians. In particular, SBC churches will have to determine how they will respond on the street level as legislation and the general political momentum continues to trend away from a traditional biblical perspective. In 2014 Christians will have to reconcile the mission to carry the gospel to their neighbor with principled politics. Learning to have basic conversations without spewing a perception of hate will be an important skill for SBC congregants to learn and SBC pastors to model for the sake of the gospel.
Issue #2: Gospel and homosexuality – Whereas the United States is rapidly embracing homosexuality as an appropriate and applauded lifestyle and whereas same-sex marriage is protected at the Federal level, the local SBC church will be faced with opportunity to know and reach more homosexual neighbors, co-workers, and family members than ever before in our nation’s history with the gospel of Jesus Christ. SBC Congregants will need to learn how to develop authentic friendship relationships with homosexuals for the sake of the gospel. Pastoral leadership will have to learn how to lovingly extend the gospel to unbelieving people who live a homosexual lifestyle while at the same time lovingly disciplining Christians who practice homosexuality in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Timothy 1). Christian parents will have to equip their children with a biblical worldview in regards to sexuality. SBC churches will need to discover strategies to equip parents for such an important task. Learning to love God well and love people well in this category is crucial in 2014.
Issue #3: Increasing levels of persecution – Whereas the United States as a culture is currently rejecting the influence of the Bible and the gospel centered church in the mainstream, SBC congregants, and all Bible believing Christians, can expect increasing levels of persecution in the United States. While Christians in other parts of the world might chuckle in their prison cells at our levels of persecution, we can expect to see persecution in ways we have not seen it in America. SBC churches are going to have to learn how to face persecution in God honoring ways. Jesus said this would happen. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) Jesus also taught us how to deal with persecution. “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.'” (Matthew 5:44-45) This is an untested practice for most SBC churches and many Christians in America.
Issue #4: Increasing dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit – As the momentum of mainstream culture seems to reject the fundamental truths of Scripture, the land becomes darker, spiritually. This is not a surprise to our Sovereign God. His people have faced dark days before and they will again. In the darkness, the light of Jesus Christ burns brightly. With darkness eventually comes despair and despair breeds the need for hope. It is in this environment that the flicker of the gospel, empowered by the wind of the Holy Spirit spreads like a wild fire. We as people cannot manufacture this kind of gospel movement but the Holy Spirit can and will in God’s timing. SBC churches are generally uncomfortable with the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today. We would like to explain it away. However in 2014 we will need to depend on the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I did not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-14) As John MacArthur touts cessation-ism and Mark Driscoll advocates a complete working of the Holy Spirit in our day, SBC pastors will have to discern the work of the Holy Spirit according to the Scriptures and lead their people to depend on the work of the person of the Holy Spirit.