10 June 2006

Spurgeon on Church Growth

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

The following is an excerpt from Spurgeon's book, The Soul Winner. Spurgeon is commenting on Matthew 4:19—"And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."

I think that there is a great lesson in my text to those who preach their own thoughts instead of preaching the thoughts of Christ. These disciples were to follow Christ that they might listen to Him, hear what He had to say, drink in His teaching, and then go and teach what He had taught them. Their Lord said, "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops." If they will be faithful reporters of Christ's message, He will make them "fishers of men."

But you know the boastful method, nowadays, is this: "I am not going to preach this old, old gospel, this musty Puritan doctrine. I will sit down in my study, and burn the midnight oil, and invent a new theory; then I will come out with my brand-new thought, and blaze away with it." Many are not following Christ, but following themselves, and of them the Lord may well say, "Thou shalt see whose word shall stand, Mine or theirs."

Others are wickedly prudent, and judge that certain truths which are evidently God's Word, had better be kept back. You must not be rough, but must prophesy smooth things. To talk about the punishment of sin, to speak of eternal punishment, why, these are unfashionable doctrines. It may be that they are taught in the Word of God, but they do not suit the genius of the age; we must pare them down!

Brothers in Christ, I will have no share in this. Will you? O my soul, come not thou into their secret! Certain things not taught in the Bible our enlightened age has discovered. Evolution may be clean contrary to the teaching of Genesis, but that does not matter. We are not going to be believers of Scripture, but original thinkers. This is the vainglorious ambition of the period.

Mark you, in proportion as the modern theology is preached, the vice of this generation increases. To a great degree, I attribute the looseness of the age to the laxity of the doctrine preached by its teachers. From the pulpit they have taught the people that sin is a trifle. From the pulpit these traitors to God and to His Christ have taught the people that there is no hell to be feared. A little, little hell, perhaps, there may be; but just punishment for sin is made nothing of.

The precious atoning sacrifice of Christ has been derided and misrepresented by those who were pledged to preach it. They have given the people the name of the gospel, but the gospel itself has evaporated in their hands. From hundreds of pulpits the gospel is as clean gone as the dodo from its old haunts; and still the preachers take the position and name of Christ's ministers. Well, and what comes of it? Why, their congregations grow thinner and thinner and so it must be.

Jesus says, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men;" but if you go in your own way, with your own net, you will make nothing of it, and the Lord promises you no help in it. The Lord's directions make Himself our Leader and Example. It is, "Follow Me, follow Me. Preach My gospel. Preach what I preached. Teach what I taught, and keep to that." With that blessed servility which becomes one whose ambition it is to be a copyist, and never to be an original, copy Christ even in jots and tittles. Do this, and He will make you fishers of men; but if you do not do this, you shall fish in vain.
C. H. Spurgeon

It's noteworthy that Spurgeon preached the message from which this chapter was taken near the start of his ministry, in the mid-nineteenth century. Modernism was still a very new movement in the church, but Spurgeon could already see that it was having a negative effect on church growth and church attendance.

Every movement that has ever tried to tweak the Christian message in order to make it more "relevant" to that generation's Zeitgeist has wound up spiritually bankrupt and eventually bereft of people. The principle holds true even today: every method of "church growth" or "contextualizing" that attempts to modify and streamline the Christian message to reconcile it with the times ultimately works against church growth and evangelism. Even if a method draws a crowd for a brief time, it cannot succeed in the long run, because only the gospel—the original gospel, unmodified—is the power of God for salvation.

Phil's signature

PS: Bruce Keisling's extremely perceptive review of Chris Seay's Faith of My Fathers perfectly illustrates Mr. Spurgeon's point in the above excerpt.

PPS: On a totally different matter, and regarding the death of Mr. Al-Zarqawi: Although it's well-known that I am no pacifist, I completely agree with the sober sentiments beautifully expressed by Reid Ferguson here:
There is place for sighs of relief and genuine gladness that the threat is gone—but no place, I repeat NO PLACE, for wicked gloating over the sin-bound life and violent death of one of Adam's sons made in the image of God as much as you or me. None.

Did he deserve to hear the Gospel? As much as you or I. Was he more sinful than you and me? Only in manifestion, not in state. There but for the grace of God go I—and you. And the pictures of his wounded, dead corpse only make me grieve over the horror of sin's claim on our lives apart from God intervening grace.

Yes, al-Zarqawi is a threat I am glad no longer exists. But dancing on his grave, is as depraved as excusing his crimes.
Reid is obviously no pacifist, either. But he is a fine a pastor, who understands what a profound tragedy it is when any soul is brought to judgment unprepared.

Like Reid, I am eternally grateful for the grace God has shown me in Christ, and I confess that apart from Christ and his undeserved kindness to me, I would have no more hope when I stand before God in judgment than the vilest miscreant.

PPPS:And for the record, I would agree with Reid (and with Proverbs 24:17-18) about these things even if Mr. Al-Zarqawi had met his demise at the business end of a Costco frozen ground beef chub.

PPPPS: Don't miss the "dialogue" with Kevin D. Hendricks, chief blogger at "Church Marketing Sucks" in the thread under last Wednesday's post. Kevin's replies are classic examples of the short-sidedness and blinkered thinking of most contemporary church marketing gurus, showing why the whole market-driven mentality well and truly deserves to be hoovered out of the evangelical movement.


Paul Doutell said...

Thanks for the post. _The Soul Winner_ should be required reading for all Christians, but especially for pastors and pastors-in-training. Seminaries today are producing too many men who boast in their academic knowledge and multiplication of degrees but whose pulpits are covered with icicles. Give me one man who loves the gospel but has no degree over a thousand PhDs and DMins with cold hearts and condescending attitudes toward those who hear them.

candyinsierras said...

Mark you, in proportion as the modern theology is preached, the vice of this generation increases.

Easy to see this happening in the Church today.

4given said...

frozen cow product???

This article gives good reason why we should begin our morning prayers with "Expose my weaknesses, O Lord, so that I will stand in Your strength alone."

donsands said...

"their congregations grow thinner and thinner"

Seems that the opposite is happening today in our culture with pulpits from which preachers like T. D. Jakes preach; they grow more and more bloated.

I understand what Pastor Spurgeon is saying I think. The true converts are leaving, and searching to be fed the precious meat of the Word elsewhere.

There is a famine of the Word. But there is a remnant of His pastors/teachers. God does have those He reserves for Himself, and who preach His truth.

"For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. ... But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord". 2 Cor. 4:5; 3:18

I agree wholeheartedly with Reid Ferguson as well.

Thanks for all the excellent quotes and thoughts.

Reid Ferguson said...

For the record - I'm no pacifist either.

I often look at Abraham's response to Lot's capture in Genesis - and I am convinced, that IS the way to respond; Quickly and decisively.

But I must never forget that Christ wept over the same Jerusalem He would judge and destroy.

But I need to ponder the meat products thing - mmmm.

gallash said...

I may be missing the point of this post on the death of Zarqawi, and I certainly can understand the "there but for the grace of God" sentiments, but I think that a little celebration over the death of a very evil man is in order. Note that this is cetainly found in the Bible (1 Sam 18.6-7; Exod 15.20)- a particular role of women in the Bible is to lead the rejoicing in victory. Of course the Psalms are filled with examples of this rejoicing over the enemies of Israel, the king, and the LORD (e.g. Pss 2, 20 35). Of course, our rejoicing must be directed toward the LORD and not pride in our own accomplishments; nevertheless, I think rejoicing and thankfuleness over the death of this wicked man are in order.

Barefoot Guy said...

I love Charles Spurgeon,
He is so cut and dry, and so full of real passion! His book Lectures to my students is a great book that I have enjoyed. Good practical advice. I love that he was virtually a Holy-Spirit taught man. I heard that he never went to cemetary. Ooops I mean Seminary!

I am a musician and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All my music is free for download. Anyway, I don't mean to be a pest, just thought I'd share.

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