A Voice Crying in the Wilderness
Isaiah prophesied “of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Jesus, referencing that prediction, calls John the Baptist, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness.” And, indeed, John the Baptist was that man. John the Baptist was the fulfillment of that prophecy.
You may have noticed that the tagline attached to the name of this website is, “a voice crying in the wilderness.” Of particular importance is that I did not say “the voice,” but “a voice.” “The voice” of one crying in the wilderness was John the Baptist. As John the Baptist realized his unworthiness to untie the latchet of Jesus’ shoe, I realize my unworthiness to untie John the Baptist’s shoe. I am but one voice in today’s wilderness — and I am not alone. There are others. But, we are few.
Perhaps you are speaking to yourself, “Bill, what are you talking about? I know lots of Christians. There were hardly any believers when John the Baptist arrived on the scene. We’re good, patriotic Christ followers. We do our duty. We love our families. We stay out of trouble. We look forward to the Rapture. Many of us even pray for revival. Where’s the wilderness in that? What more can we do that we are not already doing?”
Might I remind you of the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when he addressed the Laodiceans:
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see.
Revelation 3:15 (KJV)
It is my opinion that the seven churches addressed in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation are typical of the churches scattered throughout the world at any given time in history. Not all churches today are like the Church of Laodicea. Many are, particularly in the Western World.
I have been in public ministry for most of my life since 1971. Other than this blog, I have not been in public ministry for the past almost nine years. So that’s over forty years. I came to faith in Christ on Thanksgiving Eve, November 23, 1964. I was 19 years old. Prior to that I attended, often rebelliously, religious services in (mostly) Christian churches since the time I was seven years old. I say all that not to brag, but to say I have seen a lot. That’s sixty years of observing American Protestant “Christianity.” From the perspective of the pew, not much has changed. From the perspective of the pulpit, we have gone, as far as the Laodiceans among us are concerned, from the frying pan into the fire. We are living in a wilderness.
In the 1950s — and for many hundreds of years before that, when people went to worship God they wore nice clothes. Today, people come to church wearing whatever they happen to have on hand: work shoes with the barnyard manure not fully dried, jeans with holes intentionally ripped in them, women wearing pants so tight you don’t have to imagine what they are concealing. In one church in which I was a guest preacher, a beautiful young woman came to church wearing what would otherwise have been an acceptably nice sun dress. Only problem was, she wore no undergarments and standing in front of me with the sun behind her she might as well have been naked.
I grew up poor. It wasn’t until I was fourteen that I first wore a suit to church. I did wear a colored shirt and a pressed pair of slacks. That was my best. I dared not go in shorts (which I hated with a passion) or blue jeans or wear socks with the heal worn out. Shoes were polished every Saturday evening. And no preacher ever said from the pulpit, “God doesn’t care what you wear.” But today, “God doesn’t care what you wear” is the mantra of the seeker-service mentality that elevates and worships man rather than God.
Today, American Christianity looks for the Rapture or Revival (if we can’t have one let’s at least have the other) not for the glory of Christ, but to make life easier for the faithful. Personally, I don’t want the Rapture to come soon. I have unsaved family and friends that I would like to see come into the family of God. If the Rapture came today they’d all be lost for eternity. And if revival comes, you wouldn’t want it. Do you know what happens in revival? Let me tell you.
First, people start getting right with God. That’s good. Those that don’t get right with God get angry. That’s not good. Bars and brothels shut down for lack of patronage. That’s good. People that are used to frequenting their accommodations get angry because they have no place to give vent to their passions. That’s not good. You become heavenly minded and start growing in grace. That’s good. Your unsaved family and friends don’t like your” high-mindedness and self-righteous and better-than thou” attitude (as they would see it) and start making trouble for you and ostracizing you from their circles. That’s not good. Churches fill up with repentant converts and saints of old who are returning to their first love. That’s good. Streets fill up with rioters who burn churches, physically attack you and your family, and burn your house down. And that’s not good at all. So, do you really want revival?
Yes, we are living in a wilderness. When is the last time you heard a sermon on being holy? I can’t remember when I have (except when I preached it). When is the last time you heard a sermon on the evils of divorce? Listen, I feel for divorced people, especially parents. It’s an evil. We need to preach the whole counsel of God while helping those who have fallen into or prey to the evils God condemns. When is the last time your pastor preached a sermon about being sexually pure? While I shouldn’t have to ask this question, I must. When is the last time your pastor preached from the Bible? When is the last time he started by saying, “Please open your Bibles to…” instead of starting with a story and deriving his sermon from that?
Much of the fault of our modern evil morass lies with the pulpit. Oh, you say, “Our pastor got rid of the pulpit long ago.” Well, that just shows his ignorance or his stupidity. Do you know the difference between the two? Ignorance is lack of knowledge. Stupidity is knowing but acting against knowledge anyway. Ignorance may be excusable, so I’ll assume that’s where the fault lies.
The pulpit, in years gone by, always had a pulpit Bible on it. Before the Reformation it was usually placed off to the side, often elevated. In the center of the chancel (that’s where the altar, choir, and pulpit were) was the altar. Altars are places of sacrifice. Since “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28) there’s no need of an altar in a Christian church. The Reformers then moved the pulpit, where possible, to the center of the chancel to signify the centrality of preaching and placed the Bible on it, signifying the centrality of the Word of God and the source of preaching. It also took attention off the preacher by hiding him and keeping the focus on the Word of God. Today, the preacher tends to ditch the pulpit, ditch his clothes which set him apart, and now ministers preach in the same clothes he was wearing yesterday in the garden or wore earlier on the golf course. More about that later.
Ignorance of the Bible is prolific these days, not just among the “laity” but also among the “clergy.” I know pastors, and not just a few, who will admit they haven’t read the Bible through in a year in years. Somethings wrong with that.
Once, after I had preached from the Psalms, a woman who had been fifty years a believer remarked, “I didn’t know you could preach from the psalms.” I couldn’t believe my ears. How many times did Moses go up on Mount Sinai to be with God? If you answered “2,” you’re wrong. If you think “Thou shalt not kill” prohibits capital punishment, you’re mistaken. If you believe “avoid all appearance of evil” means you shouldn’t be seen picking up a whiskey bottle cast on your lawn (the testimony of a long-time pastor), you are dismally ignorant of what that passage means.
Ignorance may be excusable. No one can know everything about everything no more than they can know no everything about anything. Of the things that you can know and know easily, one is to know the general arrangement of the books of the Bible. With the advent of smart phones and tablets it doesn’t matter — until you need to look for a selection in a printed version. I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t know where Habakkuk is relative to Zephaniah. But if I go to any of the minor prophets, I can quickly locate it.
Most Christians don’t know how to study the Bible. They sit in church, swallow whatever the preacher says, and leave wiser than when they went in and sat down. It’s the preacher’s duty to preach and teach (all preachers should be teachers, otherwise they’re just ranters; Many pastors are good at teaching, but few can preach.) Pastor, it’s your duty to preach!
One last thing, most people who profess Jesus Christ don’t evangelize. In one church I pastored a woman came up to me and asked, “Could you teach us how to win souls?” I told her no, I couldn’t. I then said, “but I can teach you how to evangelize.” Winning souls is God’s business. Giving him something to work with is ours. There are two reasons people don’t evangelize: 1.) they are ignorant of the Gospel and 2.) they haven’t seen it work in their own lives. And the latter is the result of the former.
The Church in America (and the remainder of the English-speaking world, at least) is in a pathetic condition. The key to getting the Church right is to get ourselves right. John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness, came with the message of “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” That’s where we start. I must do it as much as you. This is the conviction that burdens my heart. May God be pleased to burn it into your heart, as well.
These issues, and many more, will be addressed in future posts.
Questions to meditate on and pray about:
- Is the primary purpose of attending church services to meet with God?
- If the purpose of attending church is to meet God, do you give as much preparation to that as you would if you were to meet the President, the Queen, of your favorite movie star?
- What is acceptable worship?
- When is the last time you read your Bible other than on a Sunday?
- Do you spend more time reading the Bible, in meditation on and studying what you have read, or watching television?