There is a lot the Church can do. It can lead the way in feeding the hungry. It can assist and minister to the broken hearted. It can inspire the downtrodden. It can provide hope to those living in despair. It can encourage. It can teach and theologize. It can practice forgiveness. It can proclaim the love of God, advance Kingdom principles, and introduce people to Jesus Christ. It can motivate and uplift. It can multiply.
But there is one thing the Church cannot do. It cannot save anyone who doesn’t know they are lost. And you cannot reveal lostness without talking about sin. In order to “Prepare the way of the Lord,” John the Baptist preached a very short and simple message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). If you take away all the theological parlance from the hyper-religious explanation of what repentance is you are left with something very simple. Repentance is apologizing to God for your sin and pledging not to repeat it. That is how you prepare the way of the Lord into a person’s heart. Acknowledge sin. Turn from it. Embrace what’s coming (Jesus).
Where is that word (repent) among the leaders of the Church today? When the highest officials in government get caught lying to the people, who is crying “Repent!”? Not the Church. Sexual immorality of all kinds is rampant and rife in society today. Are Church leaders standing up saying “Repent!”? Hardly. If anything, many of them are helping to legitimize it. Prime time television shows are dripping with profanity, immorality, and hardcore violence. And from the Church we get crickets chirping.
John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ by shouting “Repent.” Today, the leaders of Christianity are preparing the way for the return of Christ by holding hands and singing, “Don’t worry…Be happy.” I wonder who they think Jesus was talking about as He concluded the Sermon on the Mount with “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21)?
Jesus said that only sick people need a doctor (Matthew 9:12). Does any follower of Christ think that He meant He knew there were plenty of well people on Earth who didn’t really need to be saved? My point is this: Christianity is not about helping people live better lives. It’s about bringing the dead back to life (see Ephesians 2:1-6). And you cannot bring the dead back to life if they believe they are already living.
Until the Church reclaims and proclaims the message of repentance amid a sin sick and saturated society it will continue to wane in relevance. And just for the record, you can cry out “Repent!” with love and grace. It doesn’t have to be a message of judgment and condemnation. But it is a very specific and pointed message. Which means many will take offense. Come on pastors…you can do it. Preach the message that both John the Baptist and then Jesus Christ preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Ray Rooney, Jr.