Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Soul Food

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on November 20, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Christ held an impromptu open air meeting that drew a huge crowd to a deserted place.  One thing that was true then, and is still true today, a crowd loves a crowd, and a crowd draws a crowd!  Some came to be healed.  Some came out of curiosity to see this One who was becoming such a celebrity.  Everyone had their own particular reasons for coming.  Mark 6:34b tells us, “He had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.”

It is well known that Christ fed five thousand men plus the women and the children that day.  But this blog entry is concerned with the aftermath.  The crowd went home with their bellies filled with food.  The disciples were sent to the other side of the lake.  Christ withdrew to a mountain to pray.  It didn’t take long for the crowds to begin to gather again.  In fact, many of the same people who had been at that impromptu open air meeting made their way to the other side of the lake to find Jesus again.

Thronging crowds! Huge popularity!  Approval rating through the roof!  Even a groundswell of support to declare him King!  Any decent publicist would tell you, “Strike while the iron is hot and make the most of your 15 minutes of fame!”   Evidently, Christ did not have a good Hollywood handler.  Instead, he confronted the crowd for the very reasons they wanted to see him.  John 6:22-71 report to us the results of this next open air meeting.  Jesus confronted their motivations:  Food (prosperity teaching?), entertainment (self worship?), healing (who doesn’t want to be healthy?), having perceived needs met (self-improvement?).  How many came to give glory to God?  How many desired true spiritual teaching?  How many really cared about the message Christ spoke?  Twelve (and a handful more) stayed with him, but even one of them was a devil (John 6:71).

How many will throng to hear a famous speaker today?  Some preachers enjoy brief periods of fame and they will be accountable to God for how they use their ministry.  Will they teach the Word, even if it costs them fame?  Will they be responsible for leading their hearers into errors like the Charismatic movement, or the Prosperity Gospel, self-esteem theology or some form of emotionalism or mysticism?  Will they be faithful and grounded in the Scriptures alone?  How will they handle the fame (and fortune) they generate?  How will they deal with those who come only to be part of the crowd?  How about the masses who feed on the emotionalism generated?  How about the ones who come to see a gospel show?  The Fabulous Forum, former home of the Lakers, is now a church, the “Faithful Central Bible Church”.  This is where Britney Spears made her famous religious “decision” in what has been described as “a powerful, emotional service” about five years ago.  A simple Google search will tell you what you need to know about that “decision” and that “church”.

Most of the time, the Word of God given in truth will repel a crowd, instead of draw it.  There are isolated incidents in ancient or modern history where we find men and women gathering in large numbers for the sake of truth and righteousness.  As Reformed Baptists, if God is pleased to grant us large numbers, or even relatively small ones, let us make sure we do our duty as ministers of the gospel to give them the entire counsel of the Word of God when they come.  Even our small gatherings present temptations for compromise in various ways.  We must be faithful to the Scriptures, and preach the truths we profess to believe, as found in our Confession, and not rely on the popular methods and techniques of our day. It will likely keep our numbers relatively small, and keep us from being popular, but what good is it to draw a crowd – if they come and are not fed?

Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
  1. Brothers,

    I agree with the overall burden of Steve’s post. There’s certainly much done today in the name of attracting crowds and growing churches that involves varying levels of compromise, sometimes grievous compromise. I do fear, however, that we in the Reformed community can succumb to the subtle tendency of positing an unhealthy (and unbiblical) dichotomy between “faithfulness” and “success,” between smallness and largeness.

    As a counterbalance to this tendency, I’d commend two messages entitled “Successful Or Faithful: Shattering The Dichotomy” preached by Arturo Azurdia at a recent meeting of The Spurgeon Fellowship on the West Coast. Dr. Azurdia, a professor at Western Seminary, a former pastor of Christ Community Church of Fairfield California, and the author of such books as Spirit Empowered Preaching is unashamedly Calvinistic and is no friend to everything that goes under the banner of “church growth.” Nevertheless, he presents what I think is as balanced and biblical perspective on the relationship of faithfulness and fruit-bearing in ministry. Here’s the blurb and the links below:

    Every year thousands of good men leave the pastoral ministry convinced they are failures. Why? They’ve been seduced by what William James bitingly calls “the bitch goddess of success.” But is “success” always a dirty word, implying the inevitability of compromise? Is failure, by default, the defining feature of faithfulness? How should pastors measure success? How does Jesus shape our thinking about success in gospel ministry?

    Successful Or Faithful: Shattering The Dichotomy, Part 1
    Successful Or Faithful: Shattering The Dichotomy, Part 2

    Please accept this not as a challenge to the general thesis of Steve’s post but as a complementary thesis.

    Your servant,
    Bob Gonzales, Dean
    Reformed Baptist Seminary

  2. I’ve given some thought lately to the matters brought up in this post, which does not mean that I have much of value to say. It seems to me that if churches are small, it does not necessarily mean they are doing everything well. I know Pastor Steve was not suggesting that. In spite of the many apostate mega-churches we can all readily name, many relatively large churches exist that are faithful to the Scriptures and the Doctrines of Grace, have sound preaching and teaching, and are committed to evangelism and the Great Commission. If they are not precisely identical to our ARBCA churches in style and doctrine, that should not be of great concern. In our day the Doctrines of Grace have advanced and brought forth fruit in many ways that were inconceivable a few decades ago. We can be grateful to God for that. God has different purposes for different churches. Some will be large and have highly visible ministries and others will faithfully serve in small corners of His Kingdom.

  3. The main concern any pastor should have is not the size of his congregation but how faithful he is to God’s calling. Is he serving God in every way a pastor is called to do? Big churches mean the pastor can only serve by preaching because he cannot minister to each individual that needs him. Someone else must do his job. Not that it is wrong to have undershepherds, even small congregations call upon people to serve. But one gets lost in mega churches and some find that just suits them to a tee. I think this message went right to the heart of subject and made some valid points.

  4. The last words of this blog “…what good is it to draw a crowd – if they come and are not fed?” is an excellent reminder to Pastors everywhere to examine themselves and what they are doing. Who wants to work in vain. If you think that people are coming to your church for the wrong reasons and your feeding that, what good is that? I hope that Pastors can be encouraged if they have small congergation to remember that God gives the increase, that they will continue to trust and obey and continue to press on for the glory of God,as Pastor Marquedant’s excellent blog on plodding encouraged. I just want to thank every faithful preacher of God’s word, thank you. It’s my prayer that your hearts be encouraged to do it God’s way. His ways are not the ways of the world.

  5. DJS thank you for the encouragement. And thank you Steve for another clear and helpful Blog!

  6. “It is written, “‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” And, “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” God help us in whatever station in life He has placed us in, to proclaim Christ and Him crucified for sinners “in spirit and truth.” Apart from faith, God is not pleased, regardless of the body count. Thanks for the exhortation Pastor Steve. God help you (and other pastors like you that strive to be faithful to God’s word) through another Lord’s Day to equip His saints to be that “…aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” Amen!

  7. This Article,”Soul Food”, should be read by most christian churches regardless of their size and denomination. Pastor Marquedant reveals excellent observations on the natural human’s motivations of the heart when seeking vindication from God.This is why it is absolutely necessary to understand why and what your faith is based on. The Confession of Faith adopted by a church will reveal what and how their faith is anchored.This is why a Pastor must make the study of their Confession of Faith a priority. My experience while searching for a church found most pastors did not want to discuss doctrine in depth because it was divisive. Their bible study classes revealed there doctrines and made it easier for me to move on.I found that growth in numbers was a business priority for most churches.
    Stick to the revealed Word of God and He will bless your church.
    John 21:17 “Feed My Sheep”

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