Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE ALL TOO OBVIOUS NEED”

Matthew 9.35-38; Luke 10.1-2 

This morning finds Calvary Road Baptist Church at what I sincerely hope will be a pivotal day in our Church’s ministry. We wrapped up our annual Vacation Bible School last night after a blessed week in which we saw greater involvement by our younger people than has ever been the case in this Church’s history. We had a high level of participation all across the spectrum, from those who are quite young to those who are advanced in years, but the involvement and commitment level of our young adults and some teens was very gratifying. I thank you. I commend you. I thank God for all of you who participated in this year’s Vacation Bible School. Today may not only be pivotal because of Vacation Bible School ending last night. Today may also prove to be pivotal because it is the day we launch our Church’s Sunday School ministry after a layoff of decades. To explain that layoff requires a history lesson.

My arrival as the pastor at Calvary Road Baptist Church in November of 1985 was one of the greatest blessings of my life, and the intervening thirty-two years has been a time of personal growth and discovery for me. Among the things I discovered along the way are the legacies that affected not only our Church but so many other congregations that have been unwittingly influenced by two 19th century American Christian leaders, Charles Grandison Finney and Horace Bushnell. Protests to the contrary only illustrate the subtlety of those men’s influences on Christian thought and practice.

Finney’s legacy has been the heresy of Pelagianism and its devastating influence on evangelistic practice in the United States all across the board, extending now into the 21st century to mission fields opened by American missionaries in the 20th century. Had I the time I would recommend a series of works to read that would explain the awful damage done by Charles Finney and his adherents.[1] Those who speak highly of Finney are precisely those who have been adversely influenced by his demonic legacy.

The other damaging figure is the far less well known to us liberal pastor and theologian, Horace Bushnell. The sad reality for most Bible believing pastors and Church members is the pervasive influence on their ministries to children as a direct result of Bushnell and his book Christian Nurture. I read from the back cover of my copy of his book: 

As recently as 1981, Boardman W. Kathan, the distinguished historian, called CHRISTIAN NURTURE “one of the most influential books ever to be published in America.” Published in this form in 1860, CHRISTIAN NURTURE led all other choices in a poll of Christian educators’ listings of which writings they considered indispensable in their field.

A cause of controversy in its day, infuriating the right-wing monthly Christian Observatory and other conservatives, it was a book literally “banned in Boston.” Bushnell’s heterodoxy consisted of a theory of steady, daily Christian nurture for children and an insistence on the rite of infant baptism. He was accused of, among other things, “jeopardizing the immortal souls of parents as well as children.”

After the initial tempest, and time, CHRISTIAN NURTURE has become a classic. It is full of good advice and of a sense of the child as important in God’s eyes. It appeals for good family communication, it takes strong stands against child abuse, and, with rare insight into the psychology of infancy, it recognizes a need for early encouragement of a child’s spirit, representing an understanding rare in Bushnell’s day that childhood is not preparation for life but an integral part of it.

HORACE BUSHNELL was an extraordinary preacher, pastor, and writer. Mark Twain considered Bushnell to be one of the greatest clergy of nineteenth century America.[2] 

Three comments about Bushnell and his book about what I have just read: First, the sad state of American Christianity is attested to by the tragedy that one of the most influential Christian writers and books in American history are unknown to most pastors in the 21st century. Second, the admission by the book’s publisher that Horace Bushnell was not an orthodox Christian. He was, in fact, theologically liberal and denied the central tenets of the Christian faith, making his influence all the more destructive. Finally, it says something about a pastor and writer when he is considered to be one of the great of the 19th-century clergymen by Mark Twain, who was a well-known atheist.

Because the influences of Finney and Bushnell on our Church’s philosophy and practice was so thoroughgoing, despite the fact that we had so many wonderful Christians in positions of influence, I felt the only way I could purge those influences from our teaching of the Bible was to allow our Sunday School to wither and cease to function. An extreme step, I admit to you. But that way we would not be adversely affecting Churchgoing children in precisely the way so many Churches continue to do these days. Did it mean that I was just about the only person doing any Bible teaching here? Yes, but it was a risk I had to take because mingled among our wonderful Christians here at Calvary Road Baptist Church were some whose views were suspect. I simply could not take the risk of our precious children being taught doctrinal poison. However, after the passage of time and the conversion of so many of our young people who have been raised without the overwhelming influences of Finney and Bushnell, we are now ready to get back into the Sunday School ministry once more after a long layoff. How would I know our Church was finally ready to start up a Sunday School ministry again? I admit that I didn’t think I would know when the time was right, so I resorted to making mention of my desire for a Sunday School ministry from time to time, prayed about it just about all the time, and then waited for God to stir the hearts of some of our people to minister in this way to children.

Several months ago I was approached about a Sunday School ministry and asked what would be necessary to develop such a ministry at our Church. I indicated we would need no less than ten people who would be willing to devote forty-eight weekends a year to the ministry. After all, there is a connection between faith and faithfulness and the effectiveness of engaging in a faith ministry while not being faithful is obviously compromised. Next thing I knew, about a dozen of our younger Church members, expressed interest. And the timing of the whole thing seemed to fall into place so that we could kick off Sunday School at the tail end of Vacation Bible School. So, here we are. We have a group of men and women, some more mature and experienced and others with more energy and potential, who I am persuaded know that the just shall live by faith, that whatsoever is not of faith is sin, whose lives reflect their understanding that Christians are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, and that faith without works is dead being alone.[3] They have expressed interest in serving.

Understand that Sunday School is not the only area of ministry a Church member can engage in, but it is an area of ministry that is sharply focused on evangelism. It is an activity that is precisely geared to bearing fruit. As well, it may very well be the most labor intensive ministry in our Church. However, it is not for everyone. To be involved in any aspect of the Sunday School ministry, as a teacher, as a helper, as part of the security detail, as one of the many needed for visitation and follow-up, and as someone engaged in transportation, you must cultivate a love for children. Thus, you must be interested, eager, humble, and above all teachable. Some people are kid haters. No thanks. Others are just clumsy and have the unintended effect of creeping kids out. No thanks. You are extremely welcome to engage in ministry elsewhere, but not everyone is geared to minister to children. As well, for some, the timing is not yet right. Some of you are at a necessarily crucial time in your lives when commitment to such a ministry as this is not yet possible. Perhaps someday.

Or perhaps your day has passed. Like me, you may be too old to participate in the way you would like, so you are able at this point to be mainly a prayer warrior, an encourager, or someone with your eyes open for opportunities and prospects to invite to Sunday School. Great. Or perhaps you are already involved in some aspect of our Church ministry that you prefer to devote yourself to, such as evangelism on Saturday evening. That, too, is great. To the rest of you, I would caution, be on guard for inappropriate influences seeking to convince you that service and ministry are for others, but that you are somehow special and therefore exempt. Such influences are to be resisted. Such influences do not come from heaven.

Where we are today strikes me as being remarkably similar to two occasions that are recorded in the Gospel accounts, roughly eighteen months apart from each other. In the two accounts, the Lord Jesus Christ responded in very similar fashion, taking action Himself and urging that action be taken by others. I would like to read those two passages to you at this time. We begin with Matthew 9.35-38: 

35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

36 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

37 Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;

38 Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. 

Interesting to note is that the very next thing the Lord Jesus Christ did after this is found in Matthew 10, where is described the Savior calling to Him twelve disciples who He designated to be apostles, and sent them forth. Then, about eighteen months later, the Lord Jesus Christ did about the same thing, except that instead of seeing the plight of the multitudes, saying to His disciples, and then sending forth the apostles, He once more saw the plight of the multitudes, sent forth seventy, and then said to those He sent. This is found in Luke 10.1-2: 

1  After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.

2  Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.

These two passages offer us three images of the Lord Jesus Christ to pay careful attention to. The first is of Him wandering about cities and villages, carrying out His ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing. That is specifically pointed out in Matthew 9.35, but it is also true of His ministry 18 months later. The second is of Him seeking the crowds and feeling compassion for them, Matthew 9.36. The phrase “moved with compassion” refers to a word that shows the pity He had, the compassion He felt, the tenderness He expressed, for those who were described as “sheep having no shepherd.”[4] The third is of Him speaking to His disciples, explaining to them the situation and what they must do, Matthew 9.37-38. He said the same thing to the seventy in Luke 10.2 a year and a half later: 

“Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” 

Let’s bring this home. Here we are, in much the same situation of the twelve and later on the seventy. We have the same Master those men had. The condition of the multitudes is also identical; they are sheep without a shepherd. What our Lord said to the twelve, and later to the seventy, has been recorded for us. Does it need to be said that the Savior’s compassion for the multitudes then should also drive us to action now? It was in Second Corinthians 5.14-15 that the Apostle Paul explained the motivation for not only his ministry, and the Corinthians’ ministry, but also ours: 

14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:

15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 

Prompted by the heartfelt compassion for the lost the Savior has, I urge you to consider the three things you and I should do as disciples of Jesus Christ: 

First, REMAIN FAITHFUL IN THE MINISTRY YOU ARE ALREADY ENGAGED IN 

This is unstated in our text because it is too obvious to require explanation. What the Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 9.37-38 He said to men who were already His disciples, to men who were about to be designated apostles of Jesus Christ. What the Lord Jesus Christ said in Luke 10.2 He said to men who were already faithful disciples, men He had just appointed to be the seventy, the thirty-five pairs who He would send forth.

Throughout the New Testament, we read of exhortations and encouragements to faithfulness to those who are facing discouragement, to those who are facing opposition, to those who are facing physical hardship, and to those who are struggling against their sinful natures. However, in every instance the goal is the same: faithfulness in ministry. Paul declared it succinctly in First Corinthians 4.2: 

“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” 

In other words, hang tough. Suck it up. Keep on keeping on. Don’t quit.[5] Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.[6] Rejoice in the Lord, alway: and again I say, Rejoice.[7] Whatever you do, don’t quit. And if you have quit get up, brush yourself off, and get back into the battle.[8] 

Next, RECOGNIZE THE SPIRITUAL SITUATION YOU FIND YOURSELF IN 

The concept is crucial in business, in law enforcement, for the military in combat, and for anyone walking on a deserted street in a rough neighborhood. It’s called situational awareness, being aware of your circumstances, keeping your head up and paying attention to your surroundings. The Lord Jesus Christ here describes the situation that should already have been readily apparent to those He was speaking to: 

“Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few.” 

Two observations are made: First, there is our field of endeavor. The Savior likened the spiritually needy of this world to a harvest. What does that mean? That they are ready to be gathered? That the work of gathering them in will be very hard? But there are so many out there? Consider the Los Angeles area alone, with its 14 or more millions. Do you notice their spiritual condition when you go out, when they come to visit when you encounter them here and there? Those you know and those you do not know are so very needy: 

“The harvest truly is great.” 

Next, there are the conditions we must face. There are not many workers. Lots of professors, perhaps, but not many workers. Many who are thrilled that it is harvest time, and rejoice when the harvest is brought in, but who are not willing to engage in the difficult work of bringing in the harvest themselves. That is the sad reality that we face. That is the discouraging nature of Christian ministry, people smiling as they walk to their cars with no intention of helping you to reach those your heart breaks for. 

Third, RESPOND TO THE NEED BY PRAYING 

“Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” 

Please be mindful that this response is not exclusive of what comes before. You do not pause your faithful service to respond in this way. Neither do you close your eyes to the reality you see around you to respond in this way. Your response, your prayers, are to be offered up while you are remaining faithful and while you recognize the plight of the multitudes. In other words, pray with your eyes open and your hands still gripping the tools of your labor.

What do you do while you are visiting to enlist kids for Sunday School? What do you do while you are rediscovering how great the task is that you face, with so many children and so few parents who see the needs of their children? You pray to God that He would send others to help you, others who might be better than you, who might be more effective than you, who might bear more fruit than you, who might reach those you so desperately want to see reached.

What do you do while you are teaching kids in Sunday School? What do you do while you are rediscovering how great the task is that you face, with so many children and so few parents who see the profound spiritual needs of their children? You pray to God that He would send others to teach Sunday School classes with you, to visit Sunday School prospects with you, to make friends with the parents and their kids with you.

What do you do while you are standing watch to make sure the kids attending Sunday School are safe and wishing there were more men to greet the children, to smile at them, and to befriend them? What do you do while you are rediscovering how great the task is that you face, with so many children and so few with the inclination to look out for the physical safety of the children? You pray to God that He would send others to help you.

What do you do while you are providing care for the little children of young parents involved in the Sunday School ministry? What do you do while you are rediscovering how great the task is that you face, with so many children and so few to care for the children? You pray to God that He would send others to help you. 

The need is so great. The Savior’s heart is so compassionate for the lost. The task is so profoundly important. Is there anything more important? Many will work, but not pray. Others will pray, but will not work. Still others will neither pray nor work. The result is often a rigid and impersonal approach to ministry that does not see each child as a unique individual who bears the image of God while being dead in trespasses and sins and in desperate need of Christ.

So many parents claim to love their children and convince themselves that they are good parents because they and their kids are such good pals and enjoy each other’s company. However, that is not the role of either a mother or a father. Children are to be raised in the nurture admonition of the Lord.[9] They are to be raised to walk worthy of God.[10] They are to be raised in this life, so they will be prepared for the next life.

Even parents who are mature and godly recognize the vital role in helping them raise their children that is to be played by Church ministry. Where else will children be encouraged to honor their fathers and their mothers? Where else will children be encouraged to respond to the Gospel ministry of their Christian parents?

And where else will those whose parents are not Christians be exposed to the unsearchable riches of Christ? It is in Churches that seek the salvation of children for Christ’s sake. It is an all too obvious need. The need requires your response by serving, your response by praying, and your response by recruiting others to help you reach the least, the last, and the lost for Jesus Christ.

__________

[1] My recommendation for the interested reader is to begin with James E. Adams, Decisional Regeneration Vs. Divine Regeneration, (Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2010), followed by R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Today’s Apostasy: How Decisionism Is Destroying Our Churches, (Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., Second Edition April 2001) and David Bernnett, The Altar Call: Its Origins and Present Usage, (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2000) before reading the three works of Charles G. Finney, The Memoirs of Charles G. Finney: The Complete Restored Text, (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1989, Garth M. Rosell & A. G. Dupuis, Editors), Lectures On Revival, (Revival Press, 2016), and Finney’s Systematic Theology, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1994).

[2] Horace Bushnell, Christian Nurture, (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, reprinted from the 1861 edition in 1994), back cover.

[3] Habakkuk 2.4; John 3.36; Acts 3.21; Romans 1.17; 14.23; Galatians 3.11; Ephesians 2.10; Philippians 3.9; Hebrews 10.38; James 2.17

[4] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 28.

[5] Psalm 89.36; Matthew 24.13; Mark 13.13; 2 Thessalonians 1.4; 2 Timothy 2.3, 10; 4.5; James 5.11

[6] James 4.7

[7] Philippians 4.4

[8] Proverbs 24.16

[9] Ephesians 6.4

[10] 1 Thessalonians 2.7-12

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org