And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ [n]doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:40-42
This is the result of Peter’s sermon in Jerusalem on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. It was not a sermon of emotion but fact. It was a sermon of condemnation, which Peter had been afraid to speak of since Jesus’ crucifixion. He and the disciples were still afraid of what would happen to them as followers of Jesus, and rightly so. They all suffered imprisonment and beatings, and tradition holds that only John died a natural death. All the rest were martyred.
Peter’s sermon connected Jesus to King David and his prophecies. He also condemned those who murdered Jesus. He stood boldly in the middle of Jerusalem and preached God’s truth!
He did so passionately, but he did not appeal to emotion. He appealed to facts and acceptance of guilt, also offering forgiveness through Jesus.
And therein lies the key to a fruitful witness of Jesus to all.
My daughter from Ohio came to visit us this past week. I hadn’t seen her in three years due to COVID issues. It was a great reunion!
She, my wife, and I had a relaxing breakfast at our favorite café and a nice, long conversation. She’s more liberal than I am. I enjoy talking to her about things we disagree on to challenge myself, to stretch my mind and perhaps come away better for it. One topic is religion. Many years ago, despite having been very fervent in her faith in her youth, she informed my wife and I that she didn’t believe in that shit anymore. In the years since we have cried and prayed that she would somehow be drawn back to God and that He would enlighten us as to what we should do, how we should talk to her.
So Monday morning I brought Scripture into the discussion simply because it was the direction I’d go with anyone on the topic at hand. She went along with me and eventually, without quite saying it, told us why she abandoned her faith.
It was Acquire the Fire and similar emotion-based strategies that churches take with their youth. My daughter was excited to go, but she came away with a lot of self-doubt. The emotional intensity started making her think she had to have a faith that felt like that all the time. She knew it wasn’t sustainable. She started thinking that maybe something was wrong with her or that she just didn’t have a faith good enough to cut it.
This reminds me of a Christian youth concert I attended with a pastor friend to hand out information on his church. I could only stay in the arena for minutes at a time due to the decibels inside! I would step in from a hall behind the nosebleed section, far from the stage. Even there the waves of sound hit me in the chest with physical force! I watched some teens violently swinging their heads around just as one sees at a heavy metal concert. The lyrics were undiscernible.
There was nothing there to distinguish this concert from a secular one. It was all hype!
Allow me an example in the adult arena; Promise Keepers. It’s a similar event attracting men who want to be better husbands and fathers. A friend at church was really after me to go with him to an upcoming event. I finally asked him a question for which he had no answer.
“Randy, let me get this straight. You want me to take an entire weekend away from my family to go to this thing where they’ll get me all jazzed up to the point where I make a solemn promise to…uh…spend more time with my family. Is that about it?”
The question Acquire the Fire and Promise Keepers were trying to answer was how to be better Christians. Their answer is flawed, because faith has nothing to do with emotion. Getting people whipped into a frenzy does not produce faith. At best, it becomes a short-lived approximation of faith that will whither and die at the first challenge.
Worse, when that happens it leaves the person doubtful of their faith and maybe even their worth. It provides no instruction!
Therein lies the core of faith and living a God-pleasing life – instruction. The only instruction that matters is God’s Word. Peter used God’s Word on Pentecost when he taught the connection between David and Jesus, and the effect was profound! Three thousand souls were saved that day.
I personally know of an atheist from Russia who came to the states on business. Her hosts put her up in their daughter’s room. She saw her white confirmation bible on the nightstand and started reading it. Come morning, she had been up all night reading. She asked how she too could become a Christian!
Instruction from God’s Word is the only way to come to faith and live the life God intends for us.
Ken Ham wrote a book several years ago called Already Gone. He had a prominent survey company tackle the question of why the youth keep leaving their churches. Their findings probably came as a shock to many. The cause did not lie in lack of modern music. It was not about whether the church was in tune with today’s culture. It all came down to whether or not the church boldly taught what’s in the Bible.
One key point hit me strongly; those who had regularly attended Sunday School were more apt to drop out of church.
Just like my daughter!
God’s word has been dumbed down to children and youth with cartoons and bright colors and art projects. It’s no wonder they leave when they take science classes that teach evolution and that there is no Intelligence behind the universe. Comparing test tubes and archeology to cartoons and cutouts, who do you think will win?
Read your Bibles with your kids. Learn God’s ways together. Learn that faith does not come from emotion. Rather, it is a bulwark against fickle emotion that challenges it!