‘Rise Up, O Men of God!’

It has often been noted that—tempted as we as preachers might be—we can never preach to the crowd that is not present. This column might be a bit unusual, then, as one might say that it is presented for the person who will never read it. At least in the case of the written word, however, it can be posted for all to see—and share.

Let me also preface my remarks by stating up front that many of the best responses we have seen in our service with The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry have been in small churches—sometimes to such an extent that it is almost beyond comprehension.

I will say it again—small churches (speaking of churches in the broadest sense) remain the backbone of this nation. Many of them are located in small towns, or even out in the country—but they are, in a very real sense, still holding the whole country together. Speaking more narrowly, in terms of the true body of Christ, I believe that many of her members attend smaller local churches.

The worldly mind might describe these churches as old-fashioned. When we get to spend a day with them, however, we often find that such a depiction is undeserved.

Many of these small churches—often with older congregations—have energetic and enterprising, sometimes younger, pastors. Some of these pastors have impressive credentials, exemplary families and a true desire to “labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17).1 They preach enthusiastic, expository messages—faithfully, week after week—and they pour their hearts into it.

Some of these churches have a real legacy of teaching the Bible that goes back for decades. Every so often we find one that once had a pastor who went on to achieve notable accomplishments, and others have “(built) on this foundation” (1 Cor. 3:12).

Yet, over the decades, the church declined. I suppose it happened for a myriad of reasons. So often now it’s the baby boomers, the sons and daughters of our World War II heroes, who make up the majority of the congregation. These people have grown up loving Israel, and The Friends of Israel, and supporting both. It is from this group of people that I hear two types of statements, on a regular basis, which trouble me greatly.

First, on occasion, when I preach on Biblical prophecy, these senior saints will tell me wistfully that they haven’t heard anything like that in years. That always makes me happy—for the moment—but sad concerning the state of the church.

But there is another response that simply leaves me speechless. Their request goes something like this: “Pray for my son and his family. They go to Church X. That church has lots of __________, but it doesn’t talk about Israel, or prophecy. In fact, I don’t think that my grandkids are really learning the Bible there, at all.”

Perhaps the criticism is overstated in some instances. But the pain in their hearts is very real. It is almost like they are asking me to pray for an unsaved loved one.

What am I to do with these burdens? Perhaps I could write a column—speaking first to the pastors who were trained at dispensational schools, and took the pastorates of dispensational churches—claiming to be dispensationalists. Yet, now, at least practically, they have abandoned any semblance of preaching on Bible prophecy. Dear pastor, may I respectfully entreat you to consider the great need for this kind of teaching—at this pivotal time, perhaps very late in the history of the church age? If you are in need of help in these areas, I know that The Friends of Israel, in particular, stands ready to assist you.

I will speak more pointedly to the second group, the sons and daughters who have led the grandchildren away from the little country church. Dear friend, I would ask you: Was your decision informed purely by Biblical principles? Or did you leave mainly in the quest of something bigger, brighter and shinier? Was it based on the amenities they offer the family? But what will this choice mean for your family in the long run? And what will it mean for that little church that you left?

I can’t answer these questions for anyone, let alone everyone, and it is not my role to judge or fix all the problems. But if you are someone for whom these prayers are prayed, I would ask you to reflect on Paul’s restatement of the Great Commission in 2 Tim. 2:2, and then take the time to examine yourself, before the Lord, as to the place you are taking in that Divine equation.

I would also ask you, pastors and all people—especially asking myself first—to spend some time meditating on William Pierson Merrill’s classic hymn.2 Perhaps we could even sing it in our little church this Sunday. One verse is persistently haunting:

Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up, and make her great!

Notes

1 Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 “Rise Up, O Men of God!” (1911). Public domain.

Paul Scharf 2019 Bio


Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, serving in the midwest. He also assists Whitcomb Ministries and writes for “Answers” Magazine and Regular Baptist Press. For more information on his ministry, visit foi.org/scharf or email pscharf@foi.org.

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T Howard's picture

Paul, with all due respect, a pastor can faithfully preach the Word to his people year in and year out without preaching the dispensationalist view about the future of Israel. A pastor can broadly preach / teach on eschatology (e.g. various mil and rapture views, judgment, the parousia, day of the Lord, intermediate and eternal states, etc.) without having to go down every eschatological rabbit hole or address every eschatological nuance.

Statements like this...

Quote:
“Pray for my son and his family. They go to Church X. That church has lots of __________, but it doesn’t talk about Israel, or prophecy. In fact, I don’t think that my grandkids are really learning the Bible there, at all.”

...are sad because this tells me people have been confused by dispensationalists to believe that if their pastor doesn't teach particular dispensational positions he isn't preaching the Bible.

That just isn't the case, Paul. If a pastor is systematically and faithfully preaching through books of the Bible, his people are being well fed regardless if he makes prophecy and/or Israel a focus of his preaching ministry.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It would be a really interesting DMin sort of study for someone to sample theologically conservative churches  and see how often preaching includes teaching on eschatology and Israel's future, then compare that to how much of Scripture is about those topics.

In my own experience, I haven't seen any neglect of these doctrines relative to "the whole counsel of God." I'm not sure I've even seen a neglect of them relative to "how much we used to emphasize them," at least not in my adult life. I've certainly seen less emphasis than what I remember of my gradeschool days... 70s and early 80s. But it was overemphasized in those days in the circles I grew up in.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

First, thanks for reading!

Second, this statement, "a pastor can faithfully preach the Word to his people year in and year out without preaching the dispensationalist view about the future of Israel," is subjective. The response would obviously be based upon the viewpoint of the person responding. In my case, I would humbly disagree.

Third, you state, "This tells me people have been confused by dispensationalists to believe that if their pastor doesn't teach particular dispensational positions he isn't preaching the Bible." You misunderstand what I am saying here. I was not saying, in this particular case, that to fail to teach on Israel is to fail to teach the Bible at all. There is a progression in my original statement—no teaching on Israel, no teaching on prophecy, not really even any teaching on the Bible at all. I am not talking about their family leaving the small, faithful church to go to a staunchly conservative Reformed church. I am speaking to the much more common occurrence of the family leaving to go to the new church down the road with great music, lights, lasers, bounce castle, coffee shop, etc., etc., but precious little Bible, and certainly no emphasis on Israel (among other subjects).

Fourth, you close with, "If a pastor is systematically and faithfully preaching through books of the Bible, his people are being well fed regardless if he makes prophecy and/or Israel a focus of his preaching ministry." Again, this is a subjective statement, with which I would ultimately disagree. That does not mean that I cannot benefit from listening, for instance, to a Dr. D. James Kennedy or Dr. R.C. Sproul. But if they were all I listened to, I would miss entirely God's significant future plan for Israel.

And if they have a ministerial right to exclude what the Bible teaches in this regard (a debatable point), I surely have a right to emphasize it!

All the Best, and Thanks Again for Reading! PJS

 

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

AndyE's picture

I'm a dispensationalist, maybe not a "hard core" one, but I do believe in the distinction between Israel and the church.  I rarely set out to teach on end times prophecy, but I just happen to be teaching on the Millennium right now in SS.  I have been shocked at how much material there is in the Biblical text regarding the time of the earthly reign of Christ on the earth.  I have taught through sections of the prophetic text, primarily Isaiah, without really making a big deal as to when exactly these truths play out in history, but now that I have the events of the Millennium forefront in my mind, it is amazing to me how many passages deal with this time period.  I'm at the point where I'm convinced that what God still has planned for his people Israel is a major storyline in the Bible.  

T Howard's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
It would be a really interesting DMin sort of study for someone to sample theologically conservative churches and see how often preaching includes teaching on eschatology and Israel's future, then compare that to how much of Scripture is about those topics.

I can only speak for myself, but anytime the passage I'm preaching through addresses eschatology, I teach on the element of eschatology addressed in the passage. Oftentimes, it's just a reference to future judgment or future reward. I don't make eschatology or Israel's future a soapbox topic in my preaching.

The elders and I recently finished a Sunday night series on eschatology. We covered the bibical signs for Christ's return and the various views of the millennium and the tribulation / rapture. We addressed what the Bible says about judgment and hell as well as the new heavens and new earth.

We briefly touched on the role of prophecy and the future of Israel in our discussion on the various millennial views. However, it wasn't a major focus or emphasis. I don't think it needs to be. The New Testament is clear on the purpose of eschatology: to live now in light of Christ's return.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

My approach to prophecy/Israel (combing the two is a bit awkward... since there is so much more of the former than the latter) has also been to teach what's in the text when I come to it.

At my current church, our pastor preached through Revelation last year. Our focus was very much on the sovereignty of God in bringing judgment, mercy, and victory in His time. We considered Israel here and there I think in that context.

If I were preaching through Rev myself (I did teach through it in SS once), I might be a bit more text analytical, which might result a bit more "Is this future Israel here?" considerations. I'm not sure I'd do it that way, though. There's a tendency with Revelation to focus on what is not revealed there at the expense of what is revealed. So I'd want to avoid that. Similarly, with Daniel.  If my message is full of maybe's and probably's I feel like my emphasis/focus is off. Digging into possibilities vs certainties is a better fit with a Sunday School setting and certainly a college/seminary classroom.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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