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A Little Ocean Ambiance
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Doctrinal Writings
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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
"And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." ( Luke 5:27-32)
 It seems that the fifth chapter of the book of Luke is dominated by the subject of saving lost souls. The first story is about the well-known netting of "a great multitude of fishes" from the boat of Simon Peter (verses 1-11). In that story, Peter learns important lessons, and is given the promise,
"From henceforth thou shalt catch men." ( verse 10)

 The story of the man "taken with a palsy" (in verses 16 through 26) emphasizes the priority of the forgiveness of sins over the healing of the body. The rest of the chapter deals with events and teachings related to the conversion of Levi (he calls himself Matthew in the account given in the book he wrote; Matthew 9:9-13) the publican. After deciding to forsake all and follow Jesus, he "made him a great feast in his own house" in order to introduce his old friends to his new Friend and Master. The scribes and Pharisees regarded this bunch of bad people as "sinners," and wondered out loud why Jesus and His disciples would eat with them. The Lord's answer to them is instructive to us who follow Him now, in very many ways.

"And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." ( verses 31 and 32)

 His mission was not "to call the righteous." He was not organizing a "righteous club" or a society of good men. He came to call "sinners to repentance" ( verse 32). What He said here about calling sinners to repentance is consistent with what he said in other parts of the book of Luke.

"Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes." ( Luke 10:13)
"The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here." ( Luke 11:32)
". . .except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." ( Luke 13:3)
"Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." ( Luke 15:10)
"And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." ( Luke 24:47)
 Sinners must repent in order to be saved. And the churches will grow as sinners repent and join others in following Jesus. This is the way Jesus said we are to do the job: by preaching repentance and the remission of sins in His name.

 However, there is another way to do it. It is becoming more and more popular (although it has always been done) to build churches by calling the righteous. Some are sincere, and have no idea that this is what they are doing. They think they are engaged in vigorous evangelism when really they have virtually abandoned evangelism for another kind of "church growth." They call the righteous instead of calling sinners to repentance.

  • 1. One Way is Based on Agreement; the Other on Persuasion.
    To call the righteous is to ask for no particular change of mind or behavior. To call to repentance is by definition to insist on a change. Building up a "righteous club" involves gathering people who agree on certain things. Calling sinners to repentance involves getting people to change direction. There is a great difference between the two. Churches that downplay the difference between their members and the "unchurched" in order to help visitors "feel comfortable" are actually in the business of calling the righteous. Our righteousness must not be too much higher than average righteousness, they are saying, for average people to answer the call. The pressure to change will run them off! You keep more of them by emphasizing sameness rather than difference. The church must offer to help people feel better and achieve more, they are saying. It cannot depend on persuading people to change their morals, their values, their habits, and their aspirations as a means of getting the membership to grow. Really, they are calling the righteous! Many fundamentalist churches are now being built up by means no different from the strategies used to grow liberal or liturgical churches. Many grow the same way social clubs are grown, perhaps because they are becoming social clubs. Nobody is being called to repentance.

  • 2. One Way Will Lower Standards; the Other Keeps Them High.
    In order to call like-minded righteous folks to join your club (church), you must be careful to project a standard of righteousness that is "like-minded" enough. A standard that is too high will offend potential members, and should be rejected. The pastors of some of our country's largest churches proclaim that their ministries are "not about rules." They call high standards of living "legalism." The leader of what has been named America's largest church admits that he will not preach on controversial subjects and even avoids condemning abortion or homosexuality. The most basic Biblical standards are omitted in order not to seem "negative" to visitors. Such churches are not trying to persuade or change people; they are trying to recruit them. Therefore they must keep the bar low. However, Jesus kept it high, and called on sinners to repent and agree with it. Remember what He said in Matthew 5:20.
    "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
    He called on Pharisees and others to repent and to accept His higher standards. He did not lower the standards of righteousness in order to recruit them.

  • 3. One Has Trouble Achieving Holiness In the Church; the Other Sees Sinful Lives Transformed.
    Haven't you heard it said that we are seeing fewer dramatic conversions these days? Where are the drunkards becoming sober, or the immoral becoming pure, or the addicted being set free, or the mean turning sweet? This problem has been created partly by the replacement of repentance religion with recruitment religion. When the church works hard to avoid offending people with Bible standards and doctrines, it has abandoned the quest to change lives. If we are not different, why should they change? It is not unusual at all for a man or woman living a terrible life, dressed in scandalous clothes, using gutter language, and acting like the devil, to walk into an old-fashioned, straight-laced, high-standard, hell-fire church and to come out transformed. But it is unusual for somebody to enter an anything-goes, user-friendly, no-offense, night-club church and come out with any noticeable difference at all. The question before many a preacher and church in our nation today is "Will we call people to join us because we are like them, or will we call them to repent and follow Jesus?" The Bible does teach soul-winners to find lines of communication with sinners by which to open opportunities to explain the Gospel (as in I Corinthians 9:19-22). Jesus ate meals with notorious transgressors. However, in communicating the Gospel, we will always seek to persuade sinners to repent. When we stop converting people in order to recruit them, we have given up on evangelism. It is true that salvation in Christ is not by works and not through a change in behavior. But it is also true that in order to believe on Christ, one must repent; change his mind about sin, about salvation, and about the Savior. He does not just join the church because he likes it. The sinner is called to repent.

 Subtly, churches have changed their approach. They have geared their ministries to attract the young, the secular, the baby-boomer, the single, the troubled, the divorced, the addicted, the smart, the successful, the depressed, the rebellious, the disillusioned , and everybody else. Yet they have almost quit calling sinners to repentance. In some mega-churches, the membership is growing through transfers and not by professions of faith. But everybody is a sinner who needs a Savior, a sick man who needs a physician. Without Christ, nobody is well and nobody is righteous.

"And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." ( Luke 5:31-32)
We need churches today that will be truly evangelistic, calling sinners to repentance!

Monthly Article
February 02, 2007
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)

Articles published in the;
Sword of the Lord
Baptist Preacher,
Christian View of the News,
Pulpit Helps,
Maranatha Watchman
Church Bus News,
and other national periodicals.

His Majesty's Service
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Teaching the Word
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