One of the biggest surprises in my ministry was the opposition to the gospel that arose within my own church. I always assumed there would be opposition to the gospel from outside the church, from the unbelieving world. But at several points in my pastorate I stressed the importance of the gospel for the Christian life, and this surprisingly created a bit of a backlash. I told my congregation that the gospel was not merely the entry point for the Christian life, our initial conversion, but was necessary for the entirety of our lives. The gospel has to undergird our lives moment by moment. All too often people think they must embrace the gospel to be saved and then continue under their own steam. Or, they believe that once they embrace the gospel that a number of well-intentioned but nevertheless man-made practices were necessary to supplement the gospel.
I had one family, for example, who believed they needed to escape the evils of the city, and that living in rural America would enable them to live a godly life. I told them they could move wherever they wanted but that, in the end, they would bring their sin with them. You can’t move away from the sinful inclinations of your heart by changing your geography. In another instance I created a stir by telling the church that moralistically reading the Bible was actually a false form of piety—one that had the appearance of godliness but none of the power of the gospel. In yet another instance, I bothered a few people because I raised the specter of false piety—the idea that just because we excelled at one part of God’s law (at least in our own minds) that we still failed miserably at other parts. Moreover, such false piety was often a smoke screen for serious sin. In other words, “Look at how well I keep the Lord’s Day but don’t look at my pornography collection.”
I was naïve to think that Christians would always embrace the gospel and be positively disposed towards it. I forgot that those who opposed Christ came from within Israel, in fact Israel’s religious leaders—the very people who should have embraced him with open arms. Significant opposition to the gospel arose from within the Galatian church—Paul had to refute false teachers, those who claimed to teach the one true gospel but in reality were teaching a false gospel. Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians for their party spirit and their refusal to exercise church discipline against someone committing gross sin. Yes, there are external threats to the church and the gospel, but I believe some of the biggest hazards come from within the church.
As a new pastor, don’t be surprised when you encounter opposition to the gospel. Respond with kindness, humility, and patience and continue to point your sheep to the gospel of Christ regardless of the consequences. Remind people that there is no substitute for the gospel, no matter how well intended. And each and every Lord’s day remind your sheep that they need the gospel for every moment of their lives—it is the power of God unto salvation.