A young evangelical preacher known for his no-frills sermons didn't go soft when it came to rebuking pastors who are preaching something other than the Gospel and those who are pretending to be godly.
"I, unfortunately, with a great deal of sorrow have walked away from the idea that all of you are men and women of the Word," Matt Chandler of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, told a group of Southern Baptist pastors Monday. "I've just come to find that a lot of you are really good at clichés and really bad at tying in the Word."
Chandler, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy for brain cancer, was in Orlando, Fla., as one of several well-known speakers during the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference.
A pastors event is held every year just ahead of the denomination's annual meeting to encourage and refresh those who lead congregations in the largest Protestant denomination in the country.
Though Southern Baptists overall are recognized for being conservative evangelicals, Chandler took the group back to the core of their faith – the Gospel. After all, someone can grow up in the church, go to Vacation Bible School every summer and participate in all the programs and still not understand the Gospel, he indicated.
Chandler has found some pastors to be preaching the Gospel as a means of justification but failing to teach the Gospel as a means of sanctification. That results in churches primarily focused on evangelism and having "no care in the world for the depths of spirituality and understanding the nature and character of God."
Though active in bringing people to Christ, churches are not deepening and strengthening believers.
Consequently, many people end up leaving the church or becoming "dechurched," he lamented.
Also, by leaving out the sanctification part, many pastors start to preach "Christian therapeutic moralistic deism," a term he borrowed from author Christian Smith. In other words, they preach, "This is how a Christian behaves, this is how you don't behave," though they might not use that exact language.
But that's basically setting believers up to fall short when trying to obey all the laws, the young pastor noted. In fact, Scripture spells out that no one can follow all the laws.
"If you've preached a lot of moralistic deism and haven't trained your people in what the Gospel is, then you will find them doing a slew of different things to try to mortify their sin and grow in godliness, most of which do not work and have no power," Chandler stated.
"When you say ... 'this is how you modify your behavior,' you've doomed your people to a cycle of silliness that will last for the rest of their lives. [It will] end in them never really loving God fully and trying to mortify their flesh by weapons of their flesh and in the end only flesh wins."
In his brief but piercing talk, Chandler went on to address the pastors' own behaviors.
For those who do not understand the Gospel, they end up in a cycle of secret sin, trying to clean themselves up until they're "externally passing the test" – whether it's by reading popular devotionals or drinking from coffee cups that have trite verses printed on them (verses that are taken out of context, Chandler noted).
Addressing the Southern Baptist crowd bluntly about indwelling sins, Chandler stated, "Some of you think you have your sin controlled. I'm not stupid. Some of you are addicted to pornography. Some of you are flirting with women in your church, men in your church.
"I'm not naive. I've been around for 15-16 years now. Some of you are not the godly men and women you're pretending to be right now. Your hearts are dark."
"If God loves you, He's going to expose you ... and ruin your world for the sake of your heart," he stated frankly. "Or maybe in God's passive wrath, He'll let you continue to be an idiot and you'll join that terrified group of men and women in Mathew chapter seven who say 'didn't we do this?' and have Jesus respond with 'what does that have to do with me?'"
Chandler challenged the group to remember and understand the Gospel message.
"We're prone to ... forget the fact that my right standing in front of God has nothing to do with me. NOTHING!" he exclaimed.
"I have done nothing morally," he continued. "My only hope, my only plea, my only confidence is in the blood of Jesus Christ."
When Christians understand this, they will go to God, rather than from Him, and allow His mercy to lead them into further repentance, he said.
"[This] is a mark of Christian maturity," he noted.
"I stand before you ... as a perfect, spotless son of God by no act of my own but by an act on the cross," the Village pastor added. "This is how we combat sin and grow in maturity – [through] an understanding of what the Gospel is."
The Pastors' Conference was held June 13-14 and attended by thousands of pastors. It precedes the SBC annual meeting, which begins Wednesday at the Orange County Convention Center.