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I have an acquaintance who believes that a speaker (pastor, Sunday School teacher, and so on) is sinning if he doesn’t include the gospel in every message. Does the Bible back this up? Please comment. Also, does the Bible specifically command the prayer meeting in the local church?

If your friend were saying that the “truth” found in God’s Word must be presented in every message or lesson, I would heartily agree. The apostle Paul stated, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He frequently made mention of the “truth,” and that word is often found in the epistles, as well as in the Bible as a whole. For example, he reminded Timothy of “God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3, 4).

It is amazing how little truth comes from much of the general preaching and teaching going on today. Rather, we find spoken presentations laden with opinions, speculations, mere entertainment, ideas found in books, and so forth. Our messages should drip with truth found in the Book of Books. That is not to say that we cannot use illustrations or that the opinions or observations of others have no value when we’re communicating God’s Word. But these elements must not be substitutes or be elevated to an equal or greater prominence than God’s Word.

However, your friend used the word “gospel,” and this word does raise a question. Is he using the word “gospel” to mean giving out the truth in some way in every message, no matter what the occasion or purpose? Or is he demanding an exclusive, or pointedly evangelistic, salvation appeal in every message or lesson, regardless of the circumstances or occasion?

The former is certainly right and wise. For one thing, all Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). The good news of Jesus Christ and His person and work, including His death, burial and resurrection (1 Cor. 15), is so wonderful and limitless in scope that we could never contain it all in one message. Certainly everything taught in the Bible in some way hinges upon the redemption of God’s Son. We must always remember, too, that the Word of God is so powerful that many people have been saved or brought into a greater relationship with God and with others when they heard an initial or even subsequent message (or messages) not specifically aimed at sin, Hell, salvation or a similar subject.

God can take any portion of His Word and do things in some life that the speaker may not have even anticipated. I’ve seen this myself. For example, an unbeliever might hear a message on prayer or some other aspect of the Christian life, and the Holy Spirit uses that message to reveal the person’s deep spiritual need. Or maybe at a Christian wedding an unsaved person will hear a few words of Scripture on the divine origin and permanency of marriage, and the Holy Spirit uses that passage to draw him into the vital matters of his eternal destiny.

We can never predict how the Holy Spirit is going to work in drawing people unto a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Every issue that the Bible addresses goes in some way or another right to the heart of the gospel, the redemption and new life found in Christ. A pastor or teacher of God’s Word needs not be ashamed to address any matter covered in the Scriptures, including the texts that are not deemed explicitly salvation texts.

Nevertheless, it is also important that pastors, teachers, and other speakers of the Word of God appeal directly to the sinner concerning his lost condition whenever the opportunity presents itself. Perhaps Biblical Christianity has lost this art at least to some degree in some circles and among various people.

Of the great truth concerning the salvation we have as the result of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:), Paul concluded in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” In Romans 10:14, Paul asked, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how Shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”

This passage is an urgent nudge to every bearer of God’s Word. Why wouldn’t anyone who has the opportunity give a clear presentation of the gospel whenever appropriate and whenever under the Holy Spirit’s leading? Without being rigidly dogmatic simply because the Word of God does not specifically address how we are to draw sinners in every situation, we would agree that what we know in our century as an evangelistic appeal, including what we call the “invitation,” certainly has its place.

Your question about the prayer meeting is similar. As with the evangelistic appeal, the Bible doesn’t specifically spell out every detail as to how we are to get people in a local assembly of believers together to pray. God has graciously given us minds with creative capacity to find the right mechanics for carrying out His commands. Some churches highlight the regular midweek meeting, which is excellent. Other churches go further and excel at getting the members to pray at home about church needs. Still other churches have found success in bringing people into prayer through other means or at other times. This is also commendable.

Instead of “either/ or,” why not stress “both/and”? What is important is that the church pray, following the pattern set forth in the first New ‘Testament church: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Paul over and over again in his letters stressed the importance of prayer, whether private or public (as in a group of believers).

So to answer your question, no, the Bible doesn’t command that we meet at 7:00 on Wednesday nights for prayer. But it does command us to pray, and if that particular time and/or any other time is the best and logical time for collective prayer in your local church, so be it. Any local church needs to evaluate whether or not the job of prayer is getting done effectively and to take appropriate steps to improve its prayer life, individually and collectively. We’ve never needed it more than in today’s troubled times.

This article appeared in the “Q & A” column of the Baptist Bulletin (June 1997) by Norman A. Olson. 

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