As for what was sown on the rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root within himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20-21)
Starting next month, Beacon of Hope Church will be doing a series on the Enemies of the Church, looking at enemies that we face both from within and without. As the worship music leader, I have taken a fair amount of time to prepare for this series, seeking to choose music that will compliment each topic and form a cohesive church service from start to finish (which is another topic for another time). As I have been studying and preparing for this series, the parable of the sower has continued to come to mind.
More specifically, I've been reminded of those that Jesus warns are the seeds sown in rocky soil. At first, the seeds are supplied with ample water in order to grow up quickly, but as they grow their roots are met with impenetrable rock, and the sun's heat scorches the plants and they wither away. This is a dire warning from Jesus, as we see in His explanation of the parable:
It has long been my belief (and my fear) that many churches in our country today have their foundation placed firmly in this rocky ground. They sprout up relatively quickly, with vibrant ministries and seemingly impressive numbers of people being saved; but what will happen to these churches if suddenly Christianity is declared illegal in the United States? I'm sure many will lock the doors, board up the windows, and never meet again. And all the "believers" who attended will deny that they ever truly believed what was preached. Perhaps some of these people will even accuse the leadership in those churches into hoodwinking them into believing a 2,000-year-old myth.
There is an inherent problem with this kind of Christian. Those who fall into the rocky soil category latched onto certain truths about God, perhaps His love and His mercy. They loved hearing about the forgiveness of their sins, but never grasped the implications behind such forgiveness. Jesus makes this perfectly clear in Luke 9: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (v.23-24). Forgiveness of sins really comes when you see yourself for what you are outside of Christ, repent of those ways, and turn to follow Christ by faith in His saving work on the cross. Every day you nail your sinful nature on the cross, heeding the will of your Savior. But these rocky-soil-Christians do not have this kind of deep-rooted faith that seeks to follow Christ no matter the cost. They praise God when everything in their lives is going their way, but once that changes and times get hard they fall away.
Because of the rise of the postmodern, "there's no such thing as absolute truth" mindset that has engulfed our society, many churches are declaring a watered-down faith. They want people to stay and not be offended by what they are preaching, and so they dismiss the uncomfortable parts of the gospel. Their concern becomes less about souls and more about numbers. This is a dangerous vision for ministry, for all it can produce is a wide field of plants with shallow roots, surrounded by rocky terrain. They have learned a small amount of the gospel and think that it is enough to save them. Yet when any time of testing begins, their faith is shaken to its core, often causing a mass exodus from the faith. This small trial could have easily been weathered by those who had deep roots, true saving faith in the whole gospel, but it is not so for those on rocky ground. Their belief in God is combined with an idea that other religions might also be true, and so their faith in Christ is negated from the beginning.
It is my belief that persecution needs to come to the American church, and when it does, we will see a separating of the wheat from the chaff. Then the church will grow deeper roots, and will continue to have effective ministry by the grace of God. One of my roommates is of the opinion that because of the current state of American culture, we may never arrive at that point. In that case, many of these rocky-soil-Christians will continue on until their shallow faith fizzles out because it cannot sufficiently explain circumstances and events that occur. Either way, this kind of faith cannot, and will not, last.
I am looking forward to this series at Beacon on the Enemies of the Church. I have no doubt that it will encourage our church and strengthen our roots so that we will be able to weather these cultural storms that would seek to rip us out of the ground. I hope that we are all able to sing with confidence, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."
A simple servant of the Master.