The sheriff and outlaw stand at opposite ends of a dusty street, hands twitching with energy and deadly calm. Doors slam with locals rushing for cover, and curtains part for faces watching what’s to come. The sun glares straight overhead, but every store sign reads ‘CLOSED’ for this morose holiday. Coarse dust whips through the street, leaving traces on the sweaty brows of the contestants. A tumbleweed crosses between the two without concern for either. A dog barks in the distance. The gears on the clock tower click and grind to move its eternal hands together pointing towards the heavens, as if in a prayer, and the bell sounds. The men draw, and fire.
Who are the Christians in this narrative? The sheriff standing against evil? The townspeople, hiding and watching? No, too many Christians are the tumbleweed, carried by the wind, rootless and aimless.
Tumbleweeds begin life like any other plant. In the spring, they grow as thick green bushes. But when the spring rains stop, their roots can no longer find enough water to sustain them. They wither, and when their shallow roots can no longer hold them to the ground, they blow away.
It’s lamentable to see our culture becoming unrooted from its Christian foundation; but much more tragic is watching families and individuals once firmly fixed in Christ and His local church be carried about by every wind of doctrine.
In the book of Colossians, Paul commended the church for their order and steadfastness in their faith. These were consistent, faithful Christians. Yet Paul still admonished them: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6–7).
Only as they rooted themselves in Christ would they grow in Him. Paul warns against the winds that would try to uproot them—“Philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world” (Colossians 2:8). It appears that the church was being influenced by Jewish legalism and Greek gnosticism, both of which threatened to pull them away from being established in Christ.
Like the Colossians, we must be challenged to intentionally stay rooted in Christ. We must avoid the drift.
Becoming uprooted happens the same way a man goes broke—slowly, and then all at once. Most Christians I have watched drift from fervency to vacancy would deny anything was wrong. They would say that they were fine with God and they loved me as their pastor. Then one day, they are gone.
On a larger scale, our society has been doing this for decades, and now we see the result of Christian roots being severed. A minister in San Francisco who specializes in non-denominational weddings said in 2001 about 30% of her clients refused any reference to religion at their weddings. A decade later, that number jumped to 80%.
USA Today reported that a growing number of people no longer care or think about religion. Some call it apatheism—apathy towards all religious or belief systems, not just toward a belief in God. They don’t think about Heaven or Hell, sin or redemption. They have no strong feelings against religions. They aren’t the Richard Dawkins atheists who are deliberately antagonistic towards Christianity. They don’t care at all. It’s not even an issue to them any more.
We are living in what Quaker philosopher Elton Trueblood called a “cut-flower civilization.” In his book, The Predicament of Modern Man, he wrote of 1944 America, “Beautiful as cut flowers may be, and much as we may use our ingenuity to keep them looking fresh for a while, they will eventually die, and they die because they are severed from their sustaining roots. We are trying to maintain the dignity of the individual apart from the deep faith that every man is made in God’s image and is therefore precious in God’s eyes.” In other words, we cannot sustain the benefits of Christian morality without Christ.
But lest we click our tongues at culture too loudly, understand this is a failing of the church, not the state. We are the stewards of the Gospel of Christ. Our country follows the life of her churches, and her churches follow the families which make up those churches. We have pulled up our roots from the person of Jesus. He is the only One that can give stability, nourishment, and strength.
How do we get back to our roots, so to speak? How can we stay grounded so we are not the tumbleweed blowing down the dusty street, or the cut flower which looks nice for a little while before withering away? It begins with our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Spend Time with Jesus
We have no roots, and no nourishment, without Jesus. It is the core doctrine of Christianity that salvation comes by faith through grace in Jesus Christ alone. All religions, philosophies, and creeds cannot satisfy outside of Jesus. Christ is the Living Water and the Bread of Life.
Every independent Baptist would affirm that, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It is Jesus plus nothing, minus nothing, through faith that we are given eternal life.
So if this is how we receive Jesus, will we also walk in Him the same way? Salvation isn’t the culmination of the Christian life, it is the beginning of it. When we were lost, we needed Christ like a man in a desert needs water, and when we are saved, we need Him still.
Christ is our Saviour, but He is also our Sustainer. When Paul tells the Colossians to “walk ye in him,” walk is a continuous action. It is a reminder that every action we take, every step on our path, is either in Christ and His power or in our own flesh. We are told to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing” (Colossians 1:10) and to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Ephesians 4:1). In Galatians 5:16 we are admonished, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Jesus provides a fellowship, a holy communion between God and man which is our source of spiritual strength.
Nothing else in the Christian life is more important. Every man counted a hero of the faith has learned and lived this truth. George Müller, Christian evangelist and founder of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England, said this:
“The primary business I must attend to every day is to fellowship with the Lord. The first concern is not how much I might serve the Lord, but how my inner man might be nourished. I may share the truth with the unconverted; I may try to encourage believers; I may relieve the distressed; or I may, in other ways, seek to behave as a child of God; yet, not being happy in the Lord and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, may result in this work being done in a wrong spirit.”
What takes precedence over our relationship with the Creator? The average American spends thirty-five hours a week watching television, according to Nielson and reported by the New York Times. Not all television is wrong or sinful, but at nearly five hours a day, it is idolatrous. This is five hours that could be spent with Christ, making memories with families, and hosting believers in fellowship and unbelievers in outreach. Even with all the attention given to television, it is only one distraction. Our minds have become crowded with information in an ever more technologically connected lifestyle. More than ever, each Christian must deliberately commune with Jesus.
“It is impossible for a believer,” wrote Oswald Sanders, “no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will not take the trouble to spend time with God. Spend plenty of time with Him; let other things go, but don’t neglect Him.”
Know Sound Doctrine
We are rooted in the person of Jesus, and we draw strength from spending time with Him. Along with this relationship, we are also rooted by the truth of His teachings. The Word of God teaches us who Jesus is, what pleases Him, what He died for, and how we can become more like Him. Separated from this truth, the relationship is shallow. We can say we love Jesus, but without knowing the doctrines contained inside the Scriptures, we will be “blown about with every wind of doctrine.”
Paul’s desire for the church at Colosse was that they be stablished—made firm, made sure. Romans 16:25 says, “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.” God has the power to establish us, but it is according to His Gospel, the preaching of Christ, the revelation of the mystery. Our stability is directly tied to the truth.
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever,” reads Hebrews 13:8. Jesus doesn’t change. He is the solid rock. Therefore verse 9 continues, “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” Strange doctrines will pull our hearts away from Jesus and set us adrift. While we should not divide over personal preference, we cannot compromise on Bible doctrine. It is deadly to our homes, our churches, and our personal lives.
One of the strengths of our independent Baptist churches has been in teaching the fundamentals of the faith. Beliefs we can take for granted, however, are not universal among those who call themselves Christians. A nationwide survey conducted by The Barna Group reveals many are not as rooted in doctrine as we would like to believe: four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agree that Satan is not a real being, but just a symbol of evil. Nearly two-fifths (39%) somewhat or strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on the earth. Twenty-two percent believe that “the Bible, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths.” In light of these statistics, is it any surprise that 29 percent of this same group said their faith had not transformed their lives? These Christians have no doctrinal roots, no strong relationship with Jesus, and no nourishment for spiritual lives.
We are commanded in Scripture to be, “Mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour” (2 Peter 3:2). Titus 1:9 teaches us, “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught.”
If this generation of Christians will be established, then this generation of churches cannot neglect teaching the Word of God. There has been a trend in evangelical churches to create many different programs or ministries. No matter if you were interested in model trains, baking pastries, or discussing poetry, there was a program, sponsored by the church, to cater to your interest. (Some churches have even held classes on how to brew beer.)
Don’t forget the core ministry of preaching the Word of God! It’s still the preaching of the Bible that changes lives, stirs hearts, turns souls to Christ, and establishes disciples. “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:1–3). Do not neglect the ministry of the Word!
At Lancaster Baptist, we do have a busy church, and we have constantly needed to assess each calendar event and ask, “Does this program support the core ministry?” We have other programs, but we labor to give them laser-like focus on biblical teaching. Adult Bible fellowships teach Scripture and provide fellowship, and personal discipleship lays the groundwork for doctrine. If the church does not teach the Bible, who else will?
Stay in Christ’s Church
We have an enemy who longs for nothing more than to sift us as wheat—to throw us to the wind and see our lives scattered. Not every person who writes a book or has a television broadcast is there to root us in Jesus, His truth, and His church. We are told to “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit” (Colossians 2:8). The greatest danger comes when our relationship with Christ isn’t as strong as it once was, when we have less of the water of the Word, and when the dry winds of trials come into our lives. It’s at this moment that we are susceptible to false teaching, we swallow the lies, and we make a decision that uproots our lives and the lives of our families.
We need to draw close to Jesus now and dig deep into His Word before the winds blow. Too many Christians decide to change churches, change locations, change beliefs, change careers, and change families in reaction to some trial. An offense was committed against them by someone in the church, whether perceived or real, and instead of resolving it biblically, they leave.
Christian, commit to love the Lord and to love His church. Christ loves the church and gave Himself for it. Have the same heart as David when he wrote, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).
President Theodore Roosevelt committed to attend church each Sunday, even during his presidency. Whenever matters of state would pull President Roosevelt out of town on a Sunday, his pastor would always receive a letter or phone call explaining the President’s absence. Even though there were few people who carried the same responsibilities as President Roosevelt, he loved his church and honored his pastor enough to communicate, “Even though I am out of town, I’m still with you.” He was rooted in the Lord’s church.
A lifetime of faithfulness is cultivated by daily stability. Grow your relationship with the Lord, read His Word, and hold fast to sound doctrine. Beware of those that would pull you away from God and His church. Don’t be a tumbleweed Christian, without roots, without direction, and without growth. Even though you can’t see the fruit today, one day, if you are rooted in Christ, you will look back on a life of faithfulness and see all God has done.