As a pastor it can sometimes feel like I go from one circle of Christians to another to another to another. I am reading Christian books, reading Christian tweets, thinking and talking about the church world all day long. I am aware of mega-churches in and near my city I respect and some of the things they're doing. I am aware of the church-planting movement I'm a part of and others around the country as well. So, given my default mindset--I can operate with some false assumptions about how people in the South have heard the gospel.
I was recently reminded of this on a trip to a sister church in Midland of the desperate state of the religious South to hear the gospel for the first time.
As we did a kind of prayer ministry around the homes of the church a person from my team and I found an open door to talk about Christ with a worker in his 20s.
He was a bright, intelligent, hard-working guy. He was easy to talk to--just "good-ole-boy" for those who enjoyed the Dukes growing up. I liked talking to him. His thoughts concerning religion went something like this.
"Hey I appreciate what you guys are doing...I'm a Christian too...I was saved and baptized as a kid. I don't really have any interest in going to a church--but I know I'll see St. Peter at the pearly gates when I die...I'm good."
Although our mission was to demonstrate the love of Christ through prayer and inviting people to a gospel-class a month away--he seemed open to talking.
"How do you know you'll go to heaven--how do you have confidence of that?"
"Because I'm a good person." [confidently]
He went on to explain that he had never murdered anybody--and that being a good person was all that you needed to be sure of eternal life.
"Why did Jesus die on the cross?"
"For our sins...." [confidently]
But how do you know that you're going to heaven?
"Because I'm a good person..." [confidently]
We asked him if someone can be good enough to earn their way to heaven--why he thought God would ever allow his Son to be killed for sins.
Although he did express that he had never considered that--his thoughts stayed fixed in dual objects in his mind. His hope being grounded in two religious activities. 1. He was a good person based on the moral standards of our time. 2. He did believe in Jesus and performed what was required as a child to know he'd go to heaven when he died.
For the majority of people who live next to us and drive past our churches--never forget the power of these two religious activities in our land. These are the greatest obstacles to overcome in the religious South.
1. I believe in Jesus (and performed a religious activity to prove it).
2. I'm a good person.
I was reminded even if for a moment--to forget the fact that their is a church on every corner in my city.
Forget the thought that people in my neighborhood must have heard the gospel by now--surely!
Forget my assumptions that someone's told them or that they know the gospel--and are just hardened to the truth.
Forget that they're probably on someone's prayer list--and someone must be praying fervently for them.
Rather--assume they've never heard.
Assume they have never heard the good news that a holy God created them in His image--fashioned them for his glory and sent His one and only Son to live, die and rise for them--because in their rejection of God as King could do absolutely nothing else to be redeemed, restored, and made alive again.
Assume no one has ever told them the real gospel. Assume that they've heard a message of religious activity and morality cloaked in Christian jargon.
Now let's go one step further on the mission and assume God sent us as missionary ambassadors to tell them the refreshing news they've never heard before. Assume we're called to live strategically, intentionally, and sacrificially so that they might be rescued from deep fried Southern religion.
Lord--send us out with urgency and desperation to the religious South and help us to lovingly and graciously demonstrate and declare that You rose from the dead to save us from our religion.