Monday’s Preaching Conference speakers from left to right: Nolen Wood, Jordan Easley, and Tommy Fountain. MYRIAH SNYDER/Index
FAYETTEVILLE — It’s not the debatable areas of Scripture that should concern us, Athens pastor Nolen Wood told the crowd at the Ignite Preaching Conference here Nov. 11. “It’s the things in the Word that are clear as day, and we just don’t want to follow,” he said.
Wood, pastor of Life Church, joined Tennessee pastor Jordan Easley and Monroe pastor Tommy Fountain as the speakers for the preaching conference that precedes the Georgia Baptist Convention annual meeting. All three focused on Scripture as a guide for how Christians should live their lives in a changing culture. Wood’s message focused on race; Easley addressed alcohol usage; and Fountain probed the command of making evangelism key to every Kingdom-minded church.
Wood pointed the crowd to Acts 10, where the Roman centurion Cornelius sends for Peter. At the same time in a separate location, Peter had a vision of a sheet with various animals in it. For Peter, some of those animals were unclean for him, a Jew. He even tried to point that out to God.
As in that vision, Wood explained, God has a way of trying to get us to see something behind what may be right in front of us. For Peter, the message God was trying to send didn’t have anything to do with animals.
“God is using this vision to usher in the good news of the Gospel to [other] regions of the world. And don’t miss this, the first region God has to reach is that of your own heart,” stressed Wood.
As long as the prejudice in our own hearts isn’t addressed, he added, “Your priorities aren’t going to be His priorities. Your mission will not be His mission. Your heart will not break for the things His heart [does].”
The message to Peter wasn’t about food. “It’s about this Gospel being for everybody,” Wood declared, “the Gospel breaking down racial divides. God is challenging Peter here on something he had believed his entire life – that he was better than someone else because of his background.”
There was divide between Peter and Cornelius driven by class and race, Peter as a Jew and Cornelius as a Gentile.
“There’s something you have to understand when it comes to racial dynamics. There’s a consciousness of my ethnicity 24/7. You can’t understand it if you haven’t lived it. … Don’t think for a moment that Cornelius was not aware of his own background when it came to him and Peter being in the same room.”
Toward the conclusion of his address, Wood showed a picture of his son, Nolan III, holding up a picture of the pastor’s great-great grandfather. That image spoke of the importance of legacy, he intoned. Our witness for the gospel in the light of racial reconciliation will speak loudly one day.
“At some point somebody’s going to be holding your picture,” said Wood. “What are they going to be saying about you?”
On Christians and alcohol
Easley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cleveland, Tennessee, addressed the subject of alcohol usage and whether Christians should partake.
Citing several passages related to alcohol, Easley admitted that the Bible doesn’t make the subject a black-and-white issue. Gray areas abound, he said, and in the past churches have attempted to elevate such gray areas and address them in terms of absolute certainty.
Those topics include women wearing pants, dancing, even smoking cigarettes.
“The church has a tendency to be legalistic,” he admitted. “But overreacting to legalism is also bad.” Such overreactions, he added, lead to unwise decisions in the name of “freedom in Christ” and events with names like “Beer and Hymns.”
Easley cited three categories Christians fall into when it comes to alcohol:
- “I abstain from drinking.”
- “I drink for pleasure.”
- “I have a drinking problem.”
Easley stated he’s in the first category, a “teetotaler” who doesn’t drink alcohol at all. In addressing the other categories, the pastor focused on the wisdom of drinking at all.
“I’ve seen in my years of ministry the devastating impact alcohol has on families, churches, and communities. I’d venture to believe that if you’ve been in ministry for five minutes you’ve seen the same thing.”
Scripture’s warnings surrounding alcohol are many, he pointed out. It’s a sin (Eph. 5:18). It’s destructive (Pro. 23:32). It’s not wise to drink it (Pro. 31:4).
In addition, Easley tackled the argument that alcohol is okay in moderation, saying alcohol isn’t necessary for life. Quoting the late Adrian Rogers,” he said, “Moderation is not the cure for the liquor problem; it’s the cause.”
“One of my great friends in the ministry, [Cross Pointe Church, Duluth pastor] James Merritt once said, ‘It’s impossible to be bitten by the snake you’ve never played with,’” he added.
Easley also posited the argument that there were different types of words in biblical times that all were connected to the word “wine,” but actually have different meanings. The strongest would have been “shekar,” and most closely resemble the alcohol found in a liquor store. Other types were “tirosh,” an unfermented grape juice, and “yanin,” another unfermented drink made from grapes.
It’s likely Jesus turned the water at the wedding in Cana into “oinos,” which many believe was unfermented. Some scholars think it may have been mildly fermented, Easley added, to make it a safer alternative to water. “In Bible days children would have drank oinos,” he said.
Easley listed five questions Christians should ask themselves in deciding to drink alcohol.
- What does the law say?
- What does wisdom say?
- What does our conscience say?
- Does alcohol draw me closer to God?
- Does alcohol help or hurt my witness for Christ?
“Knowing what we know now, can we have a clear conscience about drinking?” he asked.
The church’s number one priority – evangelism
North Carolina pastor Todd Houston was unable to preach at the conference due to illness. As such, Pastor Tommy Fountain of 1025 Church in Monroe filled in and addressed the subject of evangelism in the church.
“Evangelism should be the priority of everything we do in the life of the local church,” claimed Fountain, preaching out of Acts 2 on the early church in the days after Pentecost.
Pastors must consistently be on the lookout for evangelistic opportunities in addition to preaching on the topic, he said. After a recent “dry spell” in not praying with anyone to become a Christian, Fountain shared a story of how he received a late-night phone call from a friend whose brother was about to die. They wanted Fountain to come see him.
The late hour and distance to the hospital prompted Fountain to ask he be placed on speaker phone instead. Talking to the friend’s brother, Fountain proceeded to ask if he wanted to have Jesus as his savior. Soon the man prayed to become a Christian. He died the next day.
A couple of days later Fountain received a text from a teen. The young man was a wide receiver on the high school football team and close to making a decision for Christ. Fountain asked if he could talk. No, he was in class. But he could text. So, via text Fountain led him to the Lord.
“If you don’t know anything else, know that Jesus saves,” the pastor proclaimed to the crowd.
After showing a graph of the decline in baptisms in Georgia over the last ten years, Fountain noted that “salvation will cure the ills of our nation.”
“Georgia Baptists, don’t you want to be evangelistic?” he asked.
The early church believed in evangelism as well as edification, he added. “It’s important to build up believers and therefore build up the body of Christ.”
But for the church to thrive, he stressed, it has to evangelize while sticking to Scripture.
“Doctrine always trumps culture,” Fountain preached. “Our culture is moving so fast – and the direction it’s headed in is not good. We are the minority. And yet, if we’re to be who God has called us to be, we need to know what we believe and why we believe [it].
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and it is profitable for doctrine, for the truth, for correction, for the instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect in service for all good works!”
Later, the Monroe preacher urged Georgia Baptists to abstain from disputes or arguments that distract from evangelism.
“The greatest joy in our lives is to see someone saved and to disciple them,” he said. “The Gospel is for everyone.”
Scott Barkley is editor of The Christian Index.