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Playing Church
L. R. Shelton, Sr.


I want to bring you a special message on the subject, "Playing Church." I have never witnessed such in all my life as I have in these last few days, as I have watched people playing church. This carries us to the story found in the eleventh chapter of Matthew. John the Baptist was in prison. He sent some of his disciples to question the Lord Jesus Christ, and they came to Him and asked Him this question, "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" Then the Lord Jesus said unto them, "Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see." There before that group of disciples of John the Baptist the Lord Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame to walk, healed lepers, cleansed the vile, opened the ears of the deaf, raised the dead, and preached the Gospel. Christ considered this enough to convince John and said, "Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me."

After this group left, the Lord Jesus gave His estimate of John the Baptist, closing with this statement, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Then He turned to the Pharisees and Sadducees and said to them,
"But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children" (Matt. 11:16-19).
As we said, these words were addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religionists and churchgoers of Christ's day. He said to them, "Whereunto shall I liken this generation" of religious leaders? Then Christ answers His own question, "You religious leaders are like children sitting in the markets, calling unto their fellows, and playing church. You are just playing at the game. You are like a bunch of children who would sit down and play dolls or a game of marbles, or to imitate a dance. You are inventing everything in the world to try to attract the attention of your fellows. Here came John the Baptist fasting and preaching repentance, and you say he has a devil, or he's devil possessed: 'We'll not have him; we do not want his message. Who does he think we are - children.' " Christ said, "That's exactly what you are; just a bunch of children playing church."

Then Christ said, "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and you say, Here is a gluttonous man, here is a drunkard; here is a man who is a friend of publicans and sinners. I came preaching the same message John did; you wouldn't have the truth under him, therefore you won't have it under My preaching. Therefore wisdom is justified of her children. You are just a group of children playing church, and you won't have the truth under any consideration." If you will read the remainder of the eleventh chapter of Matthew through the twenty-fourth verse, you will find that the Lord Jesus Christ pronounced judgment and woe upon that group of unsaved religionists who were just playing church.

This scene reminds me of the time when as a child I would get a group of children together and play church. I never dreamed that I would be a preacher, that God would thrust me into the ministry as He has today with the truth of God's Word and the Gospel of a sinner's salvation. As a child I would get a box for a pulpit, and the rest of the children would sit on the ground in a semicircle, while I stood on that box and preached to them. I would take a text and exhort them to give their hearts to Jesus. At the close of my sermon I would call for mourners, and one by one these children would come down to the front and give me their hand, making a profession of faith - playing church. I would then dismiss them; they would go to their homes and get extra clothes, then I would take them down to the creek and baptize them - playing church, We never thought anything about it, because I was brought up in the church from birth, and I did exactly what I had seen done in outward form. When we children grew up, we made professions of faith in a more serious manner in the church building, were then taken down to the baptismal pool and were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The outward lives of most of us gave no evidence that we knew Christ. I for one reached the age of forty-three before I was ever convicted by the Holy Spirit that I was a lost sinner and came to Christ for salvation. But between the years of eleven and forty-three, twenty-five of these years were spent preaching. I was ordained by my church at the age of nineteen, and for twenty-five years I played church, only on a higher plane than when I was a child. Thank God, one day the Lord Jesus Christ broke up that church-playing and opened my heart to let me see that I was a lost sinner on the road to Hell and brought me to Christ for salvation.

Yes - playing church! I am wondering, if the Lord Jesus Christ should come on the scene today and walk in our midst, whether He would not quote the same words, "You are like children playing church." We gather for services on a Sunday morning in what we call our Sunday School classes, and the opening of the class is taken up with discussion about the parties or dances of the week past, or planning for the socials for the week to come. Very little tine is given to the teaching of the Word. Then in the average class the Bible is not used, they have what is called the Sunday School Quarterly, if they haven't lost it. Down in the classes of smaller children you will find what they call Visual Aid; they are teaching those children with pictures and drawings, and talking to them about the birds and bees and flowers, and how to be good to each other and kind to dumb animals. Those children know nothing about the Word of God. What are we doing? Playing Church, just as I did when I was a kid - just as Christ said those Pharisees and Sadducees were doing. You face those teachers with the truth of God's Word and impress upon their hearts and minds the fact that they must become lost sinners before they can know the grace of God in salvation in Christ Jesus, and they think you are crazy, because this present religious generation knows nothing about Holy Spirit conviction. The average teacher in our Sunday Schools today smokes, dances, plays cards, goes to the movies and a great percent of them are now becoming television addicts. No time for prayer life; no time to develop spiritual life. Just playing church.

Then step within our auditoriums at the hour of worship, and you will find the robed choirs; the presence of the Lord is not there, and about the only thing that stands out about the average song is the harmony and sentiment. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is a foreign element in the vast majority of our present-day songs. What is the choir doing? Playing church. In connection with that, most of our congregational singing is not worship, but a device to create an interest or to work up the emotions, preparing them, for what they call the preaching service. My friends, I am trying to get you to think - are we just playing church? Then the preacher in the pulpit comes forth with his joke-telling because he thinks he has to entertain his audience. God never calls a man to entertain sinners on the road to Hell. Who ever heard of Spurgeon telling a joke in the pulpit? Who ever heard of men like the Apostle Paul, or the Apostle Peter, cracking a joke in the pulpit before dying men? No preacher would think about telling jokes to entertain folks at a funeral when the hearts of the loved ones are grieved and mourning. So it is, so it should be, that we preachers standing before the souls of men should be weeping and mourning over sinners going to Hell. Brethren, let's stop playing church!

May the Spirit of grace fall upon us at this time and let us see the shallowness and the emptiness of our religious profession, and that the great percent of us are just entertaining our audience, drawing our breath , drawing our salaries and letting our congregations go to Hell.

Then our invitations appealing to the minds of men to come forward, give their hearts to Jesus and join the church and be baptized is just playing church. Such converts are not saved, never have been saved, and never will be saved under such invitations. There is not one verse of Scripture in God's Word that would authorize or intimate that any preacher has the right and authority to open the doors of the church and receive members under any consideration. In the second chapter of Acts it says, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Someone asked me the other night, "Then how would you know when sinners got saved?" My answer was, "The old yellow dog in the backyard will know when a sinner gets saved." In our playing church today we have so confused the minds of the people into thinking that church membership is salvation - that the average individual today in his or her thinking does not and cannot separate church membership and salvation in Christ. It is one mad rush today to get members into the church. If you are invited to hold a meeting in any church, the one thing they are thinking of is getting a number of new members into their church; they are never thinking about the salvation of a lost soul from sin and from Hell, because they do not know the difference between church membership and salvation. It's just a game of playing church.

Paul, writing to the Galations, said,
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ... If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:6-9).
Then Paul wrote to Timothy, saying, "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away" (II Tim. 3:5). Again he said, "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" (II Tim. 4:3). The average person attending church today goes through a form of worship. His heart is not touched, and he goes back home or to work to live the same life he always lived.
The Gospel is one thing, and one thing only, as stated in I Cor. 15:1-4,
"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand... For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."
The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Gospel of God, is the fact that Christ died on the cross as our Substitute, was buried as our Scapegoat, rose as our Justifier, and is revealed to the heart by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is good news only to a guilty, lost sinner. If a sinner never stands before God guilty, with his mouth shut, which indicates he acknowledges he is guilty, the Gospel never becomes good news to that individual. In the average congregation today you do not find guilty sinners. For a sinner to be awakened to the fact he is lost is something unheard of in the average church. They have played church so long, and folks have gotten use to playing church, until they do not want anything else. Then when Holy Spirit conviction falls upon that audience, rebellion against God and His Word begins to be manifested. They have played church so long in their empty religious profession, until when a lost sinner comes into their midst, it is something unheard of. In the average seminary and Bible school they know nothing about lost sinners, or sinners being awakened to their lost condition.

This has all resulted in bringing in "another gospel." This "new gospel" is a new type and kind of preaching. It employs the same language, but its content is not the same and its emphasis is not on total depravity, Holy Spirit conviction, and blood redemption in Christ. Its emphasis is on decision for Christ; they know nothing about Holy Spirit conviction and Bible repentance. They will use such expressions as old-time, sin-convicting or mourners' bench revival or heaven-sent revival, but they mean additions to the church and emotional arousement. When you begin to preach and drive the truth home to the hearts of individuals under the power of God's Holy Spirit until they see they have no foundation to rest their hope on, they will rise up in rebellion against you.

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," will not bargain with the world. God does not run a bargaining counter. The glory of Adam's flesh must and will pass away, must and will come to an end. The Holy Spirit must and will wither the flesh of every sinner, whether in or out of the church in bringing that individual to Christ. He will come to the end of all flesh, because Gal. 6:14 says, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." When God gets ready to save a sinner, He sets aside everything that sinner is by nature, or ever hopes to be, and makes a new creation. Salvation is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit through the Word. Paul said in Gal. 2:20,
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God..."
Brother, a sinner coming to Christ comes by the way of death. Salvation is a resurrection from death unto life. You don't play church under Holy Spirit conviction; Holy Spirit conviction breaks up the sinner's playhouse, and that sinner is made to face the fact of his own depraved, lost, wicked, corrupt condition out of Christ, and he is brought to the end of all flesh.

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ recognizes that the sinner is under the law, has transgressed the law, and God's Word says, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). The Gospel recognizes every sinner as guilty, judged guilty, and the sentence is death, but the Gospel has made provision for that guilty sinner in the death and resurrection of our blessed Lord. Christ died for guilty sinners, but the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus means nothing to that sinner who has never been convicted by the Holy Spirit and made to see and made to feel the keen sword of justice and the sword of total depravity in the depths of his own heart. That sinner will continue to play church until he sees the depths of wickedness in his own heart, and that his own soul is just a bottomless pit of Hell.

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ recognizes the totally-depraved condition of every man and does not seek to mend or add to or make over or renovate that life, but the Gospel demands and gives a new creation in Christ Jesus. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to make the blessings of the atonement effective and real in the hearts of God's children. But the average church member today has no clear concept of salvation in Christ: it's a "hope so," a "maybe so," a "think so;" and they live under the supposition that maybe they will be saved and go to Heaven when they die.

This "new gospel," or "another gospel" that is being preached today, is not opposed to the human race, but rather friendly, and is the source of oceans of good clean fun and innocent enjoyment. The emphasis today is the church for the young people is on the social life. I received an invitation to join the softball league for the boys of our church life. Some of the churches will not allow boys to play on their ball team unless they are members of that church; they use that as a means to get the boys to join the church. What is this, but playing church! That group of boys is on the road to Hell - playing church! It is said that old Nero fiddled while Rome burned - how many of us preachers are playing church when our folks are on the road to Hell and don't know it! There is only one way to hold our young people to the church - preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ under the power of God's Holy Spirit until they are awakened to the fact that they are lost and doomed and damned and ought to go to Hell, and then turn to Christ for salvation. Then they are made new creatures in Christ Jesus (II Cor. 5:17). They will not love the world or the things in the world (I John 2:15-17)
This "new gospel" preached today does not interfere with Adam's life, nor does it seek to change it, but lets the individual live for his own pleasure. They say, "We must direct the life of the individual." Therefore, they take delight in singing choruses and watching religious movies, instead of singing cabaret songs and drinking hard liquor; and today the converts of Hollywood are going a step farther and putting "be-bop" or "rock and roll" tunes to many of the religious hymns to attract the young people. Furthermore, they are making a move to update our church music, leaving out all the "Blood" songs, the songs of redemption and songs of our Redeemer.

This "new gospel" puts emphasis on enjoyment, though the fun is now, they say, on a higher moral plane, if not intellectually. The "new gospel" brings the world into the church to hold its young people, to fill its pews, and to raise its finances. They continue the game of "playing church" while souls slide down to Hell without warning!

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ demands a complete abdication, surrender, and forsaking of everything in the heart that they might win Christ. Paul said in Phil. 3:7, 8,
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."
Then Christ, speaking to a group of Pharisees, said in Luke 14:33,
"So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
He said again in Luke 9:23,
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me."
These are the demands of the Gospel; you will meet those demands or never be saved. You can't, within yourself; they must be wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit.

This "new gospel" preaches similarities and makes no unpleasant demands, but offers the same things the world does, only on a higher plane. This new gospel seeks to give the sin-mad world what it clamors after on a religious basis. Today, if you are religious, attend your church, do the best you can, they'll preach you into Heaven when you die.

But I want you to get this one thing - the cross is a symbol of death. Take the cross out of the Gospel, and you have no power. That is exactly what has been done today. Holy Spirit conviction, which is an ancient mystery, reveals to the sinner his state of corruption, his total depravity, his sentence of death, and the cross stands for the abrupt end of a human being. That sinner must die; he must be slain by the Eternal Spirit of God, and brought to the end of all flesh. Very few know what I mean by that statement. Listen, sinner, before you come to the place of death, after which you are raised to new life in Christ, you have actually said good-bye to the world, you have said good-bye to your family, you have said good-bye to your friends, you have said good-bye to yourself, because you are not coming back. You are not walking down the aisle making a profession of faith to have your life redirected or reconsecrated. You are going to the place of death; you are going to die. You are going to tear up all your blueprints of your life. The person that we once knew, we will never know again.

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ makes and knows no compromise, bargains with nobody, spares nothing because the glory of man and all that man is in the flesh must be withered and put to death by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel does not and will not try to keep on good terms with anybody; it strikes swiftly and hard, and when the Gospel under the power of God's Holy Spirit has finished its work, the man you once were is no more: you are a new creation in Christ Jesus. This the world hates and fights and despises - the Gospel of the grace of God - I mean, the religious world with religious leaders.

Adam's race is under the sentence of death and must die: there is no way of escape. God cannot wink at or pass over any sin. It must be paid for by a Substitute, and that Substitute is Christ; such salvation can only be wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Any type of evangelism or preaching or teaching which puts the emphasis on the good of man or the will of man, and seeks to placate man and lift man up on a higher plane by his decision or by development or teaching or by culture misses the Christ of the cross, leaves the sinner more blinded than he was, and damns every soul that it touches.

Brethren, we have played church so long until we don't know anything else, do we? The evangelist or preacher, or personal worker, so-called, who seeks to bring business men or anyone else into the church by telling them it is the manly thing to do has missed Christ altogether, and therefore makes the individual twofold more the child of Hell than he was before. Any individual must, under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, recognize himself condemned, lost, and at the mercy of Jehovah God. He must forsake everything that he has, leave nothing covered, defend nothing, excuse nothing. He must bow his head, admit that he is lost, condemned to die, and realize that Christ died for him. By the grace of God he must throw himself completely upon the mercy of God in Christ and ask God to save him. The cross that ended the earthly life of our Lord puts an end to the sinner. The resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead raises the sinner to new life in Christ. This is God's Word. How far short we have come today! For God's sake, let's quit playing church, quit drawing our breath and drawing our salaries and letting our people go to Hell. Let's quit being children and trafficking in the souls of men. Let's preach for Holy Spirit conviction, Bible repentance, and regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit and a new creature in Christ Jesus our Lord.



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