Tony Evans, founder and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, says when two professional football teams hit the field, there’s no question — there’s about to be three hours of conflict.
“Nothing you can do can ever make those two teams get along because they’re headed in two different directions,” he said. “One has a goal in this direction, the other has a goal in that direction, which means there’s going to be three hours of conflict that is nonnegotiable.”
The culture looks like that today, Evans told a full house at the National African American Fellowship’s night of worship June 12 at Friendship Baptist Church in Yorba Linda, California.
“Today we are living in a time of conflict, and the teams have decided this is nonnegotiable. The political teams, the Democrats and the Republicans, have decided we can’t negotiate the well-being of the American citizens,” he said. The same type of nonnegotiable conflict seems to also exist now between Black and white, rich and poor.
Another team option
But on the football field, there’s a third team at play, Evans said — the referees.
“These seven officials are on the field, but not of the field,” he said. “They’re in the middle of the conflict, but they’re not part of the conflict because these seven officials belong to a different kingdom. You see, 345 Park Avenue in New York is where the NFL offices are. The NFL offices have representatives on the field of play. Those officials are to represent the kingdom in New York in the chaos on the field of play.”
Officials might prefer a team, but it’s irrelevant because their decisions are made based on their book of governing guidelines, he said.
“They are easily distinguishable in the game, because they wear black and white jerseys that distinguish them from the competing teams on the field,” Evans said. “The unfortunate thing in a football game is if the referees decide to join one of the teams. It becomes unfortunate when those who are to be independent on the field decide to join the jerseys of the competing teams. Because the moment they do that, they have lost their uniqueness, their distinctiveness. And what you find out is that the competing teams use them rather than follow their lead.”
Followers of Christ need to remember they operate by a different authority — the kingdom of heaven. They’re supposed to represent that kingdom, not mimic the kingdoms of the culture, Evans said.
But more and more often, referees are trading their uniforms for jerseys and losing their distinctiveness, he explained. “They have decided to be more Democrat than Christian or more Republican than Christian, more Black than Christian or more white than Christian.”
Evans told the crowd, “I’d like to take a few moments and reintroduce you to the Church.”
Building a firm foundation
Starting with Matthew 16:13–19, he talked about how Jesus told Peter and the other disciples that He was going to build His Church on a rock — this word for “rock” in Greek is translated as a group of stones knitted together to form something bigger than they could on their own.
Evans said he believes this is what Peter refers to when he writes in his epistles about followers of Christ being “living stones.”
“The success of what God was building would not be tied to a personality, it would be tied to a conglomerate of individual stones knitted together,” Evans said.
This is what Christ intended the church to be, and it’s what He wants the Southern Baptist Convention to be, Evans said. “Jesus said, ‘I’m building my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ Therefore, if hell is winning, we must not be building His church. We must be building our church using His name. He said, ‘I will give you the keys to the kingdom. I’m not going to give you the keys to the culture.’”
The problem, Evans said, is that Christians have mixed the two kingdoms together.
“We want the Bible, but we want the culture. We want the Bible, but we want the race. We want the Bible, but we want the politics. We are mixing it up,” he said.
And when it gets mixed up, it loses its distinctiveness, Evans said. He used the illustration of how the nutritional value of an apple is lost when it’s dipped in sugar to become a candied apple. He said that can happen with our Christian distinctiveness and influence in the world, too.
“We come to church and hear God’s word, and then we dip it in culture expediency, and we wonder why it does not work,” Evans said. “We are actually, as Christians, participating in cancel culture because we leave church and cancel out the Word of God by the adoption of the secularism of the culture and deciding only when it’s convenient to be Christians.”
That approach is “why you can have slavery go on, and racism go on, and culturalism go on, and misogyny go on and this and that,” he said.
The church needs to remember who it is supposed to be and what it looks like to carry the authority of a Kingdom that looks different from the culture, Evans said. “There are two answers to every question, God’s answer and everybody else’s, and everybody else is wrong. He has spoken, and He has not stuttered.”
View photos from the National African American Fellowship night of worship here.
For more stories from the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, visit thebaptistpaper.org/sbc2022.