I once had a discussion with a young pastor in which I told him that I would keep attending his meetings providing he kept preaching the word. Needless to say, we left the church a few months later. Not that his watering down of the gospel was the main reason we left. And I only mention it now because it is bizarre that I should have even had such a discussion. Such is the state of today’s church, that finding someone who only preaches the word is a real treasure. I am deeply saddened to say that there isn’t a single church within a fifty mile radius which I would happily send a new believer to. To any of the churches I know of, I would be sending them to a diet of mixed seed and carnal delights.
My own lament for the state, or rather, the condition of today’s church has been going on for some time. It is so difficult to properly discuss this with anyone who attends any kind of church regularly, because the same symptoms of the church’s sickness are seen at all of them. We tried to discuss some of the problems with a lovely lady from a church we used to attend yesterday evening. It clearly went right over her head. Which is surprising because she has been a believer for almost seventy years. We know from conversations we have had with her that she knows the true gospel. But, somewhere along the line, her and her husband, had their ears tickled by the prosperity preachers of the Word of Faith movement. My point for telling this anecdote is that she and her husband were both well-grounded in what should have been preached but, despite the solid foundation upon which they stood, they allowed themselves to be enticed by pedlars of bombast into believing something other than the truth. And they weren’t the only ones either. There appears to be an entire generation of believers who have been deceived by teaching which is blatantly not of God. How does this happen to people whose foundation was built upon solid Biblical teaching?
And the decay in preaching the word in churches has now escalated beyond prosperity teaching into almost no valid teaching at all. The preaching of the word has made way for entertainment. Where there was once food for our spirits, there is now only food for our carnal sides. The real problem is that no one on the inside is able to recognise it. And it’s not like we haven’t been warned about it happening. It’s not as if the entire canon of letters in the New Testament aren’t all warning us about it happening. It’s not as if Yeshua Himself didn’t warn the seven churches of the Revelation about it, some of whom had already fallen for the doctrine of demons. And the likes of Wycliffe, and Whitefield, and Spurgeon, and Muller, and all the rest who spent their lives warning the church, all apparently did so in vain. I hear many preachers harking back to the ages when those men stood in the pulpit and God’s Spirit quickened their congregations. They fail to recognise the simple truth – these men preached the word, in season and out of season. They didn’t falter or change the message to suit the times. They stuck to the absolute truth of the gospel, and neither added to it, nor took from it.
And here we are today, still not getting it right. You would have thought with all the practice we have had, we would have got it all sorted by now. The truth is, we are now in a worse state than at any time this side of the Dark Ages. If I talk to my Dad about this, he thinks I’m too harsh. He says that there is a great deal of good things going on in churches. The trouble is, it is easy to focus upon the good which churches do and think all is well. But, we forget that when it comes to the things of God, if we are only partially obedient, then we are actually disobedient. That’s not to say that God isn’t merciful and long-suffering with His church – He is, otherwise He would have wiped us out long ago. His patience is enough to continue calling people to do His work. However, right now, the work of God is to ready the church for Yeshua’s return. This is a real problem because I know His church think that they are already ready. In fact, I went to a midweek meeting at one typical church two years ago where the pastor proclaimed to God at the top of his voice that his church had made themselves ready and that God should send revival now. I never got the chance to tell him that his lack of humility in his first remark would have automatically precluded the outcome he desired.
The question I have been asking both myself and God in the past few weeks is why He has opened my eyes to all this? I was quite happy sitting at the back letting the guy at the front do all the heavy lifting. Why did He start showing me the problems, especially when He knew from the outset that there is nothing I can do under my own power to change anything. The church won’t listen to me. Now, thankfully, I didn’t take the approach of Elijah and complain to God that I’m the only one left. I know that there are many out there who feel the same. I’m not an army of one. But I do feel a little like Nehemiah traversing the walls of Jerusalem at night to assess the damage. And I know that there are others out there who feel the same urge to see a restoration of true gospel values.
But, as I’ve brought up ‘the others’, let me say this: It is fine to be an apologist providing it is just about defending the gospel. What the apologetics movement has become is little more than a theatre of hate. It is right to expose the deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), but I’m not sure that devoting all the time that is spent on compiling evidence against pastors and preachers who are falling short of the mark is actually the best thing. My guess is that this method is extremely ineffective anyway. After all, there is no real evidence that this amount of effort has ever led to any large numbers of people leaving the churches where the corruption is thriving. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. The churches who have swapped the gospel for Pragmatism are growing at a truly alarming rate.
It is easy to tell if a church has corrupted the message; if it has allowed the seed of the true gospel to be mixed. Just compare them to the church we see in the early chapters of the book of Acts. My Dad thinks that if we did that, we would end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Perhaps that’s exactly what we need to do.
If we look at that early church as the ideal, what would it actually take to get a typical church back to that? What would we have to chuck out with the bath water?
Well, if we start at the top then the whole notion of leadership would have to go. The present format of a single chief and then a cabal surrounding them for protection from the masses is not only unbiblical, but also incredibly worldly. Yeshua said that we shouldn’t be like the Gentiles and lord it over one another, but instead we should all be like servants (see Matthew 20:20-28).
Then we would have to throw out the notion that only the professional clergy can preach and teach, because that is elitist and promotes the idea that God only speaks to them and through them alone. This was a main part of the reason for having a reformation in the first place. The church of Rome had prevented anyone except the clergy from reading God’s word, and said only the priests could teach. None of the disciples were scholars or trained by the Priesthood. They were everyday people through whom God spoke. They were chosen by God for their hearts, not their qualifications.
Next would have to be the paid pastor and his or her entourage of Yes Men. How did we ever get to the place where pastor’s jobs are advertised like careers in large corporations? Yeshua told His disciples to take nothing for the journey and to live lives of trust in God. The apostles all exemplified lives of frugality. They trusted in God for everything. Paul said that they knew what it was to be in need and in plenty and that he had learned the secret of being content in each and every situation (see 2nd Corinthians 4). Yeshua said our treasures should be in heaven, not here on earth. Treasure in heaven is the righteousness God grants us freely in exchange for faith in Him. Of course, if you take out a paid pastor and allowed God to appoint preachers like He used to, then He would be able to get the preacher to speak His words and not the words of those who pay the pastor’s wages.
Then we could rid of ourselves of tithing, which is apparently the only part of the Law exempt from the work of the cross. Tithing was never about money. It was about the increase of the crops and livestock over a three year period. If you are going to resurrect laws from Torah, you need to make sure you get them right. The sentiment of giving is entirely about what your heart says. Allow God to prompt you as to what to give.
If we got rid of tithing, we could rid ourselves of running the church like it was a supermarket with products to sell. We could ditch all those trendy ideas for reaching more people through ever-increasing entertainment programs, book shops and coffee lounges. We certainly don’t need band nights or stand up comedy or any of the other things designed to make the church more relevant to the world. The world is in moral decay – the osmosis of gradually making sin more and more acceptable is the way of the world. The church’s role is to remain static and unmoveable and not to try to cosy up to the world. Come out and be separate is God’s message (see 2nd Corinthians 6).
We could also ditch the service format of a song/awkward greeting/ two more songs/ tithing to music/watered down preach/altar call/ music to exit. Where can anyone find that in the Bible? In fact, we should ditch any kind of format to services. It is only a religious spirit that tells us that we need to have a set format. The first church was Yeshua and His disciples travelling all across Isra’el proclaiming the good news of His salvation. There was no fixed times for any of it.
Right, what’s next? Well, the likes of Messy Church and Coffee Mornings and self-help groups. Again, this is just more stuff to get carnally minded people to come to the church buildings so we can try and persuade them to come to a meeting on a Sunday. It’s a kind of bait and switch methodology. The apostles spoke straight up about the gospel. They didn’t try and dress it up to make it all more appealing. They simply told God’s truth and let Him do the work. They never had to try and trick anyone into hearing the message.
We could get shot of all the admin staff and the various hangers-on who no one really understands their role, but they’re getting paid, so we don’t ask. We could empty the bank accounts and do something really useful in the towns where we live and start to trust in God for provision. George Muller never asked for money or provision from anyone except for God. God gave Him, through various sources, something in the region of £1.6 million. And that was in the 1800s. Imagine what good could be done for the poor of your town if your church used its reserves to start community projects or build homes for the homeless like the Salvation Army used to do. Just imagine. Instead of your church saving towards a megachurch building, imagine them actually spending the money on something that people really need.
If we started preaching the gospel again, instead of trying to appeal to the carnal side of non-believers, then we could rid ourselves of the big screen and the stage and the lights and the PA system and get back to preaching unaided. Spurgeon preached to 25,000 people at the Crystal Palace, completely unaided. We don’t need to try to compete with the world. We need to be different from it. Have you forgotten what it says in 1st John chapter two?
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
And that brings us to social media. Don’t you know that Satan owns social media? Don’t you understand that social media is the current epitome of worldly living? Trying to be more relevant by posting cute messages on Twitter and Facebook will only attract worldly people.
Now here’s a thing, we could also get shot of the car park with its reserved spaces and parking attendants and perhaps even the building too. We could get back to doing what the disciples did which was to meet in people’s houses, or at the beach, or on the hillside.
We could also ditch the twenty minutes of notices in every service, and church membership while we are at it. Did you know that one church we joined wanted all members to sign a contract agreeing to tithing regularly? And another said we wouldn’t be allowed to serve at any level until we had attended regularly for six months! Give me one verse that supports either of those practices.
Where did all these man-made rules and regulations come from? They are certainly not from God. In order to maintain control of God’s sheep, man has implemented all sorts of rules that simply don’t need to be there. We are all members of the one church, the body of Christ. Why should there be rules if someone decides to start attending a different building to worship God in? Why should they need ‘releasing’ from one church to go to another? Are they being held against their will? It was clear that the disciples moved from home to home breaking bread and worshipping God. Why can’t we? Why do we need a giant building with loads of rules?
What else don’t we need? (Remember Paul and the ship in the storm ? Everything must go). Not much left now is there? But so far, everything I have suggested throwing out never had any place in a church to start with. Here’s what the book of Acts said the church filled its time with:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…Every day they continued to meet together in the Temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” [Acts 2:42, 46-47 NIV]
So, if that is the measure by which we should examine ourselves, it becomes easy to see that there is a problem. Even if we just concentrated on the four things in the first verse – devotion to teaching, to fellowship with each other, to breaking bread together, and to prayer, then everything would change. This was everyday life for these guys. Every day. Not just Sunday mornings. Can you imagine the revolution which would take place if we were to do just those four things?
I think my Dad is right – I would throw the baby out with the bath water. Nothing we are currently doing in anyway resembles what they did.
I know there are now a thousand reasons not to all give up our worldly jobs and start to trust God. The mortgage is the main one for many. Did you know that mortgage is a French word which means death pledge? Fitting isn’t it?
I’m a realist. I know this isn’t going to happen. The church as it is isn’t going to suddenly allow the Holy Spirit to convict it of its sin and repent. That’s just not going to happen. So, what choices are there?
Well, the obvious one is, what is happening right now across the globe – God is calling people out from church to sort through the rubble for the living stones in order to rebuild what He showed us to build all those years ago. This is the unstoppable plan of God. No cash flow sheet or business plan can stop God. He always has a remnant who haven’t bent the knee to other gods.
The question we all have to ask ourselves is, do we think that God is genuinely pleased with what we have created? I say ‘what we have created’, because what we call church today isn’t His doing. And when we have asked that, we need to get back to what the disciples did. They started by simply preaching God’s message at any and every opportunity they got. Yeshua told them that they would be witnesses to Him. That’s where we need to start. We need to accept God’s plan and rid ourselves of everything that hinders us so that we can be empty enough for His Holy Spirit to fill us. Then we need to get back to preaching His word. All of it. Not just the nice fluffy stuff that those who are carnally minded crave. The whole gospel helps people to see their spiritual needs and doesn’t try to meet their physical needs.
The disciples never tried to work a crowd or put on a show. They simply asked God for the boldness to speak His message. They didn’t ask Him for revival, as some are in the habit of doing these days; God added to their number daily because they were preaching His word. His unadulterated and unmixed word.
The preaching of the word is the key to all of this. If it isn’t preached, how will those who need to hear it actually hear it? I was converted because I read a leaflet which explained the dreadful feeling of guilt I had inside me. It explained that in the eyes God I had sinned, and that I needed to repent. It explained that God had sent His Son to take the punishment, which was death and was due to me for my sins, and that through Him taking my place, I could be forgiven. It told me that God’s Son had died in my place and that death couldn’t hold Him because He didn’t deserve to die. And so He came back to life. And once I was forgiven, I could be reconciled to God and live a life led by His Spirit which leads to eternal life, and no longer live a life led by my fleshy desires, which leads to eternal death. That was good news to me. It still is. I am sure that many others, like me, would also find that it is good news. But, if they never hear that message, how will they know?