Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
Acts Chapter 2: 38-40, King James Version
These words were uttered by Peter almost 2000 years ago, yet they ring just as true today as they did then. A calling for repentance to save a generation from the worldly sins that they had succumbed to. His words echo across the ages to us in a time when surely the judgment of the Lord is coming upon this world, and specifically, this nation. Yet, despite the turbulence of our time, more and more Christians are turning from the Church, and each new generation sees a falling away from faith.
According to a Pew Research Center study conducted almost a year ago, there has been almost an 8% decline in the number of Americans that identify as Christian between 2007 and 2014. The greatest numbers of decline come from the mainstream Christian denominations, with Catholics suffering a 3.1% decline and Protestants a 3.4% decrease. Even Evangelicals suffered a .9% decline. From the Silent Generation to the Younger Millenials (those born between 1990-1996), the percentage that identifies as Christian has gone from 85% to 56%.
While there are a whole host of issues that could explain this decline, Christians and their churches have not done much to aid their own cause. In their pursuit to become more “accepting” and politically correct, they have lost their flavor. Calls to repentance from sin have been replaced with workshops to “put spice back in the bedroom” of couples. Sermons based on the Word of God have been replaced with a doctrine of praying for material wealth and riches in the physical world. Yet this new church is an empty and hollow husk…having lost the connection with the Holy Spirit and forsaken the Word of God, they have reaped what they have sown, and lost their flocks, as well. If you do not tend and feed your flock, they will scatter and whither away, and this is exactly what is happening to the Christian church in America.
What Makes a Church?
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
Hebrews Chapter 3: 1, King James Version
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Matthew Chapter 18: 20, King James Version
Being aware of the problems in the church, one should first look at what a church should be. A very good resource for this is to look at the epistles. As I read through Hebrews, I found good advice for what the church should be, as well as some words of warning of what the church should avoid.
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
Hebrews Chapter 3: 12-14, King James Version
Here, Paul is calling upon the church to lift one another up daily, to encourage one another, so that none among the flock would fall by the wayside into the ways of sin. Now this is very important, because I think many of the churches that have moved towards preaching a message of acceptance of the world do so under the pretense that they encouraging their brethren. However, this is not true. What they are encouraging is worldly behavior and pursuits of the physical world. What this is calling for is for the church to encourage the flock to live a life free of sin, or as close to that as any of us sinners can go.
The last sentence is also interesting here, as to me it is a statement of understanding that over time the world will wear away at the faith of a person, particularly the attacks of our adversary upon us. But Paul is saying that if we hold the same enthusiasm and fervor throughout our lives as we felt when we first received the good news, then we are partakers of Christ. This can only be achieved through the flock encouraging one another within the church. And this requires actually knowing one another and caring for one another’s well-being, and not just the usual “how are you doing” greetings and what I call “smile masks” at the front door that feign welcome and friendliness. No, it requires genuine goodwill and faith.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews Chapter 4: 14-16, King James Version
Here, Paul is calling for the confession of sin so that we may receive mercy and grace in our time of need. This is a foundation upon which our Christian faith is built upon, that the Lord came in flesh in order to experience the fullness of what it is to be man and forge a new covenant with his people to free them from their sins. Having manifested in the flesh, Jesus understands the temptations of the flesh. While He overcame those temptations, we are fallen from the beginning and prone to be tempted. However, we must “come boldly unto the throne of grace” and confess that sin. This is done through confession of sin against our brethren to them directly, but also through prayer.
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
Hebrews Chapter 5: 5-10
There is so much here that bears noting. First and foremost, even Christ did not glorify Himself, but glorified the Father. In our churches today, there are so many pastors, preachers, and priests that serve only to glorify themselves and their own churches. The glorification of the Lord is not to be found. They have become self-absorbed and self-serving, forgetting that all the works on both Earth and in Heaven are done by the hands of God. While the Lord can appoint people to positions to do His work, and He can anoint those that He calls to gather and feed His flock, the glory of this work must always go to the most-high. We are mere instruments and tools in His mighty hands.
Next is a big one – obedience. This is one that I hear so often people struggling with, and I admit that I also struggle with this one. This is not just obedience to the Lord in trying to avoid temptation, asking forgiveness for our transgressions, and glorifying Him in all His works within our lives, but also in being obedient to His call and His purpose for you. In our society today, we are so focused on achieving that which the world deems as successful and few are those that call upon the people to cultivate that personal relationship with the Lord that comes through prayer. It is only through the establishment of that relationship with the Lord that we can come to understand what it is that the Lord has planned for us. All of the world success and riches that you can acquire in this short time that we must endure this physical world means nothing to the Lord, it is what you do in the glorification of Him and in preparing spiritually that makes Him pleased. And that can only be achieved through obedience to the path that He places you on.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
Hebrews Chapter 10: 23-27, King James Version
These passages contain a kind of summation of some of the other things spoken of, but also something else. Yes, there is the call to encourage brethren and the warning against not being obedient, but there is also a call not to attack one another. This, too, is huge in today’s world. So many get lost in the argument of this denomination or this church is better than that. But when the church is the Body of Christ, attacks from within are like the left hand clawing the right, the right foot tripping the left. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself Catholic, Orthodox, or any one of the many Protestant denominations, we are all of us Christians. Discord and division are the tools of the enemy, not the Most High, and this only serves to destroy the Body of Christ, not make it stronger.
Clearly, we have here a set of very simple principles upon which we may judge what a church should be: unity in our faith in the Lord; obedience to the Lord; encouragement of the flock and not attacking our fellow Christians; confession and seeking of forgiveness of our sins; and glorification of the Lord in all we do. It’s simple, but the enemy is always plotting. And part of the problem is that while the Lord works subtly throughout the world and His people seek no credit for their works, the enemy is loud and boisterous. The adversary of our people makes a great clamor in all that he does, and so his works gain more attention. When he gains a foothold within a church, he brings it down in a crash and makes sure that everyone is aware. This leads those that are firmly entrenched within the world to look upon the church as hypocrites, forgetting that we are all of a fallen nature and prone to sin and that the enemy works tirelessly to discredit the church.
In this day and age, the enemy has infiltrated our churches everywhere. Churches have become empty and devoid of the Holy Spirit, just as Paul warns us. And we have been taught that Christians are meek and therefore the people do not use their authority to challenge this infiltration, but instead abandon the church.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Matthew Chapter 21: 12-13, King James Version
Having laid out before you the elements that make a church and the information that so many are abandoning the church, it is now time to talk solution. For many, the solution has come in the form of the many broadcasts and podcasts that feature men of God, themselves in many cases having grown tired of the struggle within the church or being commanded by the Lord to leave the church. A vacuum within the church has been filled by these broadcasts, and they do serve to give some nourishment to the spiritually starved flock. However, speaking in terms of food, these broadcasts should be seen as vitamins or supplements rather than actual food. You wouldn’t last long living off of supplements alone, and spiritually, you need more than these broadcasts can provide. This is in no way meant to be a slight to the men and women that do such broadcasts- they are certainly doing a great service for a great many people and in many cases are being obedient to God in doing these shows. It is very difficult for me to find any fault in these broadcasts, as I also don’t attend a church and it is through such broadcasts that my faith in the Lord was renewed.
However, as was evident at the Hear the Watchmen conference and other conferences like it, those that rely solely upon these shows thirst for fellowship and interaction with other believers like them. And isn’t that truly the purpose of a church? It isn’t the floor, four walls, ceiling, and steeple that make a church. It is those things listed above together with the fellowship, the sense of community. Especially in a time when people live crammed into apartment complexes or tightly packed sub-divisions and yet rarely know any of their neighbors, this element of interaction and coming together in praise that people are in need of.
Many will say that we need to pray that the Lord would reinstate the churches, that like Christ in the above passage from Matthew, He would drive the corrupt from the church. But prayer alone is not enough. The Lord works through us, and we must first and foremost encourage our Christian leaders to hold true to the Word of God (encouragement of our brethren), and then unify in our faith and those that will not hold true, we must remain obedient to the Lord and retake our churches. If we cannot retake them, then there must be a movement within the Body of Christ to establish new churches that remain true to the principles of the faith and glorify God.
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
Hebrews Chapter 3: 7-11, King James Version