By Judson Casjens
Recently, I read the following letter:
I was saved in 1973, and I have seen dramatic changes in Bible-believing churches over the past 44 years, and in the vast majority of cases, the changes have been for the worse.
Everywhere I go, I see churches getting weaker rather than stronger. I am talking about weaker in biblical preaching, weaker in clear reproof of sin and error, weaker in Bible knowledge, weaker in holiness, weaker in separation from the world, weaker in [true worship], weaker in discipleship, weaker in passion for Christ, weaker in evangelism, weaker in zeal for world missions. I see the weakness in pastors, in the old people, in the homes, and in the youth. [letter slightly edited]
So my question to those reading this is, is your church getting stronger or weaker?
And this question poses other questions, such as: what is the criteria by which one even begins to assess the strengths or weaknesses of the local church? This is the time of annual meetings, elections, and budgets. In typical fashion, the reports all strive to show increases in some fashion or form, more people, money, missionaries, and even projects completed, anything that might demonstrate progress over last year. Yet in all this, I would venture to say that few, if any, of the questions posed below are even brought up, much less discussed.
Part of the reason for this lies in the inability of most believers to recognize true spiritual fruit, maturity, what “grieving” the Spirit of God looks like, and how genuine love and growth in knowledge and discernment evidences itself. Yet the direction for each local church is clear; consider:
. . . and some as pastors and teachers, [WHY?] for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.—Ephesians 4:11-13 [And what does that look like?]
And there is a negative component to this as well for we read immediately following in verse 14:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.
Did you get the importance of this statement? If the first is taking place, in reality (i,e., “as a result”), the local believers (which in fact are the local church) evidence this by not being tossed about by the waves and winds of false teaching, and by the trickery, craftiness, and deceitful scheming of men. In other words, the very purpose of verses 11-13 is so that verse 14 doesn’t occur! Are we evaluating this in our meetings? How and by which methods will this determination be made? Isn’t this just as important as all the other categories, seeing it has fundamentally to do with evaluating the spiritual health of the church?
In the last year alone, I have personally heard (in a good church) those considered to be fine upstanding believers endorse and/or defend the Catholic Church, the writings of Paul Young (The Shack), and devotional books such as those by Sarah Young (Jesus Calling) and in all cases giving a bypass to each one’s erroneous teachings. This isn’t even getting into the entire contemplative mess along with ecumenism that has so infiltrated evangelicalism; nor are we considering here the inroads of other pagan philosophies.
By way of contrast, the apostle Paul, in his writings, always dealt with error and encroaching worldliness, but tragically these aren’t the sort of measures typically brought up in annual meetings. And so, we become content with increased numbers of various sorts, budgets, church attendance, Sunday School attendance, and numbers of missionaries supported along with plans for next year’s spending.
It isn’t that the other normal annual questions aren’t relevant; it’s that, by and large, they don’t address or in any way measure true biblical spiritual health. If we are going to measure spiritual health by larger numbers in giving and people, the Mormons, Catholics, and Muslims would seem to hold the keys.
(photo by bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)