“THAT USED TO BE A CHURCH”
My wife and I often like to go on long drives through the countryside exploring and reminiscing about how things used to be when we were much younger. After a recent excursion it occurred to me that often we would see a building that had either been converted into a home or had been abandoned entirely that was at one time a faithful congregation of the Lord’s church.
This made me sad because a lot of these buildings were places where she and I had worshiped as youngsters. I could see the faces etched in my memory of the brethren that made up these local congregations. Some, we had attended regularly with our families. Others, we had attended while visiting one of the Gospel meetings that were held by most of the congregations at that time. While I’m aware that some of this is due to population changes, I can assure you that the percentage of population decrease doesn’t come close to the percentage of membership decline in the church.
Not only does it make me sad, but also causes me to ask the question we all need to ask. What has happened in the Lord’s church that has led to such a state? We now find a great number of congregations either dead, dying, or completely going off into left field with some form of new doctrine or approach that is not even close to the pattern we find in the New Testament as if it will be the “Silver Bullet” needed to add more members.
A young boy came home from school one day and said, “Dad, I think I flunked my math test.” To which his dad replied, “Son, don’t be negative, be positive.” The son said, “Well dad, I’m positive I flunked that math test.”
Like the young boy, I’m not trying to be negative, I’m being positive. I’m positive that if we don’t heed the Scriptures and make the necessary changes needed, many souls are going to be lost. Many of these souls are currently members of the Lord’s church who either feel all is fine with the current state of things, or who are in denial and have convinced themselves all is fine, or who feel there’s nothing we can do. They’ve given up.
While not even attempting to cover all the possibilities as to why we were once the fastest growing religious group in America, to the realization that we have been in a serious decline for a while, I would like to cover just a few of the major reasons that are actually taking place in the church today that are causing such a rapid decline. Of course, these aren’t all of the reasons but are some the main ones I have observed. They are actually the root to all of the other problems I can think of.
1. A lack of truly qualified leadership by our elders. We need to seek to find men who qualify TOTALLY regarding the qualifications that are taught in Titus 1:6-11 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Not perfect men, but qualified men. Not appointing them just because they are good business or community leaders, or men who feel their job consists mainly of logistical things such as building maintenance. Why would we need the qualifications set forth in Timothy and Titus to decide what color the stripes should be on a parking lot?
What we must have are men with true backbone to make the often hard decisions that must be made in standing for the Word of God. Such as: 1) oversight of the spiritual growth of a congregation, 2) being watchmen against sin in the local body, 3) guarding against false teaching, 4) overseeing church discipline, 5) educational programs, 6) proper use of God’s money (not the hoarding of it), 7) not worrying about whether their decision is going to be popular, politically correct, or ruffling a few feathers because of a firm biblical stance. We don’t need men who stick their head in the sand when sin presents itself in the congregation because they feel it’s none of their business. It is their business! This awesome responsibility is why 1 Timothy 5:17 shows that not only are they deserving of respect as overseers, but financial support as well. It is, as it should be, a job (work). I’ve heard it said that at most congregations, the preacher does the most of elders’ work and the elders do the most of deacon’s work. Think about it. Even in the church today, most members feel that the preacher is the main man. This is not to be so. They are not the overseers.
2. A lack of strong preaching like Paul instructed Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 4:2-5. This kind of preaching is considered to be negative by many —a “turn off” they say. Christ taught a tremendous amount more about Hell than He did Heaven. Why? Unless reminded often of what we need to avoid, we become complacent. We become like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:14-22 —lukewarm.
Too many sound preachers are nearly starved out and too many weak preachers compromise to earn a paycheck. This causes two serious problems. Many good men, especially younger, energetic men, won’t enter the ministry because, while not preaching to become rich, they don’t want to qualify for public assistance in order to do so, either. Located preaching is hard enough without nearly starving to death, too. The other problem is that, oftentimes, once a sound minister finally gets a decent paying job after nearly starving, he then feels compelled to give the people what they want, to make them happy, not caring what God wants.
3. A weak membership. We need members who are “all in” on their Christianity. What I mean is, Christians that show in word and deed that being a child of God is the number one focus of their lives, not just a part of their lives. We need members who know God’s Word, practice God’s Word and live God’s Word 24/7. We need Christians who realize and understand that being a “faithful” Christian is not JUST someone whose attendance is good. While no one can do everything, all can do something. I have a pet saying. “If you want more committed, commit yourself.” Christianity is NOT a spectator sport. Our focus is to serve, not be served. Look at the pattern of the first century church. It was proactive and outgoing, not “spiritual hospitals” like we see so commonly today. I have said many times that if Paul could in some way be transformed into the twenty first century, what would he think of the state of the church today? The reason I don’t use Christ in this example is that He already knows. Overall, do you feel that He is pleased with what is happening in so many congregations today?
In our heart of hearts, we know where we are lacking if we are honest with ourselves. While much lip service has been given to this situation over the years, what are we doing about it? The time to begin is now. Let’s not be paralyzed with dread or fear. Let’s not be overcome with lethargy. While I fully understand that even though we are to strive to be Christ-like in everything we say and do, we will never fully attain it, but that never gives us an excuse to not give our best.
There are many basic themes of the Bible, but remember that one of the main themes is that God accepts nothing short of our best, never has, never will. If we don’t do our true best according to God’s Word, perhaps someone in the future will drive by the building where we currently meet and say, “I remember when that used to be where the church met.”
WHAT KIND OF CHURCH ATTENDER ARE YOU?
“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” (Heb. 10:24-25).
There are some in the church who believe it is not important to attend worship services. For them, attending church services are good if there is not anything else to do or someplace else to visit or some other activity to engage in. With some, as long as they show up occasionally or especially on Sunday morning, that is all that really counts.
Let us realize that even when we attend as we should, we must do so with the right purpose, motive and attitude. You see, if our motive and attitude are not right, then it matters not how many worship services we may attend.
It is evident that our attitude toward God, His Word and Worship itself will determine the kind of “attender” we’ll be. What kind of attender are you? Are you a...
1) Special occasion attender? Some believe that whenever there is a special occasion, a holiday, etc., that’s the time to be in attendance. To them, other regular times for worship services are not important.
2) Seasonal attender? This attitude toward attendance is that it depends on the season of the year. If it is “camping season“, “deer-hunting season“, “baseball season“, “football season“, etc., then being in attendance for the services is not as important. These so-called “seasons” should never hinder us from being faithful to the Lord, including the attendance of the services.
3) Spasmodic attender? Some come for a while, then miss for a while. With them, this becomes a way of life. You can never rely or depend upon them to take an active part in the work of the church.
4) Suit-your-self attender? These attend only when it “suits them” and it does not interfere with doing something else they want to do. To them, attending the services is not a spiritual priority.
5) Sunday morning only attender? These do not see the need for Sunday night or Wednesday night services; and, most of the time, Sunday morning Bible class either. They think like the old Brylcream commercial, “a little dab will do you.” They are the ones who are always asking, “How many services do I have to attend?” Their attitude of mind is “how little can I do and get by with it?”
6) Seeking-a-companion attender? These only attend services seeking someone they can date and perhaps eventually marry. So, when they visit a congregation and no one is available, then they will move on to another congregation. They are not seeking the Truth and the Lord, neither are they looking for a place where they can worship scripturally and be blessed spiritually, but they’re just looking for a companion. That is their only motive for attending services.
7) Sleeping attender? These use the worship services as a time to catch up on their sleep that they didn’t get the night before. They did not use that time to prepare themselves to worship God acceptably on Sunday morning. To them, worship services are not valuable and vital to their spiritual well-being.
8) Sorehead attender? These enter the church building “mad” and “upset” and are just waiting for someone to say or do something they can attack and then they are ready to give them “a piece of their mind.” They don’t want to participate in worship nor anything else that might help them spiritually. They are in the “kick-a-tive mood.” They feel compelled to try to stir-up trouble.
Do you see yourself among any of these groups? If so, change your attitude and action, “Repent!” Yes, it is sinful to willfully forsake the services of the church (Heb. 10:24-25); and, it is sinful to not have the proper motive and attitude (John 4:24).
When our actions and attitudes toward church attendance are not right, we demonstrate a lack of love for God, for the Word of God, for the church, for ourselves and others (John 14:15; Heb. 10:24-26; Col. 3:1-3; Rev. 22:14; 2 Peter 3:18).
Let us develop an attitude of mind as David, when he said, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lord” (Psa. 122:1).
WHERE IS GOD IN OUR TROUBLES?
Garland M. Robinson
The day began very early. Two hundred miles would be driven to a lonely hospital room where a dying man would, in just a few hours, breathe his last. A smile and a tear came across the faces of both father and son as their eyes met. As the tragic event of death was nearing, I sat and held my father’s hand for hours as I saw the life slipping from his tired and worn out frame. I would be holding that same hand the next day as he breathed his last sigh and as the warmth gently left his body. How many of you have endured such pain, such trouble, such loss? Is there anyone who hasn’t?
Where is God in our troubles?
Where is God when a husband and wife pull from each other in what is often called “irreconcilable differences?”
Where is God when there is pain and suffering?
Where is God when little children are caught in the cross- fire of reckless, senseless and wicked deeds?
Where is God when millions of innocent babies are ripped from their mother’s wombs every year in that horrifying despair called “a woman’s right to choose?”
Where is God when brethren set themselves on a course of destruction to their own souls and faithful brethren can’t stop it?
Where is God when brethren divide in spite of all the prayers and pleas of peacemakers?
Where is God when congregations fall apart and split?
Where is God when faithful preachers proclaim the whole counsel of God and evil men and seducers wax worse and worse?
God is where he’s always been. He hasn’t moved. He knows, He cares. He is longsuffering to us ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
The story is told of the old farmer and his wife driving down a country road when his wife speaks up and says. “You know, when we were young, we used to sit together as we traveled. Now, you sit on your side and I sit on mine. Why is that?” The old farmer lovingly looks over at her and says, “I haven’t moved. I’m still behind the wheel where I’ve always been.”
It’s easy to grow apart isn’t it? It can happen without us ever realizing it.
Where is God in our troubles?
GOD IS IN HEAVEN
God has not moved. He is where he has always been. He watches. He knows. He cares. We are the ones who have moved away.
In Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple, he ask God’s blessing upon them and ask that God hear from his dwelling place in heaven (1 Kings 8:30,39,43,49; 2 Chron. 6:21,30, 33,39; 2 Chron. 30:27). The Psalmist declared: “The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven...” (Psa. 11:4; Isa. 66:1; Acts 7:49)? Habakkuk 2:20 declares, “the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” From heaven, He looks upon men to see if there are any that understand and seek him (Psa. 53:2).
Jesus tells us that God the Father is in heaven. It is the place of his throne (Matt. 5:34; 23:22). Jesus said, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven...” (Luke 11:2). God cares, Oh, how he cares!
GOD IS IN THE WORLD
“The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Psa. 103:19).
God has his finger on the pulse of the world. God rules over all the kingdoms of men. This very pointed and grave lesson was taught to king Nebuchadnezzar because of his pride and arrogance. God would send him to the very depths of despair and teach him a lesson. He would learn that God rules over all. In the book of Daniel, three verses show us that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan. 4:17,25,32). Oh, how this lesson needs to be learned in the world today!
God cares about what goes on. He is there and knows about our troubles. However, He will not help unless we turn to him in obedience according to his will.
GOD IS IN THE CHURCH
God’s eternal plan was fulfilled in the church of Christ. “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:9-11).
Since God has taken such great care through the ages in watching over his word to perform it (cf. Jer. 1:12), shall he not care about it now? Has God lost his interest in us? Does he not care what happens to his saints? Of course God cares!
Paul writes by inspiration, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).
GOD IS IN OUR HEARTS
“...If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). Jesus said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).
Though God lives within us, we often feel alone in times of trouble. But, we must always keep in mind that “if God be for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31)? Even then, our heart is many times heavy with burdens. But in such times, we must also remember that “...if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things” (1 John 3:20). If we continue faithful, God will provide.
God has always expected those who lead in worship and service to be faithful to Him. Sadly, that is not always the case and some are even advocating and encouraging those that are unfaithful to be leaders. Those that advocate such argue that if we give responsibility to the unfaithful, they will become faithful. They say if we get them to teach a Bible class, lead a prayer, or serve on the Lord's table that will get them to attend. Brethren, that is getting the cart before the horse.
Paul's purpose in writing his first letter to Timothy was "that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God" (1 Tim. 3:15). These words do not apply just to Timothy but to all fellow workers in the household of faith. Paul wanted Timothy to know how Christians ought to behave in the church so that he could instruct the church in these matters.
Concerning men who lead in worship, Paul writes, "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Tim. 2:8). First, notice that Paul's instruction does not merely apply to the worship assembly but to worship wherever and whenever it is offered. Because of the context, we can be sure that prayer is used as a synecdoche ("a figure of speech by which we speak of the whole by a part..." --Dungan) representing all five avenues of worship. Second, notice that the instruction is given to men (males as opposed to children and women). Finally, notice that there are three specific conditions placed upon men who lead in prayer or more generally worship.
The first of these conditions is that men pray "lifting up holy hands." What is being stressed here is not the posture of prayer. "Lifting up holy hands" is a figure of speech denoting moral purity and holy living. The person doing the leading of our worship is to be the kind of person whose life is a reflection of holy living. The prayers of a person who persists in sin is not heard (Isaiah 59:1-2; Micah 3:4; 1 Peter 3:12). Brethren, let us be sure. A person who willfully sins by forsaking the assemblies (Hebrews 10:25-26) persists in sin and his prayers are not heard by God. Brethren, do we want someone to lead us in worship whose prayers are not heard beyond the four walls of our church buildings?
The second condition is that men pray "without wrath." This denotes a disposition of the mind. A man that leads in worship should not have such a disposition that displays anger towards God, His provisions, nor His commandments. Further, he should not exhibit anger towards his fellow Christian nor his fellow man. The reason for such is found in James 1:20 which says, "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."
The third condition is that men pray without "doubting." The one leading us in worship ought to do so believing that his worship will come before the throne of God. In this way, his worship is offered in faith (James 1:6). Jesus taught, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). Surely, we would not want a man to lead us in our worship that does not believe that God will accept our offering of "the sacrifice of praise" (Heb. 13:15).
The principle that God expects those who lead in worship and service to be faithful is clearly demonstrated in scripture. Concerning the training of men to preach, Paul writes, "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). The gospel is to be deposited in "faithful men" who will not betray the charge to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2) and who will deposit the same truths in other faithful men. In this way the succession of teachers would be sustained. However, if the deposit was made in the unfaithful hoping that they will become faithful, the succession of teachers would likely fail.
In the list of the qualifications of deacons, Paul writes, "And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless" (1 Tim. 3:10). The word "proved" means tried or tested. Only after men have been tried, tested and proved are they qualified to serve as a deacon. The unfaithful have been tested but they have failed the tests and, thereby, are not qualified to serve.
In Acts 6, a problem arose in the church in Jerusalem. The Grecian "widows were neglected in the daily ministration." To solve the problem, the twelve apostles called upon the disciples to seek out seven faithful men to take care of these widows. The apostles did not call upon the disciple to find some unfaithful brethren to care for this situation hoping that it would make them faithful. The solution was not found in the unfaithful but the faithful for it is the faithful who will be faithful in their responsibilities.
Jesus, in the parable of the talents, taught that those who use their talents faithfully will be reward with greater talents and those that are slothful will have their talents removed (Matt. 25:14-30). Because the faithful stewards were "faithful over a few things," the Lord will reward them by giving them charge over many things (Matt. 25:21,23).
Brethren, if a man will not be faithful in a lesser responsibility such as attendance, why would we think that he would be faithful in a greater responsibility such as serving on the Lord's table, leading in prayer, or teaching a Bible class? In stark contrast to those who advocate giving greater responsibilities to the unfaithful, Jesus taught, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much" (Luke 16:10).
Christ called names... By doing this, all knew of whom he spoke. He did not speak in uncertain terms.
We have some “softies” among us today who seem to think it is an almost unpardonable sin for a preacher or writer to call the names of false teachers and hypocrites; but it seems to me we have some mighty good precedents for this in the New Testament. However, the motive back of the name calling might enter into it. Our motives should be absolutely pure in every act and word. If we call names simply to ridicule or get “smart” or something of that kind, of course that would be sin; but if we are trying to save souls, why not point out the erroneous teaching and who it is that teaches that? But some will say that just preaching the truth would be sufficient, and that we should leave others alone. The preachers and writers of the New Testament days did not thus act. They preached the truth and then contrasted error with the truth.
John the Baptist was very personal in his preaching. King Herod was living with another man’s wife. He was living in adultery. John knew this. He knew that it was not lawful for the king to live this way. I suppose John could have preached on a hundred other things without offending Herod and the woman with whom he was living. But why preach on other things and refuse to preach on the very thing the king needed? So John just “approached” a bad situation and told the king in plain words. Of course for this plain preaching he lost his head. Some today would lose their heads if they were to tell some in “high places” of their sins, and not just hint at them. Sin is sin, and should be condemned in the severest terms. If we know of members of the church who are living in open adultery in defiance of the laws of God and the laws of man, we ought to tell them. We ought to let them know that such characters cannot enter the kingdom of God. These dirty situations will not right themselves. It takes the Gospel of Christ to do it.
Christ called names. Two of the most bigoted sects of his day were the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were hypocrites. Time after time Jesus told them this, calling their names. Read his scathing denunciation of them in Matt. 23. Would Jesus have been true to his trust if he had refused to have so spoken? Did he do wrong in thus calling their names? By doing this, all knew of whom he spoke. He did not speak in uncertain terms.
On the birthday of the church, Peter was preaching to the betrayers and murderers of God’s Son. He told them so. He did not preach a “soft” sermon on sin and tell them that there were some murderers in the world, and that it was not becoming to live that way. Listen: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Earlier in the sermon, when he was “approaching” them, he had said, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). That kind of preaching brought results. They could see that the innocent blood of God’s Son was upon their souls; it was dripping from their hands. What were the results? “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do” (Acts 2:37)? What brought them to a sense of their lost condition? The truth had been preached and the application made. Peter let them know that he was preaching to them. So many today preach “pretty” little sermons, and folks go to sleep and do not know of whom the preacher is preaching. And, the preachers seem just a little timid for fear some might find out!
Simon, the sorcerer, thought he could buy the gift of God with money. Listen to the inspired preacher: “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:20-23). I guess Simon would not have much trouble understanding where he stood in the sight of God. Peter boldly preached the truth and made a personal application. From that kind of preaching, Simon would not get the idea that his sin was not so bad after all. And, it brought results! “Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me” (Acts 8:24). After all, we are trying to get sinners to repent when we preach to them. This they will never do until they are brought to a realization of their sinful condition.
One time, Mark got discouraged a little too easily and turned back when the going became difficult. Paul did not think much of this. So on another trip he refused to take Mark with them because he had not gone with them to the work. The contention between Paul and Barnabas over this was sharp. Mark had done wrong in turning back. Paul rebuked him sharply for this. God thought enough of this to make it a part of the divine record. Read it in the latter part of Acts 15.
Peter ate with the Gentiles; but when certain of his Jewish brethren came on the scene, he separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. Even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation. Did Peter do right in this? No, he was to blame, and Paul told him so. And, that is a part of the divine record recorded in Galatians 2. Paul withstood him to the face. That is where it should be done, not behind the backs of the ones who should be withstood to the face.
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. He had some bad reports concerning them. Paul told them where he got the report. “For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you” (1 Cor. 1:11). Paul seemed to think it was the right thing to do to tell where he got his information.
Paul talked about some who had made shipwreck. This is the way he wrote about two of those fellows: “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20). My, is not that plain? These brethren had been delivered to Satan until they would learn not to blaspheme. Paul did not think it would be all right for them to go elsewhere preaching their pernicious doctrine. They must be stopped.
“This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes” (2 Tim. 1:15). Pretty personal, do you not think? “For Demas bath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10).This brother had forsaken the old apostle, and Paul said so, and gave the reason why Demas had forsaken him. And, listen to the peerless apostle just before he lies down to rest: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words” (2 Tim. 4:14-15). Almost with his dying breath, the apostle was warning Timothy against bad men and false teachers. Did he do wrong in this? Of course not. He loved the church. He was jealous over it with a godly jealousy. And so should we be. We should mark and name them that cause division (Rom. 16:17).