Is the church sleeping? Is the church in decline? Is the church dead? Not so! Church members may be sleeping; the number of churches might be in decline; but the Church of which our Lord Jesus speaks is alive, vibrant and growing. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18. And of the members of that Church he says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” John 10:29
I am afraid we are confusing two entities, the Church of which Christ speaks and of which he says, “I will build my church…” and the physical churches with all its cantankerous, warring-against each adherent of various hues of orthodoxy and plagued by heresies galore. Somehow most people believe everybody to be a Christian who by accident of birth is called thus. In years past I associated a person with a Christian name with being a Christian. In that case Joseph Stalin could be considered one – but even the most compassionate saint would quail at that.
Basically the Church, the people who worship God in spirit and in truth, has not changed over the centuries in either numbers or quality. It seems Enoch didn’t have much company while walking with God; Noah had a congregation of 8 and Elijah complained that he was the only one left, but God, showing him his math was out, revealed that the number was actually 7,000. Paul lamented that everybody cares more for his own things than the things of Christ.
The worldliness of the church and in the church has also been lamented by many of God’s great men and women throughout the centuries and – still continues. Jonathan Edwards who shook his church with the sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”, lost his job when he insisted that only born again Christians (as if there are any others) should take part in the Lord’s Supper. Apparently, the congregation had the numbers but not the saints. Edwards bewailed the fact that many who considered themselves eligible for heaven fooled themselves; they had a consonant too many in the word Saint – namely the first one.
Admittedly traditions change, the places of worship change and a host of other things. When hymns were first introduced in the churches those who believed that only psalms should be sung cried heresy just as others did when the hymnbook in many churches, made way for songs projected on walls and screens; musical instruments, when first introduced were considered as coming straight from hell. While I am tolerant, at one time though, when miniskirt clad teenage girls sat in the choir benches of some churches, I thought I smelled sulfur tainted smoke coming up through the floorboards especially when I noticed that the pastor for once had no problem getting the congregation to move up to the front…
Admittedly it appears the number of people in the various churches seems in decline and so the fervor for God and his concerns. As sort of an encouragement, John the apostle put his finger – or quill – on the issue of people leaving the church or though still there, have actually left the church:
“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” 1 John 2:19.
Jesus placed these people in the first three categories of the parable of the sower. Matthew 13:3-8. In the parables of the wide and narrow gate and the wide and narrow path he indicates that the dead stones will by far outnumber the living stones – the ones Jesus uses to build his Church.
I look at the various churches and congregations and denominations across the world as a huge quarry, a quarry from which the Lord Jesus Christ will garner the living stones – to build his Church – the Church whose number is ever increasing and the Church that the gates of hell will not overcome or rob it of its living stones.
And so rather than lament the decline of the churches in both quantities and qualities let us lament the decline of our own spirituality that prevents us from being living stones; a decline that shows itself in decreased church services, in decreased membership and closed churches and a decline that shows itself in dwindling support for missions and other church related activities. God forbid that it should be said of us, due to our indifference –
“Woe to you …! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Matthew 23:13.