The church can be likened to a ship sailing on a sea. As it sails, many barnacles can attach to its hull and sometimes they become so many that their weight sinks the ship. To prevent this, the ship has to be brought to a dry dock and the barnacles are knocked off. In the same vein, when a local church allows the barnacles of the world to attach to it, it’s in the danger of sinking spiritually. Down through the centuries, there has been a tendency for the church to be negatively influenced by the philosophy, music, arts, and traditions of the surrounding pagan culture. This is why in each generation, these barnacles must be removed to keep the church afloat.
As a Christian who desires to be grounded in the faith and grow to spiritual maturity, one of the challenges you will face today is how to find a church that is spiritually alive and Bible-based, out of the many churches dotting our landscape. Some church problems which do not affect doctrine, are minor, whilst others are major and could be indicators of a sinking church. For example:
1. Involvement of church leaders in the occult or partnership with cults.
This is a big sign that the ship has torn apart and is plunging down below. It’s no longer news in some churches that many of its clergy men are actively involved cult groups like AMORC, Ogboni, Freemasonry or other forms of witchcraft. Sometimes, it’s at the funeral of such clergymen that their involvement become known. All cultic initiations involve a clear rejection of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, to make the initiate a vessel for demons. Therefore, if a church leader (particularly if they teach from the pulpit) has not verbally and prayerfully renounced a past/present association with a cult group or has not destroyed his “instruments” (regalia, rings, tokens, emblems or charms), he shouldn’t be allowed to minister to the congregation.
This is why spiritual death has been released into some Christian denominations today. An ungodly partnership comes into play when a Christian church invites false prophets, islamic clerics or seers to teach from its pulpits. By so doing, they are giving them a level of spiritual authority over the congregation. If a church sees nothing wrong with any of its leaders visiting pagan shrines or refuses to rebuke its key leaders who openly utilize or promote occult techniques, such a gathering can drown you spiritually (Lev. 20:26, 1Cor. 6:14-18).
2. Neglect of key Christian doctrines.
The current apostasy in the church has made it seem “out of fashion” to emphasize some basic Christian doctrines, like the exclusivity of Christ in salvation or inerrancy of Scripture. According to a US poll, only 7% of Protestant denominations, 13% of non-denominational Protestants, 10% Pentecostal and 8% Baptists have a Biblical worldview. That’s not a good picture. One Lutheran minister in Copenhagen even openly said: “There is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection.” (Associated Press, May 10, 2004). This is heresy.
Heresy literally means “choosing.” It’s when a group of people choose how much of the Bible they want to believe or accept. I call it a cut-and-paste-Bible-Syndrome. In many African churches today, “motivational” or material prosperity sermons and miracle rallies are lauded, but “meaty” doctrines like the sufficiency of Scripture, Christian discipline or exposing erroneous doctrines in the church, provoke responses ranging from cold apathy to outright opposition.
Be very careful of a “church” that peddles teachings distorting the nature, person or the work of Jesus Christ. They are teaching a “damnable heresy” (2Peter 2:1) and you need to jump off that ship as fast as you can. Another area of concern is when a church has its “pet doctrines” – a doctrine that is overemphasized at the expense of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Some teach only on faith and healing, while some teach only on spiritual warfare and nothing else. This usually leads to excesses. When you keep feeding on the same spiritual diet, you won’t grow well. It’s just like taking potato chips and soda everyday. After a year, I can bet you won’t like what you’d see in the mirror
3. A redefinition of or total silence about sin
The more a church sinks into the world, the less it will speak against sin, because that is what the world loves. The secular society celebrates lust, envy and pride. Now, when Psychology, rather than Scripture is ruling a church, sins and sinners are redefined. For example, drunkards are called “alcoholics,” adulterers are “just having an affair,” child molesters or rapists are just “sex addicts,” gays are practicing “an alternative lifestyle.” By changing the labels, the seriousness of the sin is ignored.
A sinking church avoids using words like “sin” or “repentance.” A member of such a church once said to me “Jesus didn’t ask us to talk about sin.” Sorry, you need to start studying your Bible. Both the Old and New Testament talk about sin. How can you preach salvation without mentioning “sin?” What are the people being saved from? From a low self-esteem? Robert Schuller, once said “I preach repentance so positively that most people don’t recognize it.” How can you preach something and people wouldn’t know you preach it? Is he suggesting that Jesus and the saints of old who preached repentance were “too negative?” These “positive”, utilitarian, narcissistic ‘all about me’ messages that distort the Gospel are signs of a boat bringing in water.
4. Rejection of the doctrine of Hell.
One of the signs of liberalism in a church is silence about eternal damnation. Though, it shouldn’t be unduly overemphasized, an uncomfortable dismissal of the reality hell is a mark of apostasy. For example, the doctrinal commission of the Church of England states: “Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is total non-being.”
Billy Graham once said in an interview: “Hell means separation from God. We are separated from his light, from his fellowship. That is going to be hell. When it comes to a literal fire, I don’t preach it because I am not sure about it” (Time Magazine, 15/11/93).
Schuller defines hell as “the loss of pride that naturally follows separation from God- the ultimate and unfailing source of our soul’s sense of self-respect. ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forasaken me?’ was Christ’s encounter with hell. In that ‘hellish’ death our Lord experienced the ultimate horror… A person is in hell when he has lost his self esteem” (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, 1982, 14-15, 93).
Though these men used Christian terminologies, they have redefined hell to suit their false theology. Jesus – the embodiment of God’s love – warned us the most about Hell (Matt. 5:22, 8:11-12, 13:40 etc). We can play with anybody’s words, but we dare not play with the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He wasn’t some theologian or a philosopher in search of truth.
5. Seeker or User Friendly methodologies
The “seeker friendly” method of church growth involves a pastor taking a survey in his community and asking unbelievers what sort of church service they want, the sermons they want to hear etc. Based on these surveys, he then adjusts his church to suit the people’s needs. It’s a marketing strategy. Pastors using this method believe they are competing in a buyer’s market, so they feel they cannot alienate their “customers.” This method attempts to re-define God to appease unbelievers. The emphasis of such churches is not on God or what He requires of us, but on man and what will increase his self-esteem.
The seeker movement gives people the “religion” they want instead of the convicting truth they need. When Paul preached the True God to the Athenians, “some mocked and others said, we will hear thee again of this matter” (Acts 17:32-34). Hardly a “seeker-sensitive” message. A big flaw of the “seeker friendly” movement is the assumption that number, buildings and other externalities are the only goals that count. Thus they invest more on things that will attract crowd, like entertainment, jamborees, sumptuous meals, basketball courts, spas etc.
As good as these things are, the real emphasis of Christianity is to be drawn by the Father to Christ and built up in Him. The early Believers didn’t utilize man-made strategies to bring people to Christ, rather “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47b). Jesus didn’t ask the Jewish leaders what type of church they wanted neither did His apostles take a survey of the heathen to know what they wanted to hear. This “seeker sensitive” method reduces Jesus to a needed “product,” and “sells” the gospel to the lost, who are the consumers. But any attempt to present Jesus as a “product” is to refashion Him or adjust His image to appeal to the felt needs of the consumer-happy culture. With such a backdrop, every teaching of Christ that the heathen finds “offensive” is tossed into the trash can.
A pastor of such a church was interviewed by Larry King and asked if Muslims or Hindus will be in heaven without accepting Christ. He answered: “You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know…Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong…I spent a lot of time in India with my father, I don’t know all about their [Hindu] religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know.”
How typical. They avoid offending their consumers with the truth, but rather soothe them with motivational philosophies dressed up in a carefully selected set of Bible verses. Christ Himself is “the rock of offence” (Rom. 9:33) and there is the “offence of the cross” (Gal. 5:11). The true gospel offends and convicts a sinner. Far from being “sensitive,” any gospel that is designed to tickle people is often a false gospel that will damn those who believe it.
If your church is sinking, there could still be hope. In some cases, you may need to sit down with your leader(s) and reason with him from the Bible. But if he’s not willing to go by Scripture, then it would be better to look for another fellowship where the Word of God is honoured and Christ is glorified. Men can create an organization and call it a “church” but that doesn’t mean it’s a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ.