Christianity is currently experiencing the most convulsive, unsettled period of change since the birth of the Church more than two millennia ago.
No generation of Christians, from the first disciples of Jesus until now has witnessed the vast and accelerated alteration of the structure of the church that the current generation is now undergoing.
Surely, we comprise that generation “upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
The voice of the Spirit of God has been heard clearly by innumerable saints whose ears are open and whose eyes are searching for the unmistakable activity of the Lord of the Church. It is He who declares,
The Current Structure of the Church will not accommodate what I am about to do.
If we are willing to face truth without the insulation of emotion or the panacea of nostalgia or the comfort of tradition and with a determination to hear no other voice than the expression of the Spirit of God, we must recognize and accept clear realities, among which is this: Much of what Christians (followers of Jesus Christ and recipients of His forgiveness and mercy and grace) have for all our lives called “church” has little to do with the concept intended when Jesus announced, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).
Allow my redundancy here: “The current structure of the church will not accommodate what God is now doing.” The structure of the building, the skeleton of the Body is being challenged with change and as is true in the physical body, it also is true of the spiritual body. When change, required for growth is demanded of us, pain is involved. When a muscle is exercised, that muscle will initially protest and will make itself heard through the vehicle of muscular ache and pain. These “growing pains” occur also in the church, which God describes as a “Body” (Eph. 4:16).
If you are a church member or church attendee, ask yourself these questions:
- What really is the spiritual condition of my church?
- How effective are we at winning the lost to Jesus?
- How are we penetrating our society with the claims of Jesus, with the fruit of converts and disciples?”
- Are we more caught up in the worship of worship than we are the worship of the Lord?
- Does the preaching of my church impact my community as Paul’s preaching did, that “came not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power?” (1 Cor. 2:4).
If your church is like the majority of churches around the world, your answers are not encouraging.
Indeed we can point to a convert here and a new disciple there, but these are infrequent and most of what we call “church growth” is actually transfer growth – Christians dissatisfied with the church they have attended moving to greener pastures, a new worship style or a novel preaching form. We call this activity “growth” when in fact it is merely a shuffling of the deck, a relocation of spiritual refugees from one address and building to another.
We can look at finances and building programs and musical performances and evangelistic crusades and interest building programs and by these criteria claim some level of success as churches. But if we are honest, we must admit that our experience is far from the original pattern of the church we’ve read about in the Book of Acts and the church that existed during times of worldwide revival.
Most churches have majored on programs and committee-spawned ideas for growth which have little to do with the blind seeing, the deaf hearing and the lame leaping.
Our musicals, our programs, our carefully crafted sermons have done little if anything to stem the growing tide of evil all around us.
Because of our ineffectiveness, we have built a theology to accommodate our failure.
We point out that “evil must increase in the end times” in order to explain decreasing interest in the things of God.
We dogmatically state that “darkness will increase until there’s almost no light left in the earth.” to rationalize losing the battle against a rising tide of iniquity.
How do these statements square with biblical mandates that declare, “the whole earth is filled with God’s glory?”
What about the promise that “the glory of the latter house will be greater than the glory of the former?”
And finally, what about Jesus’ own promises that “greater works than these shall you do because I go to the Father” and “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Somehow, somewhere, we have lost something essential in the church. Somehow, we must retrieve those lost things if we are to fulfill the promises of God for our generation. And while we retrieve the essentials, we must leave behind the non-essentials: The things contained in the word “religion.”
Purity, Power, Purpose
Contrary to the pitiful preaching of some, God is not going to send Jesus to rescue a discouraged, desolate and defeated Bride. The church Jesus will return for is a church of purity, power, and of purpose, a church that is transforming the earth, confronting evil, and conquering societies with His grace, mercy and love.
But the big question is “How?” How can we change anything of significance? How can we become truly effective for God? How can we reach billions of lives with the love of Jesus, even as a rising tide of resentment and persecution and hatred for Christians and for Christianity threatens to overwhelm us and to drown our voices and extinguish the flickering flame of faith? I’ll address these issues and others in my next discourse.
Christianity is indeed currently experiencing the most convulsive, unsettled moment of change since the birth of the Church more than two thousand years ago. And in this moment of unsettled discomfort, God is wooing us, calling softly and thundering when necessary, bidding and urging us to return to Him and to His ways. The responsibility we share is to hear Him, to answer Him and to follow Him.