We would be foolish to think that our own local churches will never repeat these historical trends and even more foolish not to do something about it now for the sake of Christ’s glory and His body.
Two biblical examples (not an end-all list) stand out to me as warnings to guard against this internal decay:
1. The Church at Ephesus – Dead Orthodoxy (Rev. 2:1-5): The believers at Ephesus had faithfully fought long and hard against false apostles and the Nicolaitans, but they had grown cold toward their Savior. They no longer delighted in him. They lost their first love. This was such a serious offense to their Redeemer that he instructed them to “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5 ESV). Have our churches become sidetracked arguing over church philosophies and things that really don’t matter rather than for the weightier matters of our faith that we are failing to love and delight in our great God and love others as ourselves? If this is the case, we also need to remember the height from which we have fallen and repent. We need to live out the words of the apostle Paul who wrote, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:9-13 ESV).
2. The Church at Laodicea – Self-Sufficiency (Rev. 3:14-19): The people of Laodicea, so they thought, had everything they needed. This church was the ultimate self-supporting (and self-contained, self-absorbed) church. They viewed themselves as being rich and in need of nothing—could anyone say that out loud? However, Christ said, “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17 ESV). Their arrogance and aloofness was so distasteful that the Lord was about to spit them out of his mouth. He called them to be zealous and repent. Thirty plus years ago, Francis Schaeffer stated that if the Holy Spirit and prayer would be taken from the church in North America it probably would take a long time before anyone inside the church missed them. Are we North Americans any better today than in Schaeffer’s day? Hardly. Our prayers and dependence on grace is often an afterthought—a theological way of tidying up our business for the kingdom. True, vital, Spirit-given life is fading from many of our churches. This is a dangerous position in which to find ourselves. We have made ourselves the ultimate measure and object of our worship. Self-sufficiency in a local church becomes the watershed for a legion of other sins. To get off this slippery slope, we must view ourselves as Paul did himself. He wrote, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant…” (2 Cor. 3:5 ESV). Without Christ we can do nothing—NADA! But, in Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3) and “God will supply every need of [ours] according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19 ESV).
Is it possible that Christ is again standing at the door of local churches … knocking as a returning Master of the house? Will His servants be awake? Will they be active in their King’s business? Are they even longing for His return? None of us, either through sheer neglect or malicious / selfish intent, should be contributors to the death of a local church.