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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Enemy Within

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, a prominent  leader in the Catholic Church here in the UK has warned that our Christian heritage is being destroyed by secular zealots, and Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society claims that the idea is a red herring used to distract people the Church from its own failings, pointing to the failing popularity of the Church. He says, "Nobody is killing the church, it is committing suicide ..."  So who is correct? Is aggressive secularism to blame for falling church attendance or is the Church itself to blame for failing to lead the way?

Generally speaking, it has to be said that the stories about churches being full every Sunday in the past has certainly not been true in my lifetime, and that covers almost seven decades. True, there are occasions when churches are full, but not on a regular basis. It's also true to say that there are some churches that have very high attendance figures on a regular basis today, so what is the real position?

There is a pattern of growth and decline that can be applied to many churches whereby a new church is established and grows quickly due to the zealousness of its core membership. There may be a common cause for the church being established such as an influx of people with a desire to maintain their own national identity in worship such as happened when large numbers of Welsh people moved into England as a result of employment opportunities on the canals and docks in the North West, or where people of Caribbean or African origin wanted a church where they could worship in the manner to which they were used, and which was not available in their area. Hence a new church is planted and for the first 25 years or so there is a steady increase in growth, and the congregation is made up of all age groups. There follows around 50 years of relatively stable growth, where families may leave due to relocation but other families join for the same reasons. The next 25 years will inevitably see a decline in attendance due to the social changes that have been effected over the life of the church. Young people are lost to the church because they become increasingly mobile in their lifestyle, often moving away to continue their education and then establishing themselves away from their home area. Inevitably, this means that the numbers of infants reduce as a result, and the age profile of the congregation changes as a result. Soon, as a result of natural decline within the congregation, attendance is drastically reduced, and the middle-aged members become counted amongst the older ones. The church, unless drastic action is taken, is now in terminal decline.

So it can be seen that there are many reasons why church attendance declines over time as a result of changes in the social habits of the population. Add to this the fact that invariably as people become wealthier so they look to other things in their attempts to find happiness. They become increasingly materialistic in their approach to life, often as a result of being misled by politicians and advertisers into thinking that 'more means happier.' The truth is that the opposite is generally the truer picture, for 'more' simply creates a desire for 'more still.'

That there is, generally speaking, a spiritual hunger in people cannot be denied, and this is demonstrated by the floral and other tributes left at the scene of fatal accidents, and was so ably demonstrated at the time of the death of Princess Diana. People need to express their grief and know no other way to do so adequately. This demonstrates to me that the Church has failed to connect with people sufficiently for them to trust their spiritual needs to it.

How has this happened? I believe that the answer lies in the fact that the Church has, for many decades, failed to preach the Gospel message of Christ, instead relying on preaching alternatives such as a social gospel or a prosperity gospel. Too many liberal clerics have dismissed the truths of Scripture as little more than myths and legend, ridiculing others for daring to believe that The Bible really is the breathed Word of God. The consequence is that much of the Church's leadership is made up of men and women whose agenda is far removed from Gods, and even more, that there are many churches where God is not welcomed at all.

I am a Gospel preacher. The message that I preach is one of the need for true repentance and the acceptance of Jesus Christ a Saviour, the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Lord, submission of one's life in service to Christ, and reconciliation to God the Father. I believe that people need to hear the message that ultimately they will pass on to either heaven or hell. They will either spend eternity with God or without Him. There are no alternatives. There is no place for sitting on the fence, waiting to jump one way or the other at the final second. The fact of the matter is quite simple, you are either for Christ, and therefore with Him, or you are against Christ and therefore without Him. Once invited to preach at a church I am usually invited to return to preach again, which I believe is simply because I preach Biblical truth, and share the Gospel message that I have been called to do.

I'm not concerned with preaching messages that make people feel comfortable, but only messages which help to turn them to a greater knowledge of the message of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. My greatest concern is that the lost souls be pointed in the direction of Salvation. If that makes some folk uncomfortable then so be it!

If we want to see the Christian Church enter a new period of growth then the first thing of importance is that it should get on its collective knees and repent of the manner in which it has been run for so long. Only when the Church glorifies Christ as it should will it start to find its way once more. It needs to follow the ways of God and not the ways of men, and that means that those who are soaked in a knowledge of Christ need to be sharing that knowledge with those under their leadership, sharing the knowledge that helps people to know Christ personally and thereby to grow in their faith and their understanding of what God desires of them individually.

As long as the Church is filled with apathy and leaders who reject some or even most of the Bible, then it will continue to decline, particularly because its enemies sensing the weaknesses that are so blatantly displayed, are ready to pounce at every opportunity.

Is your church in decline and on the pathway to self-destruction? If it is what are you doing about it? After all, it's up to everyone to play their part, not just then leader at the front of the congregation. Has Christ been shut out by the desire to become relevant to today's world? 

If the answer to all or any of these questions is 'Yes', then you can halt the decline. You will first need, as a church, to repent of the ways of the past, and commit to following God's ways in future without moving away from them. Above all you need to ensure that the life of your church is a life centred upon the Lord Jesus Christ. No other factor should be allowed to displace Christ as the centre of your worship and the leader of the Church. Christ, and Christ alone, is the head.

If you cut the head off a chicken it will run around crazily for a while with no sense of direction, before it finally drops down altogether. The Church is the same. Cut off from Christ, the living head, the church runs around with no sense of direction before finally dropping down as dead as a dodo. 

Yes, the enemy outside the Church is great, and the onslaught is greater now for many people than it has ever been, but there is no doubt that it is more powerful as a direct result of the enemy within who aids and abets it by diminishing Christ in so many ways.

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