Marks of a Dead or Dying Church
1Tim 6:3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
One of the things that marks the decline of a good church into a bad church is the gradual shift over doctrine. Starting with pure good doctrine, “other things” gradually enter in to force out the purity and concentration of the good. (Satan actually wants churches to have good doctrine. What this does is gives validity to the church. If the leadership is flexible in “his” hands, then he has the bait. Later he uses the pastor, leadership, people to contaminate many good people. The bait has to be good, and this is a good doctrine church. What happens is the slow drift because of the lack of resolve in the leadership.)
Notice that this is very real, but also very difficult to discern. What happens is that there is quality at the beginning, and then over time (all the while the church never stops teaching and preaching doctrine) the church changes its fervor and concentration of good doctrine into “something else.” Paul’s words to Timothy (1Tim 6:3) focuses on doctrine which causes godliness. It is unfortunate in our world that so many “men of God”, preachers, and pastors have taken the confrontation of sin as being something that is offensive and rejected wholesale by them. Sound doctrine causes holiness in those that hear and believe it. This is a key to understanding and preventing church decline in your church.
2Tim 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
Titus 2:1 But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: Titus 2:2 That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. Titus 2:3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
Paul’s concept was that sound doctrine ALWAYS produces holiness in the hearer. In other words, the correct preaching and teaching of correct, biblical doctrine should have a spiritual effect on the hearer (unless he has his heart hardened). That effect is holiness. IF we can trace back how this works, we can understand some important things about sermon preparation. First of all, all sermons (teachings also) that are presented in a church forum should have a common form, which is that they are presented to convince the hearer of morality, i.e. they are highly oriented towards morality change. When preachers take a non-position on moral issues (such as homosexuality, alcohol, cussing, lying, sexual promiscuity, etc), then the battle has been lost before it even started.
Many preachers try to impress their audience with facts, figures, and Greek and Hebrew “in the original text”. Unfortunately none of that is biblical. It is not necessarily unbiblical either, but when the sum end of the sermon is to impress the audience with these things, then it is simply religious entertainment. Correct use of these things should be understood.
Correctly using information, data, Greek and Hebrew
What we must insist on is that every sermon have some kind of moral application. Without this moral application, there is no sense in occupying the pulpit and the worship times with information giving. Leave the announcements to the bulletin! A biblical preacher has to morally craft Christ in his listener. If he is not worried and planning to identify errors and character faults, overthrow them with Scripture arguments, and then convince and exhort the listener to conform themselves to Christ, then there is no real preach.
Any information, data, Greek or Hebrew language grammar or vocabulary information is valid if it helps convince that moral point. Without directly and clearly relating to that moral proposition of the sermon, it is filler, and what doesn’t go directly to the heart of the matter dilutes the matter.
We have to understand that there is a lot of useless biblical knowledge floating around. Perhaps in some context (like a Greek or Hebrew class) this knowledge would be useful, but to a general congregation, it distracts from the transmission of morality that should be the priority of church worship services. If the people in the pew don’t feel a very strong urging and convincing to be better morally through some biblical principle, then all is lost. Simple information fills and dilutes the church eventually destroying it all together.
Fundamentals of the Faith do exist
See my tract Doct01 The Fundamentals of the Faith which argues for the existence of certain fundamental doctrines that are essential or one is not a Christian.
In the original article, the author says,
“When such cardinal truths as the doctrine of exclusivity become issues of doubt, a church is in trouble. There’s little motivation for outreach and evangelism if other paths and other religions are equal to Christianity.”
What amazes me is that how on track this guy is. If we survey the ecumenical movement, we see they are a case in point. Once you throw the anchor of the fundamentals of the faith overboard, and you cut the chain binding you to it, you are in theological drift and have no bearing, compass, no point of reference. What is right and wrong becomes in doubt.
Billy Graham early in his “ministry” did this, and began using Catholic priests and nuns as counselors in his campaigns. Once he started this, then there is no more evangelism of Catholics. Graham is good friends with various popes, and Graham has also reached out to many liberal and extremely liberal and ungodly religious personages. When he went to India and used the Hindi leaders in his meetings, then not even non-Christian religions are wrong, and the great begging question to Billy Graham is then why is he an evangelist when he acknowledges as legitimate all these heretics?
There are both non-critical Bible positions, and super critical fundamental Bible positions. We cannot mix the two, but we must maintain a clear separation. Equally there are doctrines which we must constantly teach and focus on in our worship and preaching times, and there are doctrines which should rarely if ever be mentioned. Those essential doctrines are clearly in the focus and emphasis in the Bible. They are there by importance given to them by the Scriptures themselves. For example, the authority and inspiration of the Bible should be a heavily mentioned topic, but the Dead Sea Scrolls should rarely if ever be mentioned. It is not that the Dead Sea Scrolls are not important, but in reality, they should not crowd out and dilute more essential doctrines and teachings.
Another interesting quote from the article…
Ironically, in our survey of unchurched persons across America, we found that these non-Christians were much less likely to attend churches with weak doctrinal beliefs than those with strong ones. “Why should I waste my time in a place that does not have much certainty of belief,” Amy, a 29-year-old unchurched person from Arizona, told us. “I can find plenty of uncertainty in the world.”
The point here is that when the pastor, leadership, and church in general have “lost their way” spiritually, why should other people come into this church and follow a leader without a compass? The point is well taken.
Eph 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Paul first identifies the spiritual gifts in 4:11, and most importantly the gift of Pastor-Teacher. He is the one who works the perfecting of the saints through his ministry. Even the gift of prophet can possibly be seen today still, not in the foretelling of Scripture, but in the forthtelling of Scripture. A prophet (in any time) is like Nathan that says “Thou are the man”. Prophets rebuke people of sin, much as John the Baptist did. This constant confronting of sin needs to be a regular part of the diet of any biblical church.
There needs to be a stability built upon what God has given us in the Word of God. Not just justifying a sermon because it mentions some passage in the Bible, but because the major themes, thrusts, and priorities of the Word of God are repeated in the sermon topics and Sunday School lessons of the church.
These thoughts are taken from a post “7 Deadly sins of a Dying Church“.