In 1897 Ransom Eli Olds founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Co and Oldsmobile soon became an iconic American car. In 1908 it became a staple of General Motors. During the 1980′s GM was selling over a million Old’s every year. Then Americans began favoring smaller more efficient cars. The classic Oldsmobile was no longer desirable to the public. Rather than make a fuel efficient compact Old’s, GM chose to close the Oldsmobile brand. The last Old’s was made in April 2004.
History has a way of teaching us about the once great names and products that fell out of favor with the public. Occasionally the product’s quality or cost changed, other times the needs and desires of the public changed. Either way history is clear, if you do not adapt your product to changes in public perception, you won’t be around long. While this is true of every business, it doesn’t translate to the church.
The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845. Within fifty years it was known for it’s strict adherence to Scripture and zeal for world missions. By the 1950′s the SBC was becoming one of the nation’s largest denominations. Turmoil gripped the Convention during the 1960′s-70′s in the form of liberalism. The conservatives won the battle and took control of the convection. They purged the seminaries and cleaned all the entities of traces of liberalism. The SBC enjoyed the reputation of being “the people of the Book.” Their influence and membership grew at an alarming rate, and we all lived happily ever after! (no, just kidding)
The problem really began when “the people of the Book” wanted to continue this growth rate in a nation that increasingly despised their Book. The emphasis began to shift from Bible teaching to finding ways to attract new people in order maintain growth. Like any good business, maintaining market share while gaining new growth was the goal. The SBC reached it’s pinnacle in 2005 with 16.6 mil members. This came with a heavy cost, and it has steadily declined since then.
The net loss of a 1.5 mil members over the last 10 years is not the real problem with the SBC. It is the fact that they lost their name as “the people of the Book.” They remain the largest Protestant denomination in the US, but that’s all they are, a large group. 2/3 of the current 15 mil members haven’t been to church in a year or more. The other 1/3 has a very shallow and limited knowledge of the Scriptures. When demand for the “book” went away, a business decision was made. Rather than go the way of the Oldsmobile they complied with consumer demand and opinion. Essentially becoming “the people of the people” doing whatever draws a crowd and maintains influence. In a day of passing trends, the lost world is in need of a classic, a 2000 year old institution with a timeless Word. ~HWS
As our country falls farther into the toilet, you may have noticed the calls for Christians to unite together and bring God back into our country. The statements go something like this. If Christians would unite, we could take our country back. When churches come together as one around Jesus… If we join forces… God won’t bless our nation till the churches are all one. It’s time for Christians put their differences aside and work together. It’s not a time to debate doctrine, it’s a time for action. If my people, who are called by my name,… STOP IT! WE ARE NOT ISRAEL! GOD DIDN’T GIVE US LAND! (sorry, it hurts to type out of context)
If you stop and think about it, those are some of the dumbest statements a true Christian can make. Allow me to ask a few obvious follow up questions to the above statements. Does God need permission to enter any country on the planet He made? And that, ruled by a government He raised up? Does God need national unity to bring about his purposes? Christ split every crowd he preached among! How do churches “come together around Jesus” when he is already the Head of the Church? Can you imagine an Apostle putting aside doctrine to get a bigger crowd? They warned against it! Why would we put our Bibles aside in order to take action? Why don’t we just take the steering wheel out of our car and drive thru Dallas instead? What is our fascination with taking a country over for Christ? How could this happen when most of our churches can’t even articulate a Biblical gospel?
And therein lies the proof that this call for unity is not of God. Our unity is to be in the Gospel. How can we unite with those who proclaim a different way of salvation? Apart from Truth, unity can not exist. A marriage built on falsehood with opposing goals will not enjoy unity. Neither will any movement started by man. The early church enjoyed unity until false teaching entered and split the congregations. Should a true church unite a with false church to gain a majority?
That is why doctrine needs to be put aside in order for us to work together. They know this, so we are told to “rally around Jesus.” That sounds like a noble cause every Believer should join. But upon closer inspection, it’s what you teach about Jesus that matters. There are 100′s of cults that claim the name of Jesus. Every false prophet from Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen to Paul and Jan Crouch will unite with anyone at the name of Jesus. Many know his name, but he’s more than a name.
The trouble begins when you proclaim who Christ is and what he requires of men. That is the gospel! We can and will work with everyone who preaches a Biblical gospel. Truth is, there aren’t many of us around these days. But don’t let that discourage you. Christ only started with 12, and he gave them this doctrine.
I have been reminded this week of just how fragile a church really is. Before I share my thoughts on the fragility of the church lets acquaint ourselves with the strength of the church. In Mat 16 Jesus declared that the “gates of Hell would not prevail against it.” Paul referred to the church as “the pillar and ground of truth.” Now think of this, the church is who Christ died for according to Eph 5:25. These promises and many more like them are given to build our confidence in Christ’s love and purpose for his the Church.
How is it then, in light of these truths, that a church can be frail and easily broken? What is her big weakness? Government over reach? Hostility toward believers? No, it’s her own people. The greatest threat to local churches are the very people who make up the church. The out side world has never crushed the church into oblivion, in spite of trying for 2000 years. Even when a church falls apart and ceases to exist, the Lord raises up another church. So how does a church die from within? Here are some of the most common causes of death.
False doctrine, at first it is tolerated and then embraced by the local body. This is not always brought in from outside, many times it is “home grown.” Sometimes it takes a generation or two to fully develop. Ever wonder how we got 300+ “Christian” denominations? Most of them sprang from existing churches.
Next up is sin. The church may teach sound biblical doctrines but turn a blind eye to the open sins among it’s members. When a church looses it’s call to holiness, it ceases to function as a church. They may still meet regularly but there is no testimony of lives saved from sin and the need for Christ is soon gone.
These churches die slowly and it may take generations to finally kick the bucket. But what I have been reminded of are the swift deaths. They happen over simple disagreements where two or more parties draw up sides and attack each other with hateful speech. This is rarely over doctrine or anything of a biblical nature. It could be as simple as hurt feeling or a major disagreement with leadership. Either way this kind of strife can kill the church. Since death by strife is sudden, it is easily observed and we’ve likely seen it before. Strife quickly reveals what happens when a once strong church takes their eyes off of Christ to focus on their own desires. Resentment may lay dormant in the heart of a Christian as a bomb waiting to explode in strife and potentially destroy the unassuming church.
Churches don’t just die, they are killed. In Rev 2-3 Christ warns those 7 churches and gives them a recovery plan. This should cause us to search our own hearts, pray, and praise the Head of the church for His continued protection over us.