We live in trying, difficult times. These are times of great decline and decay in the Church. There are more Christians in the world than ever in history and great progress has been made in the missionary activities of the Church. However, regardless of this, the Church is in great decline.
Now, it may be asked, how is decline to be detected or measured? In Genesis 3:15, in an ancient prophecy, it is foretold by God that there would always exist hostility and warfare between the seed of God, the Church, and the seed of the devil, the world. The health of the Church, therefore, is measured by the hostility of the Church to the world. The war of the Church is not against the people of the world, but against the spiritual powers at work in those people.Therefore, we cannot say that the Church is healthy when hatred is expressed to the individuals of this world.
The health of the Church depends on its mindset toward the spiritual war that exists. A Church that rests and is at ease is a dying Church. A Church, however, that stands in continuous watchfulness and alertness is a strong Church. The particular focus of the Church should consist in the defense and preservation of two things—doctrine and holiness.
Let us look at these two things.
By doctrine, I mean the teachings of Scripture that can be distinguished from the moral commands recorded in it. Doctrines such as the teaching of Scripture about the Trinity, original sin, the convicting work of the law, the coming of Christ in the flesh, the substitutionary work of Christ, justification by faith alone, progressive sanctification, and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And these doctrines are distinguished from the Bible’s moral commands, such as “Do not steal,” “Do not kill,” and so on. It is important to keep this in mind, because there are those who suppose that all that a Christian is to learn is the moral commands of the Bible and nothing else.
However, in 1 Timothy 3:15 we read, “if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” It is extremely devastating that in many churches doctrine is neglected and Christianity is merely viewed as a system of ethics. Doctrine is usually disregarded and substituted by ethics for two reasons:
(1) There are those who are not spiritually reborn who see the beauty of the moral commands of Scripture but cannot bring themselves to submit to its teachings. Christianity, in this case, is viewed as merely another religion with numerous beneficial virtuous commands. This was the view of many prominent German theologians two hundred years ago, whose influence has altered the condition of the Church drastically in the last two centuries.
(2) The pride that dwells in us tempts us to think that we can earn salvation by our obedience. The teachings of Scripture are not studied because they are not viewed as relevant and important to study. Such who proceed on this path are blind to their unworthiness before God and therefore attempt this foolish and impossible task. This was the case of the Pharisees and numerous others.
These are the usual reasons why people reduce Christianity into a system of rules and moral instructions. We must remember, however, that if we were to abandon the preservation of the doctrines and teachings of the Bible, we would not be able to claim that Christianity is different from any other religion. If our focus was only on the moral and ethical commands of Scripture, we would be very near to holding the error that all religions lead to God and salvation.
If we were to preserve the teachings of the Bible, but were to neglect holiness, the Church would be a dead Church. We read in Titus 2:11-12, “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” The teachings of Scripture cannot be viewed as merely information. They are living and active doctrines that pierce the heart and transform us. The purpose of learning the spiritual truths of Scripture is not merely so that we could know more and be intellectually edified. God revealed these deep things to us so that we would be conformed to His Son, Jesus Christ.
To him who is not born again, the words of Scripture are mere words. But of him who is born again, we read in 2 Cor. 4:6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And in 2 Cor. 3:18 we read, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Therefore it is evident that a healthy Church is one that is alive. And the Church that is alive is one that is being spiritually transformed into the image of Christ, her king and her groom.
Ending off, I implore all who read this to earnestness and constancy in preserving the doctrine and holiness of our religion. Even if the Church does not return to its former glory in our lifetime, let us not be discouraged. It is our faithfulness to this work, and not the success of it, that is important.