Watch, for the sea is stormy and whipped up by fatal blasts, for it is not a solitary threatening wave such as, even across a silent ocean, is raised to overweening heights from the ever-foaming eddies of a hollow rock...Watch, for water has now entered the vessel of the Church, and the vessel is in perilous straits.
- Columbanus, Letter to Pope Boniface, Irish, 7th century
“I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.”
- Revelation 3.1, 2
Columbanus (fl. early 7th century) recognized that the Church in Gaul, where he had come as a missionary from Ireland, was little more than a shell, a sham, and a shame.
The ministers had ceased preaching the Word of God, though they continued the formal services of worship; and they had taken up immoral practices and seeking the favor of kings and courts.
The sheep were scattered, held together only by the formalistic bonds of ritual and tradition, but dying for want of the Word and Spirit. Everywhere the Church was in decline and decay.
What to do?
Columbanus decided to write to their boss in Rome. In effect, his letter asked: “Can’t you do something about the wretched condition of your churches and these wretched men who serve them?”
You can imagine that didn’t go over too well with the clergy in Gaul, or the Pope, for that matter.
But when the Church is deceived about its health and its leaders are not acting in a responsible manner; when the sheep are untaught, living in sin, and frail and famished for want of proper feeding; when the ways of the world are washing over the decks of the church, from worship to how we order our churches for ministry – when such conditions obtain, a godly person cannot sit by and say, “This, too, shall pass.”
At any rate, Columbanus couldn’t. Nor should we.
Our churches are quite content with the state of things, thinking themselves very much alive. But are they? Really? In many ways it seems their works are not as complete as they should be – making disciples, worshiping in Spirit and truth, loving one another, caring for the poor and distressed, reaching out with the Gospel of the Kingdom, sharing in one another’s lives. Instead of being a place of beauty, joy, and holiness for the whole earth (Ps. 48.1-3), churches today are looked upon with scorn and indifference.
Have we, like the churches in Sardis and Gaul, drifted from the course marked out for us by the Lord?
Waves of secular and materialistic thinking have washed over the Church, leaving the flotsam and jetsam of pop culture, marketing schemes, self-interest, and worldly organization strewn about on the deck. The Church may not be sinking, but she’s taking on water like there’s no tomorrow. And maybe there won’t be.
Someone needs to alert the crew, man the bilge pumps, warn the passengers, and work to get us back on course.
Columbanus did it in his day. We must do it in ours.
1. What did Jesus mean when He said that the Church in Sardis was “ready to die” (Rev. 3.1-6)?
2. What is your role in helping your church to stay lively and on course with the Lord?
Psalm 125.4, 5, 1 (St. Gertrude: Onward, Christian Soldiers)
Lord, do good and care for those upright in heart.
Those who turn to evil shall from You depart.
Sinful men may increase; lead them, Lord to hell!
Save Your people, let your peace abound in Israel!
All who trust in Jesus, strong as Zion stand!
Naught shall ever move them from their promised land!
What can I do, O Lord, to help keep the Church from becoming more like the world around us? Use me today to…
Captive to Culture?
Our book, The Church Captive, shows how, not only in Columbanus’ day but throughout the course of Church history, the people of God have been taken captive and led away from the Word of God into all manner of wrong beliefs and practices. Has the Church in our day become captive to its culture, so that it does not follow God’s Word as it should? That’s the question we ask. Order a free copy of The Church Captive by clicking here, and determine the answer for yourself.
What frequently happens to blow us off course in our journey with the Lord is that we allow winds of false doctrine to fill the sails of our soul and drive us in ways contrary to God’s Word. Our ReVision series, “Winds of Doctrine,” explains how this happens, and points out the ill winds of doctrine assailing the Church in our day. You can download the entire series for free by clicking here.
Please prayerfully consider making a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe at this time. Only God can move you to do this, and we believe He intends to support this ministry from within the ranks of those who are served by it. If this includes you, please seek the Lord in this matter. You can click here to donate online with your credit card or through PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Walker, p. 39.