Everything they [the people of Britain] did went against their salvation, just as though the true doctor of us all granted the world no medicine. And this was true not merely of worldly men; the flock of the Lord and His shepherds, who should have been an example to the whole people, lay about...a prey to swelling hatreds, contentious quarrels, the greedy talons of envy, judgement that made no distinction between good and evil...they were seduced by their follies and wandered in the trackless desert.
- Gildas, The Ruin of Britain, British, 6th century
Thus says the LORD God: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep…”
- Ezekiel 34.10
Since the 1950s, liberal churches in America and elsewhere have been losing members hand over fist. Having turned from the Gospel of the Kingdom and the plain teaching of God’s Word to whatever social or political issue was currently fashionable, liberal pastors led multitudes of people into a religion devoid of spiritual life. Multitudes more have gone elsewhere, seeking a true measure of spiritual experience.
The ruin of mainstream churches and denominations can be laid at the feet of those pastors and shepherds who embraced a higher critical approach to the Bible, a subjective and merely social understanding of religion, and a universalist view of salvation, and of those church members who sat by and let this happen.
In our day, evangelical churches are experiencing a decline as well. For the past several years, the growth of those churches has not kept pace with the growth of the population in general; and many young people have abandoned the faith altogether. The reasons are, in many cases, similar: a lowered view of the authority of Scripture, an understanding of Christ and salvation focused on merely personal or social interests, substitution of programs for disciple-making, and tolerance of a wide range of patently unBiblical views and practices.
Is evangelicalism becoming the new liberalism? And if so, what is the role of the shepherds of God’s flock in overseeing this transformation and decline? What is the role of church members?
There’s just nothing new under the sun.
Early in the 6th century, Gildas lamented the ways of British pastors in his day. He insisted that the judgment of God had fallen on them and their churches, as God Himself stood in the way to bring a stop to their compromises with the world. These were the successors of those pastors who had tried to interfere with and subvert the ministry of Patrick. Jealous, self-absorbed and turf-protecting, out of touch with the Gospel of the Kingdom and the work of making disciples, and unconcerned for the wellbeing of the Lord’s flocks, they led the churches and people of Britain to ruin.
What of the shepherds of our day? Are they holding firm to and teaching all the counsel of God in Scripture? Are they examples of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit to the people they serve? Are they preaching the true Gospel of the Kingdom, or have they yielded to the temptations of prosperity, relevance, and moral inclusiveness, to proclaim another gospel to their flocks? Are they leading God’s people into richer and fuller fellowship with Him?
And what of God’s people? Are we clamoring to be made more like Jesus, or content to be merely comfortable with the state of our faith?
Our churches need renewal, but they will not come to renewal without shepherds and church members who know where the Lord wants His churches to be, and who are committed to getting there by every prescribed Scriptural means. We cannot substitute programs and activities for the hard and personal work of making disciples and expect God to bless our efforts at growing His Church.
When pastors and church members set aside the plain teaching of Scripture to follow whatever course is recommended by the paradigms of the world or the practices of the big church down the street, they are forsaking their true calling and setting their churches up for ruin.
Churches will continue to decline if we continue to neglect our calling to make disciples. The work of shepherds is to equip church members to do works of loving service in their own Personal Mission Fields (Eph. 4.11, 12). Where churches pursue this agenda, the blessing of God will follow.
Where they do not, ruin is just around the corner.
1. Would you say that you are making progress in your discipleship with the Lord? Explain.
2. What can you do to help your church stay “on mission” in the work of making disciples?
Psalm 82.1, 2, 8 (Aurelia: The Church’s One Foundation)
God stands amid His people to judge their rulers all:
How long will they oppress those who on His favor call?
How long will they the wicked show partiality,
and treat with scorn the meek who their proper care should be?
Rise up, O God, in splendor according to Your worth!
Rise up in pow’r to judge all the nations of the earth!
Rise up, O God our Savior, and hear our fervent call,
for You possess and rule o’er the nations one and all.
Lord, help me become a more consistent disciple of Jesus as I…
The Christian’s vantage point
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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.