Hope for the Church (2)
Watch… 1 Corinthians 16.13
The Scriptures frequently exhort believers to pay attention to what’s going on in their lives. Paul’s command to the Ephesians to be very careful how they walk (Eph. 5.15-17) echoes similar exhortations from Solomon, the prophets, Jesus, and other apostles. Christians – and churches – are charged with keeping a close eye on our discipleship.
It’s when we stop paying attention to our lives – and our churches – that problems appear. Whenever we neglect our great salvation, failing to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are in danger of drifting from our proper moorings, blown by the gentle breezes of the elemental spirits of the age, or caught up in the exhilarating currents of whatever-is-currently-most-exciting-but-completely-lacking-in-Biblical-foundations (Heb. 2.1-3; Eph. 4.14; Gal. 4.1-10).
The Corinthians of Paul’s day had evidently not been diligent in their watchfulness, for in a wide variety of ways they failed to keep their practice in line with the teaching he had given them from the Word of God. In his concluding charge to the Church of Corinth, Paul reminded them of the need to watch, lest their problems multiply and they fail to bring their practice back in line with apostolic teaching.
This solemn charge to pay close attention to how we live and how we grow our churches is one the struggling American Church needs carefully to consider.
In at least three ways the Church in America has failed in its duty to be watchful.
The first area is that of the teachingof the Church. The liberal views that undermined and led to the near collapse of mainline churches throughout the last century – so deftly exposed by the likes of J. Gresham Machen, Carl Henry, Cornelius Van Til, and Francis Schaeffer – are no longer a threat to more evangelical churches.
However, the worldview of postmodernism – with its emphasis on sentiment, tribalism, pragmatism, narcissism, and private meanings for just about everything – is.
Certain evangelical pastors and theologians today talk about the relative certainty we can have that Scripture is really true, that is, that all of Scripture is divinely inspired and profitable, and that whatever Scripture teaches is God’s Word and therefore true, whether or not it flows with the spirit of the age. Certain widely admired teachers and writers want us to believe we can only really understand the intentions of the Spirit of God if we salt in a fair measure of the spirit of the age in our Biblical exposition.
Other evangelical preachers, meanwhile, set aside clear exposition of the text to speak “from the heart” to the felt needs of congregations, as though meeting felt needs were the purpose of the Gospel and the mission of the Church. Speaking to – and even creating – felt needs is what advertisers and marketers do, and what entertainers seek to fulfill, if only for the moment. It is not the work of disciple-makers.
On many fronts, therefore, false teaching has penetrated the theological defenses of the Church; yet most church leaders would deny that their practices are a form of drift, and most of the people in the pews hardly notice.
Falling through temptation
Second, churches must exercise greater vigilance over temptation.
In our day we have seen Christian leader after Christian leader in churches, ministries, business, and politics exposed for some scandalous sin and dismissed from their ministries. It is likely that the people they were leading were hardly more circumspect against temptation than they (Jn. 13.16).
The Corinthians fell through temptation into sin by preferring tolerance over truth, by accepting schism and division as normal in the Body of Christ, and by allowing church members to settle into a comfortable complacency rather than to press on toward maturity in Christ. These same practices – in different guises and to differing degrees – plague the churches in America today, yet most Christians have never learned how to recognize temptation or deal with it in a Scriptural manner.
The result is that when temptation comes, rather than recognize and resist it, so that they grow through temptation into greater Christ-likeness, many Christians indulge temptation, one step at a time, until they fall through it into sin.
Finally, the churches need to be watchful so that they don’t miss opportunities to minister the grace and truth of God to their local communities (Eph. 5.15-17). Once the building goes up, a typical church begins to be ingrown. Most of its budget and virtually all its facilities and ministries are invested in itself, with very little effort given to seeking the welfare of or the lost within the community around them, or the oneness of His Body which our Lord Jesus cherishes so much (Jn. 17.21).
So, just as in the areas of teaching and temptation, the churches in America need to be more watchful for opportunities to serve and love their neighbors, and to join with other congregations in visible signs of our oneness in Christ. Otherwise we will continue to struggle and will anchor our place on the margin of society ever more firmly.
Watchfulness must take place at many levels in a local church, beginning in the souls of its members and leaders, but extending from there to all church activities, plans, and expenditures. Unless we watch, brethren, how will we ever know if we’re drifting from Scripture into the clutches and chains of worldly ways?
Twelve Questions that Could Change Your Church
What can we learn from Celtic Christians?
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“They were to be watchful, in case they were secretly attacked in their faith. They were to stand firm, being bold in confessing what they had been taught. They were to be strong in both word and deed, because it is the right combination of these which enables people to mature.”
- Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).