How Churches Decline
The head of the Church is our Lord Jesus Christ. We see this particularly in the way he writes to the seven churches in Asia Minor in Revelation chapters two and three. He encourages and corrects and reproves. He observes too that while faithfulness in doctrine is commendable, it is possible to lose our first love and so incur his displeasure (Rev. 2:3).
1. Christ as head of the churches maintains his ministry among them as prophet, priest and king.
Christ’s prophetic ministry is maintained through the ordinance of gospel preaching. Week by week we hear the message of Christ by way of teaching and application of the Word. He is the Word of God (John 1:1, Rev. 19:13). That is one reason why preaching is so important.
Christ’s priestly ministry is maintained through prayer in the worship services where prayer is led from the front by the elders. Opportunity is given in the prayer meetings of the church where all members of the church can pray because all members of the body of Christ enjoy equally the right of access to the throne of grace. We call this the priesthood of all believers.
Christ’s kingly ministry is maintained in the discipline of the church. The members are to are to live holy lives and be loyal and faithful to their leaders and to each other. Christ’s body is different from the world because Christ’s body is holy just as he is holy.
Churches decline when Christ’s ministry as prophet priest and king is negated. This never takes place suddenly. It is a gradual process.
2. Churches decline when the sermon is removed from the services to be replaced by simple visual teaching methods.
The removal of the pulpit ministry and the sermon is to negate Christ’s ministry as prophet. In our non-church-going society some churches add seeker sensitive services. That can be advantageous because even there a brief preaching ministry can be successfully maintained. Everything is made simple and such services can precede the main stated services so that those who wish to attend both the seeker service and the main service may do so. Thoughtful ways of reaching out to the community are needed. With much hard work these can be put in place without negating the place of preaching in the main stated weekly services of the church. To remove the sermon from Lord’s Day services is like inviting people to a gospel feast but when the guests arrive all there is is cakes and cookies.
3. Churches also decline when the evening service is removed which reduces by half the prophetic ministry of our Lord on his day.
We rejoice to keep the Lord’s Day – not to keep just the Lord’s Day morning. In some churches evening congregations have increased because the faithful from other churches attend since they have no evening service of their own.
4. Christ’s priestly ministry is negated when churches abandon the weekly prayer meeting.
The main reason for this change is that fellowship house groups are deemed better. The prevailing opinion in many churches is that prayer can be maintained in the house groups. This system has worked in some churches mainly because of sterling leadership and constant coordination and oversight. But is has not worked well in other churches. The evidence in the New Testament is that the churches as well as house groups gathered together with the specific purpose of prayer. C. H. Spurgeon testified that at New Park Street there was a prayer meeting every morning from 7:00 am to 7:30 am, as well as one every week attended by 3000. When there is no stated prayer meeting in a church, that reduces the profile of Christ’s priestly ministry among his people. That weakens the church. Intercessors who have the gift of laying hold of the Lord are very rare today. They should not be discouraged. If they do not fit comfortably into house groups why not suggest a time and place where they can pray together on a regular basis?
5. Christ’s kingly ministry is negated when discipline ceases in a local church.
Authoritarianism is to be avoided by the elders, as that does not reflect the mind of Christ. On the other hand the letters to the seven churches and to the Corinthians show that discipline must be maintained with regard to immoral living and with regard to heretical doctrine. Also lukewarmness is to be reproved (Rev. 3:14-21). Those members who fail without good reason to attend for months on end should be visited and challenged. If there is no repentance, discipline should be applied. When there is little or no difference between the behaviour of the church and the world, the witness of the church is weakened.
Believers from abroad or from another town who have been well taught may ask the following questions: Is there preaching? The answer to that is: Most times, but expect to come to family services which are seeker friendly where there is no sermon. The next question is, Is there a weekly prayer meeting? The answer is: No; we have house groups. The next question by a discerning enquirer is, Do the members really have to take their church covenants seriously or is that just idealistic? The answer is: We hope they will take them seriously, but in reality they are idealistic.
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