Monthly Archives: October 2012
The Church at Sardis
Here is the spiritual condition of the Church at Sardis, according to the Lord Jesus Christ:
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.” (Revelation 3:1-4, NIV 1984 version, my emphasis.)
Over the past twenty years or so, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the spiritual health of the evangelical Christian (read “conservative” or “fundamentalist”) community in America.
The “evangelical community”, as I refer to it here, consists of the spectrum of churches, which, at one end, wave at God’s Word as being true but are drifting away from it as the source of absolute truth and moral authority, to those few at the other end that currently believe and put into practice as best they can (e.g. with pure hearts) the truths and commands of the Bible. I am not including congregations that have completely rejected God’s moral and spiritual decrees and the very truth of God’s Word itself. Congregations, for example, that have ordained active homosexuals as pastors.
This spectrum is real in today’s Christian Church. As Michael Horton says of the modern American church: “Clearly we are in perilous times. We have paid the price of ignorance and shallowness, and our fall has been great. Heretics have been tolerated as divinely-appointed messengers…”(Horton (with contributors Sproul, Koop, Nederhood and others), The Agony of Deceit: What Some TV Preachers are Really Teaching, Moody Press, Chicago, ILL, 1990, p.30) Referring to “many of the leading televangelists”, Horton then continues, quoting from 2 Peter 2 10 – 11 (NASV): “These heretics, [the Apostle] Peter continues, ‘indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring self-willed they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties …’ So, too, today, many of the leading televangelists rave about their power over Satan …” (Horton, p. 31. I’m not sure which version of the NASV he is using.)
A telling symptom of this spiritual decline can be seen in the divorce rate among active Christian believers (those who attend church regularly and believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, that is fundamentalist or conservative Christians). In the 1950s the Christian Divorce rate was 9.3%. By the 1980s this had risen to about 25%. The author of the study that provided that figure added this caveat, “While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time.” (My emphasis.) Currently the divorce rate among “conservative Christians” is about 38%. (One personal caveat, these numbers are fuzzy at best but I think the order of magnitudes are reliable.)
God is very specific on His view of Divorce. He says in Malachi:
Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. (Malachi 2:15 – 16, NIV 1984.)
And God said when he walked the earth with us:
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:8-10, NIV 1984, my emphasis.)
Marriage is indeed hard, as the disciples’ response indicates. And the LORD our God knew that when He made these decrees. But in a Christian marriage, the couple makes a solemn vow before God Himself to stay married. When either one or both break that vow, they bring judgment on themselves. If the church tolerates this sin, it will bring judgment on itself as well.
Another telling symptom of the spiritual decay in the evangelical community was the reaction to a book called The Shack by William P. Young. As I read it, The Shack comes right out and denies the most basic truth of Christianity: that Jesus is the only way to heaven. It also has little gems like “evil is just the absence of good”, which is a lie right out of the pit of Hell. A careful deconstruction of The Shack by Gary Marble is provided here, from which I quote below.
In a healthy spiritual community this book would have been universally reviled for the abomination that it is. But it was not, rather it became very popular. Here is Mr. Marble’s conclusion about the evangelical response to the book: “This book seems to have an audience with Evangelicals, which is curious for a book about the nature of God (in the form of an allegory-not just fiction) that makes no claims to being Bible based, and in fact, moves away intentionally from being Bible based. … I have personally communicated with several Evangelicals who have read the book. Some have said they were uncomfortable with it, while others did not notice any particular problem with the book. A large church in my area has had the author speak at the church and sells the book in their bookstore with no particular warning to the flock there. It is strange how Evangelicals are courting this man who is most certainly not Evangelical himself (not if you define Evangelicalism in any conservative sense). This book may be the miner’s canary as it says something about the poor state of Evangelicalism.” (My emphasis.)
Mr. Marble, giving the reason for his post, asks, “What if you consider yourself a Bible believing Evangelical Christian and you just read a book containing multiple fairly blatant heresies and you missed them? Would that get your attention? Wouldn’t you want to know what you missed, and more importantly (personally for you), why did you miss them? Does this mean you might be missing other errors in your Christian walk?” (My emphasis.) That he even has to ask the question of this abomination of a book is indicative of the decrepit spiritual state of our church here in America.
Even more appalling is that there are now movements in the evangelical community to deny the very existence of absolute truth itself. That is a violation of the most fundamental purpose of God’s church which is to be the very pillar and foundation of the truth.
John MacArthur, in his book The Truth War, points out that in the so-called Emerging Church, “[which] is the popular name for an informal affiliation of Christian communities worldwide who want to revamp the church … and remodel the way we think of truth itself. … [o]ne predominant theme pervades the whole article, in the Emerging Church movement, truth (to whatever degree such a concept is even recognized) is assumed to be inherently hazy, indistinct, and uncertain—perhaps even ultimately unknowable.” ( MacAurthur, The Truth War, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tenn, 2007, Introduction, pages ix – x. Emphasis in original. MacArthur was referring to an article on the Emerging Church in Christianity Today.)
By discarding the notion of absolute truth, one must necessarily doubt that the Word of God as recorded in the Bible gives us absolute truth. Then one must doubt the truth about Jesus’ deity, His death and resurrection, about His very Person as the creator of the universe. (John 1:2) One must doubt the truth about the Gospel which reveals the power of salvation that comes from God, a righteousness that comes from first to last by faith. (Paraphrase of Romans 1:16 – 17 ) One must also doubt that the Bible is our inerrant guidepost to living the way God requires. If we take the notion of absolute truth away, we are left with nothing on which to base our faith.
There is much more that is truly appalling going in the evangelical community than I can relate here. I would recommend the two books quoted above—The Truth Wars by John MacArthur, and the Agony of Deceit, an anthology of articles edited by Michael Horton—to get a good overview.
Therefore, in my view, our church has become at least like the one at Sardis. (Mr. Marble quotes the letter to the Laodicean church (Revelation 3: 14 – 20), in his critique. I’m not sure which church is in the worse spiritual state, but both letters promise severe judgment if the churches fail to repent.) If that is true, we serious Christians should be quaking in our boots because the Lord has promised to bring us specifically and the whole congregation generally into judgment. I don’t think this will be pretty for I also believe that if we do not heed our Lord’s admonition to repent, we will also be swept way when God brings destruction upon America.