Can the Contemporary Church be Salvaged
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” 
Some lessons are learned through reading; those feel great. However, the lessons that are most life-changing are often learned through painful mistakes and brutal moments in valleys so low that you aren’t sure if you’ll ever climb out. In a blog entry, Shaun King speaks of some painful lessons he learned when starting a church.  In that blog, he presents a thought-provoking look at some truths he learned—truths, may I say, with which I find myself in substantial agreement. The truths he lists as having learned are as follows:
1.Start a thing as close to the way you dream it being down the road as you can.
2.People L.O.V.E. to hear about radical change.
3.Few disciples of Jesus Christ actually exist in the world.
Undoubtedly, his statements, especially the latter, appear provocative, even confrontational. However, the list exposes truths that should be self-evident.
All projects tend toward chaos as time passes. This is nothing less than an application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in the life of a church project. Theologically, people grow weary with righteousness unless new energy is constantly supplied by the Spirit of God. It is now over six decades ago that a new movement of churches burst on the scene in the United States. Growing out of the Fundamentalist Movement of first half of that century, these churches were dynamic and the pastors committed to preaching and practising the Word of God. On one occasion a leader from within the movement was interviewed by a reporter who sought to address the unprecedented impact this dynamic group was having on church life. The reporter asked, “Dr. Smith, what is the future of your group?” Without hesitation, Noel Smith replied, “Apostasy.” All church movements tend toward apostasy; and with time the people will tire of pursuing the Lord.
Though people delight to hear the aspirations of the visionary, they really don’t want to change. Change demands adaptability; change usually means that we are not really in control. If the Spirit of God is directing a movement, we must find where He is working and offer ourselves to Him, rather than thinking that we are able to seize control of the work that He is directing. Change sounds pretty, but it looks ugly. Change is seldom accomplished by those who speak most loudly of their willingness to change.
It sounds judgemental, perhaps even arrogant for anyone to say that few disciples of Jesus Christ exist in the world. However, finding an individual who has died to self that Christ might live in her is daunting. You will undoubtedly recall one particular time when the Master cautioned those who wished to be disciples, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” [MATTHEW 7:13, 14].
This stern warning anticipated an expanded teaching Jesus delivered on another occasion. “Someone said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” then he will answer you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last’” [LUKE 13:23-30].
Following the Master is demanding, it is difficult; walking in the Faith is no place for wimps or wusses. The idea that one can go to church when the occasion feels right, listen to a brief, pleasant non-controversial discussion about how nice people can be nicer still and be pleasing in the sight of God is nothing less than folly-wide-the-mark. Can it actually be that many, perhaps even most, evangelical churches have bought into precisely this sort of error? When the attendance count is more important than the names of disciples pursuing righteousness, it is difficult to avoid the thought that the churches have bought into a lie.
It would appear that many, if not most, of the supposed churches of this day are more intent on avoiding censure by the world than they are on pleasing Him whom they call “Lord.” The Apostle to the Gentiles was deeply concerned that those to whom he was writing should follow those who were pursuing righteousness that comes from God. This is apparent from each of his letters, and especially from the statement found in our text for this present study.
KEEPING OUR EYES ON THOSE WHO WALK ACCORDING TO THE APOSTOLIC EXAMPLE — “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” [PHILIPPIANS 3:17]. What specific action was the Apostle calling the Philippian Christians to imitate? “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” [PHILIPPIANS 3:7-14].
Take careful note of the points Paul makes!
1. He counted all human attainment as loss for the sake of Christ.
2. He ignored persecution and hardship.
3. He strove to know the Risen Christ and the power of His resurrection.
4. He was willing to share in Christ’s sufferings.
5. He endeavoured to become like Him in His death.
6. He forgot the past so he could strain forward.
7. He pressed on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God.
By these criteria, can we say that we are imitating the Apostle to the Gentiles? Are we able to name churches that we know are imitating him? In this immediate area, can you name a congregation that is endeavouring to meet these criteria?
Very early in the history of the Faith there were churches that had been infiltrated by ungodly people who disgraced the Name of Christ the Lord. One need by recall Jude’s exposure of some of the problems facing the churches when he wrote. “Certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” [JUDE 4].
Again, John writes exposing an individual that was harmful to at least one congregation. “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” [3 JOHN 9, 10].
We previously studied Paul’s condemnation of two individuals who opposed the work of God in Ephesus. “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” [1 TIMOTHY 1:18-20].
The seven churches addressed by the Risen Lord through His servant John had among them some congregations that were censured quite strongly—the congregation in Thyatira was condemned because they tolerated a wicked prophetess, the church in Sardis was warned because they were soiling their garments; but no congregation was more severely condemned than was the Laodicean assembly. “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” [REVELATION 3:14-22].
Despite these notable failures, the earliest churches were usually commended for fidelity to the Son of God. As one example, think of Paul’s commendation of the Thessalonian saints. “We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” [1 THESSALONIANS 1:4-10].
Paul also commended the congregation in Philippi for their commitment to the Faith of Christ the Lord. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” [PHILIPPIANS 1:3-7].
Here is yet another commendation of a congregation from the early years of the Faith. “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit” [COLOSSIANS 1:3-8].
Likely all these churches could say they were modelled after the Jerusalem Congregation. After the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, the congregation in Jerusalem revealed God’s ideal in many respects. This is the description from Doctor Luke. “Those who received [Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” [ACTS 2:41-47].
The very first congregation was characterised as “devoted … to the Apostles’ teaching,” “[devoted to] the fellowship,” “[devoted to] the breaking of bread (worship),” and “[devoted to] the prayers.” Moreover, this devotion to basic expressions of the Faith led to exaggerated concern for one another as demonstrated through caring for the vulnerable among them. Theirs was not a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ sort of religion—they met daily for worship! The impact of their commitment to the Lord of the Faith and to the Faith resulted in “the Lord add[ing] to their number day-by-day those who were being saved.” This was the apostolic Faith.
It is apparent from reading Paul’s letters to the various churches and individuals associated with those churches, that this model was universally recognised wherever the Faith had spread. All churches in that era were held accountable to the standard modelled by the first congregation—they were either commended or found wanting according to that criterion.
What does this information have to do with us? Obviously, we have been provided an ideal for how a congregation should conduct itself. When we are choosing a church to attend, this knowledge should guide our decisions. We know that the Spirit of God will direct us in our search. It should be equally certain that the Spirit of God will not guide us into error. People may choose errant churches for any of a variety of reasons—friendships within the congregation, social acceptance in the community, family history or even personal comfort. However, the Spirit of God will never direct His own to a congregation that dishonours Christ the Lord. This should be apparent from Jesus’ words concerning the Spirit of God.
As He prepared His disciples for His exodus, the Master promised, “‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me’” [JOHN 14:18-24].
Again, in the context of preparing His disciples for His exodus, Jesus promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak” [JOHN 16:13].
From these words, we may be assured that the Spirit of God will not guide God’s child into error. He will not direct those who are redeemed to place themselves under errant teaching, to invest themselves in congregational life that is dishonouring to the Lord God or to unite with a church that is dismissive of righteousness. The Spirit will direct the people of God to long for righteousness, to seek what honours Christ the Lord and to hunger for the truth of God’s Word.
I had several experiences in my early years of ministry that made a significant impression on my service before the Lord. I had befriended a Methodist minister who would soon be leaving his parish for another in a distant State. Knowing that he would be moving soon, I made the trip down to the little church he pastored. His was actually a three-point parish, and he was ministering in another assembly when I arrived at the Mabank church. A small knot of people were just preparing for a Sunday School lesson. I noticed that no one had a Bible, except for me.
Before the lesson started, one of the elderly men addressed me, “Sir, I see you have a Bible with you; would you open your Bible and teach us something today?” I was pleased to open the Word and to address the spiritual truths that had been written so many centuries past. I asked what portion of the Word was their focus according to the quarterly they were using. One lady consulted her quarterly and informed me that the focus passage was 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. Opening my Bible to that passage, I taught a lesson directly from the Word. What I found intriguing was that as I taught, there was an almost reverent silence. Looking up at one point, I noticed a couple of the people had moist eyes. After thirty minutes or so of exposition, we concluded our study with prayer. My, how those dear old Methodist folk did pray, asking God’s grace and mercy for the visiting teacher.
The minister I had come to visit arrived shortly after this in order to conduct the service he had planned for the tiny congregation. He invited me to remain for lunch. During lunch he mentioned that the people were so moved by the Bible study that they had asked him if I would agree to serve as their pastor. Of course, I was honoured, but we both agreed that I would never get along with a bishop. The lesson I took home from this experience was that there are people in dead churches that remember the Word of God and who long to hear from this Word.
Only a few years after this incident, one Sunday morning I was chaperoned by a gentleman to the Court Street United Methodist Church in Alameda, California. The congregation had been without a pastor for quite some time; this gentleman had asked if I would agree to preach at a church, though he was not willing to tell me what church it was. Intrigued, I agreed to this strange request after being assured that it was not a cult and was a church in the Protestant tradition, though it had fallen into dead formalism.
Recalling the incident from the perspective of almost five decades after the event, I spoke from Galatians 1:11-24. Pouring my heart out, I preached sin black, hell hot, eternity long, Christ precious and salvation free. That morning I extended an invitation for the lost to come, confessing their sin and seeking God’s forgiveness. Almost immediately, a young man came to the front of the church. Taking my hand, he asked if he could be saved. Immediately behind him was another young man who stood weeping and waiting to speak. That day, those two young men confessed their faith in Christ as Master over life and yielded to the Spirit of God.
As I was speaking with these two young men I was startled when I heard a “Whoop!” and saw a number of elderly men and women coming to the front of the church building to kneel at the altar. They flooded the altar with tears, begging God to forgive them for the coldness of their hearts and begging Him to revive their hearts. It was glorious to see those dear old saints crying out, pleading with God for forgiveness and seeking His power again.
After the service, a dear old saint came up to where I was standing. Her conversation was roughly as follows. “I was saved in a Billy Sunday Crusade in Oakland in 1929. I haven’t heard such preaching as I heard from Billy Sunday until today. Oh, young man, I wish you’d come over and join us in the Methodist Church.”
I was honoured; but I’m a Baptist by conviction! I did respond to her, however, stating, “Dear Sister, I’ll tell you what, when you come under, I’ll come over. I’ll meet you half-way through the baptistery.”
Again, I discovered that there are within what can only be described as dead churches people who long to hear the Word of God, people who love the Lord and long to see souls saved. However, here’s the thing that I have wondered since that time, why would people who loved God stay within a church that no longer teaches the Word of God, no longer honours the Son of God, no longer obeyes His Word! It was a source of bewilderment then, and it is a mystery now. Why do professing Christians, people who say they love God and who say they want to obey Him in all things, remain in churches that no longer teach the Word and are content to be lukewarm? If you are twice born, you are not heeding the urging of the Spirit if you attend services where formality is substituted for obedience, if you attend services where ritual is more important than righteousness or if you attend services where the ministerial staff not only are ignorant of how to lead somone to the Saviour but wouldn’t be inclined to do so if given the opportunity. If you are heeding the Spirit of Him who saved you, you will seek out a congregation that honours Him and that endeavours to abide by His Word.
WALKING AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST — “Many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” [PHILIPPIANS 3:18, 19]. Not everyone who is working full-time in church related work honours the Master. Not everyone who says he or she is a Christian is one. Even in the day when Paul wrote this letter, he realised that individuals—“many,” in his words—lived as enemies of the cross.
I’m not certain that Paul is saying that those who opposed him or who stood in opposition to righteousness were lost; he did say that they lived as enemies of the cross of Christ. Whatever their motivation, the impact on the advance of the Kingdom of God was the same. Thus it is that even in this day, many prominent Christians are living as enemies of the cross of Christ.
What does it look like for someone to walk as an enemy of the cross of Christ? How could one tell whether a church leader or a prominent member of a congregation was living in opposition to righteousness? How could one determine whether a church set in opposition to the advance of God’s Kingdom?
Of course, if a congregation is teaching blatant heresy, that is an indication that that church should be identified as an enemy of the cross of Christ. If a congregation approves of licentious living, or if it excuses moral or ethical excess, it is clearly set in opposition to righteousness. Regardless of how nice adherents of a religious organisation known to be a cult may appear, the group is opposed to righteousness. Again, whenever a supposed Christian group has drifted so far from the Faith as to embrace open sedition, blatant rebellion to righteousness, that group must be exposed as an enemy of the cross of Christ. Let’s assume, however, that we are not speaking of the local Mormon stake, or the local Kingdom Hall, or the nearest Adventist meeting place or the Church of the New Jerusalem; how may we avoid error within supposed Christian assemblies that profess to be in the mainstream of the Faith?
Those saints in Philippi to whom Paul wrote would need to know whom to avoid, just as we need to know whom to avoid. Earlier, Paul had warned against those who sought to draw the faithful back into enslavement. “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” [PHILIPPIANS 3:2, 3]. In this instance, the Apostle warned against Judaisers, legalists who were endeavouring to impose Jewish ritual on the Faith of Christ the Lord. An analogy in our day would be people who insist that you must be baptised with a particular formula, such as in Jesus’ Name only. Others could be those who insist that you must participate in particular rites and rituals in order to be saved. Perhaps it is the recitation of particular prayers, or auricular confession, attendance at mass or participation in other formalities.
Earlier still, Paul had spoken in this letter of individuals who were motivated by envy, rivalry and selfish ambition to preach [see PHILIPPIANS 1:12-18]. Though the Apostle rejoiced that the message of life was being declared, theirs was an inferior motive; and those preaching could not anticipate God’s blessing on their message. Again, we might draw the analogy today of men who treat the pulpit as a job rather than a calling. They preach, and their preaching may even be accomplished; and though we cannot actually find a doctrinal flaw, there is a sense of discomfort whenever we hear them speak. There is no obvious error, but the tenor of what they are saying does not ring true. It is as though they know the words and somehow have never learned the melody. They will stay at a church for a few years and move on to a better situation; they seem always to be climbing a corporate ladder rather than serving the Master and His people. Should we not identify such people as walking as enemies of the cross?
But what of those who have a doctrinal position that appears orthodox and evangelical? Doctrinal statements define what a church once professed; but what is believed is lived out daily. Perhaps these pastors, and the congregations they pastor, aver the Faith and even live good lives. However, they don’t want to antagonise the pagans, so they tone down the message of life, failing to name sins and avoiding condemnation of wickedness; they preach a message that suggests you are a good person, so God is surely pleased with you despite your unbelief.
I am always astonished whenever I hear of some prominent individual who has died and read that the funeral has advanced the impression they are now in Heaven. It is amazing for me to note the number of prominent singers and actors who live godless lives and die as consequence of their excessive lifestyles; yet, when their funeral is held a preacher leaves the impression they are now singing in God’s choir. Or perhaps it is the funeral of some individual from the local community, and the preacher avoids even a hint of censure of a notorious lifestyle; he doesn’t want anyone to think ill of the Gospel, so he avoids speaking of the consequences of unbelief. In these instances, has the preacher not positioned himself as an enemy of the cross of Christ? Has the preacher not failed miserably in his responsibility to preach the Word?
To each church and to every pastor who claims to adhere to the Faith and professes to follow the Master, the Word of God reminds, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” [2 TIMOTHY 1:7]. The corollary of this knowledge is given in the verses that follow. “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” [2 TIMOTHY 1:8-14].
Surely, the words of the Master are arresting when He warned, “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” [MARK 8:38]. This warning, coupled with that found in Matthew’s Gospel should give even the most timid follower pause. “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” [MATTHEW 10:32, 33]. I do not profess to understand all that is entailed in Christ’s denial before the Father or the impact of that denial on those of whom He speaks. I do believe that it is a serious warning which every professing Christ should take to heart.
The idea that we will be liked in this world is a myth of modern making. Jesus warned, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” [MATTHEW 10:34-39].
Perhaps there was a time when Christians were liked in the world; but that day is long gone. The culture war has been lost, and the loss of religious liberty may not be that far behind. We have lost the home field advantage; things are quickly becoming quite different from what we anticipated. Todd Starnes has documented hundreds of instances of religious persecution in the United States during the past few years; and the targets have been exclusively Christians.  The culture war was lost because we Christians forgot what our calling is. We tried to do the Lord’s work according to the best ideas of this fallen world, and this has not worked.
OUR CITIZENSHIP IS IN HEAVEN — “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” [PHILIPPIANS 3:20, 21]. Too often, we Christians have become habituated to the darkness. When you waken during the night, you are able to see enough to move about cautiously. Should you flip a light switch, for a moment you are blinded by the light, so you move about cautiously in the darkness. Your eyes are accustomed to the darkness. That is an analogy to our situation as followers of the Christ.
We who profess the Name of the Son of God have adjusted to the darkness of this dying world. We are not walking in the light, and thus when the light does shine on us we are blinded just as those who are lost are blinded by the light when it shines on them. Thus, we react with choler at the strong message of those who bear the light. What we need to understand is that when we react in this fashion, we are walking as enemies of the cross of Christ.
I recall a group of individuals within a church who complained because the preaching of the Word was odious to some prominent individuals who had briefly attended their services. The naysayers insisted that the preacher was overly harsh; they demanded that he temper his message so it would no longer be offensive to the good burghers of the community and they could again attend. Unconsciously, these professing Christians had begun to esteem “the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” [see JOHN 12:43]. Unconsciously, they had fallen under the condemnation spoken against the Pharisees. Jesus exposed them as “do[ing] all their deeds to be seen by others” [MATTHEW 23:5]. Had these benighted individuals never heard the Master, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” [MATTHEW 6:1]?
And what of us? Have we actually forgotten who we are? Have we forgotten why we are here? Do we really need to be reminded that Christ saved us for His glory and for our good? If we continue to walk in the darkness of this fallen world, we cannot live for the coming of the Master. Christians need to remember the admonition of the Apostle of Love, “Little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” [1 JOHN 2:28].
Because our citizenship is in Heaven, we need to prepare for that eternal home. We do this by obeying the command of the One we call Master. His final command to His own was, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [MATTHEW 28:18-20]. We are to make disciples, bringing these new disciples into the fellowship of the Body and instructing them in righteousness.
Obedience to His commands is not merely important—it is vital. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” [JOHN 14:15]. Soon after saying this, the Master warned, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” [JOHN 15:5-10].
In obeying His word, we will agitate those who love the praise of men more than they love the praise of God. We will offend those in this dying world—they hate the Master and they will hate those who walk according to His Word. However, we must remain focused on the coming Saviour if we hope to honour Him.
Can the contemporary church be salvaged? Or is it beyond rescue? The question is tantamount to asking whether we are now in the Laodicean Age. We know that the rapture has not yet occurred; but the condition of the churches is not encouraging. Whether many contemporary churches are pleasing in the sight of God is questionable. For many churches, the grip on obedience to the Word appears tenuous at best. Perhaps these churches have already drifted beyond the point of rescue, the Spirit having already written “Ichabod” across the entrance to those assemblies. Nevertheless, each Christian can make the decision to obey the Master, keeping their eyes on those who walk according to the example of the Apostles. Each believer can now determine that he or she will refuse to associate with those who walk as enemies of the cross, choosing instead to seek out a fellowship that honours the Master and follows the Word. The decision is ours; we must decide and we must do so now.
One of the powerful and moving passages meant to encourage the child of God to persevere is found in the Letter to Hebrew Christians. In the Faith Chapter, we read, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible” [HEBREWS 11:24-27]. Note the final statement: “Moses endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” Just so, we look up and know that the Invisible God is watching over us. Persevere, you who are saints. Endure, you who will please God. Keep on keeping on. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Shaun King, “3 Hard-Earned Lessons and Why I Resigned,” http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-how-to/154215-shaun_king_3_extemely_hard-earned_lessons_on_starting_something_new_change_and_discipleship.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily-Update, accessed 25 October 2011, 11 January 2013
 Todd Starnes, “Have Christians lost the culture war?”, Fox News, February 20, 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/02/20/have-christians-lost-culture-war/?intcmp=HPBucket, accessed 20 February 2014