The quiet, solemn air of impending death marks some churches today. The people gather quietly, find their customary seats and wait for the service to begin. Most are middle-aged or elderly.
The worship service has beautiful hymns but they are sung in a ponderous, dispirited fashion. The people know them well and can sing them without even being aware of the lyrics. The prayers may be a repetitious recital of divine truths which no longer thrill the soul. The word is read without freshness; there is no excitement or fervour. All is marked by dull routine.
The assembly may be likened to a patient awaiting death, perhaps in a coma. The nurses move quietly about, seeking to make the patient comfortable. They speak in hushed whispers. Death is always a solemn matter. Let there be reverence as the patient breathes his last!
Some who are genuinely concerned say, ‘The format must be wrong. With new organization and structure we can pump life into the dying patient’.
Changes are suggested. A new schedule may help. Since few people come to the Lord’s Supper, schedule it in the evening. Get the women more involved. Let them pray and speak in the church meetings. Since many churches are used to a church having a ‘pastor’, hire a pastor and be like the other churches. Then people will feel more at home.
The truth is that these methods have been used for years in many churches that are dying today. It is always easier to blame external structure or methods than to look at the heart condition.
And the patient that is dying has heart trouble. If a church is dying it is not because New Testament principles for the church are choking out life. The truth is that all over the world such churches have flourished. Exciting church growth has been seen in many countries where these principles were followed. No, the primary problem is not structure. It is a case of heart trouble.
The prophets of old never called on Israel to reform their structure or worship. There was no call to modernize the worship Moses instituted under God. The call of Jeremiah was, ‘Return, O backsliding children, says the Lord, for I am married to you’, Jer. 3. 14, NKj.
The prophet cried for a change of heart. Moses earl ier pleaded, ‘Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer’, Deut. 10. 16. Jeremiah echoed the same call, ‘Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart’, Jer. 4. 4. It was a heart problem and the flesh needed to be cut away. While going through the externals of worship Israel’s heart was far from God.
If our meetings are cold and lifeless, let us examine our hearts. Has materialism come in, a love for ‘things’? Are we living selfishly? ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him’, 1 John 2. 15.
Is there a love for pleasure, for recreation, for the good life? Scripture warns of those who are ‘lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God’, 2 Tim. 3. 4.
Is the media brainwashing us and conforming us to the world’s culture? Are our goals, aspirations and desires the same as the world’s around us? Do we vicariously enjoy sin as we sit comfortably in our living rooms indulging in scenes of murder, rape, violence, adultery and gross sensuality? Does sin no longer shock us?
Are we no longer enjoying God’s word and daily prayer? Do we spend more time with television than with the scriptures? Has it been months since we last witnessed concerning our Lord Jesus? Have we ever led anyone to the Lord?
Return to the Lord
If these things are true, we have heart trouble and are dying as churches. But there is hope. There can be life and vigour again, nourished by the Spirit of God. But we must repent, ‘circumcise the heart’, put away our sin and return to the Lord. He does love us. ‘As many as I love, 1 rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore and repent’, Rev. 3. 19.