It has been said that apostasy usually takes place so slowly that no one generation sees enough change to detect that an apostasy is actually taking place. That is not necessarily true with reference to some of the departures from the faith we are presently witnessing; some of them are taking place rather rapidly. It is the case, however, that sometimes a congregation will be swept into apostasy before it realizes what is taking place. This happens when church members, especially elders, are oblivious to certain danger signs - things taking place around them that should alert them to the fact that the thinking of some with reference to the church is unsound. In this article mention will be made of some things to watch for in a congregation in order to know if problems are emerging.
More Emphasis on Church Growth and Less on Evangelism
God intends for his church to grow, and healthy churches are generally growing churches. But church growth should not be an end in itself; evangelism should be. If we do our job in evangelizing, church growth will naturally follow. Jesus said in Mark 16:15, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Jesus never commanded us to make the church grow. To the Corinthians Paul wrote, "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (I Con 3:6). The planting and the watering involved preaching and teaching the gospel. The church in the New Testament grew when the gospel was preached and people became obedient there to. Our job is to plant and water; the increase must be left to God.
A few years ago the "Willow Creek Philosophy" began to catch on with some of our brethren. They learned that the fastest growing church in America had conducted a survey to find out what people would like and would not like in religious services. They then designed their services to appeal to the likes and dislikes of the people. Some in the church of Christ began to practice and advocate this philosophy. One preacher I know visited the Willow Creek Community Church, came back home, and began to put into practice the philosophy of that church. Should he have been surprised when, in a few months, some of the members of the church where he preaches left that church and began worshipping with a Community Church in that area?
In Galatians 1:10 Paul wrote, "For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." Preaching and practicing those things which are pleasing to men so as to make the church grow is a practice of the devil's servants, and not the servants of God.
Some are trying to make the church grow with preaching that makes people feel good. One preacher was severely criticized by a man who said the preacher made people feel guilty instead of making them feel good. This is a compliment to the preacher. While there is a need for preaching that comforts and encourages, any preaching that causes people who persist in sin to feel good about themselves is falling far short of what God intends.
We may swell our attendance by making our services more entertaining and less threatening to the consciences of people. But such will not save souls, and such emphasis on church growth to the neglect of evangelism should be looked upon as a danger sign.
(via The Spiritual Sword, Jan. 2000 - Look for part 2 next week)