Tuesday, April 24, 2007

“The Failing-Church Syndrome" by Bob Mumford

"It does Matter What We Believe About the Future of the Church” –
– New Wine Magazine – November 1986.

One of the most critical questions facing Christians today is, How do you see the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth? Many see it as irrelevant and dying, suggesting that perhaps the quicker the Antichrist comes and tribulation envelopes the world, the better off everyone will be, for then follows the rapture and the final solution to everything. After all, proponents of this theology reason, we can’t polish brass on a sinking ship, or why arrange deck chairs on the Titanic? In this kind of classic end-time thinking, every gross manifestation of evil is seen as increased evidence of the “soon coming”.

On the other hand, the faith of the Church Fathers and the Reformers was victorious with a triumphant Christ revealed in His Church. That victory was to be experienced by the believer in his own lifetime and was indeed the hope of the Church! Ideas have consequences so it does matter what we believe about the Church and the future. There is a deadly inertia that surrounds biblical ideas, especially the ones that are not quite centred in complete biblical accuracy. Once some mass of opinion such as the “Failing Church Syndrome” begins to gain momentum, it is nearly impossible to stop or turn it. Disproving it biblically seems to do little to change anything or anyone. Nevertheless each person’s responsibility is to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.

My Own Search.
In my own search, some years ago I ceased using “proof texts” (compiling a mass of Bible evidence to “prove” a theory is true or not true) because the Bible is a whole book, Old Testament and New Testament, written by one God. He used an amazing variety of human instruments who each wrote from a given perspective. My conviction is that the Scriptures are wholly inspired and originally without error. The story from garden to garden is one redemptive story. The whole is organic in nature that is, it all “hangs together” like a grapevine; roots, branches, leaves and fruit. After some thirty years of studying the Scriptures in the original languages, I am continually humbled and brought to my knees by the marvellous integration and weaving of God’s own purpose in every book as “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21 – NAS).

The simple fact is that the Bible is so written that as a whole it can interpreted and organized around one theme. If we can grasp that, we can solve the problem of conflicting themes that all have ample proof texts. The whole Bible could be arranged in orderly and understandable terms by using this one concept. As a result we would have what is called “covenantal theology”, a study of Scripture taken from covenantal principles. Take another Biblical concept such as faith. We could arrange the whole Bible around the theme of faith to help and benefit millions of believers. The same is true of healings and miracles. We could arrange the Scriptures around money and the result would be biblical economics. What an exciting study that would be and how badly it is needed. Or we could arrange the Bible around psychology and human behaviour, or perhaps spiritual warfare with it’s emphasis on Satan, demons and the degradation of society.

The Biblical Theme.
The problem arises not in studying the Bible by arranging around a given theme, but the tendency to make one theme the theme rather than a theme. It is the tendency to single out one theme to stand on its own rather than looking at it in conjunction with all the other themes. Many a theologian or Bible teacher has come up with the biblical them based on salvation, the Kingdom, healing, the Holy Spirit, Israel or another Biblical concept. When faced with this approach to the Bible we become uncomfortable, and our response, of course, is to immediately gather all the “other” Scriptures that teach “other” themes.

Let us suppose for a moment that we arranged the whole Bible around these Scriptures;

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times, some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth” – (1 Timothy 4:1-3 – NAS).

“But realise this that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power and avoid such men as these” – (2 Timothy 3:1-5 – NAS).

If we arranged the entire Bible around these two Scriptures we would soon begin seeing every headline on the evening news and in the paper as fulfilling that prophecy. Every violent and ungodly television show and every incident of nudity, pornography, divorce and child abuse would be expected because of our “biblical” presupposition that this is what is expected to happen. We would never fight or resist evil because that would be equal to counteracting or resisting God’s avowed and prophetic purpose.

A Negative Outlook.
Our problem is not that the Scriptures are wrong but that we have arranged the whole Bible with a negative outlook. We see everything as going to hell in a hand basket, whereas our responsibility is to be prepared for the rapture. That preparation of course is very personal and private between each believer and the Lord. Basically we are preparing to leave and are actually abandoning the world and its problems because “God said so”. What we believe really does matter. R J Rushdoony writes;

“In the modern era, the Church while numerically strong, has grown less and less influential and more and more peripheral to everyday life, to politics, economics, the arts, sciences and all else. For most people, the Church is irrelevant to the “real world” of human affairs. It provides a limited moral training for children, a social focus for the family and not much more. Churches have numbers, not strength. Both in membership and in leadership, the churches are radically weak”[1].

I have struggled for many years to awaken mentally and scripturally out of this failing-Church syndrome that I have just described. As with many believers my doctrine was taken second-hand, unexamined and unquestioned because it was accomplished with multiple proof texts.

But what if we looked toward the future with a victorious perspective? After all experts estimate that there are 30 million born again believers in America. So what would happen if they all believed that they were destined to be salt and light in this society and that it was possible to turn this nation towards God? Suppose those 30 million believed that we could see godly men in office, that our judicial system could be influenced by God’s law, and that the kingdom of God for which we have prayed to come for so many years would and could come in a measurable manner so as to fulfil the Scripture that says, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people” – (Proverbs 14:34 – NAS).

God’s Ultimate Triumph.
For us to see, experience and move toward victory, we must be able to organize the whole Bible around the theme of God’s ultimate triumph. Christ’s victory in the human situation and the power of the Holy Spirit to subdue a people until “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. I could do that, but then I would be going back to proof texts! Oh well here are a few;

There will be no end to the increase of His government, or of peace on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” – (Isaiah 9:7 – NAS – italics mine).

“And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” – (Daniel 7:14 – NAS – italics mine).

“And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom will have no end” – (Luke 1:33 – NAS – italics mine).

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” – (Matthew 28:18-19 – NAS – italics mine).

“And it shall be in the last days, God says, that I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams … And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved” – (Acts 2:17, 21 – NAS – italics mine).

“Signs of the Times”.
Today more people are coming to the Lord than at any time in the history of the Church. If we are blinded by the failing-Church syndrome, we can look directly past that to any and every negative happening needed to confirm that things are getting worse. Africa, with all its problems, is ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Hundreds of thousands are getting saved and nearly as many are being baptized in water and in the Holy Spirit. Argentina is under a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the same is happening on a smaller scale, but just as dramatically in a few Moslem countries. The Far East is awakening to hear the gospel of the Kingdom preached with signs following. The stories of a victorious Church in China are enough to make an unbelieving press reporter say to me, “This is indeed a miracle!”.

On and on we can go but if we put such reports in a category that says only God’s love matters until the end, then we will never be able to take Christ’s victory into the marketplace and political arena. We will never be able to disciple a nation unless we believe we will be here to do it. The renewal in its overall perspective restores biblical faith to the Church. Everyone involved in the renewal ought to be able to say by conviction, “America can be turned to God!”.
Something good is happening at all levels of the Christian Church. Multitudes of men, churches and whole movements are seeking to wash themselves mentally and spiritually of the failing-Church syndrome to find a new and fresh expectancy that will enable our God to work supernaturally for us in this complex human situation. Now when faced with the question, “How do you see the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth?” they can answer with faith like that of the Church fathers and the Reformers and experience the victory of that faith in their lives.

[1] R J Rushdoony, “The Failure of Seminary Education, Symposium on Christian Education”, Journal of Christian Reconstructionism, Vol IV, No 1 (Summer 1977), p96.

1 comment:

Peter Day said...

In the modern era, the Church while numerically strong, has grown less and less influential and more and more peripheral to everyday life, to politics, economics, the arts, sciences and all else. For most people, the Church is irrelevant to the “real world” of human affairs. It provides a limited moral training for children, a social focus for the family and not much more. Churches have numbers, not strength. Both in membership and in leadership, the churches are radically weak.

Another awesome quote (you texted me part of it). This whole article is a glorius vision of what the church is meant to be. I hope to post something about this on my own blog soon.