A reader on The Outspoken TULIP Facebook page suggested an article on how we might influence the church culture, especially when so many are compromising God’s Word. Her suggestions intrigued me. I also see declining fidelity to Scripture in most churches as well as among Christians on social media, and catch myself thinking that, if only this blog would go viral, evangelicals would straighten up and fly right.
It’s easy to imagine ourselves as modern day reformers, isn’t it? Initially, those imaginings come from right motives. Most of the work by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli (as well as lesser known 16th Century Reformers) to restore Scripture as the authority for everything in Christian life has long since been corrupted by worldly philosophies and practices. As we look at the way God worked through them, we find ourselves thinking that perhaps He’ll do similar things through us. We hate seeing people fall into deception, and we hate the deceptions that pull them away from pure devotion to Christ. Naturally we long for God to use us in restoring people to Himself.
But frequently our zeal for purity within His church lulls us into believing that we have the ability to influence our local churches and/or the evangelical world at large, If discernment bloggers would just give us the magic key, we could unlock the Spirit’s power and transform Christian culture. Or so we think.
So John and I once thought.
I knew things weren’t right with our church. At first, I just saw little things. I reminded myself (correctly) that no church is perfect, and I therefore didn’t mention my concerns to John for the first few years. Finding a church in New England that doesn’t have a woman pastor or a rainbow flag is next to impossible, and our church seemed better than the churches we’d previously attended, so I tried to ignore my misgivings.
Once the church did Rick Warren’s 60 Days of Purpose campaign, however, those misgivings grew into discomfort. By then, of course, we’d established friendships and were serving in church ministries; our lives were entrenched in that body of believers. Then, when John had his cancer and heart attack, their care for us created a sense of obligation that tightened our bond with them. So I ignored my misgivings and did my best to thank God for placing us in that body.
John often taught Adult Sunday School, and most people said they valued his verse-by-verse lessons on Ephesians. Occasionally we heard rumblings about him being too conservative — especially when he said he’d only teach the Purpose Driven Life Sunday School class if he could discuss the flaws in the book. But even after that disagreement, he received tremendous respect to the point that they had him teach Adult Sunday School more than any of the other men who taught.
And yet, I found myself praying often that God would give the pastors and elders discernment. John kept reassuring me that God had given him that teaching position for a reason, and that if we just persevered, He would use us to influence the church back to Scripture. So for six more years John taught, I prayed and we hoped that the downward spiral would eventually climb upward. Surely God would give the pastors and elders discernment sooner or later, wouldn’t He?
Finally, things got so bad that we realized we’d never influence that church.
The apostle Paul warned that deception would grow greater and greater as Christ’s return draws near. He made it clear that deception would occur within the body of Christ rather than apart from it.
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, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 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 (NASB95)
Sadly, those who introduce false teaching are all too often pastors and elders of local churches. Understandably, other church members, trusting the leaders over them, usually follow their leaders into deception because they fear the consequences of questioning them. And if they dare to show their friends how leadership mishandles Scripture (which I really don’t recommend unless it’s done carefully and as respectfully as possible), they’re labeled as “devisive” and “rebellious.” Once church leaders commit to a certain path, they generally have little interest in having their trajectories challenged.
Does their commitment to a course that deviates from Scripture therefore mean that we should never confront them? No. But such confrontation should be carried out through respectful questioning, presuming that your leaders haven’t had time or opportunity to research the book or program that they promote, Sometimes they honestly don’t realize the full implications of what they do. And they may need time to read and digest any information you give them. Approach them with an attitude of humility, making sure you’ve prayed before and after your meeting.
Normally, however, leaders who want to take their churches in wrong directions will not consider appeals. They’ve made their decisions, and refuse to consider any evidence that they violate God’s Word. At that point, I’m sorry to say, nothing you do will turn things around. You may need to look for a more Biblical church. (Michelle Lesley has a helpful page for people searching for a doctrinally sound church.)
As Christ’s return draws near, we must expect increasing apostasy within the visible church. We can’t change that sad reality. But we can continue living in faithfulness to the Lord, trusting Him to influence people through us.