Sunday, 28 December 2008

Unconverted members rule in congregations

A professed Christian church that is ruled by unconverted members! A funny (strange) phenomenon, it if were not so serious! But its true! In many, if not most, mainline congregations, church membership is largely unconverted.

That means that so long as they profess the faith that they are true believers, they must be accepted as such for ever and a day. They must be admitted without question to the sacraments, and given their say in the major decisions of church life - the calling of a new minister, the election of elders and deacons (committee members), how congregational money is to be spent, etc.

These 'members' have a full say in all such matters. They have gone through the ecclesiastical conveyor-belt system, and have now 'made it.' Being regarded as Christians by the church, they hold the control over what happens.

Let's say, for example, that a group of these false professors take exception to the preaching of the minister, because they have the power, and the backing of the establishment, they can work to secure his removal from the ministry. The establishment, whether at local level or nationally, also accepts these false professors as Christians, and will always do their bidding, especially if they include the 'people who count' within the congregation.

This is sadly true in many congregations. And the true Christians who have refused to become communicant members, are ostracised by the church, because they do not count. They might do those things that are required of Christians, namely, they might attend the prayer meeting and bible study with regularity, give generously to the church, help in whatever way they can, give constant support to the beleaguered minister, and have an excellent witness in the wider community. But they just do not count when it comes to church officialdom.

May I be permitted to throw out a challenge to any who might be reading this post. While this unfortunate situation pertains within many congregations, individual ministers, and where the kirk session agrees, could adopt an open membership policy that will include those good Christian attendees in church life and decision-making, and dilute the influence of those false professors. This could continue until the spiritual state of the congregation has changed sufficiently when a return to a more normal policy can be re-adopted.

This will take courage on the part of ministers who are disturbed by the current situation in their churches. It will not be a popular policy to adopt, in the short term, but in the longer term, it will bring about the results that will change the spiritual state of the church into what it is supposed to be.

A Balanced Ministry

Just as a balanced diet is essential to proper development and health, so in the spiritual realm, a balanced diet is needed.

In denominations and congregations where the Gospel has not been made welcome, there is an urgent need for evangelistic preaching that is tailored to the spiritual needs of the hearers. God's mighty Gospel must be heralded faithfully, without cognisance being taken of those congregations who like a 'cool' Gospel, as opposed to a 'hot' one. A 'cool' Gospel very soon degenerates into a non-Gospel.

But when, under the blessing of Almighty God, the preaching of the Gospel of God knows success, and sinners are converted to the Saviour, these new converts need to be taught the solid meat of the Gospel. This is where the balance is needed. Yes, there can be a ministry which might be called 'teaching evangelism,' in which the Gospel is taught to the newly saved, and the challenge to the unsaved is unclouded. This is a step forward, and is to be encouraged.

At the other end, some ministers accept that all those who have made a profession of faith are Christians, and need only to be taught; so they prepare good solid and nourishing food for their souls, and present this to them on a weekly basis. Some of these refuse to evangelise the communicant members, because, firstly, the church has already accepted them as Christians, and, secondly, if the church accepted them as Christians, how dare any minister to think or say otherwise. If the church says they are Christians, then evangelising them is singularly inappropriate.

Here again, there is an imbalance in approach. Cognisance is not taken of false professors within the fold of the church, the "wolves in sheep's clothing," who have come in to devour the flock. They need to be fended off by the clinical application of the Gospel to their lives, and by the faithful discipline of the eldership.

Neither of these is likely to occur because this would have a negative effect on the financial state of the congregation. Thus the true spirituality of the church suffers by unfaithfulness to the office of eldership as set out in the New Testament and in the church's confessional standards.

Imbalance in the preaching/teaching/pastoral ministry of the church is most likely to create an imbalanced membership.

Irreverent Worship

I mentioned in an earlier post that theological liberalism has infiltrated the evangelical church, and possesses the tendency the completely overcome it, turning it into something quite different from what the biblical Gospel describes.

In this post I wish to discover an application of this principle to another area of Christian worship. It is quite noteworthy that in today's church there is an over-familiarity with things divine. In fact, it might even be worse than than because it seems that, here again, pressure is brought to bear on ministers to accommodate rebellious youth culture in services of divine worship.

What I mean is that young people have sent out a message to churches that if they are not allowed to attend church in whatever way they want, behave how they want, and sing those songs that they appreciate, they will not attend. This implied threat by rebellious youth has been surrendered to by the churches who have said that it now does not matter how they present themselves before the sovereign Lord for the worship of His holy Name.

Time was when worshippers presented themselves before God for worship, they actually believed that He was there, that they were actually worshipping the King Who was present, and that it did matter how they turned up for worship. They believed that they were in the House of the Lord, and not a concert theatre, or flea market. They knew they were presenting themselves before the living and true God, and that they had to do so appropriately, because He was present with them, though invisible.

Now, the malignant influence of theological liberalism has robbed the church, including evangelicals, of the attitude of reverence when approaching God, Who is a consuming fire, to worship Him. Because large tracts of the church today have lost any convincing sense of God's presence in the services, anything goes.

Further, the people who refuse to prepare themselves holistically for the worship of the Triune God, are saying much about their own attitude to the Lord, and among the statements they are making is that they can worship Him any old how, and they can present themselves any old how. Not only is this true of young people, but mature adult Christians believe that have to play the same irreverent religious game, and present themselves before the Lord as casually as they can, just to fit in with the mores of rebellious youth culture.

Can you imagine a professional teacher, or lawyer, or accountant, or businessman turning up to work in the most casual attire they can put on? Can you further imagine what the boss might say, were such to happen? Or imagine someone from an evangelical church being presented to the Queen for some award or other, presenting themselves in trainers, shabby denim jeans and tee-shirt?

But then again, people like these have a much higher and more exalted view of the Queen and their professional bosses, than they do of the God they are seeking to worship!

Now what does this say about these poor disrespectful people? An awful lot, and much of which is not becoming of the Lord they claim to love and serve!

Let me make one point very clear. I am not suggesting a return to the old days of outward correctness and inner spiritual bankruptcy. Far from it! Perish the thought! But I am concerned to recover the good traditions of the Huguenots who believed that both the inward spiritual condition and outward order must go hand in hand together. Both are important, they believed, and one must not be made subservient to the other. God is the God of order, and wants everything in His church done "decently and in order."

How can this be applied to today's church? In this way: those who are spiritually alive to Christ and are walking in a right relationship with Him must be the standard setters, and demonstrate to other younger Christians how to present themselves outwardly to God when they come to worship Him. In the case of the Christian, the outward is a reflection of the inward. But in the case of the non-Christian, no matter how outwardly correct they might be, this is not a reflection of inner spiritual correctness.

Sad to say that many evangelicals do not even know who the Huguenots were, and have lost a enormous amount by such ignorance. They were the most biblically balanced theologians and ministers the world ever knew, and their balance permeated its way into every aspect of their lives and witness.

Let us get back to what these noble Christians believed and practised, and the church will be the better of such a return.