by Dick Hill
I was sitting with a good friend on the porch at the Ponderosa years ago. He asked me a very searching question. “Spiritually speaking, where do you think local churches are today?” This was long before the Covid pandemic which has been devastating on the church. I have thought about his question many times. I could only answer from my observations as a pastor of many churches here in the south over the last forty years.
Jesus Christ has not ceased to build His church – His spiritual kingdom – and will do so throughout history. That thought comforts this writer (Matthew 16:13-17).
- There are Birds in the Branches (Matthew 13:31-32)
There are many birds (unbelievers) positioned in the branches of the tree (or bats in the belfry if you please) that Christ is building. The birds represent unbelievers (verse 31). We are to continue to preach the gospel. Why? There are many who comfortably sit in the congregation year after year who have never embraced the gospel of God’s magnificent grace. They have learned to speak often repeated Bible language – I call it “Christianese” – but do not know the meaning of the language. They can use words like saved, redemption, regeneration, justification, or sanctification; but have no clue what they mean or where they are found in the Bible. They have become comfortable with their “profession of faith in Christ” – punched their ticket to heaven – but in truth they may be clinging to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). They would be numbered in the category of those mentioned by Jesus who had said to Him “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name (taught in your name), cast out demons in your name, and in your name done many wonderful works. Jesus responded, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-22). This confirms to me that God’s great adversary Satan is very good at blinding people to the truth of the gospel – very good (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
- Babes on the Benches
There are many who have truly embraced the gospel but have remained baby Christians. They have failed to grow to maturity. Peter wrote, “As newborn babies desire the pure milk of the word that by it you may grow” (1 Peter 2:2). Note the phrase “the pure milk of the word.” The Greek word “pure” means unadulterated or not watered down. Many in the local church have become dependent on what others say the Bible says and have come to lean on that alone as their source of Bible truth. These teachers may have watered down the pure milk of Scripture. Weak Christians are drawn first to one teacher then to another. They vacillate and are never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Many have never truly learned the doctrines of grace. This prevents other believers from ever receiving the necessary milk. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual (people) but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The word “carnal” is translated “fleshly.” Paul had taught the people the ABC’s of grace and they received it quickly, but when he began to feed them solid food, they spit it out. He had given the people ample time and necessary teaching for them to have grown up and become profitable to God, but they had failed to do so on all counts. The result was constant division and strife in the body. Some claimed to be followers of Paul; others claimed to be disciples of Apollos. According to Paul, the indication that there were babes in the congregation is that there was jealousy and the tendency to follow human leaders. This becomes the source of constant turmoil.
The writer of Hebrews speaks of this same truth. The subject was Melchizedek. This teaching is hard truth. It would be considered by Paul to be strong meat of the word. The result was the same. The hearers did not understand the truth of Melchizedek. They had become “dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:10-11). They spit out the meat. The people had been given sufficient time and teaching to have become teachers themselves, but they still needed someone to teach them again the first principles of the oracles of God. They had never learned the ABC’s of scripture. They still needed milk and not solid food. Those who receive only a steady diet of milk are unskilled in the word of righteousness, for they are babes. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. I’ve heard these words repeatedly from congregations: “That teaching is too hard.” The result should be obvious. Christians have become content with drinking the milk of the word time and again and never have moved into the realm of spiritual meat – the steak.
- Blending with the Bandits
Go along to get along! We, the church, have failed to so live our lives and speak the gospel so that the Holy Spirit can use us to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and a coming judgement (John 16:8). We have failed to become salt and light. We have lost our savor and our shine. We no longer convict the world; we are in competition with the world. We are here to impact the world with the gospel of God’s grace and the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. As Dr. Donald Barnhouse used to say, “We are never commanded in the Bible to clean up the fishpond, we are told to fish in it.” Many people that I have had the privilege of sharing the gospel with and seeing them come to faith in Christ have been people that were members of local churches for many years, but they had missed the gospel. We are living with these results in many local churches today. How do we motivate the congregation to keep coming? We entertain the sheep! We compete with the world for their attention and their loyalty. When we stop entertaining, the sheep quit coming. We are supposed to change the world; but the world has changed us.