June 3, 2018

Clear and Present Dangers #1 — Threats to the Church — Weaknesses in the Evangelical Church, part 1

Passage: 1 Tim 4:1-8

For the next few weeks, through the end of August, we’ll be looking at an important topic—threats to Christianity. We recognize that the church faces clear and present dangers,[1] and I want to look at these dangers and suggest what we might do about them.

I’ve divided this topic into two main parts: threats from within, and threats from without. Some of the threats to the church come from within Christianity, or at least from those professing to be Christians. Some of the threats come from outside the faith, from those who seeking to overthrow and destroy the church. We’ll start with threats from within.

Lu 6:42 … cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.

1Pe 4:17 For the time [is come] that judgment must begin at the house of God

We should recognize and deal with the “in-house” threats before dealing with threats from the outside. We have our own set of problems to address within the church before dealing with problems from outside the church.

An old comic strip character (Pogo) said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” I would have to agree that we are often our own worst enemies. A great threat against the church is the church itself.

Although these are threats to the church, we don’t believe that any of them will succeed in destroying the church. We affirm the biblical belief that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ (Mt 16:18). We have good reason to be optimistic about the church and its work in the world. The church may become very weak and corrupted in certain parts of the world. In some places, it might cease to exist altogether as it has done in many parts of the world that formerly had a strong Christian presence. E.g., the churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation in Asia Minor/Turkey. But we believe a remnant will always remain faithful; the church will continue somewhere in the world until the Lord returns.

Still, we have good reasons to be concerned about the health and welfare of the Christian church. According to recent research, about 70% of the American adult population would call themselves Christian, down from around 90% 50 years ago. But when asked if they believe in the God of the Bible, only about 56% affirm that they do. (14% of professing Christians do not believe in the God of the Bible??) When you ask about particular beliefs about God and the Bible, only about 10% have beliefs that would actually put them into the category of evangelical believers with a Christian worldview. I.e., Bible-believing, orthodox Christian people constitute about 10% of the American population. So we can start by saying that the true church is quite a bit smaller than what we might think it is.

Sinclair Ferguson, who teaches at RC Sproul’s seminary in Florida, recently said, “Christendom [is] a far greater threat to Christianity than Islam is. Islam can never destroy the Gospel, but Christendom can easily destroy the Gospel and is destroying the Gospel. The Church is the greatest threat to real Christianity in the world. God help us.”

He’s not claiming that all churches are bad or advocating that we give up on church. He’s saying that “Christendom,” that is, the professing Christian church, is in very bad shape spiritually and biblically. Christendom is a threat because many who think of themselves as Christians are not genuine Christians, and many of these so-called Christian churches are not preaching the biblical Gospel.

This dismal condition of the church is unfortunate, but it’s not really new. Many of Paul’s letters in the Bible address serious problems within the churches. From the very beginning of Christianity, people claiming to be Christians were a threat to the church. The true church needs to be on guard constantly against the bad ideas percolating through the church.

Let’s consider several reasons the church is a threat to itself. Now I’m speaking about Christianity in general and about the evangelical church in particular. Many of these weaknesses are true of the evangelical branch of Christianity. Today we’ll consider several of these problems and next week we’ll look at several more.

[1] Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes coined the phrase “clear and present danger” in a 1919 opinion.

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