The last of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation was the Laodicean Church, a lukewarm church repugnant to God. This church, according to many Bible teachers, is the one that represents the prevailing condition of the Christian Church at the return of Jesus Christ. It follows then, that there has been, and continues to be, much concern over the state of organized Christianity in our present times. Are we becoming lukewarm, hindered in our attempts to spread the Gospel because we have slipped into dead orthodoxy and are unwilling to take stands concerning God's Truth for fear of offending anyone? And consequently, has organized Christianity become ineffective?
With the assumption that organized Christianity is broken and ineffective, many teachers are giving their ideas how to fix it. The head of one Christian radio network has declared that the organized local church is no longer operating under God's blessing and suggests that believers come out of all local churches to be taught in other types of fellowships. However, the prevailing thought seems to be that we need to fix the local church, not abandon it. Methods, practices, and teachings have all come under scrutiny as a cure for malaise in the local church is sought. Churches that have experienced growth in recent days are receiving much attention as others seek the secret to throwing off ineffectiveness. The methods and practices of growing churches are imitated with the hopes of achieving the same results elsewhere. The goal seems to be to bring in excitement with a willingness to try any new thing in the attempt to throw off what is considered to be dead orthodoxy.
However, is all orthodoxy dead? Certainly not. While there are indeed historically orthodox practices, methods and even teachings that are inappropriate in this current era, not all are. We need to be careful that in our attempt to fix the local church's problems we don't bring in new ones by abandoning historical practices and principles that are biblically based and replacing them with practices and principles that are non-biblical. The question ought not to be, "How can we grow" but rather, "How can we be more like the Philadelphian Church?" The Philadelphian Church, also described in the Book of Revelation, was a church faithfully giving out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is what needs to be of supreme importance to us. Only by concentrating on the Gospel, can we fulfill what God has intended for us, and avoid the pitfalls that come from seeking man's methods over God's methods.
We must examine the source of the methods we are seeking to imitate. Are these methods truly of God? Numbers of excited people attending religious gatherings ought not to be the test we should be giving. Genuine conversions are. Many strange practices and teachings have been brought into churches historically known for their preaching of the Gospel. The doctrines of Eternal Security, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture and even the Sufficiency of Christ, all of which were once strongly held in Gospel preaching, soul-winning churches, are being rejected. In their place, the Gospel is being toned down in an attempt to make the church more seeker friendly. In some cases, Salvation is offered without repentance, and in other cases, Godhood is offered to those who have enough faith. Methods and teachings are being accepted without an examination as to the Gospel that is being taught.
The book of II Peter warns of false teachers who would come to teach a false Gospel. In chapter one of that epistle, Peter tells believers how to be prepared. He tells us in verses five through seven to build upon our faith in Christ, virtue, knowledge, temperance (self-control), patience (endurance), godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity (Godly love). It is by adding these qualities to our lives (through the power of the Holy Spirit) we truly grow to know the God Who has saved us (II Peter 1:3-7). By knowing God by drawing close to Him in an intimate relationship with Him, we will be in a position to spot false teachers and false teachings.
In chapter two, Peter describes the basic characteristic of false teachers, stating that they deny "the Lord that bought them" (II Peter 2:1). Consequently, the first question we ought to have when it comes to any teacher or ministry is what is said about Jesus Christ. Is the Christ presented, the unique Lord over all Creation as presented in Scripture? Or is He a Christ that man can some how become the same as? Is it being taught that the sacrifice that was at Calvary was sufficient for our salvation? Or is it being taught that our sin was only partially paid for on the Cross and Jesus had to be tortured elsewhere, or that we need to have to finish the work? Is it even being taught that we are sinners in need of being bought from the market place of sin? While it is not wrong to question methods and practices in the local church, we must be careful not to replace them with anything that is contrary to, or that will distract from, the simple Truth of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ, died on the Cross for our sins and rose again (I Corinthians 15:1-5).
In conclusion, I just want to state that the Gospel preaching, soul-winning local church is not dead. Many are faithfully rightly dividing the Word of Truth. We don't all follow the same methods, practices and programs, but if we continue to look to God and let Him be our lead, He will bring the results. Let us be faithful.