By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“Our churches suffer most seriously from the great numbers who drop out of our ranks and either go back to the world, or else must be pursuing a very secret and solitary path in their way to heaven, for we hear no more of them.” – Charles Spurgeon
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25 (NKJV)
I pastor a small church in the city of Muskogee, Oklahoma. The congregation is also small, but full of prayer and who have a desire to see the church grow. It is not for lack of trying that we petition the LORD to soften hearts and draw the people of this city to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. We faithfully give out tracts and tell people of our church and the fact of the exclusivity of salvation in Christ. Yet, we see only a few, if any, come through our doors.
The great 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon, of whom I quoted earlier, saw this problem in his church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which at the time, was the largest Protestant church in the world, seating over 6,000 people. This was a time when Great Britain and the United States were sending out missionaries, establishing Bible schools, preaching the joy of heaven and the terror of hell, and seeing the fruit of their labors. There are many of us who long for those days and there are churches who lament the state of their condition, longing for the days when the pews were full and the people gladly came to hear the Word of God.
Churches that cling to the past traditions and nostalgia will soon go the way of the dodo. The modern church has to address the issue of spiritual apathy and downright hostility to the things of God. Some churches put a heavy emphasis on programs, attempting to draw crowds by having numerous activities and productions that interest the average person, whose attention span may be 10 minutes at the most. The key word for a lot of these churches is relevance. The trouble is you have to keep on presenting new and exciting programs for the people to see, or they quit coming. So, what now?
Church attendance is dropping rapidly, with many people professing no religious ties because they think they don’t need it or see it as a necessary part of their overall well-being, and quite frankly, when I observe some of the ungodly things that are happening in the church, such as the pedophilia scandal being swept under the rug by the Vatican, and prosperity preachers who tell their viewers to “sow a seed” into their ministry and you’ll be blessed. But, if you get sick or someone you love dies of a disease, those same preachers will unabashedly scold you for not having enough faith. It’s sickening and I don’t blame a lot of folks when they see this and assume that it’s part of the Christian worldview. The devil and his cohorts are having a field day.
The hard truth is that the Scriptures tell us that these kind of things would happen in the last days (Matthew 24:9-12; Romans 3:10-18; 2 Timothy 3:1-9). The world, to be blunt, hates us and wishes we were dead or gone or insignificant. The shallow so-called “faith” of many is just one step away from apostasy (1 John 2:19). Churches are empty because preachers have stopped preaching on the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ, the need for personal holiness, the glory of heaven and the terrors of hell, and being a deterrent to the rise of evil. What happened to that kind of preaching? As for myself, these things are commonplace in the church I pastor. I am not afraid of what people might think or say. I don’t have to answer to them on the Day when we shall appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). I am not relevant, I am totally committed to the cause of Christ and I don’t mind stepping on toes. Maybe I’m a rarity, but I know that I’m in good company with people such as Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, W.A. Criswell, and other old time preachers who told it like it is.
Faithfulness to Jesus Christ in the coming days may mean that church buildings will be confiscated and shut down and we’ll have to meet in homes or in secret. Persecution will ramp up, and I believe that this time of reprieve that we currently enjoy will soon pass, and we will see who is faithful and who is shallow. We need to remain at the posts that God has placed us and stand firm for the sake and love of Jesus. We each have a part to play and this is not the time to put down our armor (Ephesians 6:12-18). We are in a war for the souls of men, women, and children. Don’t give up. Let us pray that there be one last soul harvest before He comes to get us (1Thessalonians 4:13-18). Once we’re gone, church buildings and activities will be past. The real service will be in the new heaven and the new Earth. I’m looking forward to seeing the One who gave Himself for me and there will be a celebration for all eternity. I can hardly wait.