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THE END OF THE (small neighborhood) CHURCH AS WE KNOW IT

December 5, 2009

“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 KJV)

In my church-hopping days I have seen the lifestyles of many pastors.  I have seen pastors of mega churches more than adequately compensated – many are overcompensated – and yet most of those I know who pastor smaller churches are almost, if not, at the poverty level.  One pastor in Harbor City California lives in a two bedroom apartment in back of a card club in an undesirable neighborhood with his wife and four daughters.  Another in Lompoc where my friend lives was provided a single wide trailer for him and his wife.  Many others are struggling as bi-vocational pastors because their church is too poor to provide a living wage. This is the reality of today’s smaller churches.  Add to this the fact that the gathering place of worship needs heat, electricity, insurance and teaching supplies and you have impoverished churches, dedicated and sacrificial. Yet, you have misinformed “Christians” who don’t believe in even attending church, complain about how others have to tithe!  Well, no one forces one to do anything, but God commands giving to support churches and missionary work – even tells us to give to those who work hard at teaching and preaching.  Jesus’ ministry was supported by others (Luke 8:3)   

One should support the local church, there should be complete financial transparency, and giving should be according to what God has put upon his/her heart.  But what if the heart is cold and doesn’t even hear what God has to say about giving to His church and God’s people and the attitude in which we should give? (Luke 12:16-21; Luke 3:11; 2nd Corinthians 8; Acts 4:32-35; 1st Timothy 6:18; Ephesians 4:28, Mark 12:41-44, the “widow’s mite”)  And how about:

“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18 NASB)

Some don’t believe there should even be an elder who rules in the church!  Ahh…but I’m getting ahead of myself…

Recently, I attended a River Valley Baptist Association strategy meeting with my husband and for the first time in our missionary region under the Southern Baptist Convention we were facing a financial crisis.  For the first time, there were missionaries who couldn’t be sent and for the first time missionaries who would have to be called home.  Even those who worked tirelessly for God in the administration of service were in danger of losing their small incomes.  Pastors were sacrificially taking voluntary cuts in their pay to make sure others were adequately compensated. 

Yes, we are in an economic decline and people are hurting everywhere, but it’s not the economics that I’m as concerned about.  I might have misled you through the first two paragraphs.  No, I am concerned about the slander that comes, not from the world – we KNOW the world will always oppose anything of God and by this we have built up our defenses. But… 

I have seen a dreadful thing.  Those who claim the name of Christ are slandering God’s people.  Those who don’t attend a local church are slandering those who do and claiming the local church is in apostasy.  Some churches today obviously are, but there are many that are not.  These self-righteous rebels cannot see themselves for what they are.  They think they are so much more “spiritual” than those crazy fundamentalists that are harming the church, and they are leading others into the same rebellion!

They cite the most radical departures from true Christianity as an excuse to disassociate themselves – churches that burn books, pastors who call for their leaders to pray deprecatory prayers, those who engage in name calling…the list can go on.  However, they fail to recognize others – God’s servants – who work diligently to teach and preach God’s truth in love.  It’s much easier to demean “fundamentalists” even though the term simply means one who follows the fundamentals of the Christian faith! 

Rather than appreciate that there are places where one can go fellowship and worship with those of like mind and spirit, they rail against “religious institutions” and mock the people who attend.  I have heard all manner of slander from so-called “brothers” and “sisters” and, I admit, I am righteously angry.  If one chooses to disobey God’s Word and forsake the assembling of the brethren, then so be it, but to bring public accusations against those who do is simply SIN.   Are there differences of opinion in the church?  Of course!  Not everyone will agree on every point, but on the essentials they will, unless God has brought them to the church to learn and become saved.

Yes, I am aware that God had prophesied these times and I know this will come to pass:

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1 Timothy 4:1 NASB)

Yes, small, Bible believing churches are folding every day.  But do you, Christian, really want to participate in lighting aflame your local place of worship by the fire of your tongue?  You might think you have all the answers on your own and you don’t need anyone to tell you how to believe.  Isn’t it strange that God says you must be a disciple if you believe.  Are you a preacher?  A teacher?  These are appointments made through the Holy Spirit and not self appointments!

“He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Ephesians 4:10-12 NASB)

If this article seems harsh, remember, I’m not speaking to those in the world but to so-called brothers and sisters in Christ who have made themselves the judge over those who choose to attend a “building” to worship together.  With all your slander against God’s family, it’s a wonder you don’t see yourself as estranged from God in Christ!   A warning for those who criticize the churches that God has put His Spirit into!

“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”  (James 2:19 NASB)

Yes, it truly is the “last hour” and here is some encouragement for those who still want the fellowship of those of the faith and who follow God’s commandment not to forsake the assembling of the brethren:

“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.” (1 John 2:18-20 NASB)

We are all accountable to God for the words we speak and the condition of our hearts toward other believers.  We all need to check ourselves to see that we are in the faith. 

For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:3-7 NASB)

Why do I speak so strongly on this issue?  I was once a “church basher” until I became an “insider.”  I thought all churches were in apostasy and said as much.  The problem was not with the churches but with me.  I didn’t want to have to go – I felt like an outsider.  I didn’t like getting up in the morning.  I didn’t want to pay tithes.  I didn’t go because of the hypocrisy, yet I didn’t recognize the wonderful seasoned saints.  I made every excuse not to commit and guess what?  I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  All that matters is God’s truth.  You can’t justify disobeying the captains orders.

God’s visible Presence found in the heart of many of the local churches is still beckoning lost sinners and preachers are still sacrificing themselves and their families to share the good news and bring grace to willing ears.  It is up to each one of us to find our place of worship and then to work on loving those we worship with, warts and all.  Before setting out, take a long look in the mirror.  If you still want to continue to rail against the local body of believers in Christ because they choose to gather in a public building, know that you are fighting against that which the Lord has ordained.  And when, after the missionaries have come home and the food pantries have shut down and the last sermon is preached in the last standing neighborhood Bible believing church that you have helped to destroy with your slander, please don’t knock on the door of my “house church” without a full knowledge of your error and a repentant heart.

Postscript:  Mega churches with “feel good” teaching will continue to grow and easily adapts to the prevalent ecumenical climate.  Churches that teach Christian exclusivity are becoming passé as people continue to have “itching ears.”  (2nd Timothy 4:3-4) 

There are, of course, many wonderful Christians who don’t attend church.  It is the ones who are opposed to the local congregations that this article is addressing.

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