Increasingly, churches are losing members. Some recent studies indicate that only about 17 percent (with a few claiming up to 25 percent) of church ‘members’ regularly attend meetings and services. And of course, this means church financial support, missionary endeavors, helping the poor, publishing and other programs are receiving less funding. More and more, churches are having trouble paying their bills, with others actually having to close their doors. It is apparent that we are sorely in need of revival. And even better would be a genuine ‘movement’ as in old times. And where is the restoration we’re so in need of?
Much ink, both virtual and actual, is being spent in attempting to address this situation. The church needs help, and many are the devices put forth to counter this growing but negative phenomenon. Church buildings are almost empty; the youth of today generally worship in front of a flat screen god, and have no use for what they consider outmoded worship and practices that claim and proclaim a God they neither know nor believe in. The Bible, to them, is a fairy tale, and not worthy of their attention.
So the answers usually come down to programs. Bus ministries, playgrounds, dinners, trips, comedy, rock music, counseling services, pizza parties, sports activities and numerous other initiatives are proposed, many of them are set into motion, and virtually all of them prove useless to stop the hemorrhaging of members, money, and influence. And why?
Could it be that Jesus gave us the answer with (in reply to a fault finding question from the Sadducees),
“Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” Matthew 22:29.
And it is by the power of God, the church is built. It is not by program, or wish, or fiat, or even as a result of hard work. But it is always and ever,
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” Zecariah 4:6.
When doing the work of building the church, the Holy Spirit must, absolutely MUST, be in charge, must motivate, illuminate and regulate all activity done in the name of God and His Son Jesus Christ. Except the Lord, through the Holy Spirit do the work, it will all be in vain, for,
“Every plant which my Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up”. Matthew 15:13.
Who is doing the planting? Is the Father, through the agency of the Holy Spirit tilling the soil and planting the seed? Is the Spirit guiding? Or, are committees coming up with the next notable failure to increase numbers, interest, and knowledge? Are measures taken as the result of votes, polling and so forth? Or is the Holy Spirit guiding? Surely we aren’t foolish enough to equate votes with spiritual guidance? (In the New Testament, and thus, in the New Testament church, one only vote, with the exception of the Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ coat, is recorded as to having been taken. This is in Acts chapter one, where lots are cast in order to choose the successor to Judas…after that, it never occurs again. All such decisions thereafter are made and carried out by the Holy Spirit).
For it is a fact of God that,
“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” Psalm 127:1-2.
Are we turning over all leadership and guidance to the Holy Spirit? And as God’s beloved, are we sleeping securely and at ease each night? Or do we stay awake, worrying if our latest initiative, or our latest and greatest program will prove successful or not? For of a truth, if God isn’t in it, getting up early, sitting up late, eating the bread of sorrows…none of them will lead to success.
From the beginning, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given to the church, not as something extraordinary, but as something that would remain with the church throughout time. For the power of the church, the witness of the church, the unity of the church is exhibited through the Holy Spirit (John 17:21). The church was in fact, born of the Holy Spirit on that day, a day we don’t even celebrate, very seldom talk about…and we, in our wisdom, have divorced ourselves, the church, from the Holy Spirit, the very LIFE of the church.
And how do we know that God, through the person of the Holy Spirit is, or isn’t in the process, the programs, pizza parties? That too, is easy,
“And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord HATH NOT SPOKEN, but the prophet hath spoken presumptuously”. Deut.18:21-22. Substitute here ‘committee’ for ‘prophet’, and you’ll get the picture. Even the psalmist worried over such things, for as he cries to God,
”Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression…” Psalm 19:13. When committees take the place of the Holy Spirit, it is only with presumption they can speak. And if their programs fail, the committee then, has been presumptuous before God. And oh my! So many programs fail…
Failing churches don’t start movements. Revivals don’t come to program-laden churches. Movements, revivals and restoration are always the fruit of fasting and prayer. Jesus says, after casting out a particularly stubborn unclean spirit,
“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Matthew 17:21.
When Paul and Barnabas left Antioch, in order to begin the greatest Gentile movement of the church in history, they did so after a period of fasting and prayer,
“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” Acts 13:2-3.
Some things require above and beyond the normal effort to accomplish. Some things deserve, must have, prayer and fasting, and in some cases, lots of it. So it is with revival, movement or restoration. It is said, in the bible, of only two men, John the Baptist and Jesus, that, “And he waxed strong in spirit…” Luke 1:80 and Luke 2:40.
And in order to serve the Lord effectively, in whatever manner, we need to continue growing in the spirit. We must fast. We must pray. If we’re serious, and know this, then we can put our hearts and souls into it, and the church will grow thereby. Revival will come…
But guidance by and in the Holy Spirit is but one of two major factors that need addressing. I feel as Peter did, that it is time to start judging the church.
“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God…” 1 Peter 4:17.
If ever there was a time, in which the church should be judged, it is now. And judged not by the world, and certainly not by pollsters, nor by academia, not even by the experts. For it is time the church was judged by the church, the members corporately and individually.
And I believe the church as it is today, must be held alongside the Word of God. If we do that, I believe we will soon find today’s church has been weighed in the balance, and found seriously wanting. For comparing the church of the New Testament, with what we call ‘the church’ today reveals many serious problems.
And that brings us back to Jesus’ statement, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures…”
It is the greatest shame to the church today that while the Word of God is available virtually planet-wide, and in many sundry and various ways…this generation of church going people is probably the most ignorant of God’s Word since the middle-ages.
And how can anyone honestly believe himself to know God and His Word, without reading and having read His Word? If your salvation, or your Christian life, is based upon what you’ve heard or been told throughout your life, by your friends, parents, siblings, extended family, Sunday School teachers, preachers, prophets, television evangelists and various and sundry…how can you have even the slightest assurance that you know the truth? Do not equate bible truth, with denominational ideas or publications…that is a peril that even Paul didn’t face.
Fast, pray, live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God...and maybe, if we truly work at, God will meet us halfway, and bring to us the revival, the restoration, the movement needed in this world today and in the church of today.
God bless you!
I am and remain sincerely yours in Jesus Christ,