This week my father and I had our latest book published. It’s called: Flickering Lamps: Christ and His Church. We were asked to address the issue of thousands of churches that close their doors each year. Southern Baptists alone close 900 churches per year. Some of their buildings have been converted into coffee shops, businesses, and even mosques. Few things are as tragic as seeing a church building that was once used to worship almighty God now being used by a cult or secular business. Such buildings represent not only the failure of a church, but also the death of a dream.
We were asked to write a book that could be used by struggling congregations to turn their focus back to Christ and His purpose for their church. We have heard people say that death is a natural part of a church’s life cycle. But we disagree. When the risen Christ is functioning as the Head of a church, there is no reason for it to die. Churches most certainly must make changes over the years; including some major adjustments. But there is no problem a church can face that Christ does not have adequate resources to overcome.
Jesus said the gates of Hades could not overcome a church that he built. The key is to let Him build it! Churches that are controlled by individuals can die. Churches that forsake their calling can die. Churches that tolerate sin can die. But churches that are listening to and heeding Christ’s voice will flourish.
Our problem is that we allow our experience to determine our theology rather than the Bible. Because we are in a struggling church, we assume it is inevitable. We look about at a hostile secular culture, a growing number of non-religious Americans, and a deteriorating national morality and assume it was inevitable that our church suffer decline. But that is not what the Bible says.
The First Century Church was built in the midst of horrendous moral conditions. The vast majority of citizens were pagan idol worshippers. Society celebrated moral depravity. Political leaders mocked God’s standards. Yet the Church thrived. That’s because the Church knew it could not depend on the government to prop it up or society to be favorably disposed to its teachings and values. All the Church had was Christ. But that was more than enough.
Today’s Church needs to hurriedly make its way back to Christ and seek His guidance. He knows how to reach your community. He knows how to pay your bills. He knows how to address the sin in your congregation. You just need to ask Him. Then do what He tells you.
In Revelation chapters 1-3, Christ told the apostle John that He walked among the seven lampstands. He knew what each church was doing. For each congregation Christ had a commendation, but for five of those churches He also had a condemnation. Unless those churches repented, Christ would remove their lampstand. Those lamps were flickering. They were in danger of being extinguished unless they repented and returned to Christ with all of their hearts.
Certainly there are ecclesiastical lamps that are flickering today. They are in danger of being extinguished. But in each case, Christ has an answer. He knows the solution to their malaise. We pray that, rather than declining into oblivion, those churches will repent and return wholeheartedly to their Head. There is no reason to lose hope as long as Christ is present! How tragic for congregations to choose to die, when Christ stands in their midst, fully prepared to breath new life into them.