The Threats We Face (Part 1) — Threats in the Church

The Bible warns believers in 1 Peter 5:8 that a crafty and powerful enemy is doing whatever he can to attempt to destroy the faith and testimony of those who possess a relationship with Jesus Christ: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” This enemy of our souls, Satan himself, is restless and relentless. He is not simply aiming to maim his prey, but to “devour” or “destroy” it. Sadly, it seems as though the majority of those who profess to know Jesus Christ as their Savior live life day by day without even realizing that they are being constantly attacked! And, of course, one who does not even realize he or she is being attacked is certainly going to be destroyed.

On a personal and social level, threats to the believer exist primarily on three fronts—in the home, in the church and in the world. This first of a three-part series will consider the threats facing believers from within the church. Subsequent issues of Foundation magazine will address the modern-day threats coming from within the home as well as from the secular world in general.

Yes, it is certainly true—the local church can serve the home and lead family members to a better relationship with God and one another, but the church can also actually aid in destroying the home and the lives of individuals! Just because a group of people constitute a local church does not mean such an entity brings glory to Jesus Christ. Believers need to beware of the dangers of churches that preach and embrace a false gospel and false teaching, and they need to be aware of dangers that can arise even within solid, Bible-centered local churches.

Threat #1—A De-emphasis of Doctrine

A serious threat facing churches today is the undermining of the importance of sound (healthy, true) doctrine. Many church leaders have a tendency to downplay doctrinal distinctives that differentiate one church or denomination from another. “As long as another professing Christian can call Jesus ‘Lord,’ then we can work with him or worship with him” is the cry often heard from many pastors and laypeople. Such individuals often arrive at an arbitrary list of biblical doctrines they feel are unimportant or unworthy of division or separation between brethren. Yet the fact remains—the Bible makes much of the importance of doctrine, and a de-emphasis of doctrine fails to grow the believer to the point of spiritual maturity. Without spiritual maturity and discernment, individuals and families will think, act and make decisions to their own detriment and often actually embrace false doctrine in the end. For example, a family can attend a church that encourages participation in an ecumenical weekend retreat; the family attends, joins with a group or church that propagates false doctrine (even though their own church might not agree with such) and ends up regularly participating in a Bible study or church event with those whose doctrinal beliefs do not coincide with their own church. Before even realizing it, they are completely immersed in doctrinal error and embracing it themselves. Suddenly, they are failing to exercise discernment and are, in reality, being “carried about with every wind of doctrine”—something about which the apostle Paul warned the Ephesian Christians.

Some denominations and churches even boast of their lack of emphasis on doctrine (what they often call “finer points” or “minor points” of doctrine). They usually make it a point to describe themselves as theologically or doctrinally “inclusive.” For example, the Evangelical Free Church of America, a denomination that boasts some 1300 churches in the United States, celebrates its doctrinal inclusivity. While the Evangelical Free Church in America does embrace a general “statement of faith,” the denomination also describes three of its distinctives as “inclusive not exclusive,” “evangelical but not separatistic” and “ecumenical in spirit.” The statement of faith could be embraced by most who call themselves evangelical or fundamental, yet what sets the denomination apart is its de-emphasis of doctrine in areas where Christians often disagree.
   
Threat #2—The Propagation or Toleration of False Doctrine

Of course, the propagation of false doctrine is a serious threat to any church. False doctrine—any teaching that is contrary to the teaching of the holy Scriptures—can shipwreck the lives of individuals and families. In 2 Timothy 2:16-18, the apostle Paul warned Timothy about false teaching and those who propagate it, and he even described the dangerous consequences of heeding such error: “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker (a cancerous growth): of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” Clearly, false teaching—even concerning prophetic truth—can do incalculable harm to the local church.

Throughout the New Testament, the human authors of Scripture realized the dangers inherent in false teaching and warned their readers—including us today—of such teaching and the need to separate from it. False teaching contains no redeeming value. Therefore, it is unwise and dangerous for any church to tolerate any amount of it.

Not only is the teaching of error a serious threat to the church, but even tolerating those who teach or spread false doctrine is dangerous and worthy of Christ’s stern rebuke. Notice Jesus Christ’s estimation of a local church that allowed false teaching to be disseminated in the body of believers. Jesus wrote to the local church at Pergamos: “I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam. … So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth” (Rev. 2:14-16). Notice that Jesus Christ’s problem with this church was its toleration of those who embraced false doctrine.

Response to Threats #1 and #2: Attend a church that makes much of doctrine and opposes and exposes doctrinal error. Christians need to understand that what they believe will determine how they act. A believer’s convictions are predicated upon doctrine. Therefore, to undermine the importance of doctrine, or to tolerate or propagate false doctrine, is a grave and serious offence in the eyes of God. Only sound doctrine glorifies God and benefits the Christian (Eph. 4:14). Throughout Scripture, God frequently emphasizes the importance of doctrine (notice, for example, 2 Timothy 3:16-4:4). In fact, God’s Word also gives abundant instruction concerning the believer’s response to any teaching that fails to coincide with biblical truth. The Bible tells us not to listen to false doctrine (Prov. 19:27). Concerning false teaching and false teachers, God commands us to “mark” and “avoid” such (Rom. 16:17), to “rebuke them” (Titus 1:13), to “have no fellowship” (Eph. 5:11), to “withdraw yourselves” (2 Thess. 3:6), to “receive him not” (2 Jn. 10-11), to “have no company with him” (2 Thess. 3:14), to “reject him” (Titus 3:10), to “be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17) and to “purge out” (1 Cor. 5:7). The believer who abides in the will of God and enjoys fellowship with Him will not be a part of a church that minimizes the importance of sound doctrine, that tolerates such or that propagates it.

Threat #3—An Overemphasis on Activities and Programs

Many churches today spend the vast majority of time promoting and managing church activities and programs. Of course, nothing is inherently wrong with church activities or programs for outreach, evangelism or discipleship. Yet an overemphasis on programs and activities poses several threats and problems that should be considered. First, such an overemphasis can take time away from the already busy family. Some churches boast a church calendar with events and programs on a daily or nightly basis. Often, families are made to feel guilty or uncommitted to the church if they do not attend each event. The second problem with an overemphasis on programs and activities is the message it often sends to those who attend the church—it sometimes gives the impression that activities and programs are the means to accomplish God’s will. In other words, if an individual or family is involved, they are fulfilling God’s will. If they are not involved, then they are outside God’s will at best and engaged in “backsliding” at worst.


Response to Threat #3: Exercise moderation in church activities. It is important for every believer to take advantage of opportunities for corporate worship, Bible study, prayer and various ministry endeavors. Yet it is also important that Christian families exercise moderation in their involvement in special programs and activities. Do not overdo it! Being supportive of a local church through faithful attendance is necessary, yet “burning out” physically and emotionally benefits nobody!

Threat #4—A Misunderstanding of Purpose

A fourth serious threat to the local church is a misunderstanding of the very purpose of the church by those who attend. Sadly, the leadership and laypeople alike in many churches today do not even understand their purpose as a local body of believers. They fail to understand why they come together each Lord’s Day and at other times throughout the week, and they even fail to understand what is their calling and their responsibility as Christians.

Many who profess to know Jesus Christ as Savior attend church services solely out of obligation—they feel guilty if they are absent, and they conclude that as long as they are in church on Sunday, they have met their “spiritual quota” for the week. In other words, they view the purpose of the local church as merely a “rite” or “ritual” designed to keep them in favor with God. Others feel as though the purpose of the local church gathering is to “save souls” that is, they think the purpose of the church is to fill the building with unbelievers and then preach the gospel to them Sunday after Sunday. Still others often consider the local church to be a command post for community service. They believe their responsibility is to come together on Sunday to “catch up” with others and plot their social activities for the upcoming week. Without a proper understanding of the purpose of the local church, those who attend will fail to grow spiritually, and those who lead the church will fail to give those in attendance what they need and what God desires them to possess.

Response to Threat #4: Possess a proper understanding of the purpose of the assembly of the saints—to equip believers to minister for God’s glory. The purpose of the local assembly of believers is not to win souls to Christ, to pat one another on the back and enjoy a motivational speech or “pep talk” or to provide the opportunity for those who profess to know Jesus Christ to fulfill a “spiritual quota” for the week. No, the purpose of the assembly is to equip the saints “for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12). The very function of the elders of the church is “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Of course, the Word of God is the key to this process (“Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth,” Jn. 17:17), not the opinions of pastors or teachers. The apostle Peter knew this, and he therefore exhorted the elders to “feed the flock of God” (1 Pet. 5:1-2). This feeding and equipping entails an understanding of “the faith” (doctrine; the one body of truth) and of the person and work of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:13). Indeed, Jude exhorts the believers to “earnestly contend” for the faith; and in order to do so, they first must know “the faith”! We need to understand that we will never reach “completeness” until we are with our Lord forevermore, but our entire life on earth must consist of striving to grow spiritually and mature in the faith and to move upward in our goal of Christ-likeness.

Threat #5—A Misguided Focus on Self

We live in a society and culture that is extremely self-centered. Sadly, this “me-first” mentality has crept into many churches and now even drives the programs and worship in many churches. We can see evidence of this self-centered mentality in the church in two particular areas. First, it is evident in the current “worship” fads that have permeated so many churches today. Much of the music that has infiltrated evangelical and fundamental churches is designed to appeal to the personal styles and preferences of those who attend. Because many people are desiring to “feel worshipful,” the music in many churches is geared toward filling this personal desire. In addition, the movies, drama and dance that have become popular forms of “worship” in some churches are intentionally designed to elicit an emotional response from the church attendee. “I want to attend a church that makes me feel like I am worshipping” is the reason often heard for why a person chooses to attend one church over another.

Second, the evidence of a self-centeredness in the church is revealed in the attitudes of many who attend churches today. Rather than choosing a church based upon its doctrinal beliefs, distinctives or philosophy of ministry, many tend to choose a church based upon their own perceived needs. Questions such as “What programs do you have for me or my family?”; “Can you meet my specific needs?” or “What’s in it for me?” usually arise in the minds of those choosing a church. A misguided focus is clearly a threat to the church because once the focus of the church is no longer on God and on bringing glory to Him, the entire church and its programs and motivation for service become centered around the creation (man) rather than the Creator (God).

Response to Threat #5: Realize that all worship must be God-focused—it must be centered around the person, work and Word of Jesus Christ. The Bible provides the believer with timeless principles for worship which, if understood, will drastically impact the self-centered focus of much “worship” today.

First, we are to worship in spirit — (Jn. 4:24). True worship is spiritual communion with God; it has nothing to do with our own pleasant physical experience. Our pleasure is not the key; God’s pleasure is! Worship is not one particular isolated act we accomplish; it is an attitude of reverence that flows forth from us as we obey Him. Worship is spiritual, not physical. It is all about God, not us.

Second, we are to worship in truth — (Jn. 4:24). Truth is the platform on which we must stand if we are to accomplish anything according to God’s will. We must worship in accordance with the Word of God—His instruction to us concerning how we are to think and act. Therefore, worship must never conflict with the commandments of God as revealed in His Word—Truth (1 Sam. 15:22-23). Also, sincerity is important (see Isa. 29:13; Phil. 1:10).

Third, we are to worship in the beauty of holiness—(see Psa. 29:2; 96:9; 1 Chron. 16:29). Holiness, or separation from anything contrary to the nature, Word and will of God, is beautiful to Him. It is impossible to truly “worship” the Lord while simultaneously living in an “unholy” manner or using any “unholy” means for worship. True, biblical worship is totally isolated from anything that is offensive to the nature of God or anything that contradicts His will for us.

Fourth, worship is integrally linked to obedience to the Savior, not to how we feel. We worship Christ by glorifying Him, thanking Him and magnifying His name through song, prayer, fellowship, study of the Word, application of the Word to our lives in obedience—by doing whatever He says and thus glorifying Him. And, of course, all this must be accomplished reverently in spirit, truth and the beauty of holiness. Believers must derive their theology of worship from the Scriptures—not from an unholy, ungodly culture or from fellow believers who feel at home in this culture.

Threat #6—An Unbiblical Attitude Toward Stewardship

Many churches and Christian ministries are suffering financially today because those who attend possess an unbiblical attitude concerning stewardship. The attitude embraced by many is this: “Everything I have is mine—I earned it. Because I worked hard for it and deserve it, I can do as I please with my resources.” Therefore, people fail to give to the work of the Lord as they should. Giving back to the Lord of their money, time and talents is not a priority in the lives of many who call themselves Christians.

Yet those who sit in the pews each week are not solely to blame. Many Christians do not understand what God’s Word says concerning stewardship and giving because they are not properly taught regarding this important issue. In fact, many pastors and church leaders are actually giving unbiblical counsel in this area. The church’s response to the “giving problem” that exists in many churches is often one of two extremes: Some pastors and church leaders are teaching Christians that it is acceptable to “give as little or as much as you want or feel led to give.” Others are instructing believers (through precept or programs) to give and pledge even more than they possess! Both extremes are clearly contrary to Scripture, and any unbiblical teaching concerning money and stewardship is a threat to the body of Christ.

Response to Threat #6: Give everything back to God—it belongs to Him anyway. The apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:10, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” When a Christian feels as though his talents, skills, time or money belong to him, he is failing to understand that, in reality, God has simply blessed him and entrusted him with these commodities to be used for God’s glory. Therefore, giving back to God of one’s time, talents, money and abilities is to be the priority of every Christian.

Threat #7—An Unhealthy Imbalance in Preaching and Teaching

Another threat that is endangering churches today (and God’s blessing upon them) is an unhealthy imbalance that exists in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Some churches are known in the Christian and secular community by the “hobby-horses” they ride. “Soul-winning” is the overriding theme of some churches. “Love” and “unity” are the topics most frequently taught and discussed in others. Still other churches are known for their constant emphasis on separation and their unceasing exposure of false teachers and compromised Christians. Some churches seem to be known for nothing but their exposition of a particular theological issue such as prophecy or creation. The threat inherent in such an unbalanced ministry concerns the unhealthy spiritual development of those who attend. While each of the aforementioned doctrines and issues certainly should be a part of the teaching ministry of any church, an imbalance or overemphasis at the expense of other doctrines or issues leads to spiritual malnourishment.

Response to Threat #7: Attend a church that is balanced in its preaching and teaching approach—a biblically balanced church. A church that brings glory to God will be a church that proclaims the “whole counsel of God” from the pulpit (Acts 20:27-32). Paul warned the saints, and he told the Ephesian elders, that “feeding” the flock was the remedy against drifting into error. The apostle Peter also exhorted the elders of the church to “feed the flock of God” (1 Pet. 5:2). Thus, teaching and warning are vital! A biblically balanced church is a church that preaches the gospel, teaches the Word and contends for the faith. In order to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, they must receive a well-balanced diet. The positive and negative are both necessary—preaching truth and exposing error. Colossians 1:28 reveals that both warning and teaching are necessary in order to attain spiritual maturity. Paul wrote to the Colossian believers, “Whom we preach (referring to Jesus Christ), warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Yet regardless of whether one is “warning” or “teaching,” an attitude of love is imperative. “Speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) is necessary in order to “grow up into [Jesus Christ] in all things.”

Yes, threats to the family do exist even in the church today. The responsibility of the God-honoring Christian is to do everything possible to protect himself and his family against these threats of Satan himself. Make much of doctrine. Refuse to tolerate false teaching. Do not overdo it in ministry activities and programs. Understand the purpose of the church. Refrain from focusing on self. Give everything back to God first. And be sure to be a part of a ministry that is balanced in preaching and teaching the “whole counsel of God”—positive and negative alike. — Matt Costella