Some life-threatening diseases have obvious symptoms that send us immediately to the doctor. Other illnesses are what media sometimes refer to as “silent killers.” Hypertension, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, as well as colon cancer and heart disease are examples of diseases that present only mildly, if at all, in their early stages.
The best chance for treating and surviving any of these silent killers is early diagnosis, usually as the result of regular physical checkups! I suspect that the health of a congregation also depends on early diagnosis as the result of regular spiritual checkups.
Let’s look at some of the diseases from which congregations/churches may die, differentiating between those that are symptomatic and those that are silent.
Church Diseases With Obvious Symptoms
Heresy: I’m not talking about disagreements over worship styles. I have listened in classes where the exclusive claim of Jesus as Savior has been denied. I have heard apocryphal literature read as Scripture. I have sat in churches where the only resurrection offered was the memory of deceased loved ones that lives in our hearts.
True heresy denies the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of Scripture, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and/or the sovereignty of God. (It’s dangerous to even start such a list because one almost immediately feels the need to include more and define each item, i.e., create a creedal statement. A blog is a poor instrument, however, for writing creeds.)
I myself find a wonderful list of non-negotiables in Ephesians 4: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one Body, one Spirit, and one God and Father of us all. Christians do argue over the full understanding of each of these, but that in no way for me detracts from their unity and essentiality.
Immorality: If you have been a Christian very long, you know of churches destroyed quickly by immorality, often committed by church leaders—but not exclusively! When church leaders do not address perversion and corruption among their flock, they endanger the entire church because “they know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too” (Romans 1:32).
Immorality is not exclusively sexual. The entire list from Revelation 21 could be included: 8 “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. I know that’s strong language, but we are talking about people who destroy the body of Christ!
Apathy: Many churches meet out of habit or tradition. Their leaders continue to lead worship, celebrate communion, and present a homily because that’s what church leaders are paid to do. A few members attend because . . . they themselves are not yet dead! The Messenger to one church said: “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Revelation 3:15-16)
If your church just really doesn’t even care if it is alive or dead, that is the definition of apathy. If your church refuses to even ask the question or take the pulse of the church, that is apathy. If your church has no ears to hear those who warn them, that is apathy!
An Inevitable Outcome?
The angel’s warning to the seven churches of Asia is not only a great wake-up call for modern churches, but also a sign of true hope. If there were neither hope nor means of recovery, then why the warning? Just blow the candle out and put out the light!
No, our God is One who heals the sick and raises the dead! If you are afraid your church is deathly ill, turn to God and ask Him to intervene! “Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. (Luke 15:4-5)
Next time, I will offer you my list of the church diseases that are silent killers!