Pray for the Church – Why We Should Be Concerned About the Sins of the Church

LastWelldocumentedGrasshopper-size_restrictedAs we come to St Andrews day tomorrow and to pray for the nation   we need to think about the state of the Church as well.   In this article I want to look at the state of the Church in Scotland – but those of you from other nations may be able to empathise and apply to your own situations.

In the article on the State of the Nation  I mentioned John Owen’s discourse on this subject.  He goes on to say “We may do well, brothers, to consider the state of the church of God in the world, among ourselves, and our own conditions…How is it with the church of Christ in our nation?” 

That’s the question:

Screenshot 2018-11-29 at 17.19.57“There is a very great decay in all churches of Christ in the nation, especially among those of us who have had most peace, most prosperity.  That which we call zeal for God is almost quite lost among us.  Some of us have almost forgot whether there be such a thing as the cause of Christ and interest of Christ in the world. …..our primitive love, how it has decayed!  

Many of us have bought into the spirit of the age of advertising – we tend to talk up our own work and far too often talk down others.  There is a spirit of competitiveness which is to say the least, unedifying.    I find that the church in Scotland is far too often parochial, petty and powerless.   Let me just cite some examples of what is going on – and these could be multiplied.

The Church of Scotland is in a state of freefall and I doubt, barring the most extraordinary resurrection since Lazurus, whether it can be revived or restored.  All the talk of evangelicals staying in to fight for the Gospel has, with the exception of a handful, long gone.  Instead evangelicals have largely become the most ardent defenders of the status quo.  Which is why the Establishment now feel quite comfortable with having evangelicals as moderators – the last thing evangelicals are going to do is rock the boat or challenge the system.   The radicalness of the Gospel has faded into the background and has been replaced with the parochialism and territorialism of the parish system.

Screenshot 2018-11-29 at 17.02.51

For a long time the fact that the Church of Scotland was often the only show in town when it came to work in housing estates was the best reason for evangelicals to stay within the Kirk.  But now with the work of 20Schemes and even the Free Church (a little) doing great gospel work in our schemes that reason is less valid.  Which is why it is not surprising, although nonetheless still desperately sad, that the strongest opposition to these new works comes from some within the Church (although to be fair there are those who welcome it – I recall one minister asking me to come and plant a church in his parish!).  Rather than rejoice in new works going on in the schemes they are so insecure that they feel threatened.        I repeat again McCheyne’s dictum and plea when faced with a liberalism that denied the Gospel – lets commission people to go into all these areas and tell the people about Jesus.

“It is confessed that many of our ministers to not preach the gospel –
alas! Because they know it not. Yet they have complete control over their pulpit and may never suffer the truth to be heard there during their whole incumbency.
And yet our church consigns these parishes to their tender mercies for perhaps fifty years, without a sigh! Should not certain men be ordained as evangelists, with full power to preach in every pulpit of their district – faithful, judicious, lively preachers, who may go from parish to parish, and thus carry life into many a dead corner?”.

I don’t care two hoots about the sensitivities of the Church of Scotland (or indeed the Free Church or others – because we too can be a hinderance).  I care about the people in Scotland who have never heard the Gospel – in many cases BECAUSE of the C of S.   (and again I add the rider here that this is not true of all C of S’s – there is good work being done in some – work which we must support and encourage – I think for example of Downfield C of S in Dundee – now one of the liveliest and most fruitful churches – unless Presbytery gets in the way!).

Screenshot 2018-11-29 at 17.04.57

Charismatics can be just as bad.   But instead of the parish system they have the ‘apostolic’ system.  I think of one man who came to plant a new church and was doing rather well.  He was summoned by two of the established charismatic leaders in the city and told he was to come under their ‘apostolic’ authority!   Pettiness, politics and parochialism is not just for Presbyterians – although we are very good at it!  But our charismatic brothers and sisters can teach us a thing or two.

Presbyterian Independency – When I began ministry in Scotland we had too many Presbyterian churches.  There was far too often the ridiculous sight of small Highland villages having not one, not two, not three but four small Presbyterian churches, all preaching the same Gospel, all holding to the same Confession of Faith.  Now over 30 years later we have less Christians and more Presbyterians denominations – the APC, the FCC, the IPC and now the Didasko Fellowship (which although it is not a ‘denomination’ officially still has its own presbytery and acts as one).  This time the divisions are not in Highland villages but in middle class areas of the cities and towns.  I can fully understand why people might not want to join the Free Church (historical suspicions, class snobbery and fear of Presbyterian bureaucracy) but I can’t understand setting up yet more denominations – it’s enough to turn one Catholic!   I am delighted that FIEC is growing and developing – so why can’t our independent Presbyterians just join with them, if it is too unpalatable to join one of the already established denominations?  The Free Church also needs to take a long hard look at ourselves – perhaps we are the primary reason for this lack of unity?  How welcoming have we been?  How open?  How defensive?

Free Church Pettiness – We are not free of any of the above.  In fact I think that there are systemic issues within the Free Church which will spread like a virus and kill us, unless we wake up, repent and deal with them.  Yes – again there are many good things ongoing but in my view there is a lack of coherent leadership and an unwillingness and inability to recognise the seriousness of the times in which we live – and our own poor state.  Owen speaks of the church officers that we not would decay in gifts and graces and would do our duty.  I think that applies to all of us.

Time does not permit me to tell of the Baptists, Scottish Episcopalians (with their own splits and compromises); the Pentecostals, Catholics or Independents.  But let me put it simply – none of us is in a healthy state.  Of course there are many individual situations for which we can be thankful and at times I feel there is a stirring and something in the air – which hints at better days.  But for that to happen we need to heed Owens call below:

Truly we have reasons to lift up our cry to God, that he would return and visit the churches, and pour out a new, fresh, reviving spirit upon them, that we fall not under the power of these decays till we come to formality, and God withdraws himself from us, and leave us; which he seems to be at the very point of doing.  Then brothers, let us remember our own church; that God would in an especial manner revive the spirit of life, power, and holiness among us”….

My fear is that we have swapped prayer and passion for politics and personalities.  I wrote about The Four Tribes of Evangelicalism  after the reaction to Bishop Curry’s non-sermon.  It depresses me that major magazines like Premier Christianity still portray Curry (he is on their front cover this month) and Steve Chalke as mainstream evangelicals – when their message is anti-Gospel.  When the trumpet blows an uncertain sound….

I realise that some reading this will feel it is overtly pessimistic and that I am just reverting out of frustration (and the dreich November weather) to my Jeremiah status.  I hope not (although Jeremiah was a good guy and was a prophet of the Lord!).   The biggest regrets I have had in my writings from the past is not that I have overstated the desperate nature of things, but rather that I have understated.  I am at a loss.  I don’t think strategies, re-organisation, mission statements, new techniques, more determination are the answer.   Nor do I absolve myself of responsibility – my own view is that the biggest problem in my own church is me.  Sometimes one’s own sin and inability overwhelm in such a way that if we did not believe in a God of grace and glory, we would give up.  But I do believe in Jesus.

Sometimes I am so desperate that the only thing I have left is prayer – but isn’t that where revival begins?  So tomorrow wherever you are – if you are a Christian – stop and cry to the Lord of Heaven and earth to have mercy and to pour out his Spirit on this dry and weary land.  As Owen ends his discourse….

“The Lord help us to know the plague of our own hearts, and to be enabled to plead with the Lord, upon this opportunity, for grace and mercy to help us in our time of need” 

The Rise of Civic Christianity and the Collapse of the Church – The October Record Editorial

Ps.  My biggest fear in writing this is that people will read it, identify their own tribe, perceive that it is being attacked…and take offence.  How can we ever repent with such sensitivities and attitudes?  I don’t mean to cause offence – but have we really reached a stage in the evangelical church where because we fear causing offence, nothing can be said?

PPS.  The verse that prompted me to write this was 1 Peter 4:17 “ For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

 

13 thoughts on “Pray for the Church – Why We Should Be Concerned About the Sins of the Church

  1. Fully agree with your analysis. I pray, on a daily basis, for Scotland and the rest of the UK, that the Lord would have mercy on a nation that has moved so far away from Him. I pray for evangelicals in the CoS (in which denomination I was ordained, although I demitted status a long tome ago!) that none would remain in this apostate denomination, out with God’s will and purpose for them as individuals. I pray that those who, like yourself, have such a public platform, will be protected, strengthened, and inspired.

    Blessings, and shalom.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting article, thank you. As a C of S minister who is about to take up my first parish, which is in one of the inner city schemes to which you refer, I’ll happily work with any other denomination or group which will further the spread of the Gospel. Certainly not bound by protecting the denominational status quo in the manner suggested above! Having said that, it works both ways; I know of one area where an independent church plant came along and declared themselves to be the only Gospel witness in the locality, which was certainly not the case! 20 schemes and other new church initiatives will find most evangelicals only too happy to work with them provided they build on existing good work being done in the area.

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  3. I should mention I don’t know about the others, but the IPC is definitively not a Scottish Presbyterian denomination (I know as I go to the York one). Most of its Churches are in England . There are 4 in Scotland (I think), all former CoS churches. The way that you’ve described it implies these churches founded their own denomination, they didn’t, they joined an established presbytry.

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    1. Thanks – I was referring to the situation in Scotland – and whilst I appreciate the work of IPC I still think that it is not a good idea to have yet another Presbyterian denomination in Scotland….I suspect there will be more….(the Americans, the Koreans and others may soon get involved – and they will all be ‘established Presbyteries’….as I say I don’t really care about the denomination – it just strikes me as incongruous and disappointing.

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      1. I do understand the desire to only have one Presbytry, but did not Jesus say “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50)? The IPCs focus is on England in terms of church planting , I know because I know the guy that heads the Church plant commitee. This is primarily because there are plenty of faithful Scottish Presbyterian Churches, so they don’t really need to plant more. With that said, I don’t think it’s helpful to become sectarian when a CoS church concedes that the state church is no longer really Christian and joins a Presbytry that is faithful.

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      2. Yes – and I don’t think nor have I ever said that the IPC are against us. One of the problems with Christians in the UK today is that we are far too sensitive about ourselves. When I say that I think infant baptism is fine, it does not mean that I regard Baptists as the enemy! We don’t need one presbytery – we need lots of them….but do we need yet another Presbyterian denomination? There is a difference…

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  4. The church in Scotland can learn so much from the church outside of Scotland – so many, many churches in other parts of the UK are doing better than we are at communicating the gospel in word and deed to those outside the church. And yes we lack zeal – I was completely humbled to hear of the programme for advent reflection and worship running in an English friend’s church – a Catholic church. Are we all willing to ask, what can we do better? What can we do differently? Thank you for the call to pray!

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  5. Doug Wilson has a great line that because things are so bad and because humanly speaking there is no hope then we should be twice as expectant of God answering our cries.

    If we are at ours wits end, and we should be, and prayer is all that is left, we should be encouraged that this is often when God delivers.

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  6. Prayer is our only weapon – quite right – how else are we to pour out our repentance and our concern to God, to know God is everything and the chief thing to communicate with Him is through prayer. There is no other way, no silver bullet apart from prayer. Reading those Owen quotes allows us that things haven’t changed. I once read “the art of man-fishing” by Thomas Boston, it says largely the same, written not so long after the Owen writings. They all point us to repentance and a true gospel knowledge, how shamed I am to say I’m so ignorant of it, of both those things, of prayer, of the bible; but I know that the more I leave off it, the more God presses on my conscience to the point that I won’t leave off it as the shame gets too much and nothing can prevent opening up His word. And then he pours his warnings, his pleadings and his hope and fulfilment through Jesus, my only hope is that a drop of that will continue to percolate through the hard heart and water the seeds planted somewhere. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like that but we are the problem, those of us who are like that. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves and we need to be open to those drops of blood because that’s what they are, off that cross 2000 years ago. Resist the devil and he will flee. Too often we don’t resist him, either we don’t recognise him or if we do, he is subtle and seductive and we fall for him and his schemes. We need – I need – to be brutally honest as one day it will be too late, none of us know the time or date when we (I) will be recalled to give an account of what has been done here. It’s too horrible, so if we really do believe, let us pray that God will use us and protect us from the accuser, to live in His power. And to follow what the bible tells us to do, to act it out for real. I think then we might turn a corner in all this.

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  7. David, my brother, I keep thinking how ironical it is that a high(ish) Anglican like me, who doesn’t agree with any of the five points of TULIP, should have come to believe that the best current national Christian witness in Scotland is the FCoS!

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