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External Threats Facing the Church
The church is comprised of both a human and a divine element. The church is divine in that it was founded by Jesus and purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). The church is a part of the eternal plan of God. Still, the church is made up of people and has a human aspect.
When Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, He was referencing the plan of God (Matt 16:18). Jesus going to the cross would not prevent Him from building the church He promised.
While there is no threat that can harm the divine side of the church, the human aspect of the church should be warned against ruin. There are threats to the people of God that can hamper our faithfulness, and we should be on guard against them.
The church cannot be stripped of any of the power that God provides for her, but she can surrender it. The word translated “worldly” appears twice in the New Testament (Titus 2:12; Heb 9:1). Worldliness means “mundane” or having the character of this present corrupt age. In Titus 2:12 Christians are reminded that the grace extended to us in Christ should be the motivating factor in rejecting worldliness and ungodliness.
The church should be on guard against becoming like the world in ways that compromise our distinct identity. We do not need to reject relevance, but we should refuse to forfeit godliness to become more like those we are trying to reach.
Jesus spent time with sinners to reach them, but He did not adopt sinful practices to fit in with them (Luke 15:1-2). The church must engage with people from various walks of life and, in loving kindness, invite them to enjoy the grace of God which will lift them to His righteous standard.
We should not lower the standard of God’s righteousness to make our claim more appealing. The way that we talk, dress, and think must not be conformed to the world, but transformed as our minds have been renewed by God’s word.
Worldliness affects the church in subtle ways. Many congregations of the Lord’s people never intend to become worldly. As Christians, we should be mindful of what we laugh at and are entertained by. We should not find enjoyment in the same things that sent Jesus to the cross (Eph 5:2-6).
Our mission is to win the world for Christ, not to be won over by the world. If the church begins to look more like the world, we should not be surprised when the world rejects our offer of salvation. If what we offer looks like what they already have, there is no need to give anything up.
Sin destroys every life it enters (Jas 1:14-15). The life of the church is no different. The church needs to maintain a vigorous opposition to sin. We must inform the world about their sin while also not tolerating it among ourselves. Paul warned the Corinthians that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor 5:6).
The influence of accepted and tolerated sin is far-reaching in the damage it can cause God’s people. Sin is not something that comes from within the church. No one comes into the church with sin (cf. Acts 2:47). Sin is brought into the church from the outside. We must hold one another accountable and not allow sin to go unchecked within the body of Christ.
Christians should be against prejudice and the ostracizing of any in society, as such is contrary to the faith we possess (Jas 2:1). Those who are guilty of such behavior should be corrected and we should not make excuses for their behavior (Gal 2:11-14). When Christians are rude, sarcastic, and condescending toward others, we cannot excuse these attitudes as merely being a part of one’s personality.
While none of us are sinless, we must fight against the temptation of making sin acceptable. The church is a place where God places the redeemed so they might be encouraged and uplifted on their way toward heaven.
Church discipline is instituted by God to keep the church pure. In fact, the first person to exercise church discipline was God himself (Acts 5:1-11). Church discipline does not serve the purpose of kicking anyone out of the church, but to keep the church from being destroyed from the inside out. Church discipline says to those who live in habitual, unrepentant sin that we are standing with God and we will not support you as you throw your soul away (cf. 2 Thess 3:14-15).
Church discipline should not be practiced hastily, but it also should not be refrained from altogether either. The church has been described as a hospital for sinners and not a museum for the saints. However, the church must never become a museum for sinners either. God has cleansed our sins with the blood of his Son and we should not return to sin and trample his grace.
There is nothing joyous about the fact that there are false teachers in the world, but we must accept it as a reality (2 Pet 2:1). The church can be destroyed by false doctrine if it is not taught against and the truth is not defended.
Christians must be acquainted with their Bibles so that they are not carried away with every new idea some theologian dreams up and puts in a devotional book. The Bible provides all that we need to be pleasing to God, it is the book that is given to us by God and we need to use it in protecting ourselves against the myriad of false ideas in the religious world.
Congregations that are overrun with error usually do not start out that way. Normally, some doctrine is taught that is unfamiliar and unbiblical, no one says anything, and then before you know it the congregation is led apostasy.
False doctrine can be kept from hurting the church by testing the things that we hear and holding on to the truth that we have (1 Thess 5:21-22; 1 John 4:1). False doctrine always promises more liberty than it can deliver. May Christians never view truth as imprisoning them or keeping them from having fun.
The truth, when taught properly, is the most liberating thing on earth (John 8:31-32). If the church would refrain from being corrupted by the external threat of false doctrine, it would need to become familiar with the truth so that falsehood is easily identified. When it comes to how individuals are saved, how we are to worship God, and the nature of the church, the Bible is clear. Let us continue to speak the truth without fear.
There is nothing that can destroy the church of Christ if we walk in line with God (Rom 8:38-39). There will always be threats to the church, but if we remain vigilant and clothed in the armor of God we will not be overcome. God has equipped us with what we need to be successful and we should use the resources he has provided wisely.
A love for God that rejects worldliness, a knowledge of the reality of sin and its consequences, and a love for truth that withstands false doctrine will keep the church from succumbing to these external threats.