The Church Today: Still Against the Tide? – Part 1

Winrich Scheffbuch

The Church is in danger. Not from the outside but from the inside. What can we do against this as individual believers?

All watchful people today know that our time is a terrible time with decadent lifestyles. “O tempora o mores!” cried Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher. This translates, “Oh the times!” He was talking about the spirit of the times, the modern lifestyle and the lack of morals in his time. But only the Word of God reveals to us the whole misery: from the first days of the world, this terrible plight lies over the earth, so that God regretted having made man (cf. Genesis 6:5-6). Today, it is as in the days of Noah, even like the time of Sodom and Babylon. “Jehovah, I scorn thee from now on. I am the king of Babylon!” (Heinrich Heine). Modern man today wants to live his life without God. “I’m right and afraid of nobody” is the creed of our day.

This is why Jesus said in His end-times speech, that it is not wars, famines, revolutions, trouble or persecution of the Church that are the biggest danger in the future, but the threat to the Church through seduction (Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 24).

Christianity is threatened, not by enemies from the outside, but the worst deception comes from the midst of the Church. Deception is something terrible. Christ said to His disciples, “It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:1-2).

Today, we are experiencing the worst crisis of Christianity since the Reformation. The cracks and polarization go through churches, communities, even families. Christians with no faith are a much greater danger than great persecution of Christians. Paul warned the Christians in Ephesus at his departure from Milet, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).

This is all very dramatic. In the Church, lawlessness is increasing. God’s good rules are questioned. Whoever lives according to God’s will becomes more and more an outsider, a fundamentalist. “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:17); that is, because of Jesus. Lawlessness will increase deep into the Church. God’s good rules are being abolished.

Many people say: Jesus Himself said we should not remove the tares from the wheat (Matthew 13:29-30). No: Jesus said this about the world, not the Church (Matthew 13:38). The field is the world, and everything grows together until the judgment; but in the Church, Jesus Christ wants faithfulness and obedience to His Word. Others say, we must keep up with the times—not be hopelessly old-fashioned and backward! But things progress more and more, namely away from God and His rules.

The worst thing that can happen is that Christianity wastes this treasure, her eternal salvation, and throws it away. This has been the case throughout the centuries, and will be till the end of the world.

We can well understand how the young coworker of Paul, Timothy, was afraid; how should he be a messenger of the Gospel? It is also like this for us when we are confronted by the great host of unbelievers and mockers. Timothy was physically weak and was unable to eat at times, but here Paul encourages him, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). How does this function? Through grace. Jesus Christ is strong. “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Jesus Christ wants to make Christians out of sinners today, even in the troubled times we are living in. He abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. He has given you who believe His Holy Spirit, who turns fear into strength, love and discipline. We need this particularly today.

It is the call of Jesus our Savior, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40). A complete conversion, first in ourselves and then in our preaching, is what is needed. We do not need a religious lecture, but a passionate call to repentance in our churches. Our hearts are darkened, defiant and despondent—deceived by so much evil and deception (cf. Jeremiah 17:9).

This is why Paul tells Timothy what is so dangerous today, “This know also…” (2 Timothy 3:1). Paul wanted to make Timothy (and us) strong and resilient.

What is so dangerous then about our time? “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1). When will this be? We are interested in knowing when the last days begin. When the Bible speaks about the last days, it always means the time since the coming of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 9:26). The last days began with Him. The letter to the Hebrews says, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Peter speaks similarly in his speech at the feast of Pentecost, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17). Of this prophecy by the prophet Joel, Peter said: This has been fulfilled. The last days are now (Acts 2:14-17).

The perilous times are today (Ephesians 5:16). They have been taking place for almost 2,000 years. And they are continuing. It is the time of lawlessness, which is increasing more and more.

The bad thing about the perilous times is that they directly affect disciples of Jesus and cause much tension. We are children of our time. We are torn and unsure. The perilous times block us also. That is why the Word of God speaks quite differently about the current times. Be careful, Timothy! The spirits of the times are powers that want to rule your head and your heart (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-16). We can hardly escape from these powers.

First, Paul speaks in his letter to Timothy of love (2 Timothy 3:2-3). A perverse form of love is widespread today. It is cold, twisted, upside down: self-love or egoism, where we assert ourselves because we have to prevail. It also speaks of the love of money. This is not real love, however, but an evil and sinister addiction and greed.

That is why it is so important that we examine ourselves before God’s incorruptible verdict: am I in the right? Do I conform to the image of God, or am I influenced by an evil and perverse time? Do I speak boastfully with a loud mouth and overbearing comments, which are not backed up with convincing deeds? We evangelicals! We are a super church, growing and with all nice people—rather, we are haughty, rude, hard and proud, so that we spit on others.

Then come the tensions of generations, as they are represented in the family. How these conflicts are carried on in our churches! “Lovers of [our] own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4). But also loveless, without feelings or heart. Godless. These are honorary titles today in our society. Nothing is holy. Many families break apart.

And then come all manner of descriptions of how we can get out of being together. “Irreconcilable.” From this comes a terrible isolation. We burn all our bridges behind us. “Slanderous.” How easily speaking evil of others comes over our lips! “Unscrupulous, unbridled.” Brutal, wild, unkind. This means, not lovers of good, of virtue, of humanity. “Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”  Only what is fun is accepted. Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

It is disobedience toward God when we live according to the lifestyle of this world, ruled by the mighty one who lives in the air; namely, the spirit that is at work in this world (Ephesians 2:1-3). This “spirit of the times” has an unimaginable power. It employs plausible arguments. We must examine ourselves; am I a product of the times, or has Jesus Christ delivered me from this present evil world through the Gospel of the cross? There Jesus, the Son of God, bore all my sins, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). 

This is why Paul warns Timothy of a mere outward Christianity, with nothing behind it. It troubles me greatly how we can all play the part pro forma. It is like a shirt that we put on over our other clothes. That is why it is so important that God looks behind our façade and examines us.

How can you want to be a Christian without God examining you? “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). This is also why the prophets say so clearly, “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean: put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes: cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:14-17).

Is our faith only an act: empty, meaningless actions? Is it a bluff, an appearance, a deception? Or does it have a powerful impact? Personal repentance and then prayer are what is necessary.

Midnight Call - 01/2018

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