The evangelical church in America is a sad mess. Mega church pastors are being booted from their churches for undisclosed moral failures. Smaller churches are consumed with the with the temperature of the sanctuary, the color of the carpet, and the type of coffee being used. Church members repeatedly fill social media with a laundry list of complaints that reflect nothing other than petty selfishness.
And the moral dysfunction that stains and increasingly defines can easily be traced back to theological dysfunction. Most Christians know little to nothing about doctrine. They simply dress up the culture’s ideas in religious terminology. Seventy-six percent of practicing Christians believe that we find our selves from within and that we should not criticize the life choices of others. Seventy-two percent believe that happiness is found in pursing the things you desire most. And 61% believe that people can believe whatever they want as long as they do not try to influence society. And those that do hold to some form of meaningful religious actions often resemble the works-based faith of the Pharisees more than the of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though a majority of non-Christians know Christians, only 15% of non-Christians know Christians who have been positively changed by their faith.
Why is the church so messed up? Why is the church which follows the Bible which points to Jesus who came to cast out demons, to eat with sinners, to heal the sick, to calm storms, and to save the broken-hearted such a pathetic mess?
Many have heard the quote that, “The Church is not a resort for saints but a hospital for sinners.” While true in sentiment, the words do not fully explain why the church is such a wreck today. What does? The Scriptures!
In 2 Timothy, Paul seeks to encourage his son in the faith, Timothy, to preserver in his faith and in his ministry. The apostle reminds Timothy that a biblical ministry must be founded upon the gospel, upon avoiding worldly or false teaching, and upon correcting others in love. The more we read the words of Paul, the more encouraged we start to become. We begin to dream of church conferences based on 2 Timothy 2:14-22. We can do it! We can excel. And then we hit the “but” of 2 Timothy 3:1.
Often “but” is an encouraging word. Think of “But God” in Ephesians 2:4-5. But this “but” in 2 Timothy is not so encouraging. It shock us like those emergence service messages that briefly transform our phone into demonic. Warning! Warning! Paul writes,
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.
Difficult times are coming; they are here!
Yes our churches may be faithfully preaching the Word; they may be offering good biblical counsel; and,’ they may be filled with lovely people. But assets do not guarantee peace and rest. The church is under attack. The last days will be times of difficulty.
Now some of you might have breathed a deep breathe. After all no one has found the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene living in France, the illuminati has not taken over the Vatican, and the world is not controlled by a twisted version of the United Nations. The ends times do not seem to have taken place…yet.
However when Paul speaks of the last days, he is not speaking of the last day. He is not speaking of the time when the anti-Christ will arise and proclaim himself to be God setting in motion the tribulation and the beginning of the end (2 Thess. 2:1-4). Paul is speaking of an age. He is saying that nothing else has to happen before Christ comes back. The Messiah has come and died and been raised after three days. The end times, the last day can begin and any moment. The time is now.
And we know Paul thinks that he, Timothy, and us are living in the last days because verse five is written in the present tense, “Avoid such people.” Those people are here. The last days are here.
What does this mean? It means, we will have difficulty. It means the church of God is under attack. We do not have time for arguments about who get to sit where or about who gets to light the candles. The church needs to be fighting for doctrine and truth. The church needs to be walking through the world with her eyes open. John Calvin rightfully noted in 1564 that,
Paul means here in the Gospel there will not be any such state of perfection in which all vices are banished and every kind of virtue flourishes. Therefore pastors of the Christian church will have to deal with the ungodly and the wicked just as much as the prophets and godly priests of old did. It follows from this that this is not a time for idle repose.
She is under attack. False Christians are seeking to gain entrance into the church by, “having the appearance of godliness but denying its power.” Wicked men and women will claim Christ even though they live for anything and everything other than Christ. They are prideful, arrogant, greedy, unloving, and self-consumed. And they are set on destroying the church. Paul commands the church to, “Avoid such people.”
Sadly the church in America has done the opposite. We have welcomed unrepentant sinners into our congregations. We have looked the other way when wives divorced their husbands to pursue happiness, when men boasted more about their cars than the Lord, and when families devoted more of their time to tennis than to church. We did not avoid sinners and the unrepentant. We embraced them because they promised to increase our budget and attendance stats. And then, we asked them to lead Sunday school classes, to help with the deacon ministry, and to serve as elders. We allowed the wicked to remain in the church unchallenged and uncorrected. Consequently, our churches find themselves overrun by evil and directed by men and women who do not love the Lord.
The words of 1 Corinthians 5:5-7 are proving true,
Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
What do we do to correct to fix the church? We fight against evil. We avoid those who love themselves more than God. We avoid evil by defending the integrity of the Church.
First, we ask men and women to demonstrate their faith prior to joining the church. And we extend the loving embrace of fellowship only to those who can both articulate the gospel and point to the work of Christ in their life. We welcome the brother or sister who fights against drunkenness by confessing their sins and seeking accountability. We withhold membership from the woman who comes to church hungover every Sunday morning seeking to appease her conscience with some quality Jesus time. We do not offer cheap grace. Rather we call all to die to self and to embrace Christ as their Lord before entrance onto the membership roll.
Second, we call church members who sin to repent. We recognize that all believers struggle with sin. Paul is not telling us the weak or those battling sin. He is telling us to avoid those who are known for their sin and who cherish evil. He is telling us to avoid those who refuse to repent and who refuse to battle against pride, sexually immorality, and greed. We should discipline those who refuse to obey Christ. We warn them. We patiently call them to repentance. And then if all else has failed, we removed them from the church seeking to see them restored.
We are living in the last days. Evil men and women dressed in religiosity are coming your way? Will you avoid them?