When the Church Becomes a Dangerous Place To Be In

Because we live in such a topsy-turvy world, we can’t count on anything always being safe, or be assured of any unchanging verities. In a world turned upside-down, virtues overnight become vices, while vices morph into virtues. The war on truth, morality and faith has ensured that we can’t really take anything for granted anymore.

Consider the mother’s womb. By all accounts this should be the safest place on earth. But for 45 to 50 million babies every year, this has become the most violent and deadly place on earth. How we have managed to convince mothers that it is perfectly acceptable to kill their own children in the womb is simply mind-boggling.

But decades, nay, centuries of moral relativism, the war on truth, and radical social engineering have brought forth its ugly fruit. Now we can euphemistically refer to such baby-killing as a woman’s right to choose. And those who seek to defend the innocent are decried as judgmental and interfering.

Another increasingly dangerous place is the so-called free West. For centuries people from all over the world sought to escape their tyrannical hell-holes to enjoy Western freedoms and democracy. They risked everything to escape their oppressive homelands to come to the West.

But today it is getting quite unsafe and risky for those who seek to uphold common sense, moral absolutes, biblical truths, and family values. Today all over the West if a person dares to read from the Bible, state that marriage is between a man and a woman, or speak in public about something like homosexuality, there are all sorts of nasty repercussions.

You will be accused of “hate speech,” dragged before law courts, fired from your job, fined, incarcerated, and so on. It is getting very risky indeed to simply speak your mind in public, or dare to follow your conscience in the public arena. The free West is becoming less and less free each passing day.

But let me speak about one more place which you would have thought would be a very safe and secure environment. I refer to Christian churches, mainly in the West. Churches which are supposed to be preaching the gospel, upholding biblical standards, and championing theological orthodoxy are becoming less predominant nowadays.

Not just churches but entire denominations are being derailed, shot down with false doctrine, immoral lifestyles, and worldly compromise. While we can all identify some obvious suspects here, such as the mainline liberal denominations, unfortunately that is not who I really have in mind.

I am instead referring to what are supposed to be conservative Bible-believing churches. Evangelical churches, Pentecostal churches, charismatic churches – none seem immune for shipwrecking or abandoning the faith. I have documented plenty of examples of this both in Australia and overseas.

Many churches today are in fact teaching doctrines of demons. False teachings abound, and many of the flock seem too biblically illiterate or undiscerning to even know what is happening. They seem to have forgotten all about what the “noble Bereans” did who searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was saying was true (Acts 17:11).

Few church members seem to actually compare what their leaders are telling them with the Word of God. Indeed, few church members even bring their Bibles to church anymore. And often the Bible is not even being taught in our churches, but feel good stories or appeals to various trendy activist causes instead predominate.

And those who are aware of real problems and dare to speak out are quickly pushed aside and accused of being divisive, unloving, and troublemakers. Of course I am not talking about those who just want to cause trouble or who never seem to want to fit in, but about those offering legitimate thoughts and sharing genuine concerns about where a church is heading. Far too often these folks are not given the time of day, and are often forced to leave.

There are plenty of examples of this kind of thing, and plenty of reasons for it all. The world, the flesh, and the devil are all constant temptations, and plenty of church leaders and whole churches get sucked into these deadly pits. But sadly the causes are not always so overt or obvious.

One of the biggest reasons why churches become decidedly unsafe places to be in is when the fear of God gets replaced by a fear of man. When leaders and followers lose the fear of God and instead worry about what people think, they are well on their way to spiritual ruin.

When men-pleasing becomes an obsession, and the idea of pleasing God alone is forgotten, then you have a recipe for disaster. Far too many church leaders are caught up in the applause of men, and seem to care little for heavenly approval.

Of course the desire to become famous, rich and powerful has always been a snare of the enemy. It has worked on countless non-Christians, so why shouldn’t it also work very well on believers? The Scriptures clearly warn against all this time and time again.

But sadly far too many leaders get sucked into it, and then it becomes very hard to get out of it. Indeed, other leaders join in with these fellows, and they end up becoming a protective group, covering each other’s backs and making excuses for one another.

They seem more intent on protecting their turf and their riches than they are on being faithful to Christ and his word. There are just so many warnings in Scripture about all this, that it is incomprehensible that so many can just not see this, as they rush headlong into their own doom.

And sadly many congregations seem to lap all this up as well. One of the strongest rebukes in the Old Testament is found in Jeremiah 5:31: “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?”

Jesus too spoke strong words of warning about this, as in Luke 6:26: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their father to the false prophets.” Or as Paul cautioned in Galatians 1:10: “Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

And the New Testament offers so many tragic examples of leaders or lay people who have given up the faith or betrayed it for various reasons. The warnings in the NT are as numerous as they are ominous. We dare not take them lightly, or worse yet, ignore them altogether.

So what happens when a church goes bad? What happens when Christian leaders go off the rails? What should the loyal follower of Christ do in such situations? These important questions cannot be fully explored here, but I have dealt with these issues elsewhere:  billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/03/when-churches-go-bad/

The truth is, Satan and his hordes are picking off pastors and leaders all over the place. They are succumbing to moral failure, doctrinal error, and worldly ambitions. They are compromising, selling out, and denying their Lord. Of course we expect the enemy to concentrate his heaviest spiritual artillery on Christian leaders.

That is why they so very much need our prayers, our intercession, our encouragement, and our support. But because we have so often failed in this regard, we are seeing our leaders so often fail. And because of this, many churches today are becoming very unsafe places indeed.

Peter said judgment must first begin in the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). It is not a moment too soon for all of us to engage in some spiritual stock-taking. The stakes are too high and the lost are too many for us to allow ourselves to become yet another church casualty, yet another unsafe church.

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19 Replies to “When the Church Becomes a Dangerous Place To Be In”

  1. I can relate 100% to what you write, Bill. You gain no additional friends trying to swing against the tide of church opinion when it comes time to vote on constitutional issues.
    Steve Swartz

  2. I agree with you absolutely Bill and that is why it is important for us not only to diagnose but to prescribe the remedy. All that is happening is dovetailing toward the apostasy and the persecution that have been forewarned by the Bible.

    The problem is not only in the West but in Asia among churches that suffer from the same Western sickness of smugness and heresy.

    Problems are opportunities and while it is easy to fret at the malaise the solution is to return to the basics – prayer and evangelism.

    Christians should leave their lukewarm and apostate churches and form new groups that will stay true to the Gospel. I refuse to go through the motions of church-attendance and be turned into another statistic.

    Those who understand the times with knowledge of what they should do should with apostolic zeal go out and do what Jesus did. LIke Shamgar they can do with what they have and where they are and God will do the rest.

    For where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them. Form small groups, pray, evangelis and soon a faithful church will be born.

    Why did Jesus say two or three? That is the quorum needed for the foundation of His Church. Change your church or your church will change you.

    Steve Oh

  3. Steve Oh, you mention:

    “For where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them. Form small groups, pray, evangelis and soon a faithful church will be born.”

    I take it the reference is to Matthew 18:20. Do I understand you correctly in that you are saying this is the biblical backing for starting up small groups to pray and evangelise?

    Also you offer a suggestion as to why Jesus said 2 or 3 and that this is what’s needed for a quorum. From my understanding, the Matthew 18 passage is referring to church discipline and to place the 18:20 verse in it’s context, one needs to go back to verse 15 of that chapter. We see in verse 16, Jesus is saying that 2 or 3 witnesses are needed to establish the truth of the claim against the person who has sinned against you.

    I would think, given the quote comes from a passage about church discipline, then Jesus is using the established law in Deuteronomy 19:15 talking about witnesses. My bible has this verse as “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

    What do you think?

    David Gee

  4. “Not just churches but entire denominations are being derailed, shot down with false doctrine, immoral lifestyles, and worldly compromise. While we can all identify some obvious suspects here, such as the mainline liberal denominations, unfortunately that is not who I really have in mind.

    I am instead referring to what are supposed to be conservative Bible-believing churches. ”

    It’s easy to forget that every liberal church was once upon a time a conservative Bible-believing church.

    Jereth Kok

  5. What you have said is true Bill, and echos how I feel.
    ‘Christianity’ has become a badge to wear, something we use to identify our own prowess; we have become the god of our lives.
    Jesus said “Why do you call Me good, there is only One Who is good, The Father God in Heaven.”
    Such an attitude is rare in the church, as we applaud our own selves.
    We are forgetting God; we are mindful of the church that bears His Name, but we are forgetting God, His Word, and His purpose.
    David Cole, England

  6. Bill, would you please comment on the ‘Toronto Blessing.’

    I sincerely believe it to be the “powerful deception sent (permitted) by God.” 2 THESS 2.

    I also believe the “northern army” of Joel, could well be North America (America, Canada).

    I was involved with a TB fellowship for five years, and have been warning people about the TB for the last fifteen years.

    David Cole, England

  7. Re few church members bringing their Bible to church anymore – 7 or 8 years ago I was on holiday and attended the nearest church for Sunday worship which turned out to be a large congregation of around 200 people. When the Scriptures were read, the silence was broken as I turned the pages of my Bible to follow the readings. I looked around to see everyone looking at me, as if having a Bible at a church service was a novelty. After the service over a cup of tea, I looked carefully to see if anyone else was carrying a Bible but saw none.

    The scriptures were presented electronically on a screen during the service, but there had been some obvious changes to alter the meaning – but obvious only to me as I had my Bible with me.

    Our enemy is very subtle indeed, as churches produce more and more scriptural illiteracy with Christians not comparing what is said/presented with what is truly written. I wonder how such Christians will stand in the time of testing when it comes. I think often of the persecuted church who don’t have enough Bibles to go around but have memorized many lengthy passages and chapters because of their love for the word…and there are so many accounts of those who have been sustained by this in times of trial.

    Kerry Letheby

  8. For many, sadly, the weekly church is a social and entertainment happy hour.
    Where is the Bible taken and opened and read at church? Where is Bible truth taught and leaders who lead by example?
    Where are the churches declairing the whole counsel of God? The truth is found in God’s Word, not in human emotion.
    Judith Bond

  9. Yes, Bill, you are quite right by saying one of core reasons for apostasy is the loss of the fear of God being replaced by a fear of man. When this happens there is also a true and deep loss of reality, leading to the likelihood of living for the ‘now’, when eternity awaits us. The latter perspective, as we know, is what has sustained the true disciples of Jesus over the centuries against a myriad of adversities – even upon death.
    Trevor Grace

  10. To Steve Oh, you mention a very interesting and thought pondering comment – “I refuse to go through the motions of church-attendance and be turned into another statistic.” I am not a “regular” church service attendee but I am very much involved in my church in behind the scenes ministries, I am one person who would be looked upon as not being serious about the faith because of my church “attendance”. I often wonder how many people who go to church religiously really belong to the Lord.
    Steve Davis

  11. Well in our church we have a choice. You can take your own Bible or use the pew one and then you are given page number as well as reference. It may make us lazy but it means visitors need not be embarrassed if they don’t know the order of the books. Actually large churches seem to display it on the overhead. I’m ambivalent about that. It is easy but doesn’t encourage people to get used to finding the passage. I liked a friend’s comment years ago. (I suspect she had only had primary school education in a mission school). “I do like Mr F’s preaching because he preaches from a passage so I can go home and check up on him.” The preacher was delighted that one of the congregation was interested enough to check up. Perhaps more “checking up” by the congregation would be a good idea.

    Katherine Fishley

  12. In reply to David Gee – I wrote in the context of evangelism and taking the teaching of the Lord on Matt 18:20. The point is if two or three people gather in his name then Jesus is in their presence. Yes it is as you say, the starting point for anyone to start something new – especially in a pioneering situation. In fact you can even start a church with yourself if no one else is able to join you. It is not the only model but one used by many who have founded whole denominations eg John Wesley who founded the Methodist church in a dangerous place.

    I have founded a church on my own and joined by other helpers. We should not be restricted by the model eg having a church send you, when we are told to evangelise. The ideal Biblical pattern is not always the available model. Eg William Carey.

    If you look at Matt 18:20 it is no longer talking about human witnesses anymore but moved on to the promise of God to be in the midst of Christians when they are in unity.

    The original Bible has no chapters and sub-headings so while contextualization and cross-referencing are part of sound hermeneutics, a verse can stand on its own when it speaks of some cardinal truth and to be taken literally.

    Steve Davis – It is commendable that you belong to a church and play a role albeit behind the scenes. Hebrews 10:24,25 is a reminder to meet with other Christians. But for what? To stir up one another to love and good works. Is the church doing that? Don’t feel guilty if you don’t attend church regularly as long as you spend time with God and read and pray every day as part of your lifestyle. But it is important to have a fellowship you belong to who can help you and whom you can help.

    Rather than go to a church and be turned into a churchgoer instead of a disciple of Christ I’d rather look for some like-minded Christians and start something new for God in reaching out to the unsaved or join another church that is serious about the Great Commission instead of simply going through the motions of churchgoing and being involved in activities that have no direct impact for the Kingdom of God.

    Churches are better at making spectators out of their members than disciples and this calls for vigilance and in not being turned lukewarm through association. It is a problem many earnest Christians face – in not finding a church that is serious about the Great Commission often left to some mission department or ‘those interested’ when Jesus taught ‘total mobilization’ of all his followers.

    Acts 5:42 shows how serious the first Christians were in meeting with one another and evangelising house to house. I weep when Christians say they don’t do door to door evangelism because Jehovah’s Witnesses do it and it is not the Australian way. Really? But is it the Jesus Way?

    I was in London in 1978 and my English friends told me it was not the English way to talk to strangers. So I took a month off work and did talk to strangers on the streets and led 12 people to Christ. All of them fair dinkum Englishmen from a businessman to a Hell’s Angels member. I mention this to dispel the cultural notions that stand in the way of evangelism.

    Change your church to conform to God’s way or the church will change you to conform to their way and if it is God’s way fine but if not then indeed you are in a dangerous place.

    Steve Oh

  13. Thanks Steve Oh, I have actually drawn great encouragement from your comments, sorry if I was a bit vague on the meeting with other Christians, I do that as well but it is not in the sense of being “regular” if that explains it, but I do meet with and communicate with them, as an example, I helped a guy in our congregation with a resume for his wife, she got a great job out of it and I keep in touch with them occasionally to see how they are going, so I suppose that is a form of meeting but not necessarily face to face. Keep up your great work mate, you seem to be doing plenty of it.
    Steve Davis

  14. In light of Acts 17 – the Bereans checking the Scriptures daily to see if “these things were so,” really reverses the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ stance at least in regards to church life. I tend to view most churches as guilty until proven innocent – in the Berean biblical sense.

    Too many professing believers are tolerant and accepting unless there is some radical heresy or compromise, and even then, it is treated as a light issue. In these days of blackness and darkness, the moderate and mediocre attitude of professing believers must be dropped into the trash can – and a serious Berean examination picked up.

    Reformation is not enough. We need a total restoration of primitive Christianity. It will cost the denominations much. It will mean ministers play rough. But whatever it means – it is imperative that the remnant remaining makes sure they are doing more than social commentating, we must be practically engaging and making warfare against apostasy.

    Jude 3 “CONTEND.” Greek meaning “WAGE WAR.” Why? “For the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Some have sold their faith for their denomination or local church membership, but I never will as long as I live.

    Forbes Morrison

  15. Steve Oh – thanks for following up.

    I guess I don’t see the moving on part like you do.

    That leaves me wondering then if Jesus is with us when 2 or 3 gather in his name, where is he when you pray alone?

    David Gee

  16. Forbes Morrison – you are so right!

    It is not that we are to have evil suspicions of people, we are not to do that, but we must respect Scripture, and Jesus Himself as ‘The Word of God made flesh,’ – as our ONLY TEACHER – there is only One Truth, and yet there are now apparantly some 30,000 different ‘Christian’ denominations to choose from.

    The True Christian doctrine is a short, and simple Truth; and revolves around acts of great simplicity, empowered by sincere love, yet this Truth is all but smothered, and hidden from us by our own pomp and ceremony, our own doctrines.

    If we only understood that Jesus gave His Own Life to make it possible for us to be baptized, and if we understood baptism, both water, and Spirit, we would then understand what God has chosen to do, and has indeed done, but also the part we must play to participate in God’s plan of redemption.

    Sadly, there is much greater respect for Ministers, and Denominations, than there is for God, and His Truth.

    God knows His Own. Who are the chosen, but those who choose God, Who are the elect, but those who elect God.
    God is looking for a people who choose to love Him, in spirit, and in truth.

    LUKE 12 v 49 – 53. MATTHEW 3 v 11 – 12. JOHN 14 v 15 – 20. ACTS 1 and 2. ACTS 10. ACTS 19 v 1 – 6. ROMANS 8 v 1 – 17. (JOHN 14 v 20). 2 CORINTHIANS 13 v 5 – 6. JOHN 3 v 1 – 21. GALATIANS 3 v 26 – 29. MATTHEW 22 v 1 – 14. MATTHEW 7 v 7 – 14.
    “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
    Do we really love Him?

    David Cole, England

  17. Totally agree with your informative, truthful and powerful,but gracious statements which have always been relevant from the beginning of the church’s birth. The shame of sharing CHRIST is real and the leaders must start to stand for our Lord’s truth, and then lukewarm and frightened CHRISTians will take big steps of faith, in standing against darkness. Was it not our dear Lord who stated, ” If you confess me to men, I will confess you to my father in heaven, and if you deny me to men I will deny you to my father in heaven, Matthew:10,32,33. Thank you Bill for you are a great encouragement to me.

    Francis James Colosimo

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