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: https://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.