Many church fellowships are not experiencing growth. Indeed, I believe that many are experiencing decline. Although I am predominantly referencing churches in New Zealand, I feel the same is experienced in Australia and further afield.
I write this to follow on from our last post, “The Apple of His Eye”, where I made the comment that “unity with God’s people, Israel, is the key to revival and blessing at any level in the Church”.
I believe there are three fundamental problems that can be identified, where there is no growth. These three problems are interrelated. In a sense, they are each a symptom of the other. Address any one of them, and the others will tend to fall into place as a consequence.
The first problem concerns what is typically understood by the term “church growth”. The problem is, church growth is commonly measured in terms of numbers of people attending. I believe the numeric size of a congregation is simply one of the results of church growth. Genuine church growth, I define as the individual members growing in their relationship with Yeshua, their faith, and their commitment to holiness.
So, the first thing a church fellowship must do is take its focus off growth in numbers and place it on individual growth within its church members. How does it do this? Well, the answer is simple, yet profound. Growth within people comes from sound Biblical teaching from the pulpit, and in other church contexts, like home groups, children and youth ministries, and in the encouraging and facilitating of personal Bible study. It is all about God’s Word.
Down the track, one of the results will be growth in numbers. The word will get around in a community that something is happening in this church, that the people are somehow different. This will be attractive.
This effectively leads into the second and related problem. This is the problem we read of in 2 Peter 2: 1-2 (ESV):
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.
Yeshua warned of this in Matthew 24 as He spoke of the end times, the times I believe we now live in. False teachers deceive, not only with false doctrines, but also with subtle teachings that sound interesting and feel good. This is the sensuality Peter speaks of. Satan’s most effective weapon against the Church is not blatant evil. It is not the local witches’ coven or rationalist association that are the biggest threats to the church, because they are easily recognisable for their evil.
No, Satan’s most effective weapon is counterfeit – subtle, yet profound changes to the teaching of God’s Word. He couches this in terms of “interpretation” of God’s Word that seems to make sense for the 21st century. He convinces people that a new understanding is needed. But instead, he brings a false understanding that slowly but surely takes the people away from a reliance on the plain, literal, timeless and unchanging meaning of the Word of God. The warning of this is found in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 (KJV):
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
There are a number of subtle false teachings and deceptions pervading the Church today, which I don’t intend canvassing here, except for one – Replacement Theology. This introduces the third problem.
The deception of Replacement Theology (the teaching that the Church has replaced Israel) has seemed logical and even appropriate in the Church over a number of centuries. Eventually, it became firmly entrenched in the teaching in large parts of the Church. This is an anti-Christ teaching that, in reality, is the fundamental guiding principle behind the failure of the majority of local churches to openly acknowledge and regularly teach about God’s requirement for us to love and support His land and people, Israel. Even acknowledging the Feasts of the Lord, instead of calling them the “Feasts of Israel”, one would expect to be a normal part of the Church. But, alas, it’s not.
We could write a book setting out the many Biblical injunctions and reasons why the Church should be constantly acknowledging, praying for and supporting the nation of Israel. Indeed, such books have been written! However, for our purposes today, we need only to remind ourselves of three Scriptures.
The first, in the words of Yeshua Himself, tells us that we owe our salvation to the Jews – John 4:22b (ESV): …. for salvation is from the Jews.
A second Scripture shows us how important the nation of Israel is to our God – Romans 1:16 (KJV):
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. [Gentile][Emphasis added].
A third Scripture makes it plain that the Lord has never changed His mind about Israel. He has never abandoned Israel and given her place in His heart to the Church because of Israel’s treatment of His Son, as Replacement Theology claims. Zechariah 2:8 (ESV) is a prophetic Scripture speaking of the Lord’s “view” of Israel. It applies to the days we live in now, as well as the days to come:
For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye.
“Apple of His eye” is a perfectly good translation of the Hebrew, but a literal translation is “pupil of His eye”. Somehow, this seems even more poignant – Israel is constantly and forever in the centre and the forefront of His view. This is why He says in Deuteronomy 11:12 (KJV):
A land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.
Israel is always front and centre of His view. Surely this must be the Godly view for the Church as well.
I believe the Scriptural route to church growth simply has to include a Biblically based treatment of God’s people, the Jews and His land, Israel. On another occasion we will consider what this route looks like. What does a church actually do to please God in this way, and so be assured of His blessing?