Is your church following the Word and ways of the Lord and abhorring all that is otherwise? Is the fear of God, the love for truth and for God’s glory, and the desire to walk according to all God’s commandments prospering among the believers? When a church begins to slip it loses track of that which it must hold to firmly, it gradually and steadily drifts. Here are a few signs your church could be backsliding….
1.When [a] church begins to backslide, the first visible sign is usually an increase in worldliness. In everyday lives, in conversation, and even in dress and fashion, the spirit of the world begins to infest church circles. What crept ashamedly into the church before begins to walk in freely, often covered or overlooked instead of exposed and admonished. The black and white line separating godliness and worldliness becomes increasingly grayer.
Instead of walking in opposite directions, the world and the church begin to have more in common with each other, much to the church’s detriment…
…is this not what Hosea warned against when the Spirit directed him to write, “Ephraim hath mixed himself among the people” (Hos 7:8)? The sin of increasing worldliness is the church’s first downward and tragic step in the spiral of backsliding.
2.Worldliness bends the church towards further backsliding and into a hardening condition of unbelief. Jesus Himself complained of His generation, “But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented” (Mat 11:16-17).
Is this not a picture of the church today? If the funeral tune of the Law is preached, how many sinners are mourning? If the wedding tune of the Gospel is proclaimed, how many mourning sinners are brought to rejoicing? In general, we can say that the Law no longer seems to cause trembling, and the Gospel no longer seems to provoke jealousy….Could we confess, “I have become hardened to the Law and to the Gospel—I fear even to hell itself”?
Unbelief also makes us hardened to the truth.
3.Unbelief leads the church to backslide further into a hardened condition of indifference.It leads us to lose all concern for the truth. How many are truly concerned to hear true doctrine from the pulpit, to hear about death in Adam and life in Christ? Are we concerned about guarding the foundational doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility? Do we delight to hear both of them preached fully as they flow out of the biblical text being expounded?
We should desire to hear all the rich doctrines of Scripture preached in their fullness, all of which are grounded in the heart of the Gospel, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, as spokes are grounded in the hub of a wheel. Are we interested in the doctrines of God’s never-ending love and full redemption through the blood of Christ?
4.Indifference produces its close companion on the road of backsliding: ignorance. When we look back to Edwards, Whitefield, Owen, Bunyan, and dozens more of our forefathers and consider that their sermons were understood by the common people, we must fear that what the Lord said of Israel is also true of the church today: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6).
5.Spiritual and intellectual ignorance of the truth leads to the fatal plague of spiritual deadness in the church. God’s people must begin with themselves. What happened to the times when people were often weekly moved, shaken, and convicted by the Lord? Should they not confess today, “Oh, that it could happen once a month or once a year”? Where are the active, current exercises of spiritual life? “Oh,” they confess, “It is so dead! And the rest is all spoiled manna.”
6.Spiritual deadness bends backsliding into man-centeredness. If man is the center of the church, man becomes the subject of all talk, either idolized or criticized, and God and His Word are set aside. Conversation centering on office-bearers and ministers multiplies, and we judge others. One minister is good; another, fair; a third, not good at all. We live in a day when ministers are evaluated according to man-made scales, rather than the divine scales of God’s Word and testimony….Man-centeredness is an awful curse on the church, a dreadful blasphemy of God’s Name, the fruit of spiritual deadness, and a sure guarantee for no personal blessing unless the Lord breaks it down! This is clearly illustrated by the story of a woman who received a blessing under the first sermon she heard by Ebenezer Erskine…she traveled many miles to hear him again, but received no blessing. Erskine received the grace and wisdom to reply, “Woman, that is easy to explain. Yesterday you came to hear the Word of Jesus Christ, and today you came to hear the words of Ebenezer Erskine.”
7.This brings us to the last step of a backsliding church: man-centeredness yields the fruit of an unholy or no holy expectation from God.Unholy expectation is based on man’s activities and created by attaching God’s Name and blessing to them. In this, we do not realize that we have forfeited all expectation from our side. No holyexpectation is usually the fruit of a pious, man-centered unworthiness, which drags God down to the level of man.