The Church in Flames
by Alan Allegra 8/19/2009 / Church Life
The title might suggest that this article is about persecution of believers in other countries, where churches are routinely set on fire, often with the worshipers inside. There is a popular book among Fundamentalists called "Evangelism: The Church on Fire!" The author was not recommending torching churches as an effective evangelism tool. He meant that a church that's zealous for the Lord will seek to introduce others to Jesus Christ.
Sadly, fewer and fewer churches are taking this responsibility seriously. Instead of being on fire, many churches are in flames, going down in a puff of conciliatory smoke. Instead of preaching the Word, they are pleasing the world. The result is not only a culture that is not being transformed, but also a church that is being re-formed.
The Apostle Paul wrote to his young preacher protégé, "so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). God ordained the church as the foundation and support of truth, and is very definite about its role in the world. Timothy's conduct as a pastor was to be responsible for the conduct of the church, including living and proclaiming truth: "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2). Feeding tainted truth breeds sickly sheep, and a church that fails to uphold truth cannot be salt and light and fulfill its mission. Instead of being destroyed by outside forces, it will disintegrate from inside flimsiness, taking society with it.
Isaiah 59 takes a page out of the Jerusalem Times (700 B.C.) that lists societal problems that even the National Enquirer couldn't make up. Note the central verse: "So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter" (v. 14). Once truth is no longer upheld, and is allowed to stumble, then morals, ethics, politics, science - everything - turns to rubble. "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" asks Psalm 11:3. In other words, if the church no longer does her job, she can't complain when society crumbles.
Without truth there is no salvation (Isaiah 59:13), justice (v. 4), mercy (v. 7), peace (v. 8), direction (vv. 9, 10), or unity (v. 13). There can only be false religions, partiality, brutality, struggle, aimlessness, and anarchy.
Note that God has decreed that the church is "the pillar and ground of the truth," supporting, lifting, and displaying the truth. That responsibility has not been given to science, psychology, parachurch organizations, the media, schools, the government, or any other man-made institution. All such organizations and disciplines are to seek and live by truth, but it is the church's manual, the bible, that is the infallible standard by which all theories, discoveries, and actions are measured. Isaiah again: "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (8:20).
The believer is to "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life" (Philippians 2:1416). But the Christian can't hold out the light if the pastor isn't igniting it with the Word of God. Compromising leadership results in flickering flames. If the pastor behaves himself by preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), believers will learn how to behave themselves at home, building up the foundation of society and the Kingdom.