Those who would love for the church to just slink away into oblivion must grind their teeth and rage against this profound truth that rings throughout the ages: Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Nothing will stop the church. Not even hell itself. I take great hope and find tremendous joy in knowing that I am part of something that will never be conquered, and that on that great day will be crowned with glory and honor as the bride of Christ in his eternal presence.
Though the church can never be defeated, it is not without its enemies. And though the universal church that is comprised of everyone who is born again through the blood of Jesus Christ will never be conquered, the local expression of the church may very well be. There are thousands of churches closing their doors every year. I believe the greatest threat to the church is false doctrine. Read Paul’s letters to the churches and count the number of times he warns against false teaching and teachers, and corrects their errors. After false doctrine, though, I believe the greatest threat to the local church is broken relationships. The halls of our churches are roamed by people loaded down with guilt on the one hand because of their unconfessed sin toward others, and bitterness on the other hand because of others’ sins against them. Who can carry around this weight of guilt and bitterness and survive? How can a church survive? It can’t.
Jesus gave very clear instructions to his disciples on how to deal with sin so that guilt and bitterness do not result.
Here is what he said about responding when someone sins against you:
First, make sure it was a sin. And that it was against you. Second, go to the person who sinned against you. Alone. First. In other words, don’t tell anybody else but God about the sin that was committed against you. That’s because your friend can take up an offense for you, get bitter toward your offender, and even after you and the offender have reconciled, your friend may still have bitterness. I have seen that happen, even to the point that the “friend” walks away from the church as a result. “See to it … that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Go to the person who sinned against you and “tell him his fault.” Just that one. Don’t dredge up every single thing he has ever done to hurt you. Those should have already been dealt with. Just take the one offense to him, and him alone. If he repents, you have restored a brother. If he doesn’t, Jesus explains steps two and three in Matthew 18.
What if the shoe is on the other foot? You are about to enter church to worship the Lord with everybody else and then “you remember that your brother has something against you.”
First, make sure it is because of a sin you committed or a mess of some kind that you made. If he has something against you because you love Jesus Christ and follow him, then rejoice over the opportunity to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. If you have sinned, however, leave the church, go find your brother (he may be in the fellowship hall), and confess your sin. Humbly. Ask forgiveness. Then, Jesus said, you are free to worship with all your might.
Is your conscience clear? Your health, and your church’s, depends on it.
J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org