By David Dann
In Ephesians 5 the apostle Paul writes, “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
It clearly follows then, that each local church is to be “holy and without blemish.” In other words, each congregation must be kept pure from the polluting and corrupting influence of sin, while at the same time retaining the strength necessary to stand as the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). However, it is true that “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). And, that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:15). These evil influences seek to attack and undermine the purity and strength of every local church. Therefore, it is important for us to identify and guard against that which threatens the purity and strength of the church. Some of these threats include:
1. Worldliness among the members of the church. The term “worldliness” describes the lifestyle of those who are outside the body of Christ and living in sin with the rest of the world. Because of the tendency of Christians to adopt the sinful lifestyles of the world, Paul says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). Similarly, James writes of the effort that must be put forth in order for a Christian to “keep himself unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27). Unfortunately, many Christians do not heed these admonitions and instead engage in the sins that are so common among those of the world. Members of the church engage in social drinking, ungodly forms of entertainment, dancing, the use of foul language, and the wearing of immodest clothing. Sadly, the purity of the church is compromised as the body is overrun by the blemishes and stains of sin. In order to preserve the purity of the church, Paul urges us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).
2. Lack of proper church discipline. Concerning the discipline of members of the local church who are involved in sin and unwilling to repent, Paul says, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11). The apostle similarly encourages us to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (2 Thess. 3:6). We must guard against the tendency to overlook sin in the lives of the members of the church. Paul says that there is a two-fold purpose to discipline: “That his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” and “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:5-6). We must exercise church discipline in order to bring the erring brother back to Christ, and to preserve the church from the corrupting influence of sin. By failing to do the Lord’s will in this matter we destroy the purity and strength of the local church.
3. Weak preaching and teaching. The New Testament instructs preachers to, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). There is a balance that must be present in our preaching and teaching. Gospel preaching involves exhortation as well as rebuke. It involves approval of that which is good, as well as disapproval of that which is sinful. It includes preaching about the promise of heaven to those who are faithful, as well as the promise of hell to those who are unfaithful. When we fail to make specific application in our preaching and teaching, we fail to preach the gospel of Christ. When we neglect our responsibility to declare the whole counsel of God we undermine the strength of the church and fail to rid ourselves of its impurities.
4. A lack of qualified elders. God’s plan is that there should be “elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). The elders are instructed to “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (1 Pet. 5:2). Unfortunately, it is often the case that there are not men qualified to serve as elders according to the qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Without elders, the church lacks the oversight and guidance these men are to provide. As a result, the local church is weakened and becomes susceptible to corruption and the sinful influence of those “who come to you in sheep’s clothing; but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15).
We must realize that each local church is a “church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Are you working to preserve the purity and strength of the church?
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