Thursday, August 29, 2013



Overall, the church in South Africa is in a crisis of spiritual decay - and if that decay is to be stopped and reversed, major changes are needed - in repentance and action. That can be proven by the pattern of:
- postmodern doctrinal drift from biblical truth;
- the epidemic of what in previous generations was considered scandalous behaviour - in congregations and leaders;
- the replacement of biblical authority either with individual relativism or the facist authoritarian personalities and their cult followings
- numbers: fewer educated people are attending church at all, and while attendance may be still be good among the poor, pastors are increasingly having their time consumed with HIV related funerals - making one wonder how many of these church goers are truly converted? While sexual sin can often be hidden, the epidemic of divorces and broken families cannot.

Nevertheless, listen to the leaders of just about any church and you will not hear this message. The message and attitude you hear from just about every side, whether a healthy church or not -is that 'Overall, we are doing well, but we have a few problems we are working to sort out.' How this disconnection of facts and most churches self-perception?

First question is when you say 'We are doing well' - 'Who is 'WE' and what is 'WELL'? Who do you include when you say 'WE'? 'We' and 'Well' get redefined. Most people mean either 'Our local church' or 'Our local church' and a few other very similar local churches our church is friends with. The problem comes from two angles:

* Unhealthy backsliding churches are generally in denial about their backsliding and their leaders get very angry if anyone points that out to them. They can usually find something which they are doing well. Maybe their attendance has increased due to some seeker sensitive marketing gimmicks, despite spiritual decline. Maybe finances are doing better? Maybe they have just learned some new truth from the scripture (while neglecting more important issues). So 'Well' gets redefined to exclude central moral behaviour and doctrinal drift. For biblical individuals in these churches, the problem is that 'we' is defined to include all the unbiblical ones as well. So they get defensive and hurt rather than doing something to challenge others. "How dare 'you' criticise 'us'"?

* As individuals, backslidden Christians generally hide their sin or if it becomes unhidable, drift out of the church they were in and stay out of church a while and if they recover - come back to a different church. The old church generally doesn't follow them up let alone discipline them. The new local church, if they know about the sin at all, can always take that this was not 'Us', the backsliding was due to the other church. Not part of 'We'.

* When a church backslides, generally the more godly people get fed up and move to a more healthy biblical church. Then the old church is no longer part of 'We' and is left to backslide further. The former members generally have no interest in the spiritual health of the church they left.

* Leaders of more healthy churches and denominations, unfortunately tend to take 'We' as meaning other healthy churches like theirs. If unhealthy churches lose members to biblical churches, the attitude of most healthy church leaders is 'We win, they lose' - let them decline more and their members can move to us. And the leaders of the healthy churches are completely in denial about the possibility that their church could ever decline like the 'others'.

In the 1980s and 90s, the evangelical mainline denominations such as the Presbyterians, Methodists, Dutch Reformed and Anglicans began to be infiltrated with modernist liberalism. There was an exodus of young people to newer churches, which were mostly Charismatic in their view of the Holy Spirit. Whatever one believes about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Charismatic churches at the time were uncompromising on teaching the authority of the bible for all matters of personal conduct and doctrine. There was no compromise, debate or softened stance on homosexuality, abortion, adultery, public nudity/pornography. The doctrine of the virgin birth, eternal punishment, Jesus as the only way were taken for granted and not questioned. That unfortunately is no longer the case. But the problem was that the healthier new churches saw the mainline denominations as competition rather than as brothers needing help.

Today, most of those same Charismatic denominations founded in the 1980s are in spiritual decline either to postmodernism or facist personality cults or both (although many continue to grow numerically). Out of the mess, new denominations have sprung up, which are often more healthy - but for how long till they follow the same path? The new ones gain members leaving the older declining ones and generally show no interest in helping to arrest their sister churches spiritual decline. They will generally not challenge sin or doctrinal compromise even if they know about it - or try to support those who do.

A development of the new millenium is the rise of the 'new Calvinism', partly Charismatic and partly not, which is experiencing a revival of biblical expository preaching led by men like John Piper and Al Mohler. Nevertheless, the same pattern as with the new Charismatics vs mainline denominations is evident again. Generally, the 'new Calvinist' leaders are unconcerned about their non-Calvinist sister Churches which are in spiritual decline - at best they ignore them and at worst are happy about the decline, because people come over to their churches.

The big picture problem is not about Charismatics vs Cessationist or Mainline vs New Networks or Calvinist vs Arminians or those in between - really these divisions are not central to the gospel. Core doctrinal truths like hell, one way to heaven through Jesus and moral behaviour like sexual purity and the sanctity of life are are central to the gospel.

Right now numerous denominations are teetering on the edge of falling wholesale into liberal postmodernism or facist authoritarianism. Will you pray for them? Will you speak up for truth - to leaders of straying churches - or on doctrinal issues they are struggling with on your blog? Will you support people in those churches who speak up? Will you invite them to your biblical conference? Will you give them biblical books? Will you help answer questions? Will you get involved in the debates around postmoderism and facist authoritarian church governance? Will you help mentor godly leaders? If we don't, your church could be the next one to go into decline in maybe a decade or two - will then anyone help rescue your church?

Please DO care about the church next door. They are not part of 'them' but 'we'. And if you are in a declining unhealthy church the wolves in sheeps clothing who are leading your church astray into postmodernism and Fascist authoritarianism are not part of 'us' and don't get hurt if people challenge them. Be careful who you define as 'Us' and 'Them'. Be careful what you define as 'Doing well'.

Philip Rosenthal