One of the sad legacies of the ‘Christendom era’ is that large number of Christian churches that were once alive and fruitful, … but then lost their dynamic grasp of the mission and message of Christ, and so became “fruitless vines good for nothing but to be thrown in the fire and burned” (cf. John 15), or in another descriptive metaphor: “stagnant pools of ‘religious Christianity’ green grown and stagnant.” Or more sobering are the words to the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 2-3), and especially the church at Sardis that had a name that it was living, but was dead.

Only two of the churches that had suffered and been purified by persecution escape the warning that their lamp could be removed from the lampstand, i.e., cease to be the true churches of Jesus. Even the ‘lukewarm’ church is offensive to the Risen Lord. The command is always to repent, to remember who they are, to deal with false doctrines, with passivity, with troublesome teachers, … and to reclaim their true mission and message.

Here, these two millennia later, what with the church being a global phenomenon, and with many ever-present challenges and corrupting cultural influences, these villages of this global tribe of God’s people are still confronted with the compromises, the drift into forgetfulness, the passivity with some institutional form, … and indifferent to the fact that they have become fruitless vines, and no longer a vital part of God’s design in his New Creation in and through Christ.

Living churches are those whose participants are all indwelt by Jesus Christ through his Spirit. They are “the dwelling-place of God by the Spirit” and so are the demonstration of Jesus’ passion to seek and save the lost, to be the “sweet aroma of Christ unto God” as they live out their daily roles as visible New Creation people. There is no place for passive church membership in this calling. It is the role and responsibility of church leadership to see that every participant in the community is equipped to be part of this ministry.

So, when a church becomes a community where one can be a spectator and not a part of the mission, that church is essentially dead. It’s time to sign the death certificate, mourn, sell the assets and give the money to those who are faithfully incarnating Jesus Christ: his mission and his message.

And, be assured there are those communities that are contagious in their passion for Christ and his mission. One has only to look carefully at the church’s history to see this taking place again and again. Can churches die? You bet they can. But vital new churches are also being born in unique settings, inhabited by vital believers in Christ, and where the word of Christ dwells richly among them as they teach and admonish one another. (Colossians 3:15-16).

Stay tuned. Plus, I love your responses. May the peace of Christ be with you.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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One Response to CAN CHURCHES DIE?

  1. Jermaine Ladd says:

    I like this article. I agree to sign the death certificate and sell the proceeds and distribute to those congregations that are alive. There is a new reformation. Status would churches of the past have become irrelevant.

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