The State of the Church, Part 21

As we look back into the Old Testament to see how God judged His people and of the means in doing so, it is hard to separate and make distinctions with utter certainty. We know that the people were judged by having prophets who were unfaithful to the Word of God and in our day we know that ministers are judged by being unfaithful to the Word and by having congregations that do not listen. But it is hard to know the cause and effect relationship between the two. We do know with certainty that there is a correlation between the minister and the congregation as to the judgment. One can be and is a judgment on the other. Both are signs of judgment.

The Congregation:

Ezekiel 33:30 – “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the LORD.’ 31 “They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. 32 “Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. 33 “So when it comes to pass– as surely it will– then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst.”

In the text above we see a people under the judgment of God. These were a people that said they wanted to go and hear the Word of God, but they were a people that did not do what they heard. Instead of hearing the Word of God with an understanding heart that desired to love and obey the Lord, their hearts went after their lusts and they wanted to fulfill their own lustful desires. The prophet was nothing more to them than one who had a beautiful voice because they heard the words and did not do them. Even when the minister is preaching the truth, God may be withholding understanding from the people. Even when the minister is preaching the truth, God may be judging the congregation. We know that the prophets were not always sent to preach and be the means of revival, but instead their message of truth was sent to harden the hearts of the people. When a congregation will not listen to the Word of God, it is being judged. When a congregation is receiving the truth of God and it does not understand, that can also be a judgment of God. In America there are many who are willing to go and “listen,” but not many who obey.

The Ministry:

Ezekiel 34:1 – Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. 4 “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. 5 “They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. 6 “My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.”‘” 7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 “As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.”

The ministry, however, seems to be a means of judgment upon the people and the minister receives a terrible judgment for being an agent of error to the people. In fact, we can see from verse 10 that there are times when God delivers His people from the shepherds. The sheep or the congregation is seen as largely under the care of the minister. In Israel the ministers were to feed the sheep instead of themselves. They were seen by God as slaughtering the sheep without feeding the flock. They were seen by God as not strengthening the flock or healing the diseased. They were seen by God as not binding the broken, not gathering the scattered and not seeking the lost. The people were scattered because they had no true shepherd and they became food for every beast. What does that picture? It sounds like modern America. We have people filling the pews in some building and yet they are without a shepherd. They come and go as they please and yet no one is really looking after their souls. Sure there are programs enacted and ministries carried forth, but there are few shepherds in the land.

The ministry in America is really more of a profession rather than men that God has raised up to feed and nurture the sheep. The minister is now a CEO who is in charge of the vision and of the public relations of the church. When that business model is brought in, who is to feed the sheep? God’s people were scattered then and they were easy pickings and became prey. That is exactly what has happened to the flock today. As the ministry has become busy with everything else, the sheep are starving without true food and have become prey to all sorts of heretical teachings. Instead of shepherding the flock of God that He has purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28-31), the ministry has become all about numbers, honors, respect and climbing denominational ladders. Instead of feeding the sheep with the Word of God and understanding, the shepherds feed the sheep with the pollution and wisdom of the world. Instead of preaching the Word of God and driving it to the heart, we have become experts at stories and jokes to make the people laugh and feel comfortable as they continue on their path into the flames of hell.

It is not enough to blame the congregation and it is not enough to blame the ministers. There is enough blame for all. We can blame the liberals all we want, but we must understand that this is true of conservatives and the Reformed as well. Just because a man is labeled a conservative does not mean that he is preaching the truth about God and the sin of man. Just because a man is labeled as Reformed does not mean that man is preaching the truth about God and the sin of man. We must ask some real questions and pray for God to grant us all repentance. Could it be that the Gospel has all but disappeared in America today? Could it be that what we are hearing today is really nothing but the intellectual husks left over from the days when God was moving in true revival? Could it be true that a conservative resurgence is nothing more than a resurgence of conservatism rather than a move of God? Could it be true that a return to Reformed theology is simply the externals of orthodoxy rather than a return of God to His people?

The description of the congregation from Ezekiel 33 fits the professing American Church almost exactly. We still have many attending locations where the name of “church” is on the door, yet how very few really hear the Word of God with understanding and do it. The passage in Ezekiel 34:1-10 describes the ministry of the professing American Church. It is a self-absorbed group that is more concerned with degrees, stature, and packages than with the sheep bought by the blood of God. It is not a group that appears interested enough in the Word of God to labor in the Word and prayer. It is not a group that appears interested in the return of God enough to spend time confessing its sins to God and crying out for Him to break its own hearts and work true contrition and repentance in its own hearts. It is not a group that appears interested in true prayer meetings. Instead it would rather gather at conferences where “experts” come to give academic lectures rather than seek the living God. Then all can leave after a good time of hearing ear-tickling lectures and enjoyable “fellowship” thinking all is well. But where is God in all of this?

The professing Church in America has bought into the business approach to ministry and the psychological approach to counseling. In many ways the “church” is a business to get people in and the Bible is no more than a prop to feed and counsel people with the psychology of the day. As ministers grow in popularity their bank accounts grow larger as well. They have become a success in the eyes of the world and of the religious world as well. But in the eyes of God those men have become nothing but vile and wretched shepherds who have fed themselves and not the sheep. Is God going to move in such a way as to remove His sheep from the shepherds and so deliver the sheep? Is God going to move and rescue His sheep from all the heresies that America is flooded with now because the truth has been taken from the land?

While some might call me an alarmist and perhaps worse, we should remember that Arthur Pink believed that the Gospel had virtually disappeared from the land in the 1940’s. Certainly things are worse now. Could it be that we are in such darkness now that we are like the Israelites who were under the judgment of God and did not recognize it? Could it be that the Gospel itself is truly hidden from our eyes and we are so man-centered and man-focused that we simply don’t see our own blindness and idolatry? Have we truly become so blind that we think God is like ourselves? Could it be that we are so deep in our pride that we don’t see the depths of our pride? Could it be that we think we are being so gracious and all we are doing is being friends with the enemies of God? Could it be that we are being nice because we fear man more than God? Something is terribly wrong and we must begin to seek the Lord for broken hearts in order to seek the Lord in truth. We must do this sooner rather than later.

The ministry must function as the watchmen did in ancient Israel. Ezekiel was appointed a watchman (33:7) and told to hear a message from the Lord’s mouth and give the people warning. If Ezekiel did not warn the wicked, the blood of the wicked would be required from Ezekiel. The watchman was to watch for the enemy coming and to warn the people. Those who take the mantle of a watchman should know that the enemy is already among us and they need to be ringing the bell and lifting up their voices. But instead the watchmen are too busy worrying about what they look like, their finances, and being sure not to offend anyone or wake them up. The spiritual slaughter is immense and the darkness is thick. Yet the watchmen are still busy feeding themselves. While the enemy is busy in the darkness and slaying souls through deceit, the watchmen are not taking up the sword of the Lord and delivering His message. Surely the watchmen have a lot of blood on them in our day. When will they awaken from their self-induced sleep and begin to proclaim the message of the Lord? When will they quit breathing the spiritually toxic air of the world and begin crying out to the Lord? Only the Lord can reverse such a sorry state of things. Only the Lord can open the eyes of those who are running around crying peace, peace when there is no peace. But they have yet to see that and continue on in their own strength upholding the name of conservatism and orthodoxy. We must be broken.

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