The Greatest Danger to the Church Today

A couple of weeks ago I was asked what I think the greatest danger to the church is today.

Not to a particular church, or a particular denomination, but broadly to Christianity in Australia today.

I have no idea what the person who asked me had in mind – people sometimes have an answer in mind with questions like this, and they use the question as some kind of litmus test as to whether you are on ‘their’ side of whatever they are asking about. There are a lot of things that Christians think are the biggest danger to the church today. People have their own pet issues: government over-reach, a cultural hostility to religion in general and to Christianity in particular, sexual politics in schools, corporate activism, the list can go on and on. You can certainly make a case that an awful lot of things threaten churches in different ways today.

But the biggest danger to the church today is not from outside the church, even through the issues (like the ones above) that get people most worked up are usually external to the church. Jesus warned his followers that they were going to face rejection and difficulty if they followed him (e.g. John 15:18-21 1). But Jesus warned much more frequently about danger from those within the church (e.g. Matthew 7:15 2).

The biggest danger the church faces is that Christians don’t know their Bibles, and don’t have a solid grasp on theology, and so aren’t able to recognise the false messiahs, false prophets, false followers and wolves in sheep clothing that Jesus warns about. If you don’t know the Bible well, if you aren’t familiar with the overarching story that God presents in the Bible, and don’t see how the individual stories in the Bible point us to Jesus and the love, mercy and grace of God that would poured out in him, then you aren’t going to be able to recognise these dangers from within the church.

I think there are a number of ways in which this can be seen in churches, but going through this is not really the point. It was Jesus who identified the danger which was to come, and my opinion on how it manifests is not the issue because the solution is the same regardless: know God through the study of the scriptures so you can distinguish between faithful teaching and false teaching, between good fruit and bad fruit.

So how do we do this? I have a number of suggestions, which can all be done without a lot of difficulty. Many Christians are probably doing many of them already. There may be times in your life which make some of these harder than at other times, and you may have stopped doing them at some point for very understandable reasons, but not got back into them again. Consider what you are doing to better know God and his Word so you might be equipped for every good deed (2 Thessalonians 2:16-173).

  1. Make it your priority to attend your church service to hear the Word of God being proclaimed each week.

    It is my observation that average attendance at church is about the 50-65% mark for most people, and while there are all sorts of reasons for this, a significant amount comes down to prioritising other things over meeting with God’s people. Work, sporting or family events, kids parties, sickness, holidays, needing a rest. As you will note, some of these are not things you can do something about. When you are sick you are sick. When you travel away on holidays, you can’t come back to your home church each Sunday. But very often the attitude of many people in churches (and their extended families) is that church takes a back-seat to pretty much anything else that comes up. You may like to ask yourself what you have said ‘no’ to because you put placed more priority on church. That answer may be revealing.
  2. Read and study the passage the sermon at your church was based on.

    This assumes you are at a church where the sermon is usually based on a Bible passage (if the sermons at your church are usually only based on a single verse, or a bunch of bible-ish ideas and not on a solid chunk of Biblical material, you may want to consider whether your church is oriented to making sure you know God’s word well). Read through the passage during the week, study it, listen to the sermon again having read through and studied the passage for yourself a few times. God has given your church the preacher and the sermon you have received, so make the most of it. Most churches these days make sermons recordings available in some way. Do this as your priority, rather than looking for sermons from other churches or other preachers on-line. This doesn’t mean don’t listen to other preachers or sermons, it means make the most of what God has provided your congregation. To read through the passage two or three times, and listen to the sermon again will take a lot less than one hour for most churches. Time is not the issue. Willingness is.
  3. Talk about the Bible passage and sermon with others from your church.

    It doesn’t matter when or where. You can do this straight after the sermon on Sunday morning. Or at a Bible study group. Or with a friend over a cuppa during the week. Or with your spouse, your kids, or your parents. Discuss God’s word together – the same passage you heard from together on Sunday.
  4. Join a small group.

    There are all sorts of different small groups in churches, and a different amount of Biblical study which goes on in them. Join a group which looks at the Bible together and learn with each other. Even if it is only a small amount of Bible time, and a lot of pastoral time together, build one another up with scripture (Hebrews 4:124). There are other ways to encourage and care for each other, but the Bible is God’s word to us, and shouldn’t be neglected.
  5. Read a biblical study or a book on theology each year.

    Most of the books you’ll find on the best-seller lists in your favourite Christian bookstore are probably of the ‘lifestyle’ or ‘Christian living’ variety. There are usually not intended to build a lot of Biblical knowledge or theological understanding, but are instead often “sentimental twaddle”5. I don’t mean head for the commentary section and pull out the thickest, most expensive book you can find. I mean look for a book which looks at one of the Biblical books in a bit more depth (the best of these are often based on a sermon series on that Biblical book6), or books which given a simple overview of theology (there are lots of older ones which are small and great7). Your pastor may have some suggestions, and there are plenty which are shorter than most novels you will pick up in shops today. Aiming to read one a year (although I would suggest aiming to finishing it in less than a month) will grow your knowledge of God, your faith, and your knowledge of scripture immensely. You may even find some of them as audio-books if you find that easier.
  6. Look out for any short evening courses or day long conferences which come to town.

    I write this from a rural area, so there aren’t always options in small places, but there are often regional conferences or training courses each year. In the Great Southern region of WA there are youth conventions, women’s conventions, CWCI weekends away, and short courses run by Trinity Theological College (aside from the events that individual churches or denominations put on). If you are willing to travel to Perth, there are the Perth Men’s Convention, Perth Women’s Convention and many others (see for these and more). Make an effort to expand your Biblical knowledge in fellowship with other believers from different churches, learning from experts in their fields.

There are other ways to grow in your knowledge of the Bible so you can stand firm in your faith and not be led astray by false teaching and false teachers (no matter how well intentioned). Learning with your kids is easy and sometimes pretty fun (I can’t recommend The Jesus Storybook Bible or the video series What’s in the Bible with Buck Denver highly enough for this). Doing formal study is rarely wasted, if you study at an appropriate level with an appropriate course, but this isn’t available to everyone.

The aim in all of this is to know God better, to be better equipped to follow Jesus, and to be able to praise God more through our knowledge of who he is and what he has done for us. Secondary to that, but still very important, is to be equipped to handle the greatest danger to the church – being led away from God because of our lack of knowledge and lack of wisdom through a lack of Biblical grounding.

As you will have noted above, the vast bulk of my suggestions are very simple, take little time, and just require a bit of self-discipline, encouragement and perseverance. They are pretty important to any healthy Christian life, so its a question of how much of a priority that is to you.

1 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.”

2 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

3 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

4For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

5I hope I accurately recalled D.A. Carson’s turn of phrase from The Gagging of God, but if I did not, I think I have captured his sentiment.

6Some I have enjoyed include The Prodigal God and Rediscovering Jonah by Tim Keller, and Focus on the Bible commentaries by Dale Ralph Davis on Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings. These are favourites of mine, and while I haven’t read others in the Focus on the Bible series by Davis or other authors, I suspect that these are similarly easy to follow and readily bring our minds to God.

7A few might include Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis, In Understanding Be Men by T.C. Hammond, Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce A. Ware (yes, it is aimed at reading to kids, but you will grow by reading this!), Know the Truth by Bruce Milne. These are all quite different in style and age, so have a flick through a few pages before you buy to get an idea of which you might like. These are all fairly broad overviews of theology, and there are plenty of solid, short books which focus on single issues. But overviews are a good place to start. You could even read the last two like a devotional book, a page or so a day.

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