I received the following statement that has been attributed to Billy Graham. Reverend Graham is in my opinion one of the most powerful preachers of our time. What he said in 1965 speaks volumes to the condition of the church today.
"Multitudes of Christians within the church are moving toward the point where they may reject the institution that we call the church. They are beginning to turn to more simplified forms of worship. They are hungry for a personal and vital experience with Jesus Christ. They want a heartwarming personal faith. Unless the church quickly recovers its authoritative Biblical message, we may witness the spectacle of millions of Christians going outside the institutional church to find spiritual food."
From Reverend Grahams statement, it appears that the deterioration of the 'institutional church' was beginning to show nearly 50 years ago. Years before he spoke these words, another writer Roland Allen, began to confront the missionary methodologies of the 20th Century church. His book Missionary Methods St. Paul's or Ours was first published in 1912, six years before Billy Graham was born. Roland Allen accurately predicted that the contents of his book would become more accepted in later years. Fifty years later in 1962, 15 years after he died, there was the first resurgence of his teachings. I believe the patterns of Paul he wrote about are critical to the church today.
One clear statement in his book reveals a probable source of the institutional problem. He wrote, "St. Paul's methods is not in harmony with the modern Western spirit". In other words, we do church our way and assume it is suppose to work like the church in the first century. In 1961, Elton Trueblood wrote in his book, The Company of the Committed, "It is hard to exaggerate the degree to which the modern Church seems irrelevant to modern man. The Church is looked upon as something to be neither seriously fought nor seriously defended." Nearly a half century ago, men like these were seeing structural problems arising in the church.
I believe there is a powerful church in the earth. It is not the buildings we see peppered throughout our communities. It is not the well structured religious organizations that offer contemporary programs and events. It is a church that the gates of hell has no power against (Matthew 16:18). It is a church that proclaims and demonstrates the wisdom of God in the earth (Matthew 24:14; Ephesians 3:10) It is a church that stands in the earth as the pillar and ground of truth (1Timothy 3:15). This is the church found in scripture - not the structures devised by men. I believe the latter house will be greater than the former (Haggai 2:9; Ephesians 5:27).
It is amazing that a dysfunctional church system formed in the fourth century has only served to weaken the Body of Christ. The enemy of the church, has used 'comfort' to lull it to sleep. I am not a doomsayer, but I have to take note of two scriptures, Daniel 8:25 and 1Thessalonians 5:3.
And through his shrewdness He will cause deceit to succeed by his influence; And he will magnify himself in his heart, And he will destroy many while they are at ease. He will even oppose the Prince of princes, But he will be broken without human agency. (Daniel 8:25 NAS95)
For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. (1Thessalonians 5:3)
The enemy uses peace and comfort to destroy believers. Many, in their comfort, they believe they are doing God's will by simply showing up 'to church' week after week. In the typical church:
The comfortable church is more concerned with fitting in and pseudo-relevancy, rather than confronting the forces of darkness in their region. Even those of us who espouse 'house church' must be careful not to retreat into living rooms for 'little bible studies', but rather to come together to edify, exhort, comfort and provoke one another to good works (1Corinthians 14:1-5; Hebrews 10:24-25). Our house church gathering must not be antithetical to the institutional church, otherwise we may find ourselves simply defending a style of gathering rather than the purpose of the Kingdom to be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). If we become more enamored with worship methodologies, we could easily miss our mission to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).
Billy Graham said that multitudes of Christians within the church are moving toward the point where they may reject the institution that we call the church. He said they are beginning to turn to more simplified forms of worship. They are hungry for a personal and vital experience with Jesus Christ. They want a heartwarming personal faith. I believe that each of us were created by God to experience His presence, power and to know His purpose. I believe that can only be achieved when we experience the power of God flowing 'THROUGH' us as we touch lives in our families, communities and region. Sitting week after week in a pew waiting for His power to come 'TO' us only serves to weaken and distract us. The authoritative message of the bible has not diminished. Simply put - God is still on the throne - the devil is defeated - and Jesus is Lord!
Jesus is still building His Church - His Way - in the 21st Century!
Tim Kurtz is the founder of The Center for New Testament Church Development. The ministry was formed in 2010 with the mission to plant regional churches that reflect the values and structure of the first century church.