And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18 (NIV)
A divorced church – is it possible? Can the bride be separated from the Bridegroom? Can intimacy turn to indifference? Can a church walk out on God?
A divorced church – is it possible? Can a church move on? Can it take the children and leave? Can there be an intentional parting of the ways? Can there be a stormy denial? Can there be a gradual growing apart? Can a church abandon its first love?
A divorced church – is it possible? Can it keep its name but withhold its intimacy? Can the church have a sudden and dramatic shift in interest? Can it say “I don’t”?
Sadly, and chillingly, yes. A church can be divorced. Not the universal Church. But certainly a local church.
It happens when there’s a “form of godliness” but its power is denied (cf. 2 Timothy 3:5). It happens when a church departs from Biblical faith and practice. And it happens when the Shepherd is no longer welcomed by the sheep.
Examples abound. A church is divorced when relationship has degenerated into religion; when earthly recognition is valued over heavenly recognition; when worship has become entertainment; when there’s no fire in the pulpit; when a church is full of members who have never been “born again” (John 3:7); when the couch of complacency is preferred to front line Christianity; when there’s no longer a hunger and thirst after righteousness; when religious politics dominate; when it’s about us and not about Him; when the prayer meeting doesn’t exist; when the race has stopped at a false finishing line; when Jesus wouldn’t be recognized if He showed up; and when the Word of God is not the sole rule of faith and practice.
It doesn’t stop there. A church is divorced when legalism prevails over love; when it’s simply about thrills and chills; when religious ceremony dictates what’s supposed to happen; when sin is accepted or encouraged; when hilarity upstages holiness; when false teaching is the order of the day; when there’s no longer an audience of One; when tradition stands in the way of transformation; when empty forms take the place of real spiritual life; when ritualism is chosen over revival; when the programme is appreciated more than the Person; when denominational protocol squeezes out passion; and when the opinions of people matter more than the will of God.
As if that weren’t enough! A church is divorced when the doors only open on a Sunday; when dignity is valued over intimacy; when praise is pathetic posturing; when starving children won’t sit down at the Father’s banqueting table; when we try to save face instead of seeking His face; when tolerance turns a blind eye to truth; when self-righteousness parades as a substitute for humility; and when “Give me” is more important than “Make me.”
Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not pointing this out with a spirit of criticism, but in the hope that those who are spiritual will clearly see the state that exists in some churches, become burdened about it, and pray without ceasing for the repentance and restoration of the church. For the day is coming when Christ will return for His Church (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
God help us to be ready. Let’s be prepared for His return (cf. Revelation 19:7). Let’s remember “the bride belongs to the bridegroom” John 3:29. Let’s be found as a pure bride, a faithful bride, a bride with eyes only for Him. For God has a high view of marriage. And, as He says in Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce.”