In reading the opening chapter in The Church by Edmund Clowney, I encountered this paragraph:
“To be sure, if the church rather than Christ becomes the centre of our devotion, spiritual decay has begun. A doctrine of the church that does not centre on Christ is self-defeating and false. But Jesus said to the disciples who confessed him, ‘I will build my church. To ignore his purpose is to deny his lordship. The good news of Christ’s coming includes the good news of what he came to do: to join us to himself and to one another as his body, the new people of God.”
I have been in churches that had a particular end times scenario as their primary focus. I have been in churches that were focused on growth in numbers. I have been in churches that got side tracked by a building program. All of these churches lost their focus on Christ as our primary need and our only hope.
As Clowney points out, when this happens it is a sign of spiritual decay. It is a sign that the leaders of those churches lost sight of their true purpose.
But more importantly, those leaders lost sight of whose responsibility it is to build the church. They usurped the authority and responsibility of Jesus Christ to build his church his way. When the focus is on “denominational distinctives” or a large building, a subtle form idolatry has crept into the church.
Focusing on denominational distinctives smacks of a marketing strategy to build a brand identity. But Jesus didn’t say that he wants or needs marketing strategists to build his church. He calls his leaders shepherds, not generals.
Jesus told us that he would build the church and all we needed to do was be faithful to him.
We are faithful to him by living out our calling to lives of integrity. We are faithful to him by following his command to make disciples. We are faithful to him by following his example of proclaiming the gospel in a way that is completely gracious and completely truthful.
Jesus will build his church and anything that we do that is not prompted by him or endorsed by him is a sign of spiritual decay as Edmond Clowney reminds us.