“Minnesota’s mainline Christian denominations face unprecedented declines, altering communities and traditions celebrated for generations.”

In the newspaper article I was reading, this was the subtitle and accurately captured the tone of the article.[1]  It described how parts of rural Minnesota had several congregations closing.  Person after person interviewed discussed the traditions and religious experiences they would miss when their congregation shut the doors to their buildings for the last time.

As someone who has been involved in church birth and death, my heart was sad…but not surprised.


Also included in the article was the description of where the decline of the American Church is hardest: mainline denominations.  Mainline denominations comprise the most liberal among Christians and in many cases, they have changed the Word of God to suit cultural expectations.

When the Church begins to do this, we’ll be sad congregations close, but we should not be surprised.  We read about this phenomenon in 1 Timothy 4:1-5.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.  

1 Timothy 4:1-5
New International Version

When these people “abandon the faith”, Paul isn’t talking about carelessly forgetting about walking out their faith.  It is the intentional renouncing of the faith as given through the Scriptures.  It is taking the truth and reframing it to teach lies “taught by demons”.

Paul is addressing some specific issues in the Ephesian church, but we even find this today.  Groups of Christians today forbid the marriage of a Christian to another Christian (Scripture is clear about Christians marrying nonChristians) and command its adherence to “abstain from certain food” (verse 3).  Certainly, Paul is not talking about an individual who might abstain from certain foods for personal reasons or convictions.

Instead, he’s talking about leaders of movements declaring it sin if people do not abstain from whatever arbitrary food the leaders have decided is bad.  In doing this, we are taking what God created as good and calling it evil.  It’s approaching cult-like status.  Legalism is dangerous, folks.

As sharp as this is, I love the fact that Paul doesn’t mince words here: heresy doesn’t find its root in heretics but in Hell.  These teachings are the whispering and influence of demons (verse 1).

As leaders in the Lord’s church, this is why we must guard the gate.  When we intentionally change the truth of the God’s Word to suit our needs and wants, we are taking congregations away from the covering of the Holy Spirit.

1857_Stained_Glass_Windowsdreamstime_xxl_17642278When we take a congregation away from the source of life, we should not be surprised by the arrival of death.  As sharp as these words are to read (and write!): this is what mainline denominations have done and it is killing them.

The congregations this article addresses all belong to some of the most liberal parts of Christianity.  If we examined some of these denominations’ twisting of the Scriptures to support their rewrite of God’s truth, we might even question if they accept the Bible anymore at all.

Strong words.  I know.  It’s very rare for me to write or speak this bluntly (because it tends to sound angry and I’m not), but this is our passage today.  It’s a warning.  It’s a prophecy.  It’s happened.  It’s happening.  It will happen every time we depart from the truth.

The good news is the Church of Jesus marches on.  The Gospel is being shared and people are coming to faith.  No, it might not be happening in mainline denominations.  No, it might not be happening in movements and congregations where tradition trumps evangelism, but it IS happening in the Church.

As we face the harsh truth of news articles like the one I read, let it serve as a prophetic warning.  We are not here for ourselves.  We are not here to adhere to traditions.   We are not here to pet sheep in the congregation.

We are an international missionary agency charged with taking the rock-solid, life-giving truth of Jesus to every man, woman, boy, and girl.

And when we leave that purpose to pursue other visions, death will follow us.  We’ve been warned and we will heed that warning.


[1] http://www.startribune.com/as-minnesota-churches-close-a-way-of-life-fades/486037461/ Accessed July 10, 2018.



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31_Days_of_Spiritual_Cover_for_KindleInterested in more like this?  Consider his book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs.  Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, Joel walks readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life.  The goal?  Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.