The only biblical, viable, sustainable motivation for doing anything as a Christian is the pure love of Jesus Christ. Being pushed into a set of standards, a weekly structure or an outward appearance always leads to resentment of those who pushed or manipulated me. That Christianity eventually falls apart. Being led by the Spirit and motivated by love will produce a pure-hearted, sustainable, joyful, nonoppressive Christian walk.
4. Neglect the Pure Gospel—Orton writes “while they neglect the peculiars of the gospel.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is not only how we are saved, it is also how we grow, how we live, how we endure and how we enjoy our walk with Jesus. The more you study and examine the gospel, the bigger it becomes. It’s inexhaustible.
Healthy churches always keep the gospel front and center. Their message is hopeful. They magnify Jesus. They preach Christ crucified. They reveal Jesus to be more than a free ticket to Heaven, but in truth a Savior in every aspect of life. If a church family KNOWS their unsaved guest will hear the gospel and not just a “general harangue” on Sunday morning—they are EAGER, EXCITED and HAPPY to invite their lost friends and family.
Something tells me that’s exactly what happened in the books of Acts!
5. Neglect the Display of Love and Grace—Again Orton says “never or seldom display the grace of God, and the love of Christ in our redemption.” How do we miss this? How do churches become so “ungracious” and “unloving”? How do churches melt down into factious, divisive communities of self-focus? How do they become so inward and unwelcoming? They lost sight of the massive volume of New Testament teaching on love, unity, forgiveness, forbearance and grace toward others.
If your gospel message is clear but your dispositional display of the gospel is carnal, you are doing the gospel a grave disservice. Churches die because love and grace died in their midst. Ever more in a darkened, hopeless secular America, a loving church stands in huge contrast to anything else in culture.
6. Neglect a Strong Emphasis on Dependence Upon the Holy Spirit—Orton goes on, “the necessity of regeneration and sanctification by a constant dependence on the Holy Spirit of God for assistance and strength in the duties of the Christian life.” Dying churches, somewhere along the way, began to subtly and perhaps imperceptibly quench, grieve or usurp the Holy Spirit of God. They took matters into their own hands.
How often a pastor is tempted to usurp the work of God’s Spirit—we all want our church family to manifest spiritual maturity, so we attempt to manufacture a quick conformity to outward appearances rather than patiently allowing God’s Spirit to cultivate an internal, organic growth.
It’s easy to set up outward, measurable standards of appearance and performance. We like to do this because it validates us, makes us feel successful as Christians and leaders. Yet the outward conformity COULD be merely a cover for the absence of inward dependence. Healthy churches emphasize the gradual, growing work of God’s Spirit within the believer, over the work of quick, manmade, external conformity.
Orton describes these six things as a “fatal deadness” that spreads over the entire congregation. I think he was hitting the target—for the 1700s and for today! The local church of Jesus Christ is designed to flourish with life, health and joy. While dying or dead churches are a dime a dozen, may God stir up a new generation of churches that defy death and embrace the life and health that only His grace and His Spirit can produce!