By Mark Greenwood 2004
I sometimes hear people talking about backsliders and those who don’t go to church anymore as if they are one and the same. (I use the term «church» in its generally accepted modern sense of a building where people gather for religious reasons. This may include the true Church plus any other religious minded person.)
A Christian who has stopped going to church is not necessarily backslidden, but even a backslider needs to be pitied rather than condemned. A backslidden person may fall into two groups, one, a person who goes to church yet has never been born again. They may have enjoyed the social life of the church but have now gone back into the world or have one foot in the world while still attending lukewarm church meetings. The other is someone who was at one time saved but for whatever reasons has now gone back into the world. I pray that these shall eventually, like the prodigal son, return
We cannot see a person’s heart so only God knows those who are part of His family and those who never knew Him.
To the person who is privileged to be in fellowship and who has never experienced being isolated before, it may seem likely that someone who no longer goes to church must be a backslidden or disobedient Christian. This presumption brings undeserved condemnation on the Christian who is longing for true, scriptural, fellowship yet finds it difficult to find any, plus there is the added hurt of being misunderstood. Many Christians today are bruised reeds or smoking flax, they don’t need breaking or snuffing out but rather understanding, love and encouragement.
Each individual case must be taken on its own merit. When someone is out of fellowship it does not automatically follow they are backslidden, as some would imply. This is possible of course but we cannot jump to that conclusion.
What about those who God has caused to be isolated while He works in their life? I am thinking of the Apostle Paul. After becoming a Christian he went into Arabia and conferred not with flesh and blood so that he might learn of God (Galatians 1 v 16-17).
Also of course there is the Apostle John who was exiled to the Isle of Patmos.
Do you not think it possible that for a time God may take Christians today into a place of isolation while He works in their life?
It is not only possible that God is working in their lives but also possible they have a closer walk with the Lord than many Christians who ‘go to church’.
Should one go to an apostate church or one that is dead in religion if they cannot find any other in their vicinity? Man might think so but God says “Come out of her my people” Revelation 18 v 4. God’s people are called without the camp, bearing His reproach (Hebrews 13 v 13).
Andrew Murray says that the camp was not Rome with its heathenism, but Jerusalem with its religion and its revelation from God. «Let us go forth: not from one religious connection to another, which in time proves to have as much of the spirit of the camp. No, let us go forth unto Him! to closer fellowship, to more entire conformity to Him the Cross-bearer, to His meek and patient and loving spirit. Let us not cast our reproach on those we leave behind, but let us bear-His reproach.» (The Holiest Of All, by Andrew Murray)
Also what about those who have been battered and bruised by the wolves of the churches they have been in, do we understand their need and like the good Samaritan tend their wounds and help them back into fellowship or do we walk on the other side saying “tut, tut, they won’t be at church on Sunday, shame on them”?
What did Jesus have to say about the missing sheep? He says that if one sheep out of a hundred is lost the shepherd leaves the 99 and goes into the mountain to look for the one who is lost. Matthew 18 v 12-13. There could be many reasons why the sheep isn’t with the other 99.
Of course there are many people today who are out of fellowship because the churches they have belonged to are now teaching false doctrine (or no doctrine). They long for fellowship but they don’t know where to go. They try different churches and yet like Jesus they find “nowhere to lay their head” (Matthew 8 v 20). They are out of fellowship. Are they also backslidden?
If a person is backslidden they have turned back into the world or they have turned back to false gods. They have forsaken their first love and fallen into error. A backslidden person might be quite at home at their local church on Sunday, while another person who walks close to God might find themselves, for a time, in isolation.
In the last days there will be a great falling away but it will not be a falling away from church attendance but rather a falling away from true doctrine. The church buildings might be full of people all having a great time with their professional groups playing their worldly music. It would seem quiet obvious to all and sundry that there is something wrong with that miserable Christian who refuses to join them and ends up going nowhere. However that miserable Christian may be the only one holding onto true doctrine.
When a person has gone from church to church seeking for true fellowship without finding it, they may finish up rejecting any thought of fellowship with like minded Christians and so become trapped in their isolation. We need to understand and have compassion.
Christians long for real fellowship. How wonderful it is to be part of a fellowship where the truth is preached and the Holy Spirit is allowed to minister. However, if a person cannot find real fellowship should they join a carnal church? Are they backslidden if they decide to follow God in isolation until He brings about the true fellowship their hearts desire?
Hebrews 10 v 25 says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another: and so much more as you see the day approaching”.
Many say to me that they cannot go back to the old style church meeting and they now meet in small groups or not at all (even these small groups can lack any form of spiritual life or ministry and can still be a one man band). Other Christians hold on to church life but feel it is producing spiritual death in them rather than life.
Acts 2 v 42 tells us that the new converts “continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers”.
What is this fellowship that many desire but cannot seem to find any longer?
I Corinthians 1 v 9 tells us that we are called into fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In 1 John 1 v 3, the Apostle John says that, “our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”.
How true that is yet how lacking is the Lordship of Jesus in many church gatherings today.
Jesus said that where two or three are gathered together in His Name “there am I in the midst”. In Revelation chapter 3 we find Jesus outside the church and knocking to get in. If the church today has left Him outside the door, knocking and asking to come in, where do we find the fellowship our soul desires?
I believe the longing in many hearts is to have fellowship with others of a same mind who allow the Spirit to minister through the body, and allow the body to wait on the Lord with adoration and praise. So often the meeting is organised and the body of believers do not have to wait on the Lord and be open to Him but rather just follow the leaders.
What I would ask for all those Christians who love the Lord but are in isolation at this time, is that those who are in fellowship produce the true fellowship in their midst that the bible shows. One where truth is preached and also where the body can function in ministry and people will be cared for and loved, one where Christ is Lord.
If the Church gets right and allows the Spirit to have His way in the Church meeting then the isolated Christians will have somewhere that they will be able to fellowship once more.
Let those in fellowship understand and respect those who are isolated and don’t misjudge them.
To the leaders I ask, please don’t lord it over the tender lamb. One abusive sentence can undo a years love and encouragement. Where members have been continually abused in churches and have finally quit church fellowship, to have them come back and put their trust in you and then be criticised by you (especially from the platform) can destroy them completely causing them never ever to set foot in church again. Once again they will be criticised for not going to church. Their lives are completely devastated yet they are condemned by those who have destroyed them.
Let the isolated Christians remember the body. Each member has its function, we need you and you need us, neither of us can say we don’t need the other. I doubt that you will find a church to meet your need in every aspect, but the church still needs you. If the church gathered together on a scriptural basis then your ministry would be missed. Unfortunately at the moment people are missed for not filling the empty pews rather than for their ministry input. Do not put your trust in man, no matter how wonderful he seems at the time, he will only fail you or misunderstand you at the time you most need him to understand. He is only human so don’t see him through rose tinted spectacles neither lift him up in your own eyes as someone who you can put your trust in. Put your trust in the Lord not in your pastor. Your pastor will make mistakes so pray for him and love him. If we put our trust in man we are setting ourselves up to be hurt. The bible says, «Cursed is the man that trusteth in man» Jeremiah 17 v 5. In other words things will go wrong for us if we trust in man. However blessed is the man that puts his trust in the Lord (Jeremiah 17 v 7). It is the Lord we need to depend on, not man. When we go through hard and difficult times which bring us to despair it is because God is teaching us to trust in Him and in Him alone. «Despair is only cured at the point where we become fully aware of our self’s dependence on God» (From ‘In Search of Personality’ by Peter Morea page 43). If at these times of despair we turn to man, putting our trust in him as a person to meet our need, then God will have to deal with us even more critically in order to teach us to put our faith solely in Him. If only we would become fully dependent on God for everything rather than relying on man as a crutch because we don’t trust the Lord in all our ways. Of course there are some ‘good’ men who we can love and respect. We can trust them to do their very best not to let us down, however they are still human and can make mistakes or misunderstand us. We may trust there word while at the same time recognising their fallibility. We should not put our trust ‘in’ them as a person. That is reserved for God alone.
To the Church I ask, if the body is to function as it ought to function, shouldn’t we be having some form of body ministry to allow the body to function? We used to have the hymn, prayer, hymn, bible reading sandwich type meeting, which met the need at that time. Now the worship leaders mostly lead the modern meetings to start with. This can have its place especially if the leaders are sensitive to the Spirit and allow time for the Spirit to minister through the body. The problem is where the worship team dictate what is to be sung then the body does not come prepared to share but rather to follow, why come with a psalm, hymn or spiritual song if the leaders have already decided what will happen? So this also leads to spiritual death.
Musicians and songbooks can be a wonderful support to the worship time but if they take control then the body is stopped from looking to the Lord for Him to minister through them. However I do realise that in many fellowships the congregation do not want the responsibility of ministry and will not function unless they have a leader at the front to lead.
People who’s ministry is in worship and praise do have a responsibility to lead the congregation into spiritual worship but not by organized worship. What I mean by that is, if the musicians come as part of the congregation and bring with them a song that the Lord has laid on their heart they can move out in worship at the right time or even spontaneously break forth into song as the Spirit leads. If it is their ministry then the Lord will anoint them to minister from the midst of the congregation as part of the congregation. Let the worship be as the Spirit ministers through the body (especially through those of the body who minister in song) but not by some person at the front who leads it all at the expense of the body.
Of course there will always be the danger of the flesh taking control even in meetings where the Spirit is allowed to minister through the body. This is where we need strong yet humble leaders.
Is it then at all possible for the church meeting to function by spontaneous worship and Holy Spirit inspired ministry flowing from the body of believers? I have finally come to the conclusion, after many years longing to see this type of meeting, that the answer is no, at least not by man’s ability. Yes there will be many meetings similar and yes there will have been the pioneer meetings down through the ages where God has allowed us examples of what can happen when He has had His way, but the meeting where the Spirit has full sway can only happen when God does it out of His grace towards us.
In the times of past revival when the Spirit took control then we see the church functioning as God designed it to. Jessie Penn-Lewis in her book “The Awakening in Wales” Page 53, says that when the Holy Spirit was given the place of presidency over the church, “anyone might rise to speak or lead in prayer without fear”.
We cannot bring this type of Holy Spirit led meeting about because man will always hinder God moving, but God can bring it to pass. Let us pray and seek God that He might bring it to pass. Meantime let us love and understand one another. Without love, body ministry or any ministry is irrelevant.
If you live in the United Kingdom please visit my UK Fellowship page.
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