Living in rural Oklahoma from time to time I hear about things that are viewed as threats to the church. Most of these supposed enemies of the church are things like “hollywood”, “wokism” or other religious groups. While we can and do have disagreements with these groups they in my opinion are nowhere near the top of the list of enemies of the church. The things that I believe are the current enemies of the church are much more subtle than things that many people would see as things that are openly hostile to their faith. While there are many other things that can hinder the mission of the church I believe there are 5 that can be found in or around nearly every church in the United States to some extent. These 5 enemies of the church are biblical illiteracy, political partisanship, personal preference, denied justice, and apathy.
This is probably the biggest threat to the church. It is highly likely that if you are reading this you have some connection or involvement in church leadership so the fact that most Christians don’t really know their Bible probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. You probably see it all the time in some fashion. While those in church leadership can help increase biblical literacy through preaching and teaching through the Bible you can’t force people to pay attention or read the Bible for themselves. Unfortunately, though, I think many leaders take biblical literacy too lightly especially given that Jesus tells us in the Gospels what happens to those who don’t listen to what he says. You might be thinking Jesus didn’t talk about Biblical literacy; he didn’t even have the Bible. Well while he may not have had a Bible he did talk about what happens to those who hear his words and don’t obey them. To summarize, they don’t withstand storms. Now I know we can’t directly hear the words from Jesus but they are written down for us in the New Testament. If you don’t read your Bible you are greatly hindering your faith and the chances of you falling in times of trouble are greatly increased. Sure you don’t need the Bible to hear the gospel but it sure helps live a righteous life if you know what kind of God we serve and what he is capable of doing for us. It is my opinion that defeating this enemy will help greatly with the other four items on this list.
So how do we address biblical illiteracy in the pews? Sunday morning is a good place to start. If you aren’t preaching from the Bible then your people aren’t going to see why it is important. I don’t think you have to preach whole chapters of the Bible on a Sunday morning. In fact some verses will require a whole sermon of their own because of the complexity of what they are discussing. Another idea is if you have programming aside from the Sunday morning worship service. This could be Sunday School, Wednesday bible studies or small groups throughout the week. While there are great resources that focus on things like relationships, finances or any number of other issues in someone’s life, maybe for a period of time these groups need to focus on scripture solely. One last option you may want to consider is making Bible reading plans easily accessible to your congregation whether that be through a church app or strategic placement in the church.
Politics are something that we can’t avoid living in a democracy. I believe that in order to be good stewards of what God has given us we must use the power we have been given to influence decisions. However, politics can easily usurp the position of Christ in our lives. While this has always been a temptation over the last 6 years this has been the norm and not the exception. Christians on both sides have become militant towards their brothers and sisters on the other side of the “aisle”. We make straw man out of our brothers and sisters either accusing them of being baby killers or hating the poor. We refuse to allow for any nuance when it comes to politics.
The church is supposed to be a uniting force. Jesus himself united political enemies in his original 12. Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector were about as far apart on the 1st Century Jewish political spectrum as you could get. Yet they put aside these differences because they found something that superseded these political identities. This should be the way it is in the church. We should not be focused on a single issue. We should be focused on living out the life of kingdom citizens. Our first concern should be our brothers and sisters in Christ despite the color of their skin or the country on their passport. We should care about the poor, feed the hungry and welcome refugees. We should fight slavery, promote justice and save the lost. Above all we should remember that the cross supersedes the flag.
Issues stemming from personal preferences in church are the stuff of legend in church leadership circles. Every church leader has at least one story where something ridiculous like carpet color caused at least a decent fight in a church meeting. Let us also not forget the fabled worship wars of the past which in some churches are still being fought as aging congregations who avoided them to begin with now struggle with keeping young families in their congregations. Personal preferences may seem to some like the least worrisome issue on this list but it can be an easy way to drive division in the church. Personal preferences can be hard to let go of. We enjoy a certain style of worship because it speaks to our hearts more clearly than other styles. Usually the preferred worship style is the style that was most common to us at a spiritual significant point in life. More often than not this spiritual high point is highschool or college. While worship is one of the more common differences there can be many others that people can get upset by. These preferences include, style of dress, sunday school or small groups throughout the week or really anything else you could think of.
So what is the antidote to personal preference? A great place to start in my opinion would be with the example of Jesus. While Jesus came to earth to bring salvation to humanity it appears that in the Garden of Gethsemane his personal preference was to not be crucified. He obviously understood that this was what needed to happen but if there was another less painful way he would have preferred that option. Or we could look at the books of Romans and Galatians. These letters from Paul discuss unity of the body. Earthly concerns should not come in the way of Christian unity. If that doesn’t do it for you maybe 1 Corinthians 9 will help. Here Paul says that he became all things to all people so that by all possible means he might win some. Paul understood that sometimes he had to put aside his personal preferences in order to help others hear the gospel. Sometimes this meant foregoing traditions or customs that he was used to and comfortable with so that others could see that there was a place for them in the kingdom of God.
Much like partisanship the idea of denied justice is something that the outside world can see clearly. In the interest of full disclosure I have to say I am a Southern Baptist. If you were paying attention to the news a couple of months ago you know that an internal battle over sexual abuse spilled onto the public stage. The unfortunate part is this never should have been a battle. Victims of sexual abuse should have been listend to rather than bullied and intimidated into quite submission and then swept aside to protect those who were in power. This isn’t just a problem in the Southern Baptist Convention and justice hasn’t just been denied in the area of sexual abuse. For decades the church overlooked the idea of justice with the excuse that we just needed to focus on the gospel. Don’t get me wrong, the gospel is a big deal. In fact the gospel is the whole point of Christianity but part of the gospel is about restoring things to how they should be. While we will never fully eliminate injustice on this earth the church should be at the forefront of trying and not playing catch up to the rest of the world.
The answer to this dilemma is found throughout the Bible. Let’s start with the Old Testament. The Law was designed to prevent injustice from running rampant in the Jewish community. From making provisions for women in the case of sexual assault, providing restitution for those who were wronged, the Law even mandated the nation of Israel take care of widows and orphans. Now Israel wasn’t the greatest at doing this and that mixed with idolatry are a large reason why God sent both the northern and southern kingdoms into captivity but it’s there. Moving on from the law we can land in any one of the prophets and there is a good chance you will find something about justice. My personal favorite verse from the prophets that mentions justice is Micah 6:8. In this verse Micah points out that God has asked for man “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before the Lord”. Sure this isn’t a deep dive into justice but it is a clear statement that it is something that God’s people should be about. Again I know someone will make the argument that I am speaking from the Old Testament to make my claims. While I didn’t mention this earlier I should point out Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them. Let’s start with the second greatest commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself. We can’t love our neighbor if we are denying them justice.
Apathy may be the most covert of the enemies listed here. Unlike these other enemies apathy can be hidden for some with relative ease. This is because most of us who have struggled with apathy have been in the church for a long time and know how to fake it. We get comfortable in our faith, our life and everything else and that is when apathy sneaks in. We stop making sacrifices or make just enough of an effort that it looks good but really doesn’t cost us much. In a culture that encourages comfort this is extremely easy to do. In all honesty this is probably something most Christians in the US will deal with at some point.
So if it’s the sneakiest enemy and one most of us will probably face at some point in our life, what do we need to do? The truth is this is an easy answer. We start to sacrifice things. Now while the answer is easy to know it is hard to do. As I said we are surrounded by a culture that is all about having everything and being as comfortable as possible. The problem is Christians aren’t called to be comfortable. In fact if you find yourself comfortable I would say it is time to look at what sacrifices you are making. It may be that what was once a sacrifice is now just a part of your life. You have either adjusted to not having that thing or in the case of monetary sacrifices your income has increased to the point that what you give is no longer a sacrifice. If this is the case it may be time to increase your giving. Or maybe you need to go somewhere. Maybe God is calling you out of a comfortable life into some sort of life on mission. Maybe he wants you to quit your job, sell everything and go to the mission field. Or maybe he wants you to go into vocational ministry. It may just be that he wants you to move into a different role. Sacrifice doesn’t have to be a big life change but it does have to cost something. This is why when David offers a sacrifice to stop a plague sweeping Israel he insists on paying for it. He could not sacrifice someone else’s property as there was no cost to him.
To be clear this isn’t an exhaustive list of the enemies of the church. I do want to point out though that I don’t think any person belongs on the list. While I may disagree with someone I do not believe they should be classified that way. Jesus was pretty clear on the fact that we are to love our enemies and if they are in need to make sure their needs are met. So the next time you think about what the church should be worried about, don’t think about the person who you feel is persecuting the church, think about the concepts and half truths that lead people astray.