I have been watching a house being knocked down this week. A large front end loader pushed the house over, then tore it into pieces. I was surprised how easily the house collapsed. It had looked ok from the outside.
But, after the house was demolished and the pieces were shoved into a big pile, I saw that a lot of the wood was rotten, some was brittle and some even burned. What looked respectable from the outside was rotten on the inside.
A church can also look respectable on the outside, but be rotten on the inside. Years of sin and hardened hearts are dressed in nice suits and dresses to hide the interior rot and brittleness.
Selfishness is not revealed until people do not get what they want. Bitterness is hidden in secret thoughts until frustration opens the mouth and the tongue says terrible things. Rebelliousness and dissension arise as people with the same felt grievances band together.
At some point, the scale is tipped. There is more rot than soundness. Then the house comes down. It may just rot until it is an empty, useless shell or someone tears it down. In Revelation, Jesus told a church that if it did not repent, he would come and take away its lampstand. (Revelation 2:5) It was an apocalyptic way of saying he will tear down their house.
We have a concrete example. After many warnings, God sent the Babylonians to tear down Israel’s house, the temple. Centuries later, he tore the house down again, using Roman legions to do such a thorough job no stone was left on top of another. It was never rebuilt.
How do we avoid the rot?
The Christian life is about dying to self. Jesus made it a condition of following him. (Luke 9:23) He said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” He said this in the context of his own death, having just told the disciples he must suffer many things and be killed.
We repeat this verse glibly. We say we will follow him even to death. But we will not deny ourselves in everyday life. We will not give up our Sunday School classroom for someone who needs it more. We will not consent to change the schedule of services by 15 minutes. We will not put up with rowdy kids from unchurched families mixing with our children in order to reach them for Christ.
And, of course, the number one cause of church fights today is church music: traditional hymns vs. contemporary music. A lady once told my wife she would give anything if our church could be united in worship. She followed that by saying: if those young people would only give up that contemporary music we could be united. That is not self-denial. It is selfishness. Self-denial would have at least said I would give up some of my music to blend in some of theirs if it would make us united. Those on the contemporary side are the same way. They will leave and go to another church that is more contemporary.
Selfishness leads to bitterness. When we do not get what we want, we sulk. We complain. We join other complainers. We get bitter. We also get contentious.
All of these attitudes are condemned in scripture. Paul said the works of the flesh include enmity, strife, fits of anger, dissensions, and divisions. He even says those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
That is strong language. He bluntly says that believers do not do these things. If you do these things, you do not have the inheritance of eternal life.
Paul appealed to the Corinthian church that there would be no divisions among them, but instead they would be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10) There is complete unity in the Godhead. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are always in agreement. We only reflect that character of God when we ourselves are unified. We only reflect the humility of Christ when we are humble, putting others before ourselves. We are only obedient to Christ when we are humble and when we are united.
It is useless to pray for revival or even growth if our hearts are not lined up with the heart of Jesus. What is needed is confession and repentance. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) Then we can walk in the light of God and have fellowship with each other. That fellowship means we share our hearts and spirits, desiring to glorify God, deny ourselves, and follow Christ together. If we do that, the church will live and not rot.