How Churches die?

Rev. Dr. V. K. Nuh

We are born to live in a very crucial time in the history of humankind. Men are made of all their inventions. We have to conclude with what the book of Ecclesiastes teaches us, “This is all that I have learned. God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated.” (Eccl. 7:29).

We talk much about liberalism, Secularism, Materialism, Traditionalism, Radicalism, Modernism and Spiritualism, whatever may be the changes there is some value of it. But the habit of Nominalism is the most ineffective system of religion. It is stagnate in any form. 

In the book of Revelation seven churches were characterized the moral churches of the generation. Of all seven churches, Laodicea is most unsparingly condemned. They confessed Christian liberty with unchristian license. To be in the neutrality of Jesus Christ is to be an obstacle to Jesus Christ.

Bareley commented “The whole deed of Laodicea Church is summed up in the accusation “you are neither cold nor hot.’ (Rev. 3:15). Cold water refreshes, hot water heals. But lukewarm water is useless for neither purpose. This means who makes an idle professing Christian without real faith. Their cool attitude is a denial of all that Christ stands for. “

According to Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentary, “The Sardis Church was untroubled by any attack from outside.” It was neither heathen attack nor persecution. A true vital church will always be under attack. When the church has to lose its vital force. It is no longer worth of attack. It is so ineffectual that it has ceased to matter in the life of community. Moffat translate it as, “Though they keep up a form of religion they will have nothing to do with force.” (2 Tim. 2:5)

As we look at our churches today, we find the exact characters of the church of Laodicea and Sardis at the first century of Christianity. Our churches have no power to resist evil forces. Our churches compromise so much with institutionalized system. There is no power to give light in the darkness in the society. Because our Churches have no more vitality to produce Christian flavor. The outer reputation with inner decay shows senseless churches. Churches are comfortable with material development.

The Church of Laodicea had lost the power to make moral and spiritual distinction. As result the moral and spiritual temperature of the church was abnormal. The wrong temperature is sort of religion which characterized the church at Laodicea.

We have 5000 strong Naga churches having 3 million people and 90% Christian’s population above all more than 10,000 theological graduates but have no impact on the society. All beautiful visible churches on the hill top are only outside beauty. Invisible church have come to bankrupt. Perhaps God is absent in our churches just like he could not stay with the Israelite sacrifice of worship. In spite of our fasting and prayer, conducting Revival meeting, raising mission fund are not pleasing to God. God did not answer our prayer although our crying for peace is louder and louder. I believe it is not only with visible church, but invisible churches are empty.

The early visible churches have in many cases decayed and perished. Where is the church of Ephesus and the church of Antioch, where is the Corinthians church and Thessalonians church? They all departed from the word of God. They are proud with their Bishops, Synods ceremonies, learning and antiquity. They did not hold to fast to the true gospel. They did not give Jesus in his rightful office and faith in rightful place. Therefore their candles stick has been taken away. 

The true church is Christ’s body not one bone in that mystical body shall be ever broken. The true church is Christ’s Bride. Where do we belong, to invisible true church or visible institutionalized church?

The formalism of Naga Churches:
Heresy is always the product of the searching and seeking mind. Heresy is in fact the sign of a church that is vitally alive. Heresy is the sign that a man has at least tried to think out for himself. Heresy is usually an unbalance stressing of one side of the truth. Barkley said “If we stress the divinity of Christ, we run into docetism in which Jesus Christ is a divine figure disguised in what is only a seeming man hood. If we over stress the humanity of Jesus, Christ become nothing more than a heroic figure, the best of good man. If we over stress law, we run into legalism which kill antinominalism which believe that grace is so great that sin does not matter.”

Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of leaven, Pharisees, of Sadducees” false doctrines. “Leaven” means swelling into bigger. False doctrine did not come before man in broad day and summoned them to surrender. It approaches secretly, quietly, in such away to disarm man’s suspicion and throw him of his ground. He will come with sweet attitude of compromise.

To add to the present opinion a little more in order to make your Christianity perfect, when Jeroboam set up the calves of gold in Dan and Bethel, he only said “It is too much for you to go up Jerusalem, behold thy god’s Oh Israel (Thy Elohim) which brought thee up out the land of Egypt.” (I King 12:28)

There was a little timber to make the great ark that carried Noah and his family over deluged world. There is a saying “A little drop of water makes a mighty ocean.” Beware lest any man spoil your philosophy and vain deceit after the tradition of man (Col. 2:8). Today plain warning against false traditional and formalism is needed. There is wide spread gullibility many professing Christian in our society.

A Church may have a good form and regularly and properly administered, but doctrine is not plainly preached. Its schools may force into very parish. It may have a magnificent building decorated with all modern system and equipment but will be only outward show.

Last few years I had attended more than 30 various Jubilees and witnessed the best elaborate, well organized function with many grand celebration. I had warned most of the Jubilee celebration because it was nothing connected with the scripture of the jubilee principle and most of the Jubilee was outward celebration only. The form of celebration is just what Eight Century Prophets condemned the Israelite for the wrong concept of religiosity in Isaiah 13:10 and Amos 5:21-24.

In a particular time God allowed a particular problem which is helpful in a particular place. As we look back at the time at the history of Christianity in Nagaland over 150 years, we realize that the Naga churches were one of the fastest growing among the nations. But today, we lose the spiritual character of our churches. It has not responded as the gospel demands. The message of our Christianity is not effective because we departed from the Gospel truth.

R. C. Ryle believed that “Inside the church Satan is ever laboring to sow heresies to propagate errors to foster departure from the faith. If he cannot prevent the water flowing from the fountain of life, he tries hard to poison them. If he cannot destroy the medicine of the Gospel, he strives to adulterate and corrupt it.” This is exactly what the devil has done to Naga Churches to neutralize the vitality of Christian life.

The Nominalism of Naga Theology:
A.Z. Torez said, “The popular notion that the first obligation of the Church is to spread the gospel to the uttermost part of the earth is false. Her first obligation is to be spiritually worthy to spread.”

It has been proved that our churches have miserably failed to God; we thought by sending missionary outside Nagaland will be sufficient to please God. Therefore, raise fund for outreach mission work. But in our home mission is miserable condition. We have not been able to verify theological stand of our morality. Our pulpit sermons are not contextualized and based superficially and not theologically sound. As we see today in our society, be it political, social, economic or religious, we have not been able to prove anything worthy. At face value, people look at us to be extremely religious, but deep inside our spiritual life is bankrupt. It has no taste like salt without flavor, lamp without oil. Christianity yielded no fruit in hundred years of time; we have to admit our failure.

The Naga Culture value of simplicity, trustworthy and dignity of labor have been adversely affected by the alien culture. There is dichotomy of lifestyle among the Nagas. We preach religiosity, much worship and with much prayer and fasting and prophecy showing great to mission enterprise but our daily lives are filled with hatred and violence. Our streets are stained with blood. Our young people are being captive to drug and alcohol. The church has become so hypocritical that it does not have the courage to face reality. Our government offices are not in progress. Corruptions in highways becomes away of lifestyle. Nobody like to protest even if things goes wrong in our society. I agree with Martin Luther when he said, “We believe that godless society cannot expect to be a glorious society. We must admit that we have not been able to produce lively spirituality. Out theological contribution to society is very insignificant.

Latin American theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez believed that “Liberation theology is not the product of seminary professor writing at the desk but reflection of Christians engaged in human struggle. It is not intellectual exercise but participating in the story of God’s liberating in history.” There was a British historian George M. Trevelyan who said, “Has slave trade not been brought to an end by Christian abolitionist, the Industrial Revolution would have been made Africa a great slave farm in the 20th century and slavery would have wrecked civilization in Europe, Africa and North America.”

Last 60 years, we have gone through very difficult time and yet our churches could not stand up with a theological stand and fought for the truth. Karl Barth believed that, “A theologian is not a man of sect, he thinks and speaks definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’. He is a man of action and not reaction, his freedom is not primarily ‘freedom from’ but ‘freedom for.’ The free theologian is active that private Christianity is not Christianity at all and private theology is not free theology. It is not a theology at all.”

The key word of Biblical concern both Old Testament and New Testament is justice. One cannot serve the truth by seeing part of structure the exploits. Today our churches have lost truth force, soul force and love force. Our churches did not engage in moral and spiritual conflict with power and spirituality. It means refusing to accept what is just. We make peace with established power and give much loyalty to institutionalized visible church organization not invisible church that is Jesus Christ.

The Secularism Swept Naga Society: 
As I sat down with people of older generations in the village, they narrated all the past memories of their forefathers. Indeed, it is touching that the past was so romantic. They recounted how their folks in the village observed their festivals, customs and tradition. Their adventurous life in the jungle with nature. Their pride in the heritage of their forefathers. They talked about their art and song with great honor. They spoke of how nature has been good to them. They were so disciplined as the civil religion taught them how to fear the living God. They were so simple; they wore no shirts to cover their naked body. They had no soap to take bath. Each believed only in one Dao and one spade. They had neither electronic device nor implements, or bull-dozer. And yet, with their own hands so beautifully made the terrace fields. They had never been trained to fight, and yet, they conquered more than we know. They had never seen the 26 Roman alphabet and still they calculated accurately the habit of nature. No medicine sciences were known to them. But they were healthier than we are. There was no school or institution but they knew the art of music and dances.

Nagas are a distinct race, and their ways of living and behavior are quite different from those of other tribal people. They maintained their own institutional system, settling their disputes independently, and were self-growing. Agriculturally they were self-reliant, blessed with other valuable resources and natural beauty. They had no written documents of codes to regulate procedures. They depend on the wisdom of village elders. Not a huge army but only few patriotic people guarded the village from external danger. Helping the weaker people was not legal obligation but a moral one. There was no established institution to teach youngsters. They learned as things come by. They ready to devote themselves for common safety. They lived in these mountains since time immemorial.

Today, ours is a broken world. Within a span of half a century, two great world wars have taken place, changing the course of history. Many new nations were born and countless inventions made. The evolutionary theory of Darwin captivated the minds of millions, asserting an alternative theory to the biblical revolution of creation. Naitzche declare to the world that God is dead. His proclamation appealed to the world and made millions of people doubt the existence of God. Karl Marx’s political ideology of materialism and humanism attracted more than half of the world population. He branded that religion and belief in God is like “Opium” which one must forget.

With the removal of God from His sovereignty, scientist took over and made efforts to explain to people through their invention that there is no God. The nuclear weapons stored by the super Power Nations like USA and USSR and many other nations are ready for button-pressing to destroy the whole world within a few minutes. The computer science now accepted a few inches in memory and can hold millions of records. The communication satellites are being used through the pressing of a button controlling the global distance for every home. When American astronaut walked on the moon, man called this planet a Global family.

The most popular Magazine ‘Time’ while celebrating 60 years of its anniversary reported the worlds important events from 1942-1984 with the title ‘With a toast to the 21st century.’ It recalled the most amazing decades in the history of mankind as stated above human achievement within sixty years of time. It changed the course of human history completely. Now man is mad with changes, forgetting who controls over the universal changes.

Many theologians too joined the chorus of their songs, singing together with all human invention, diverting their view of Ecclesiastical world. In this way, God and His divine works were tendencies to ignore. Consequently the 20th Century paradigm shift has changed dramatically in this planet. The changes have drifted away further to more perilous seas. Today most of our Bible study became scientific of Bible text. Theological study turn to academic interest hardly known for spiritual life formation and theological praxis was hardly known; we have enough proof from many countries even in India. Out of suffering they came to know who they are. Thus, theologian addresses to the people suffering and reflect upon their theological stand. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar warns Indian Christian 60 years ago, “Christianity did not improve to social status of untouchable and did not remove caste destruction and discrimination in the church.” This statement makes sense to many Indian theologians and thus Dalit theological signify will play in its role and now Dalit movement become people movement.

We regret to see that Naga’s have been able to develop any relevant theology to address to our context. Our theology has no head or tail. Naked truth of prevailing situation did not make any sense to our pastors and church leaders. Solid word of God is too hard to digest for spiritual growth.

Unless Nagas returns to the sea shore of redeeming grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no hope of the Naga. Now we are all excited to start a new era of human history. We do not know what changes will come to this world. The question left to us is, ‘Who is the Sovereign Lord?’ Is it God or man? If it is God, we have to worship Him so that we shall be able to survive as human beings in this planet.

Christian maturity demand faith not feeling:
The New Testament presents the Christian life not as an even but rather as a process. In other words, though this new existence in Christ might commence with an act of conversion, the conversion is to be seen only as the beginning. Just as it is desirable for a new-born baby in the physical realm to grow and mature toward adulthood, so also as a new born “babes” in Christ to grow.

This theme of “growing in Christ” is a dominant one in NT and especially so in the Pauline writings. For Paul, to live the Christian life is to learn Christ (Eph. 4:20), to follow Christ (I Thess. 1:6), to press towards Christ (Phil. 3:4), to mature in Christ (Col. 1:28). In the apostle’s understanding, “this mature state is not to be gained by any sudden leap but by slowly nurture in the knowledge and grace of the Lord.” He pictures the Christian pilgrimage as “walking with God,” which brigs to mind the idea of a steady, ongoing journey rather than a sudden happening.

Nature is to guide or to instruct so as to make qualifying into maturity. Church is not college of spiritual growth but school of kindergarten for sinners. Teach them to grow to labor (col. 1:28-29). Nominalism will not take place as long as spiritual growth is there. It is quite natural if there is no nurturing, there will be no growth. Let us see the fact of how Southern Baptist Churches in membership in statistics in the 1969 report of drop out member:

    29%     Lost membership
    25%     Inactive
    20%     Never pray
    30%     Never read Bible
    44%     Never give money to church
    58%     Never attended Sunday school
    70%     Never involve in mission project
    80%     Never have family worship
    95%     Never involve in evangelism.

If some of us are required to make research for Naga Christian life and statistical report, how will you find comparing with Southern Baptist Convention of America even though they claim 60% born again Christian?

Reaction from the booklet of George Mueller Man of God – It is amazing to see the life of George Mueller who completely surrenders his whole being to the Lord. I agreed when many writers called him 19th century Elijah Man of God. He paid the price of all his need by believing the Lord. Putting his faith in action in all situation whatever critical it be. He never compromise with difficult affliction but the confronted with situation by practicing his faith. He claims that the Lord answered his prayer 29,000 times. (Noted in his diary)

What the author was trying to his faith is true. George Mueller’s faith was mot a Jonah’s guard. It was of slow growth. It grew with increasing familiarity with the word of God. It flowered in an increase in personal fellowship with God and it came to fruition through trials, obstacles, difficulties and defeats all of which he welcomed as so many stepping stones which his heavenly father affectionately placed in his life’s pathway.

George Mueller’s commitment to the Lord was unshakeable that is why he used to say “where I am and whom I serve save for myself”? 14. A man who knows how to trust in God when things turn out as he does not expect. Still willing to be quite with the Lord will never fail to be rewarded by the Lord. We are lacking nothing but only faith.

How often we fail to trust in the Lord. We often emotionally take decisions without checking our faith. I remember vividly the Great revival scene in Nagaland. Thousands of people were touched with revival fire. All shops were closed down, even school. Most of social evil were cursed and churches were filled with joy and tears, prayers and thanksgiving were unspeakable. Spiritual songs were sung so beautifully. Everything changed ever since revival broke out in our churches.

But it was just like Jonah guards outside the gate of Nineveh for Jonah’s protection. It was not faith grounded revival. Faith growing process was not there. So when first rain was over all became desert again. How often our church membership decreased for want of spiritual life maturity. Christian maturity must be based with Biblical truth and scriptural feeding for continues growth. Proportional growth of faith will bring Christian maturity. And it will bear fruit according to the season as the Psalmist says, “There are trees that grow besides a stream that bear fruit at the right time and whose leaves do not dry up.” (Ps. 1:3).

The prophetic message:
The definition of the prophet is ‘one who receives a message from God and delivers it to those for whom it is intended. It is though the prophets were of some high immense, looking off into the future and speaking of it as he sees.’ The prophet was a man who stood between God and the whole nation and called them back to the Lord.

The prophet men were raised by God in times of Israel’s declension and apostasy, when faced with social, political and human problem. In the same way the prophetic church will speak God’s words clearly and boldly, standing up for the under privileged and down trodden. A church may be prophetic even if it has no prophet. A prophetic church will try to listen to what God is calling it to be, to do and say in its own context.

God wanted his people to honor love and serve him. The prophet often came with the call to repent. He interpreted national and international events. The prophet played a major role in interpreting what God was doing in that situation and how he wanted his people to believe.

God who intervened in human history in order to break down the structure of injustice and who raised up prophets in order to point out the way of justice and mercy. The prophet of eight and seven century were outspoken in their denouncement of formalism and hypocrisy of Israelite worship.

Jesus then applied their critique to the Pharisees of his day. The people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far away from me. This is not comfortable and not applicable to us and to our churches today. It is unthinkable if prophets did not exist in human history. Israelite will never survive if prophets were not there. God kept the nations alive through the prophets and his message. When prophetic message is missing from the lips of the prophets, the nation failed. The prophet never came with message to sing happy birthday or halleluiah to someone but always confronted the situation, therefore people rejected them and killed the prophets, but people never forget their messages. They recalled their failure to accept the message that God haste send. “Oh Jerusalem, you who killed prophets and stone those send to you – I tell, you will not see me again, until you say, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Matt. 23:37-39.

How much Naga churches should learn from this truth. Our churches have no prophetic message for the nation. Our pulpit has no prophetic message for sinners. This is the reason why Naga people are going through such catastrophe and crisis one after another.

As we see the condition of Naga people today, it is far from expectations. Our streets are filled with crimes. Our villages are filled with confusion. Our systems are full of corruption. Our worship places are filled with apostasy and indifference. Alcoholism and drug addiction are rampant. They kill not only our body but soul. Our society is turned into immoral society. Our nationalism politics has turned into factionalism. The guardian of law has become law breaker. The watch dogs of prophets are sleeping silently in the lap of the devil. Public servants are exploiting common people. Many young have become National highway robbers. Poor people are crying for food, fatherless children rise up and cry, “where is my  father?” this leave us with the urgent question, ‘what does your theology say about them?’ Today people said that Church leader ought never to handled controversial subject and never warn their people against erroneous view. I took as in just   like watch dog became dumb dog and sleepy shepherd are best allies of the wolf the thief and the robbers. (To be created) Isaiah 56:10-12 NV. We all believe that iron never become rusted along as it is hot. Churches will never die as long as Holy Spirit is at work. Layman Beecher believed that ‘No great advance has ever been making in Science, politic or religious without controversy’. Whenever there is problem of controversy it also benefit brought to society. The people and society for the sake of the truth, the Lord Jesus, denounced the Pharisees and Sadducees, so also Martin Luther break the unity of the Churches for the sake of the truth. Whitefield and John Wesley rejected the mere moral teaching of the clergy of that time.

At the need of the hour, what should the Naga people be doing? We need to seek the living the God to bring us back to our senses so as to be a holy creature. If we refuse to allow Holy Spirit to operate and transform this ugly truth, we shall remain defeated people.

The real battle line between good and evil must drown in the heart of every person. We must fight for the truth by our theological reason based on biblical truth. ‘All scripture inspire by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking, correcting and giving instruction for right living.’ (2 Tim. 3:16).

When everything had gone wrong in the early part of 16th century, Martin Luther the father of Reformation boldly challenged the Emperor and Pontiff. “The secret of his courage is that he stood on the rock of the Holy Scripture and declared I cannot choose but adhere to the word of God which has possession of my conscience, nor can I ever possibly make recantation. Since it is neither save nor honest to act contrary to conscience. Here I stand, to otherwise so help me oh God.” Amen