Forfeiting the Favor of God

It can hardly be said that today the world hates the church with a violent hatred. Particularly in these United States the world rather slights the church. It regards the church with a benevolent tolerance as a harmless, perhaps even somewhat helpful, but not overly useful institution. That attitude itself casts a serious reflection upon the church. If it were strong and active, as it ought to be, the world would oppose it much more vigorously. Persecution by the world is a badge of honor for the church. Did not Jesus pronounce blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, and does not that beatitude apply to all faithful followers of the Lamb (Matt. 5:10-12)? But by and large the church of our day and our land has lost that badge and forfeited that blessedness. And that is another way of saying that the church’s most imminent peril issues from its own household.

There is a type of worldliness which is extremely prevalent in the church today and is doing untold damage, yet is hardly recognized as worldliness. In fact, the very watchmen on the walls of Zion are particularly guilty of it. It is to count greatness as the world is wont to do, to stress externals at the expense of spiritual values. Savonarola, the Florentine forerunner of the Reformation, decried it thus: “In the primitive church the chalices were of wood, the prelates of gold; in these days the church hatch chalices of gold and prelates of wood.”

The church is said to flourish which grows rapidly in numbers, even though it does not grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord. That church is deemed prosperous which has a costly stone structure and keeps enlarging it, even though it fails to build up its members as lively stones into a spiritual house. Instead of faithfully proclaiming the Word of God and fervently praying that the Lord may so bless its proclamation that such as are being saved will daily be added to the church and that the saints will be built up in the most holy faith, the pastor puts on special attractions and membership drives in a concerted effort to swell the rolls of his church and to realize the ambition that it may possess the most imposing edifice in the community. All the time the requirements for church membership are progressively – more precisely, retrogressively – lowered and the demands of church discipline are progressively – rather, retrogressively – ignored. And never once does it occur to this pastor that this is the worst possible way for the church to command the respect of the world, nor does he realize that thus his church is forfeiting the favor of God.

–  R.B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ