Our churches are no different. As local bodies made up of drifting humans, our churches will drift along with their members.
It is my prayer that we will be drawn closer to God through this study, that we will push back against the tide of our own reasoning, and that we will recognize the potential for drifting in the future and put up safeguards for ourselves, our families, and our churches.
I. The Reforms of King Josiah 2 Chronicles 34-35, 2 Kings 22-23
Judah in Josiah's time had fallen as far as Israel into idolatry. Josiah himself came from a family of idolatry. Things had not always been like this. But there had always existed the tendency to turn a blind eye to the idols that the people would bring in. The kings eventually also turned to serve idols rather than God.
Josiah's great-grandfather, Hezekiah was a good king who,
"...did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses." (2 Kings 18:3-6)
However, Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, was a wicked king who rebelled against his father and the one, true God. He even went so far as to defile the Temple that Solomon had built by setting up idols of false gods in it. Later in life, Manasseh repented of his sin and turned back to the God of his father.
When Manasseh died his son, Amon, reigned as king in Judah. Amon did all the sins of his father and continued in them and did not repent, but rather multiplied the guilt of his father, going farther into idolatry, and deeper into sin.
Into this culture Josiah was born. Josiah, as the son of Amon, reigned after the death of Amon. At the age of eight, Josiah began his reign in Judah.
When Josiah was still a youth of the age of sixteen, he was moved to seek the God of David, his father. The biblical account outlines four areas where Josiah initiated reform in Judah.
A. Removed the Idols and Altars
At the age of twenty the Bible says that he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of all the false idols, altars, and high places dedicated to the worship of idols. Then he exercised 'church discipline' on the false priests, burning their bones on their own idolatrous altars.
B. Repaired the Temple
At the age of twenty-six, Josiah continued his reforms by hiring workmen to repair the Temple that had been desecrated and the condition of it had deteriorated to such a point that it was near ruins.
C. Recovered the Law
While the priests of God were bringing out the money for the repair of the Temple, they recovered the Law that had been given to Moses. This Law had been lost for possibly 75 years.
D. Reinstituted the Passover
As the priests read the Law they found the part that told about the Passover. The Passover had apparently been neglected for some time, because there is so much given about it. There had never been such a Passover observed from the time of the Judges until that day.
In these examples of the condition of Judah in the time of Josiah, we see many modern parallels within the Church today. The God of Scripture has been replaced with a god of our liking. Since the God of the Bible is not proclaimed, the Word of God is not reverenced or preached with a view towards truth. Since there is no truth proclaimed, the Church has become at best a self-help clinic, and at worst a social club. Membership is regarded as mere social status. Since the Church is no longer the Church, the ordinances God has left us are pushed to the perimeter and are not seen as vital or important in a healthy Christian walk. We are in need of a Reformation in America, and I suspect, also across the world where we have exported our brand of Christianity.
II. Shifting Sand
When I was a youth living in Florida with my parents, we would go sometimes to the beach. While at the beach I would wade out into the surf, looking at ships that sailed in the horizon. After starting out to sea for a while, I would look down and try to see the creatures that would swim around my feet. After a while I would hear my parents calling for me to come back. But I hadn't moved! But as I turned around I found that I had moved. I just didn't realize it. The undercurrent had shifted the sand under my feet and I had drifted yards away from where I started, even though I had not taken one step in that direction.
We as Christians also find ourselves drifting from God many times. We don't recognize that we are drifting, and yet we are. The nature of fallen humanity is to drift. This tendency to drift carries over into our church life.
Churches are constantly in need of reforming. Here are four areas many churches need to reform. If your church does not fall into any of these categories, Praise God! Nevertheless, rest assured that there is room for reform somewhere in your church. I know this because I know Scripture doesn't leave anyone room to hide from imperfection. But we should not be discouraged either. But rather, we should trust in God to align our hearts with Himself as we obey Scripture.
A. The New Idolatry
God in our time has been replaced. Not with images chiseled out of stone, or shaped from metal, or even carved from wood. God has been replaced with a god of our imagination.
Where God was once the sovereign who reigns on high, hating sin, loving righteousness, a God of wrath and mercy, revelatory and transcendent, He has become to many, pie in the sky, our buddy-buddy, old man upstairs, lovey-dubby kind of God. A God who refuses to punish sin, and a God who will not suffer anyone the torments of hell. But this is not God.
B. Misdirected Worship
Worship has become the worship of ourselves. Instead of coming together to worship the God of Scripture, we come together to worship ourselves, the preacher, the singing, God's blessings, baptisms, offerings, or anything else that will fill the time.
The center of worship is always to be God. When we give, we worship God. When we sing, we worship God. When we hear the preaching of God's Word, we worship God. When we receive good from God's hand, we worship God. When baptism or the Lord's Supper is administered, we worship God. When we fellowship with other believers, we worship God.
C. The Lost Scriptures
Scripture has been lost. The Bible as a guide for living for and worshiping the God of heaven has been substituted for itself. The clear preaching of Scripture through careful exposition, study, and prayer has been substituted for the preaching of a few key verses, taken out of context, and misused to appeal to the flesh.
We can learn how to be successful, gardening tips, how to get from God, and a host of other topics, but who will explain Scripture in its context? Who will feed us the Word's that come from the mouth of God? Scripture has been hijacked. Somebody bring it back to us.
D. The Lost Ordinances
Baptism and the Lord's Supper have also been swallowed up in themselves.
Baptism has become meaningless, with the repeat after me, sign this card, assure me of salvation, get in and out of the water, and continue on in your sin salvation that is practiced across our nation.
The Lord's Supper has become meaningless as well, whenever and if it is observed. It is given to anyone who walks through the door. We have not fenced the table. We have allowed unrepented sin to flourish in our congregations, thus producing spots and blemishes in our observance of the Lord's table.
God is not pleased. We must repent and reform our churches.
III. Revive Us, O Lord
Revival is the desperate need of our day. Revival is the sovereign work of the Spirit. So, in no way should we think that the following is a list of steps that guarantee revival. Instead, they are ways we must prepare our churches for the revival that we pray the Holy Spirit will send.
A. Rediscover God's Word
The first step to recovering Scriptural worship is recovering Scripture itself. While we do not worship Scripture, Scripture has the central place in our worship. In Scripture we will find all that God requires of us. Until the Bible is proclaimed line upon line, precept upon precept, God-centered worship will never take place. In the Word of God, God reveals Himself. If we do not examine the Word and regard it as infallibly portraying God, we will not have an accurate picture of the God of Scripture.
This must take place first, in our preaching. Preaching must be expositional, contextual, and comprehensive. This means that when we preach we must explain the text, show the immediate context in a given book and time period, and show how those truths that are taught in that text relate to the rest of the Bible. Then we can see a complete picture of God as He is to be worshiped.
Another place the examination of Scripture is to take place is in our homes. Studying God's Word daily, alone and with our families, and meditating on the Scriptures at work and continually.
B. Return To God
As we see God emerging from the pages of Scripture, we are to accept this God as the one true God. We must do away with our preconceived notions of what our god would do, of what are god is like, and of how he reacts. In short, we must conform to the revelation of God in Scripture. We must cast down those vain imaginations of me-likeness and surrender to the God of the Bible. The God who is Holy, Just, Righteous, Transcendent, Pure, Light, Love, Wrath, Mercy, Grace, Peace, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Immutable, Omnipresent, who punishes those who hate Him, and rewards those who love Him.
C. Reverence The Time Of Worship
There is nothing intrinsically valuable about the place of worship. There is however a time to honor as the time that we come together as a community of believers and worship God. When we come together for the purpose of worship we are doing something that transcends time, space, and matter. We are lifting our voices as one with those believers who are present, those around the world, and those who stand before the throne of God lifting perfect praise to the Lamb and the One who sits on the Throne. The Holy Spirit is uniting us together in one body and combining our praise together so that every tribe, language, people, nation, and race are worshiping as one.
This time is not a time for frivolity. I, as much as anyone, enjoy joking around and having fun. There is a time and place for that. That time and place is not while we are congregated together for the purpose of worship. This time is not to be used for singing about my friends and loved ones who are waiting for me over yonder on that bright shore where beautiful flowers bloom and we get a mansion. All of that may be true to a degree, but we end up worshiping the blessing instead of the One who blesses. I want to see my family and friends, but may I never sing a song of worship about them! Heaven will be beautiful, but I dare not worship heaven. God is the fountain and focus of worship. Don't worship His future blessings. Worship Him.
This time is to be used for the worship of God alone. We worship Him through the clear preaching and hearing of His Word, through sacrificial giving of our means of living as, a picture of a life totally sacrificed to His will, and through the singing of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.
D. Regard The Ordinances As Meaningful
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the two ordinances that are taught in Scripture. Scripture also provides the parameters for observing each of these.
Baptism is reserved for those who believe and repent. Only those who have believed and repented are eligible for baptism. (I'm Baptist. Can you tell?) We have no other example given in Scripture.
Baptism is a visible portrayal of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In baptism we identify ourselves with Him. Just as Christ died for our sins, we show that our old man died with Him. As Christ was buried we show that we were buried with Him. As Christ was raised we show that we to have risen with Him in newness of life. It is a confession of our faith in Christ alone.
By baptism, we are united with Christ and His body, the Church, which is the visible manifestation of the invisible reality. In the local church we have the privilege and responsibility to watch over one another's souls.
The Lord's Supper, or Communion, is also a visible portrayal of the Gospel. When we take the bread and 'wine', we are committing an act of faith in Christ. We are displaying our faith in His body that was broken and His blood that was shed for our sins. When we partake of the Lord's Table, we are looking back in faith to His finished work. We are looking up waiting expectantly in faith for His return. We are looking around at our brothers in Christ recognizing that we are one body with them. We are looking inward at the reality of our union with Christ, represented by eating His 'body' and drinking His 'blood'.
Both of these ordinances must be guarded lest they become meaningless. It is often said that if you take the Lord's Supper too often that it will become meaningless. I don't think so. It will only become meaningless if we allow it to be available to those who have not shown evidence of biblical faith in Christ. We may feel that Baptism or the Lord's Supper is meaningless, but the meaningfulness of these ordinances does not depend on our feelings. The meaningfulness of these ordinances are spelled out for us in the Word of God.
"What if I 'm not worthy of Baptism or Communion?" No one is. Christ has bought your worthiness with his blood. But we do need to beware that we do not present ourselves for either of these ordinances with unconfessed sin. Not free of sin, that won't happen till we get our glorified bodies, but conscious and repentant of sin that is present in us.
When we recognize the significance and that Christ has commanded and granted these ordinances to the Church, we can begin to see how they are vital to our worship and to our sanctification as well. We have a constant reminder in them that we are to exhibit faith and repentance on a continuous basis. And faith and repentance are the supreme acts of worship.
Conclusion: As God's people we would hope that we would not drift from Him, but the sad fact of the matter is we have drifted, are drifting, and will drift again. That is why we must always be reforming ourselves, our families, and our Churches. We must repent and reform.