Question Time - What are the big issues facing assemblies today?
What are the big issues facing assemblies today?
This question is not easy to answer, for many issues will be geographically specific. For example, many believers face persecution, some are restricted by abject poverty, whilst others live in very remote regions where fellowship with another assembly on a regular basis is not possible. Most of us within the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada have no personal experience of these challenging circumstances, but that does not mean that we are exempt from difficulties and hindrances to the continuation of assembly testimony.
In his final letter, the Apostle Paul highlights a number of issues that will characterize ‘last days’. At the beginning of 2 Timothy chapter 3, he gives a catalogue of nineteen features that will be prevalent in the conduct of the ungodly, features that are progressively evident in society today. Increasingly, people are lovers of their own selves, unholy, despisers of those that are good and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Only a couple of generations ago most people had a reverential attitude towards God and a respect for Christians, but that is rapidly changing. This societal shift presents a massive challenge to God’s people as we seek to maintain a testimony for the Lord.
A direct consequence of this situation is that the number of assemblies is falling, congregations are declining and the saints are aging. Many assemblies are so numerically and physically weak that they struggle to sustain any effective form of evangelism. Although they seek to be faithful to the Lord, the best they can do is to keep the door of the hall open and conduct their regular weekly meetings. This does not bode well for the future of many assemblies.
However, some of the big issues that confront us are not the outcome of external conditions but are those of our own making. How many assemblies have been decimated by internal disquiet and personality clashes? The night before His death, the Lord spoke to His disciples about a new commandment. It was that they should love one another. He then added, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’, John 13. 35. Regrettably, many of us might know the truth of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 theologically, but fail to display it experimentally.
As we read the historical books of the Old Testament, a lesson that stands out very distinctly is that the nation of Israel never rose above the level of its leader, whether that was a judge or a monarch. When there was a good leader, God’s people would prosper spiritually, when the leadership was poor or non-existent, the nation floundered spiritually. Although we are living in a different era, the same situation prevails today. Whilst individuals can prosper spiritually, its spiritual leaders will set the collective spiritual level of a local church. One of our greatest needs, and it is conspicuous by its scarcity, is for elders who fulfil all aspects of the work required of them. Men who contend for the faith, care for the flock and comfort the feebleminded, Acts 20. 28; 1 Thess. 5. 14.
Another issue that we face relates to us seeing ourselves as God sees us. To each of the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the Lord says, ‘I know thy works’, and that knowledge was not always in line with their own perception of themselves. The church at Ephesus may have thought it was contending for the truth, which it was, but it did not realize it had left its first love. The church at Laodicea considered itself prosperous and having need of nothing, whereas the divine assessment was that it was ‘wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked’, 3. 17. It is a good exercise, personally and corporately, to appraise ourselves in the light of the scriptures and to be willing to adjust where necessary.
There are other challenges that confront us, but we are not left to our own resources to overcome them. We have an unchanging God, the indwelling Holy Spirit and a great High Priest who makes intercession for us. As Paul prepared to leave the elders of Ephesus, he said, ‘And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified’, Acts 20. 32.