Is the Organized Church Dying?
In order to answer the question posed by the title of this chapter it is important for me to define some terms. Notice that God’s command is for us to “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). God doesn’t recognize an “organized church.” He looks right past the trappings of human organizing and sees His people. This is true when He addresses the ekklesia in Laodicea. He addresses the people in the church and encourages them to invite Him in and feast with Him (Rev. 3:20). His people are His church, not the organized apparatus that we refer to as the church.
In Matthew 16: 18 Jesus uses the word ekklesia for the first time in reference to what He was about to build. Speaking to Peter, He said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church [ekklesia] and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” In a Greek- influenced culture everyone knew what an ekklesia was. The word was used by the early Greeks of the citizens of a Greek city-state summoned from their homes to the decision-making assembly held in a public place. Here the ekklesia would meet to discuss and decide on important issues facing the city.
So Jesus was using a word that was familiar to these disciples. He said, “upon this rock I will build my ekklesia.” He would begin with those disciples and include many others as He built His ekklesia as a decision-making, ruling body on earth whose task would be to exercise His authority. He goes on to say that that “the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” In other words, this ekklesia would be called into a confrontational position with the gates of Hades but those gates would fail in their attempts to overpower the ekklesia.
We have allowed “the church” to degrade into much less than this high calling of the Lord. Today church is a place we go to for a weekly musical presentation, other special programs and a well-prepared sermon and a quick hello to a few friends we recognize in the crowd. I know that the organized church has done many worthwhile things as I was once a pastor in such a church, but I believe that it is time to admit that we have gotten away from the mission to which Jesus calls us. People, especially the young, are leaving this thing we call church by the droves. The organized church has abandoned its understanding of its place on planet earth and has begun a rapid decline into compromise with this world system that God is calling us out of. The ekklesia is the governing counsel of God commissioned with the privilege of exercising God’s authority to bring about His purpose. Anything short of that is a travesty.
Hades, on the other hand, is synonymous with death. Death is separation from God and the transforming life He provides. Death is Satan’s plan for planet earth and its human inhabitants. God warned the first two humans about the possibility of death and gave them a simple choice: “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen. 2:17). Disobeying God would lead to death and all of its devastating consequences. You know the story. Satan tempted them away from simple obedience to their creator and triggered them to choose death — separation from God. The rest is history as death has ravaged the planet destroying many people in the process.
Jesus spoke of the “gates of hades” or we could say, “the gates of death.” There are many gates to this realm or dimension. Gates are openings between places — in this case between two realms — earth and the unseen realm. Because the first humans forfeited their God-given authority to the enemy, Satan has used his authority to operate as the god of this world system (2 Cor. 4:4). God’s recovery effort looked forward to the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. Until that time, He worked in the lives of faithful people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and other Old Testament saints.
In Christ our authority was restored when He established His ekklesia. We see this in the passage where Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). Keys open and close gates. God has given His ekklesia authority to shut down the gates of Hades and open doors that release the will of God. We see this in His last words to His disciples: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:18, 19). We go in His authority to use the keys of the kingdom in opening and closing doors (gates) to His glory.
God originally gave mankind authority over everything on planet earth (Gen. 1:26, 27). Abandoning that authority has opened earth to devastating attacks from the gates of death. Today in America we are experiencing a disturbing number of social, political, cultural and religious phenomena that can be attributed to spiritual gates that have opened up in our country and elsewhere. If the gates of hades are not to prevail against the ekklesia, as Jesus promised, then why have gates of spiritual death opened up in recent years in America? Is it possible that these gates have opened because we no longer function as the authoritative counsel of God on earth but have allowed ourselves to be shaped by the god of this world and His Babylonish system?
The gates of hades have opened across our land and spewed their death upon us! Abortion, racism, violence, deceit, Marxism, family destruction, gender heresy, and much more. We tend to see these issues as political and assume a hands off policy not realizing that politics is Satan’s main playground and the way he fulfills his mission to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).
Why has this happened so suddenly in recent years catching so many of us off-guard? It is because the church in America has become like the church in Laodicea with all of its lukewarm, complacent, and self-satisfied attitude that thinks it is so rich, wealthy and need of nothing not realizing that Jesus sees us as “wretched, miserable, poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). A strong case can be made that we have forgotten our place as His ekklesia, the authoritative ruling body of believers on earth.
So, back to our original question — is the organized church dying? The answer is yes and our proclamation is that it should die as God begins a new birth of life into the body of Christ returning us to the simplicity in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3). Simplicity means returning to Christ and His guidance in the Holy Spirit apart from the cleverness, trickery and power-seeking of men. The great denominations and church movements will rebel against this but the tide is rising and it cannot be stopped as the Lord prepares His people for the last days.
So where does this all leave us as followers of Christ? It leaves us with the need of revelation from heaven as to our standing as the ekklesia of Christ rather than an organization formed and regulated by men. Just as Peter received revelation concerning the identity of Christ, we must receive revelation concerning the nature of His ekklesia that emerged from that revelation. Once we see who we are as individuals and as the corporate body of Christ, we will begin to conduct ourselves as God’s authoritative council on earth instead of as a human organization moved by the whims of the flesh.
What does that look like? If you try to predict it, you will fail. Simplicity means stepping aside in our love and devotion for Christ and His people and faith in the Holy Spirit to work in us the grand purpose of our God.