One of the most secure and well-groomed yards in the United States has a significant problem! This week the frenzied media had a heyday about a sinkhole that has appeared on the North Lawn of the White House. A sinkhole happens gradually or suddenly when there is some form of collapse of the surface layer. This can be caused by a number of factors including rainfall, drainage, chemical dissolution, etc. This earthen anomoly (as it has been called) reminds us of the destructive power of erosion.
Erosion isn't only an ecological problem it's ecclesiological too -- that is, it's a problem in the church. The Apostle Paul wrote about the true nature of the church and said it's "a pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). The imagery here suggests that the church be, as Patrick Fairbairn wrote "a basement whereon the truth may securely rest amid all the flunctuations of the world, and a pillar to bear it aloft, that all may know and consider it." Simply put, it's through the church -- the people of God -- that the truth is made known, supported, and defended. That's a very high calling. Again, "connected with God, it necessarily holds and bears up in the world, that with which His name and glory are peculiarly identified -- the truth as it is in Jesus."
Pillar and buttress that it is, however, the church isn't impervious to the destructive power of erosion. There are any number of factors that seek to deteroriate the church's hold on the truth. It's why we're often reminded of the necessity to "follow the pattern of sound words" (2 Timothy 1:13), to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), and why we are to "watch ourselves" and abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 1:8-9). What are some of the factors that cause ecclesiological erosion?
Erosion occurs when we show confusion and not clarity about God's truth. We live in a day of blurry lines -- ambiguity and "I think" is more praiseworthy than definition and "Thus saith the Lord." But whatever cultural virtue there is in these things, the truth of God isn't to be witnessed to in obscurity, uncertainty, or doubt. Rather, the church needs to put aside confusion and be clear about God's truth. As Paul wrote: "We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2).
Erosion occurs when we show apathy and not attention to God's truth. God's truth is not minimalistic the way many of us can be. Rather, it's comprehensive that "the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:12). That is to say, it doesn't just give us the basics of the Christian faith, but the Bible tells us all we are to believe concerning God and what duties he requires of us. Yet, it isn't merely a pessimistic observation to note that many Christians are apathetic to the truth of God. If we will be conformed in every way to his Word then the church must have an attention to the details.
Erosion occurs when we show cowardice and not courage about God's truth. To be completely honest, the Bible contains uncomfortable truths -- truths about sin, judgment, exclusivity, identity, sexuality, and ethics. These are made all the more uncomfortable in the society and culture in which we live. It's easy to backdown. It's easy to retreat. It's easy to redefine and to compromise on those truths. But the church must be called to an uncompromising courage: "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7).
Erosion occurs when we show favoritism and not fairness in applying God's truth. The thing about God's truth is that it really is the great equalizer. We all have the same position in relation to God's truth -- we are all under it. Men and women, young and old, leaders and laity, rich and poor, believers and unbelievers, reputable and unreputable, etc there are none who are above God's truth, to the side of it, or beyond it. In a difficult scenario where the leadership of the church needed to be held accountable Paul reminded the young pastor Timothy: "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging doing nothing from partiality" (1 Timothy 5:21).
History throughout the centuries right down to breaking news headlines can provide all kinds of examples of those who through confusion, apathy, cowardice, and favoritism have let the power of erosion into the church. When that happens the church loses its peculiar glory since it is not able to effectively make known, support, or defend the truth of God.