Signs of decay in the True Church? That seems strange to me. In my opinion, the true church can never decay. Jesus Christ is the head of the church and he will see no decay. Institutions of man will decay. We need to get this straight. The true church cannot drift. It cannot decay. As the Holdemans love to say, the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Before we go further, let’s see what that really means.
Matthew 16:18 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. First of all let us study the verse….Thou are Peter …..(Peter Petros, a rock or a stone, a name meaning “of a soul hard and unyeilding”) and upon this rock (rock, a cliff or ledge, a solid foundation, a boulder) I will build my church (build…to found or establish, to erect up from the foundation) (church… the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth,a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly) and the gates (the gates of hell (likened to a vast prison) 3) metaph. the access or entrance into any state) of hell (Orcus, the nether world, the realm of the dead) shall not prevail against it. (prevail, to overcome).
Now let’s take another look at this verse. “Thou are Peter, a man of hard and unyielding character, and upon this foundation I will build my church, my called out gathering of people, and the gates of hell, the entrance into the state of the dead, shall not prevail against it or overcome it . How many times have you heard this verse quoted as a means of claiming that no force on earth will ever affect the church? If someone questions the church, this verse is thrown out in robotic fashion, as though to say, “you can shut up right now because nothing you can ever say or do can harm or discredit the church.” In other words those who dispute the church are almost made to feel as though they are the “gates of hell,” trying to bring down the church, but it aint never gonna happen, cause “nothing you can say or do will ever bring us down.”
Remember, the church is not an earthly institution, but a heavenly one. Christ is the head. Those who love him and follow him are part of a heavenly body. It should suffice without saying that nothing on earth can ever affect it. What Jesus was saying in this verse is that his people will continue even past death. The institution that he founded will endure even past the grave and into eternity. Satan will never stop it. He didn’t come to start something that could be controlled and run by man, and by the same token, be destroyed by man. He came to set up his church, and it is a heavenly and celestial body. It’s members are known by God. They are part of Christ’s body. As such, they are supernatural and cannot be touched by any force on earth, and death will not disband them.
How then, can there be such talk of decay, of falling away? Let’s take a look at some of the things that the leaders of the Holdeman church list as signs of decay. John Holdeman names many in his book History of the Church of God. Groups that did not practice proper excommunication and avoidance. Groups that failed to control who people married. Groups that were known to build large and elaborate places of worship. Groups that were baptizing unconverted people. Groups that believed the wrong thing (according to his reckoning) about the Incarnation, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and feetwashing, Groups that taught the wrong thing about the Second Coming. Today think about the things that concern the leaders as they try to remain the true church….types of clothing, types and colors of shoes, the parting of the hair, whether to one side, in the middle, or not at all…whether you surf the internet freely instead of being confined by one of their filters…what type of ringtone you have on your cellphone…whether or not people are rich… what kind of farm implements they purchase….I’m going to stop here, but you get the picture. Ben Giesbrecht lists many signs of “declension” in his book Keeping the Faith.
I’m here to tell you my friends, these are all rubbish. The True Church will never fail. It cannot disappear, it cannot be held together by men. It will never move or drift. It is within you. (Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.) If you find yourself away from the true church, it is you who has moved, not the church. It is not a great ocean liner that from time to time tilts and takes on water. Jesus is not tottering at the helm trying to keep his balance, trying to hold on to a wildly spinning wheel as he looks fearfully over his shoulder at the doomed souls toppling into the sea. No my friends, an entirely false picture of the true church has been painted for you. Mass expelling will not right this ship, cracking down on the avoidance will not help, purging the church of electronic devices will have no effect. ALL THOSE who are washed in the Blood of the Lamb are part of the church. Their names are written in the Book of Life.
2 Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
John 10:29 My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father’s hand.
These verses should be a comfort to us. No man can take the love of the Father from us. NO MAN can remove us from fellowship with Him. There is no doubt that God gave oversight to his church to men who would administer fairly and lovingly. But he also has much to say about cruel shepherds who do not take care of the flock. If you feel yourself coerced, bullied or terrified at the hands of the ministers, rest assured, my friend, you are in the hands of a cruel shepherd.
Back to signs of decay: The signs of decay listed by John Holdeman can all pretty much be seen in the Church of God in Christ Mennonite today. Large fancy homes, wealth and ease, elaborate places of worship, misuse of excommunication and avoidance, leaders who are proud and lifted up, baptizing of unconverted individuals, laxness in child rearing, an incorrect view of the Incarnation, an incorrect understanding of the end times…Listen, do you really think that God wipes his people out for minor misunderstandings? Not that some of these things are minor, and yet, seen in a certain light, these things could cause one to stumble. WHAT IF your salvation hangs by such a thin thread? What if the church must depend on men to keep it safe. That cannot be done. There are no men in this world who can safely steer this ship. If in fact the signs of decay in previous eras of the church are a true sign of the true church, then one MUST conclude that the Holdeman Church is no longer the true church. They can teach the true church all they want. They can beat down on the members with a great big stick, scaring them and bringing them into alignment with the latest directive. They can withhold communion from them, put them on repentance, take away their internet, but it will make no difference. Men who do this are dealing with unregenerate hearts. They are encouraging legalism and blocking an understanding of the grace of God and a genuine understanding of what it means to be converted. These men, the ones who batter the people, must answer to God for assuming leadership of His Church in such a way. All of this is not to say that God did not delegate authority, and that he does not need men to administer his church on earth. But I am pointing out the wrong way to do it. The right way is miles in the other direction. I have seen the right way. I have seen men who lead in love, who will suffer for their people, sacrifice for their people, preach the Word in humility, and set an example of longsuffering and kindness. Lest I seem too critical, just let it be known that I long to see a church that operates in love. I long to see leaders who will lay down their lives for the sheep rather than bully them and abuse them. FEAR is one thing that should never be seen in the true church. When you have had enough you will speak out. When you can no longer take it, you will rise up. I sit and I wait for that day.