I Watched A Church Die
T. F. Tenney
There is no trauma on earth any more heart-wrenching than to experience the death of a loved one. When you have done all you can do and said all you can say you then have to stand helplessly by, knowing nothing else can be done. What a trauma! With the death of friends and loved ones, oftentimes all that could be done has been done and there are just no more options other than to hold their hand through the process.
No doubt, a greater trauma would be that of beholding a death that you know could have been avoided, or seeing someone struggle in the throes of the process while refusing any anecdote, remedy, or advice. That is often what happens in the death of a church.
It has been my unfortunate duty on several occasions to have to preside over the death of a church. Or, to have to give instructions that it is to be struck from the roster of assemblies because it no longer exists. It simply expired. There are times when it would not have happened if they would have just listened.
Recently, I ran across an article by the late Dr. Fletcher Spruce. It has bearing on this message. Here’s what he had to say:
“I saw a church die. It was not a holiness church for holiness churches never die, they just cease to be holiness churches when they start the dying process. This one was well located with plenty of people and little evangelical competition. But, through die years, problem developed; not problems of pastoral leadership, but problems of a more serious nature re: problems among the laymen. Churches have a way of surviving unworthy preachers more easily than unworthy laymen, for the preacher goes and another comes but the laymen stay.
The thing that killed this church was neither the stench of immorality nor the crime of stealing tithe. Rather, it was the lethal sin of carnal play-seeking attended by envy, jealousy, strife, hate, slander, and bitterness. Among God’s people the sins of the flesh are seldom so damaging as the sins of the spirit, for those guilty of the sins of the flesh usually are ashamed and quit coming, but those guilty of the sins of the spirit keep the pot of Satan’s brew boiling until every one else quits coming.
So, at last, the faithful feuding few were all who remained and fought to the bitter end, and bitter it was. Gradually, the church died. No preacher killed it. No money shortage choked it. No persecution destroyed it. No community transition murdered it. It simply committed suicide. The church was disorganized, the parsonage and church buildings were sold, and the city was left without a holiness witness. It would not have happened if the members had discovered the secret of sanctified cooperation, understanding, and patience. Don’t let it happen where you are. Applied Bible holiness is the safeguard.”
There you have it! Spruce was absolutely correct. I have never known of a church to die because the members started drinking gambling, or they all decided to commit adultery. Usually, when they die of this type of malady it is the sins of the spirit-feuding, fussing, carnality, stubbornness, unyieldedness. It’s a total inability to esteem the other greater than self.
If only there would have been those there that would have humbled themselves, asked forgiveness, not been afraid to lose a few points.
If only they would have been willing to simply understand that after all individuals can never literally be one – we all have to give and take a little. I hope I never have to preside again over the death of a church. Very seldom are they resurrected – occasionally, but very seldom. Warn your people to watch the sins of the spirit and to remember that stubbornness, in God’s sight, is like idolatry.
This article is an excerpt from Bro. Tenney’s latest book: “Advice To Pastors And Other Saints.” You may obtain your copy by communicating with he Louisiana District UPC, P.O. 248, Tioga, LA 71477
This article appeared in the Louisiana Challenger, October 1995. Page 3