Dr. Harry Ironside was one of the most respected and beloved preachers that Christianity ever produced. Even though he was best known for his tenure as the pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church from 1930 until 1948, his preaching ministry was truly a worldwide one that crossed over denominational lines. He died in 1951, but his influence is still being felt through his many commentaries and books. I have many of those on the shelves of my own study.
It goes without saying that Dr. Ironside knew a thing or two about churches. So we should sit up and listen to a particular quote from him. He said:
“The curse of Christianity today is that vast numbers of members of Christian churches have never been saved. Their hearts are in the world, and they love the things of the world. This mixed multitude has always hurt the testimony of the church.”
Now, was Dr. Ironside correct in his contention that “vast” numbers of church members aren’t even genuine Christians? Surely he was. How do we know this? We know it because the problem of lost people corrupting the purity of Christian congregations goes all the way back to the days of the early church. Take the little one-chapter book of Jude for example. It has quite a bit to say on this subject.
Specifically, Jude wrote to warn his fellow Christians about false teachers who were being welcomed into some of the Christian congregations of that day. Concerning these false teachers, Jude made no bones about the fact that they weren’t even true Christians. He described them as men who had “crept in unnoticed” and then went on to depict them as:
1. “spots in your love feasts (fellowship meals)” (v.12)
2. “serving only themselves” (v.12)
3. “clouds without water, carried about by the winds” (v.12)
4. “late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up the roots” (v.12)
5. “raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame” (v.13)
6. “wandering stars, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (v.13)
7. “ungodly” (v.15)
8. “grumblers” (v.16)
9. “complainers” (v.16)
10. “walking according to their own lusts” (v.16)
11. “they mouth great swelling words” (v.16)
12. “flattering people to great advantage” (v.16)
13. “mockers” (v.18)
14. “who…walk according to their own ungodly lusts” (v.18)
15. “sensual persons” (v.19)
16. “who cause divisions” (v.19)
17. “not having the Spirit” (v.19)
Concerning that last description – “not having the Spirit” – I’ll remind you that Romans 8:9 flatly says that anyone who doesn’t have the Spirit is not a true believer in Christ. You see, it’s this state of not being indwelt by God the Holy Spirit that creates the rest of the laundry list of problems. And I think we can all agree that people such as Jude describes would certainly reek havoc within churches. Someone says, “But Jude is talking about lost teachers (preachers), not lost lay people.” That’s true, but that in no way means there aren’t any lost lay people. He surely could have written on that subject just as easily if God had so inspired him.
And so my point is that we shouldn’t be so shocked that our churches have so many problems. Authentic Christians behaving in carnal ways cause plenty enough wildfire within the ranks, but throw the gasoline of a high percentage of lost people onto those ranks and see how much worse the fire gets! I don’t present this imagery as a doom-and-gloom kind of thing but simply as a word of warning. Just as lost people (preachers or otherwise) had crept into the churches of Jude’s day, they’ve crept into our churches as well. The evidence for it consists of: divided congregations, contentious business meetings, church votes that turn out nowhere near unanimous, church splits, and church scandals.
Therefore, Christian, if you ever find yourself in the midst of such a mess, just remember that even the early Christians had to deal with it. Also remember that God knows all about it and when He has His final say everything will be made right. Since I’ve built this post around Jude, I’ll close with something else that he says about lost people. It beats anything that I could add to the discussion anyway. In verses 14 and 15, he writes:
Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.