Something very bad is happening in evangelical churches. I call it “creep and drift.” If we don’t get control of this very soon, we soon won’t recognize the evangelical church.
Let’s start with creep.
The Bible speaks of people who “creep into households and make captives” (2 Timothy 3:6). The Greek word translated “creep” is endunontes. It means “creep into, enter into” and carries the idea of “hiding” in something. The word translated “making captives” is aichmalōtizontes and means “ensnare, subdue, capture, make a prisoner.”
Jude warned Christians that “certain men have crept in unnoticed.” The Greek word translated “crept in” is pareisedusan and means “come in by stealth, enter secretly or under pretense, settle in alongside of.”
Jude said these creepy people were “ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).
Jude went on to describe these creepers this way:
These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. Jude 1:12-13
The Apostle Paul warned the leaders of the Ephesian church that the day was coming when “savage wolves” would come in among them “not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). Paul told Titus that he left him in Crete for the express purpose of setting in order the things that are lacking and appointing elders in every city to “stop” the mouths of deceivers in the church “who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:11). Paul went on to say that Titus and the elders should “rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13) In today’s language that means telling the creepers to shut up and clean up. If they don’t? They face swift church discipline.
Jesus warned His followers to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
The Apostle Peter warned that false teachers would “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).
Creepers are creepy people in the church who creep in secretly, unnoticed, to take people captive so they follow only them. They destroy churches, church members and families.
The problem is that these creepy people don’t look creepy on the outside. That’s how they can secretly come in and do their dirty work. They go about their destructive business unnoticed. When they are finally noticed it’s usually too late. Their creepy work is done. They’ve taken drawn away the disciples after themselves. They’ve taken people captive to do their will rather than God’s will.
Unfortunately, the lives of millions of people and tens of thousands of evangelical churches have already been destroyed by these creepers. They crept in unnoticed and took people captive right under the noses of church leaders who should have known what was happening.
Which begs the question, with all the warnings we have in the Bible about creepy false teachers, why don’t church leaders catch them in the act and put a stop to their dirty deeds? Here’s Paul’s context for what church leaders should be doing:
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood … Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. Acts 20:28, 31
That leads us to what may be an even bigger problem than creep.
I call it “shepherd’s drift.” Let’s put the blame where it belongs, on church elders. Jesus warned His apostles about savage wolves getting into the church. Paul warned church elders and his traveling ministry team (e.g. Timothy, Titus) about these creepy people. Jude warned church leaders, Peter warned church leaders, and John warned church leaders. Shepherds have had sufficient warnings. The question is why aren’t shepherds heeding those warnings? Why are evangelical churches falling away left and right? Why are evangelical denominations falling away? Why are pastors and elders who know better changing their sermons to match what people want to hear instead of what they need to hear? The answer is “drift.”
We are currently publishing a series on this blog titled “EXvangelical – What’s That?” Here’s what we noted about church leader drift in the last part.
Interestingly, this process of religious or faith deconstruction often starts within the church. Popular pastors, church leaders, academicians, conference speakers, authors, movie actors, song writers, and musicians begin to drift away from the truth of Gods Word. Their drift should be noticed long before it ever gets out of hand, but it hasn’t been in thousands of cases. A Christian who is in the Word, reading, studying and believing the Bible to be true, and communicating with God through prayer regularly should be able to spot the drift long before other Christians notice. God has given us all the information we need to recognize spiritual drift (and heresy), plus we have the Holy Spirit of God living inside of us to guide us into all truth. That should give Christians time to protect themselves, their family and church. However, all too often people don’t listen to warnings coming from knowledgeable and discerning Christian brothers and sisters.
The author of Hebrews used the word “drift” in this way:
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? Hebrews 2:1-4
The Greek word translated “we drift away” is pararuōmen. It means “to flow by, slip away, drift away from duty.” It has the picture of drifting past a destination point because of being pushed along by the current.
That is an excellent picture of what has happened, is happening and will continue to happen in evangelical churches. The very shepherds who are appointed/ordained to lead/guard/protect the church are drifting past their destination point because they are being pushed along by the current of modern (postmodern) culture and those who have crept in unawares to take church members captive to become their disciples. So many of today’s evangelical shepherds have drifted away from their duty to feed and protect God’s flock.
Church leaders are allowing what God has given them to “slip away” from them because they have drifted away from their duty. Do we need to be reminded of what James wrote?
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1
Those who teach, who lead, the Lord’s people will receive a stricter judgment. That fact should make many men think twice before entering the pastoral ministry. Do you really want to face that kind of judgment before God? That fact should also make current pastors and elders think twice before allowing themselves to drift away from their duty.
I’m reminded of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. 2 Corinthians 5:9-11
Whether you are a church member or church leader, you will appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
In the context of participating in the great work of building the Church, Paul wrote this:
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 1 Corinthians 3:11-13
Church leaders by the thousands have drifted away from their duty of feeding and guarding church members. While leaders have drifted, false teachers have crept into churches secretly and unnoticed. Those creepy people do their ungodly work while pastors and elders just drift along thinking they’re doing a great job for God.
The result is that tens of thousands of churches that once stood for the true Gospel of Jesus Christ have either closed down or are now standing for a false gospel or no gospel at all. The same is true for so many denominations that once stood for the Truth, but have fallen victim to the enemy.
So, what advice might we share that could make a difference? I realize that advice given doesn’t necessarily mean advice taken. However, I think sharing some advice at this point could be helpful.
Elijah thought he was all alone in his ministry, but God told the prophet that He had “reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18). Jesus reminded His disciples that He would never leave them nor forsake them, but would give them the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. Jesus also said that He was building His Church.
We can take comfort in knowing that we are not alone. It may seem that way in the ministry at times, but there are thousands of other pastors and elders who love God and are committed to preaching the true Gospel no matter the cost. We need to find each other for mutual instruction and comfort during the troubles of our time.
I had the privilege of serving in several churches through the years and have seen firsthand how the enemy attacks from within. If we are close to God through His Word and prayer, we will see the attacks early and be able to serve as an early-warning system in our churches. I will tell you that knowing an attack is underway and alerting other leaders to the attack does not guarantee the attack won’t continue or even be successful. What we can do is what we can do. God will hold us accountable for doing what we could do in each situation.
Here’s a section of Paul’s last letter to Timothy that God showed me early in my ministry. Whenever a godly person who is close to their earthly death gives you advice, listen. I’ve used this advice many times when searching for the best way to deal with an enemy attack inside a church. I pray it will be helpful to you as well.
Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’ But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:14-26
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.