BOLD PRAYERS: Why we pray for God to close unhealthy churches.
Every Tuesday morning we meet for prayer at 6:00. It’s a relatively small group of people, but our prayers are deep. Some prayers are recurring. And one of those prayers that we pray often is that God would shut down unhealthy churches.
It’s a bold prayer, and it causes some to bristle. Who are we to pray that other churches would close? What makes an unhealthy church anyway? And who are we to judge? Valid questions.
To begin with, we define a “healthy” church in a very narrow way that ultimately ends up being very broad on the other side. A healthy church is a church that preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his saving work on the cross. That must be it’s sole foundation. The people gathering should be chiefly gathering around this message, that it is Jesus who saves. The leadership should hold this up as the chief focus of the believer. It’s a narrow focus. To miss that point is to miss the entirety of the Scripture; to add anything to it is to distort the message. We are called, justified, sanctified, and glorified through one path, and one path only: Grace, through faith, in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Any church that misses that point will be an unhealthy church–and in fact, may not even be a biblical church to begin with!
Viewing health through that narrow lens means that on the other side, a healthy church will have many different faces. We don’t want to make declarations of a churches health based on their view of complementarian vs. egalitarian leadership, their view of church structure or hierarchy, or views on baptism, the Lord’s supper, worship style, worship content or substance, or whether they have a large magnificent building or a small, run-down building. Getting through the narrow gate of the Gospel means that there is a lot more room for genuine disagreement on the other side.
Ultimately, we pray that God would close unhealthy churches for several reasons. First, because we believe that leadership in the church matters. Most churches don’t end up where they are, with an eye on something else other than the Gospel, because they voted on it. They end up there because of a failure of leadership, or false or failed leadership, who have convinced the rest of the congregation that there is a better or different path either through explicit statement, or through implicit inaction. Even a congregational church in the truest sense of the word would no doubt be able to identify two or three people who guide the rest of the church. Leadership matters. Part of praying that God would close unhealthy churches means that we are praying for God to remove unhealthy leaders.
Second, because leadership matters, we recognize that there are a lot of people in the church who are like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). Or, in this case, like sheep with a bad shepherd, leading them not to green pastures but to brown ones. Pastures where they will starve. Rather than flowing waters, they are leading them to stagnant ponds. (It’s why these churches usually give off the appearance and the stank of death.) These are God’s sheep! They deserve better. They need the true shepherd, and without him, they’re going to starve.
Furthermore, the failure to point towards the work of Christ alone has a tendency to create false converts. It creates people who think they’re in the kingdom, but actually aren’t. They think they’re in because they act right, or do more good than bad, but when it comes time to stand before Jesus he says, “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23). Jesus calls out the religious leaders of the day for making converts who are “twice the sons of hell as they are” (Matt. 23:15). It’s actually worse for these converts, because they’re operating under a false belief. They’ve been lied to. To get to the true Gospel, that lie is going to have to be unraveled.
It’s for those two reasons that we apply this same prayer to Restore. If we preach anything other than “Christ and him crucified”, we want God to shut us down now. The world (and the Northeast, in particular) doesn’t need another church preaching Christianity without the cross. Our people don’t need good advice, they need Jesus. And if they aren’t seeing Him, meeting Him, being engaged by Him, and being transformed by Him at Restore, then we want them to go somewhere they will. The Gospel message is far too important to spend our whole lives only thinking that we’ve heard it.
In the end, the prayer we pray for other churches generally is the same one we pray for Restore, specifically. That our focus would be on the message of the Gospel, and that if it wasn’t, that we wouldn’t waste the time of God’s people by just keeping the doors open for the sake of ourselves or our own agenda. Life is too short, sin is too bad, and Jesus is too great a savior!