Beware of the Ivy

Once upon a time, a church was planted. It was founded by men and women who loved the Lord. He had forgiven their sin and saved them from hell; He had bestowed on them the joy of knowing they had eternal life. They studied the Bible together, prayed together, worshipped together. They wanted others to know how good Christ was to them, so they regularly shared their faith. They hated sin and loved the Lord in equal measure. One day, they erected a sign outside their building:

WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED

It was a quote from 1 Corinthians 1:23 and summed up their theology: Salvation was by Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection. Week after week, they preached and shared that sin could be forgiven by Christ’s shed blood. The Lord added to their number.

The next generation grew up and gradually replaced the founders. They had been brought up listening to their preaching and had been converted through it. They too loved the Lord and enjoyed Bible study and prayer. The sign outside the chapel was still there, but some ivy had grown up its side. As the years passed, it slowly covered the last word. No-one really noticed that the sign read:

WE PREACH CHRIST

And so they did. They preached about His love for mankind, the new life He offered, the wonders of heaven. People came and joined the church, and were converted through their preaching. There was less emphasis on Christ’s death, however. They still believed it was important, but there were other aspects of the Bible they wanted to share. There was less emphasis on sin and hell. Perhaps the previous generation had been a bit simplistic and naïve. This generation believed that it was better to promote the positive aspects of the gospel.

The years passed and a third generation replaced the second. None of these were around in the early days and few remembered the founders; just the odd one or two lingered around, waiting to be called home. The church was large now and many of its leaders had positions of responsibility and respect in the world. The members were upset by poverty, the arms trade and inequality. Many campaigned against such things, wanting to make the world a better, fairer place.

The ivy continued to grow. It covered up the next word, thus reading:

WE PREACH

And preach they did. They preached against selfishness and greed; they promoted happy marriages. They met together and agreed to revise their position on things like gay relationships and divorce. They reasoned that God would be accepting of all people and that narrow-mindedness was contrary to the example of Jesus. Yes, Jesus was often mentioned in sermons. The people were encouraged to emulate his lifestyle and attitude. There was less talk of sin, however. They saw it as a social problem rather than a deep-seated and natural antipathy towards God.

The ivy grew quicker. It covered up the word ‘preach’ before that third generation had moved on. The sign just read

WE

The Church was a great social place. There were children’s groups, mothers’ groups, a youth group and a meeting for retired folk. They no longer had ‘preaching’. The very word sounded dogmatic and judgmental. Instead, they had inspirational talks, on a variety of themes.

The ivy kept growing. Soon the entire sign was covered.

No other generation came along. The church had just become a social service. Eventually, the ageing congregation died out, and the church closed. Its building became a carpet warehouse open seven days a week.

1 Samuel 4:21: ‘And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel’

Revelation 3:14: ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.