Comments on the book "Death of the Church"
by Mike Regele (with Mark Schulz)
April 27, 1996
Doug Goins, Pastor
Peninsula Bible Church
3505 Middlefield Rd.
Palo Alto, CA 942606
Thanks for telling me about Mike Regele's book. I thought it outstanding.
Surely this is *must* reading for leaders, pastors, elders? As a sociological
analysis of our times I thought his models and illustrations were very good
and enlightening, and probably fairly accurate.
The book does not pretend to be a theological study of what God is doing.
That's OK. He has enough in this book as it is.
There are other aspects of change that *could* be thrown in:
Eschatological change: God is taking history rapidly to consummation
in the coming again of the Lord. All by itself the population explosion
is evidence that an enormous crisis for the whole world is fast overtaking
us. (In this I think Paul Ehrlich is right).
The church has, I believe, moved in 2000 years through the epochs of the
Seven Churches of Rev. 2-3 and is now for the most part Laodicean. There
is no fix for this church that will get it back on the right track, evidently.
The false, or harlot, church of the last seven years is shaping up fast
and waiting in the wings for her Day of prominence in history.
The encouragements given to each of the seven churches of Rev. 2-3 are not
to the various churches as a whole but to the minority in each church, the
"overcomers" who are really following Jesus day by day. This may
well be a small fraction of the members in many churches.
What churches (large or small) does God look down on and take pleasure in?
These may not be churches on any sociologist's list.
The parables of Mat. 13, (which Ray treats so well in "Beyond History"),
suggest that bland mediocrity and decadence will characterize the entire
world-wide church at the end of the age:
"The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed
which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds,
but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so
that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." He
told them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which
a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened."
Earlier materialism in this century has given way to new age spirituality
which is full of deception. Mediocre Christianity doesn't stand out well
against this new synchronistic religious ground swell. Salt without savor,
and lamps hidden under baskets. "The Twentieth Century is more like
the First than any other" (Ray quoting Blaiklock).
Evil Must have its Day: This age is characterized by God letting evil run
its full course culminating in the appearance of the man of sin.
The end of the age is said to be characterized by a great apostasy. I once
asked Ray when he really thought the Lord would *really* come for his church
and Ray said, "When the pressures on us all will be so great none of
us would stand if the Lord delayed a minute longer." ("When the
son of Man returns will be find [the] faith on the earth?")
The tribulation will bring unprecedented persecution (martyrdom) to all
who convert to Jesus through the 144,000. Why should not increasing persecution
set in at the end of the church age?
Mature Christians need to be men and women "for all seasons"---able
to relate to all generational subgroups, "to the Jew I became as a
Jew, to the Greek I became as a Greek..." The church needs to be building
men and women who can cope with a pluralistic, multicultural society, and
not get into ghetto mentalities.
Mike nails the religious right very nicely. This kind of Christian can bring
trouble on the rest of us and discredit the character and name of God a
good deal of the time, because of their cultural naivete. More harm than
Frances Schaeffer said things 20 years ago about "modern-modern man"
not being able to hear truth as conventionally presented, and how we had
to find the "point of tension" with our hearers in order to get
people to perceive the eternal message we wanted them to receive.
I like the way Mike slips in Ray's model for the church according to Ephesians
4, and the way he clarifies what servant authority is.
While great cycles do sweep through societies, in a way I get the impression
from Mike that the church is tossed to and fro helplessly on these waves
of change. Biblically, the true church is, as Ray says, "the Secret
Government of Planet Earth" and ought to be setting the pace. This
comes back to what Mike clearly enunciates as our enormous lack of vision.
The real saints and real pacesetters are probably relatively unknown in
their generation and can be seen only in hindsight. This is because God
does His greatest works with a very low profile.
God is sovereign and He *does* revive His church and could do so at any
time--- radically changing everything. History is not being driven along
by "natural" cycles of change at all, but by God who "works
all things according to the counsel of his own will." His overarching
purpose is to sum up all things into Christ---"For he has made known
to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his
purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."
If we could see history from God's viewpoint (as a continuation of the
Book of Acts down to the present) I think we would be very surprised to
see what it is that God has *actually* been doing around the world while
we have quietly painted ourselves into a small corner. I am very interested
in following up on your comment about the "lost history" of the
church in Asia you mentioned at breakfast. Understanding the church in America
tells us little about what God is actually doing elsewhere in the world.
In many ways I think we are in the backwaters.
Christians are not passive bystanders on a lifeboat but "in training"
to rule with Christ in the millennium as kings and priests. We underestimate
how the prayers of a few are used by God to do great things. "More
things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of." (Tennyson).
Mike certainly depicts most churches as safe, cozy clubs and "bomb-proof"
shelters from the world, designed to make sub-groups of the culture feel
comfy. He is surely right about our resistance to change. I don't think
most churches will actually change (i.e., "die" to old ways by
choice) as Mike hopes for, but that the majority will succumb by default.
My personal feeling is that the institutional church, as we know it now,
will largely disappear in the next decade. Home churches, cell groups, and
perhaps an underground church will perhaps be the new mode of community
building, evangelism, support and Biblical instruction. We could face some
I'd like to get in touch with Mike. I wonder if he gives seminars. If he
came here, who would attend?
Thanks again. This was one of the most helpful and provocative books I've
read in the past year.
Related Paper: The Church at the End of the Age.
April 30, 1996.