3 Symptoms of a Dying Church

“When it comes to the church, the disease is called ‘tradition.’ And when a disease goes unchecked, it can become deadly.”

Jesus said, “People honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men … laying aside the commandment of God, they hold the tradition of men …” (Mark 7:6-8).

The term endemic is used to describe a condition—or disease—found among a particular people group or in a certain geographical area. When it comes to the endemic church, the disease is called “tradition.” And when a disease goes unchecked, it can become deadly.

Tradition is not necessarily a bad thing. The reason certain ways and customs become traditions in the first place is that at their onset, they were good or at least came with good intentions.

However, when the traditions of men trump the commandments and ways of God, they have lost their goodness. Once a tradition has outlived its goodness, it can become a stumbling block to its adherers and to those who look in from the outside.

Let’s examine three characteristics of the endemic church—or, in other words, three symptoms of the dying church.

1. The heart has become confused with emotions.

“People honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

Far too often, we confuse our heart with our emotions. Whether it’s a favorite hymn, a certain doxology, the order of the church service or a particular Bible translation, if it has turned into a hallowed ritual, it has left the realm of a godly heart and become nothing more than an appeal to nostalgic emotions.

Now, there is nothing wrong with emotions. Emotions cause us to love, laugh, cry and empathize. But having a heart for the things of God is not about what makes you feel good or comfortable, but the things that exalt and glorify him.

Consider why David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). David had a heart set on repentance, obedience and faithfulness. His emotions, on the other hand, got him into trouble (can you say “Bathsheba”?).

Again, there is nothing wrong with emotions in themselves. They are often what God uses to draw us to himself. It is hard to repent without the emotion of repentance. However, emotions without just actions are of no avail. Consider Esau: he found no place for repentance even though he sought it diligently with tears (Hebrews 12:17).

We may need to seek repentance from our “sacred cow” traditions.