The Church has often been taught about the times of refreshment that came during seasons of revival. The first such recorded time was the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost. This is where 3,000 people were saved (Acts 2). In Acts 4 and 5, God continued to add to the Church daily while there was unity and purpose of heart amongst His people. This released great signs and wonders that confirmed the resurrection of Christ. Additionally, in Acts 9, after Saul was converted, the Church enjoyed a season of blessing, growth, and renewal.
There were also great revivals in Old Testament times during the reigns of King David and King Solomon. There was repentance and revival during the reigns of Kings Hezekiah, Josiah, and others (2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings).
While God sends great revivals that are necessary for the church, many people don’t realize there are also seasons when God purges His church (John 15:4-7). He allows us to go through severe times of testing (like Israel did in the wilderness), during which the true motives of God’s people are revealed. Hebrews 3-4 relate how God was angry with the Jews who hardened their hearts with their incessant complaining and unbelief during times of testing. This resulted in God’s favor being lifted from a whole generation who subsequently died in the desert and never saw the Promised Land. 1 Corinthians 10:1-14 teaches that the failure of the Jews during this time of testing is also relevant for today and serves as a warning to the contemporary church.
Thus, there are seasons of revival for growth and seasons of testing for purging that God allows so that, ultimately, His Church will be pure so that she can fulfill her destiny in the Kingdom of God!
Although it seems we are presently in a global time of testing for both the world and the Church, there are also seasons of testing and purging for individual believers and specific congregations. During these seasons of testing, the number of people attending congregations may diminish, or there may be just general malaise and lack of commitment regarding financial giving and volunteerism among the fence-sitters. This will result in God’s people being purified so we will have true disciples and not just “mere Christians.”
No one alive today can deny that the world, especially the United States and Europe, is in a severe testing time.
This global season of testing, precipitated by the global economic meltdown, has resulted in either people losing their jobs or working 2-3 jobs. This overall increase in stress levels has dramatically impacted key relationships and families’ commitment to their churches. Consequently, this has unleashed a fear greater than the actual challenges and has revealed the hearts of those who said they had great faith and were supposedly faithful during the times of plenty before 2007.
The result in the faith community has been alarming.
Except for a few, since 2008, most churches have seen their tithes and offerings drop almost 40%. This includes even many church leaders withholding their tithes from their local churches. (This has only gotten worse since the 2020 COVID Pandemic.)
Since 2008, church attendance has been down. Folks under stress are taking their Sundays off for themselves, or they continue to work on Sundays in an attempt to catch up with bills. Also, since 2020, about half of the Church is afraid to come to a gathering for fear of the virus.
Furthermore, many people in the Body of Christ are discouraged because they succumb to the overall negative global climate instead of fighting the good fight of faith. God has allowed this test to reveal to them the true condition of their false selves.
Why God Allows Seasons of Falling Away
Ezekiel 3:20 teaches us that God allows stumbling blocks in the way of the righteous to see if they will pick them up and be ensnared by them. (Of course, people have legitimate reasons to stay home from church if they are genuinely concerned about COVID. However, some have used this season to entirely detach from church and the ways of Christ).
Consequently, we all have buttons that the enemy can push. If we refuse to deal with them, at a certain point, God will allow the devil to test us in particular areas that eventuate in our falling away from the purposes of God in our lives.
John 3:16 teaches us that if we believe in Him, we will not perish. “Perish” comes from a Greek word that has to do with us living in a ruined state, eventually resulting in eternal judgment. When we fall away from God’s purposes for us in His kingdom, we may be deceived into thinking we are still okay with God because, in our hearts, we still pray and say we love Him. (Samson didn’t even know when the Holy Spirit left him! (Judges 16:20.)) However, Jesus makes it clear in John 14:15 and John 14:23-24 that the ones who truly love Him are the ones who obey His commandments and keep His word. Thus, the purpose and ministry God has for us are inextricably connected with this kind of love for God. Jesus reiterated this to Peter in John 21:15-17 when He equated loving God with feeding His sheep.
A Great Falling Away
In the 1st century, the Apostle Paul predicted that within his generation there would be a great falling away from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1-3). This was fulfilled during the judgment of Israel in A.D. 70. During this time of great tribulation, Jesus said that impending judgment was coming upon the nation of Israel, and men’s hearts would faint with fear. He warned them in Luke 21:34 saying, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”
Paul tells us about seasons like this in Ephesians 6:10-13. He says to put on the whole armor of God and to take our stand on the “day of evil” (seasons of satanic deception and testing).
Paul also says that in the time of testing, God will send to those who refused to repent “a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
Hence, God even allows supernatural confirmations to establish the self-deception in the hearts of those predisposed to disobey God and fall away from Him. (In recent times, we have also witnessed many Christians misled by church leaders who purportedly had visions of Jesus and dreams that predicted the outcome of certain events. These predictions all failed to occur.)
Deuteronomy 13:1-4 teaches us that God allows false prophecies to come to pass because He is testing the people to see if they will fear Him and serve Him no matter what! Galatians 1:6-9 states that Paul taught the church in Galatia that God may even allow an angel to appear to get them off track, but that is still no excuse. He told them: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel!” Sometimes, satanic deception is so great that entire churches, Christian movements, and denominations will experience this falling away.
The books of Galatians and Hebrews were apostolic attempts to plead with and impart truth to churches. Those churches were falling away from the grace of Christ into another gospel based upon works and religious ceremonies, which was a mixture of Christianity and Judaism.
(Syncretism is when we have a mixture of Christianity or truth with another religion or system of faith that conforms to the flesh and waters down our commitment to Christ as Lord. Hence, we may even have churches that are so compromised in their preaching that they are preaching another gospel. For example, the liberal mainline Protestant denominations preach a mixture of Christianity, humanism, and deism.)
In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus warns five of the seven churches to repent or He would judge them. (Those five churches disappeared from the scene.)
What Are We to Do?
God admonishes those who are leaders and workers in the Church to care for the flock of God during seasons of testing and distress. Those leaders who are self-centered during these times and neglect the congregation to take care of themselves are warned in Zechariah 10:3: “My anger is hot against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord of Hosts cares for His flock.” (Also see Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 34:2-6, and Ezekiel 34:10)
Like Nehemiah, leaders are admonished to stay on the wall and not stop building the local church out of fear or waste their time answering the taunts of those lying and gossiping spirits who would like nothing better than for the work of the ministry to cease!
For those under spiritual leadership: There is a warning not to strike the shepherds during these times of testing, or the sheep will be scattered (Zechariah 13:8). Thus, when we criticize or gossip against our shepherds, we are self-serving and responsible for causing the sheep to be scattered. Let God deal with the shepherds as He said He would do in Ezekiel 34.
There are several reasons why sheep are leaving local churches during this season of testing:
Firstly, because of work-related and family stress, they spend their weekends doing their own things and pleasures instead of honoring the Lord’s Day (Isaiah 58:13).
Secondly, people have given in to a spirit of discouragement and falling away, instead of obeying what Jesus and Paul said by watching, praying, and putting on the whole armor of God during these times. (There is nothing better than corporate church prayer meetings during these times of testing. The prayers and faith of others can lift us when we are down in the dumps.) Hebrews 5:7 and Luke 22:44 teach us that when Jesus was in agony, He prayed even more earnestly! James 5:13 also admonishes us to pray when we are suffering.
Thirdly, many believers are working on Sundays to make ends meet. This shows their commitment to God is less than the orthodox Jews who don’t even have Jesus in their hearts and yet refuse to dishonor God by violating their sabbath!
Fourthly, many believers are listening to and spreading negative talk about their churches and leaders. Proverbs 6:19 teaches us that God hates divisive talk in the family of God. Ephesians 4:29 instructs us not to allow any negative or unwholesome talk to come out of our mouths but only those things that are good for edifying one another. Slander and negative talk often result in people leaving their local churches and disrespecting their spiritual oversight. (The protocol laid out for believers is in Matthew 18:15-18 and is continually violated in churches.)
Fifthly, financial pressures are causing overall stress in relationships, including negative feelings towards spiritual leaders and their churches, especially when someone has to be corrected or held accountable for their ministry-related performance or personal issues. (It seems the overall margin for friction in relationships has been greatly reduced because of the saturation level people experience from work and economic-related stress.)
Sixthly, people are running from the pain of their stress and medicating themselves by engaging in illicit sexual relationships, substance abuse, or excessive entertainment. Hence, they feel guilty and choose to run from God and the Church instead of repenting and dealing with their pain through spiritual counsel.
Finally, fear or paranoia spreads when one person leaves a church. This causes their circle of friends to desire to leave also. Next, it starts a movement or exodus from a church because sheep are generally not discerning and will impulsively follow other sheep to whom they are connected. They say to themselves, “Something must be wrong with this church because my friends are leaving!” Consequently, only those who have enough integrity to speak honestly with their leaders, receive their counsel, pray for discernment in light of the Scriptures, will be safe and avoid being misled during this time.
In closing, let us remember one of the closing words of the author of Hebrews 10:35-36: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”