A student of church history will confirm that the sermons of any given age reveal the central focus of that season in the life of the church. A believing historian knows that when sermons focus on the Word of God written, the church flourishes. When sermons become opportunities for moralizing or personal opinions the church goes into decline.
The sermon evidence in the Anglican Family over the last hundred years shows a marked decline in the centrality of the Word of God. The date of the beginning of this declension is debatable, but the outcome is indisputable. The Anglican witness in North America (which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States) has been weakening every year since 1915. That is if one simply measures church attendance.
But attendance at church is no guarantee of faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only the Spirit of God, living in a true believer, can produce true believers. And that Spirit accompanies true preaching, not false. Faith comes by hearing the truth.
What happens when the clear Word of God is not preached week by week? The believing community goes into inexorable decline. Godly people die off, some believers leave to find a community that upholds “the faith once delivered to the saints,” and many who remain become captured by something other the the truth of the gospel. Only a very few, a faithful remnant, remain. There are always some who have not “bowed the knee to Baal,” but they are “like sheep without a shepherd.”
But what are they to do? If the leader (for Anglicans the priest in charge) does not have a secret life with God there is almost no hope of faithful growth. If a leader does not walk with God he can not lead others to God. If an ordained leader is not born again of the Spirit of God he will not preach, he will not teach, he will not live by the teachings of the Lord Jesus. Why? Because he is is not submitted to the lordship of Christ.
What is absolutely true, however, is that the faithful remnant can, and must, flee to the one true shepherd, the only good shepherd. If the remnant flee to Jesus, he will come to their aid, and lead them into right paths. First he will sustain them by their daily time in the Word of God. Second he will give them a few other believers to meet with. Third he will lead them to pray earnestly for a godly leader. They will pray that either the current leader be converted, or that he be removed, and a believing leader be sent.
Of course this may not happen quickly. God alone determines the time. But the earnest prayers of the faithful must be for God to give them a leader who has a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. That leader will have a hidden life with his Lord. That leader will draw deep from the well of God’s Word. That leader will teach what the Lord Jesus teaches. That leader walks in the teaching of the apostles, which always leads the hearers to Christ Jesus.
Next Week: Truth or Traditions?