Many years ago when the world was young and I was doing my ministerial training I used to preach in a church belonging to a denomination with an illustrious past but a somewhat faded present - the church was one of a few relict communities of evangelical life in what had become a moribund, formalist body.
I remember a conversation with one of the church leaders of the congregation where I had preached. He criticised another denomination because they had lost the truth, "gone rotten from the bottom up" because of their independency and democratic church government. "Our system kept the church pure", he said.
I thought, 'You don't get out much or go to your denominational meetings, do you?', but I listened politely, treasured up what he said and pondered it in my heart.
His answer to decline was having the right structure.
Even more years ago I was very keen on a strong independency myself. "Groups of churches go down the Swannee", I would say, "keep pure, keep keen, keep out".
Trouble is that individual churches go down the Swannee, too, in all sorts of ways.
I read stuff now that says, "A confession of faith! Otherwise you'll go down the Swannee."
Or "Proper liturgy" or "simple dependence on the means of grace" or "expository preaching" or "seminary-trained pastors"... well the list goes on.
A robust confession of faith, good Biblical structures, expository preaching, simple dependence on the means of grace, strong, qualified leaders, well-trained pastors, expository preaching,
All these things are very important indeed.
But none of them works apart from the grace of God.
Nothing works, apart from the gracious influences of the Spirit of God.
Only he makes things grow and keeps things alive.
Let's pray, folks.