In referring to the backbone of the church I have in mind the firmness, the moral courage, the stand for the truth, the spine of the church itself. There are certain "straws" that we should be alarmed about because they are breaking the church's back. What are some of these "straws"?
Sin Is Ignored. Worldliness is not rebuked and lukewarmness is prevalent. In I Corinthians 5, Paul rebuked the Corinthians because fornication was among them and they were not alarmed. The apostle Paul tells them, "And ye are puffed up and did not rather mourn, that he that had done this deed might be taken away from among you" (I Corinthians 5:2). He adamantly writes, "I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat" (I Corinthians 5:11). "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints; nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Ephesians 5:3-5). Sin must be exposed and lukewarmness cannot to be tolerated. God certainly will not tolerate either. Revelation 3:16 says concerning the church at Laodicea, "So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold I will spew thee out of my mouth."
Lack of Conviction. Men either act from conviction, because they believe a thing with all their heart, or from convenience, because a thing is as easy to do as not to do and there is an advantage to be gained from doing it. Why do you attend the assemblies? Is it because you want to worship God (cf. John 4:24; Psalms 122:1)? Is it a matter of conviction? We are all familiar with the instructions of the Hebrew writer. "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is ..." (Hebrews 10:24-25). Either we believe it or we don't, we care about one another enough to be present or we don't! Perhaps selfish things are more appealing because they are more convenient? Conviction is illustrated in the decision of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they spoke to king Nebuchadnezzar. When asked if "it is of purpose ... that ye serve not my god nor worship the golden image which I have set up," these brave young men responded, "... Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel 3:14-18). These were determined to do what is right regardless of the consequences. May the Lord increase their kind.
Changes in Preaching. Many desire to re-model the gospel and modernize the church. I was in the audience when a young man spoke disparagingly of those who would preach on such things as "adultery, instrumental music, and institutionalism." This young man stated that "these things are not relevant to salvation anyway." Others have stated "that God does not expect us to be completely, doctrinally correct." What foolishness!! The apostle Paul wrote by inspiration, "Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lust; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables." Yes, it makes a difference what we preach!
What Is the Cause of Such Dangerous Tendencies? Certainly the cause can be attributed to any number of things. Possibly it is the desire to turn the "church of Christ" into the "church of man," to make it more appealing to the world, thereby increasing numbers. Such apparent success would make it easy to outgrow our plea for simple New Testament Christianity. Maybe it is that we have less opposition. Once it was hard to be a Christian. Hardships and persecutions apparently strengthened the early church (cf. Romans 5:3-5). Paul exhorted the brethren to "continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). There is little indoctrination and that is certain to result in tragic consequences. The church is filled with people who do not study and know little about the doctrine of Christ and thus fail to abide in His doctrine (II John 9). Maybe compromise with our religious neighbors in attitudes toward doctrine and morality has shared in causing these modern trends within the church.
What Is the Solution? The solution is greater respect for the authority of the Scriptures and more firmness in practicing what the Scriptures teach. Consider: Jude 3; Ephesians 4:14-15; Titus 1:13-14; Galatians 1:6-9. From these it is evident that truth is fixed, unalterable, and unchangeable. Preaching truth is certain to disturb some. Paul asked the Galatians, "So then am I become you enemy because I tell you the truth?" (Galatians 4:16). Genesis 1:1 disturbs the atheist. Exodus 20:3 disturbs the heathen. Hebrews 11:6 disturbs the moralists. Yet, Paul told Timothy to preach the word (II Timothy 4:2). Paul commanded the Ephesians to "stand" (Ephesians 6:13-14). One cannot stand for something and not stand against something, for truth stands against error.
There is a valuable lesson to be learned from the past. Apostasy soon came in the first century church as was prophesied (I Timothy 4:1-3; II Thessalonians 2:3-4). What has happened can happen again if we allow too many worldly straws to collect on the backbone of the church.