Those things that remain

A world is dying. That’s how it feels at least. Recently I spoke to an elderly friend in central Europe whose local church was shut down by the state. The reason: the church was not making a profit. The church is small and mostly an elderly congregation and facing liberalizing tendencies within its leadership. It is indirectly controlled by the state and, while it could make ends meet, didn’t bring in enough to the coffers of the larger denomination.

The church now sits vacant, with a “For sale” sign in front. “It isn’t just our church,” my friend said, “churches are closing down right and left.” “The Roman Catholics are worse off than we are. They are closing many many churches in the area. It’s not just in Europe. One very old church in my area, less than five years removed from building a new building in a nice area, closed its doors. I don’t know the story but I could guess: internal problems that no one could/would deal with.

It’s discouraging to hear of such situations. Long-established churches are closing in Europe at a rapid clip. Many conservative congregations that remain open have been under siege for decades by liberal theology and can only find pastors that support heretical liberalism.

Despite the temptation to melancholy, hope remains. That is in the resurrection of Christ. I remember N.T. Wright quoting Leslie Newbegin when responding to the question as to whether he was an optimist or a pessimist, “I am neither. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.” I’m not saying it’s time to hold up in our enclaves and wait for death. I mean resurrection power remains.

The Spirit of God is alive and well within the body of Christ. The problem is that He is not working like we might wish or expect. We have been used to patterns in the past and He is not working in such a way now. What should we expect, He is a creator after all, not an imitator. He loves to show death and resurrection over and over, but it does not look the same. The patterns in the Bible continue (exile and return, creation and new creation, death and resurrection, etc.) but there are always tweaks. To use a poor metaphor, it’s like a football coach with a specific number of offensive plays, but he runs them from so many formations, sets, and motions that it’s impossible to guess what he will do next.

I can struggle at times because being a Christian today looks so different than it did twenty or thirty years earlier. Satan’s assaults are coming from different directions. The reliable forts that existed in my grandmother’s generation (strong family bonds, neighborhood involvement, community-wide church involvement) are being removed.

So what is there to do? As our Lord said to the church at Sardis, “strengthen those things than remain.” There is much to fight for. Marriage is not dead; we must continue to fight for it. The blood of millions of aborted babies cries out. Will we continue to pray and give and work to end the slaughter? Our children must be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord lest they fall into the hands of the enemy. There is evangelism and discipleship that must take place.

We don’t know how the Lord will accomplish His will, but we know it will be done. The fact that the battlefield terrain is different is no reason to become discouraged. God always preserves His remnant through judgment.  The question is, “Will I be a faithful servant until the end or will I remain in discouraged paralysis like the fearful servant?”

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