This is Part 4 of a four-part series. To read Part 1, click here.
There was a time when the leaders of the church were referred to as “spiritual doctors.” They had the medicine. Leaders in the true Christian church today still have the medicine. Before applying medicines, however, we first need to be diagnosticians. We need to answer questions about how Christians ought to respond to a world that has little care for itself, much less for the church. How do we care for a society that is allowing itself to go straight to hell—and insisting that we come along for the ride? The church needs to address these questions.
Over the past few weeks, we have chronicled some of the ills of the modern church in the West. Lest any reader think I am of the opinion that the church is wretched and unworthy of further effort, let me quickly squelch that thought. The church will survive. Here’s a look at several of the reasons we can hold this conviction firmly.
Christianity Contains the Seeds of the Church’s Survival
In addressing the ills of the church, leaders need to be able to make changes that allow the church to serve Christ better by serving His people better. We need to do this without making compromises regarding the message. While the message is unchangeable and eternal, the way we view the church may need some alteration along the way. We need to understand that the church, as we Westerners see it, may not be the only way to be the church. Os Guinness articulated this idea well when he wrote:
What is the secret of Christianity’s capacity to survive repeated periods of cultural captivity? On the one hand, it has in God’s Word an authority that stands higher than history, a judgment that is ultimately irreducible to any generation or culture. On the other hand, it has in its notion of sin and repentance a doctrine of its own failure which can be the wellspring of its ongoing criticism and renewal.1
God has promised that He will always keep a remnant. Elijah thought the church was a goner when he whined to God that he was the only follower left—and now the enemy was trying to kill him! God responded by telling Elijah, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”2 Gently, God fed and sheltered Elijah—and sent him off into retirement. The church does not depend upon Elijah’s efforts—or mine. God is in control and He has promised that He will always have a remnant. The church may change what it looks like, but it is not going away.
The key thing for Christians to remember as they ponder the possible demise of the church—and how to go about saving it, is that it’s not their church. It’s Christ’s. Paul made this abundantly clear when he wrote:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.3
We Are Responsible to Make Efforts at Resuscitation
That having been said, however, Christians still have responsibilities for the care of the church. There is work to be done. When Jesus was taken up into heaven, the apostles evidently stood around looking up at the sky where they had last seen Him. Angels addressed them saying, “Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”4 This scene took place immediately after Jesus had told the disciples that they needed to be witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”5
We will not help to revitalize the church by staring into the sky and arguing with one another about the timing and manner of Christ’s return. No amount of analyzing, theologizing, polemicizing, or ostracizing will bring new life to the Bride of Christ. What is required is commitment to obedience. In order for commitment to be effective, it must have a focus (Christ)6 and a specific content (God’s word).7 The commitment must have purpose (spiritual service to God),8 and it must be lived out in the lives of the followers of Christ.9 This attitude of commitment is beautifully summarized in 1 Peter, where we read:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.10
This is what commitment to Christ and His cause looks like. When Christians act like this, the church will take care of itself.
We Must Learn to Educate for the Kingdom
The revival of the church will involve some rethinking of what we often call “Christian Education.” What is required is not “C. E.” in the parochial sense, the current mode that teaches us that we must have Sunday school and Vacation Bible School because everyone else does. Rather, what is necessary is Christian Education purposefully perpetrated by Christian minds. The church needs to claim the world of knowledge. We need to raise up a generation of well-educated, analytical, Christian thinkers — not just reciters of creeds. We need to bring into the church people who think. Each Christian should think in terms of claiming his profession for Christ.
Too often, when the local church discovers a bright young mind, the first thought is, “Let’s get this young person off to the right seminary.” Certainly we need bright pastors and seminary professors who profess faith in the Christ. We also need articulate Christian plumbers, electricians, journalists, and civil servants. We need to understand the problems within our society and be in the forefront of attacking those problems from a Christian worldview.
We Must Rely upon God
Christians cannot “straighten out” the church in our own power. “Our own power” is how it got to be the way it is. We need to rely upon the power of God and cling to His many promises. It is He who will maintain His remnant. It is Him to whom the glory is due—and will be due at the last day.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.11
1. Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1983), 237.
2. 1 Kings 19:18. (NIV)
3. Ephesians 1:17–23. (NIV)
4. Acts 1:11 (NIV)
5. Acts 1:8. (NIV)
6. See 1 Corinthians 2:2; 10:18–21.
7. See 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
8. See Isaiah 1:10–17; Amos 5:21–24; Romans 12:1–2.
9. Read Luke 14:25–27; 1 John 3:16–18; Ephesians 4:11–12.
10. 1 Peter 4:1–11. (NIV)
11. Ephesians 3:20–21. (NIV)