The State of the Church
As 2014 begins, I have been considering what this year might hold for the Church. Is the church here in America, and around the world, in trouble? As a follower of Christ, do I need to worry about the state of the church? My simple response to this is the church here in America and around the world is alive and well. The church is not dying. Though the church might be facing difficulties and persecution and even death, it is not in trouble. A while back, I listened to a Louie Giglio message on the church and one thing he said that stuck with me is “God loves the church.” God is not disappointed in the church; God is not surprised by the church. God loves the church and gave His life for the church. I want to give two simple reasons why the church is not in trouble now or ever.
- We are not the foundation. If we believe the church is in trouble, then we have the wrong foundation holding up the church. Christians are not holding up the church. God is holding up the church. If we believe the church depends on us, then we have been mislead. In Matthew 16:18 when Jesus tells Peter “and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it”, Jesus is telling Peter nothing Satan does can or will overcome the church. Colossians 1:17-18 says “and He is before all things, and in Him ALL things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church.” The church holds together because Jesus is the foundation upon which the church is built. It is not built on our evangelistic campaigns or community outreach efforts or small groups or even missional communities. The church is built on Jesus and because of this the gates of hell cannot overcome it.
- We are not the main attraction. In recent years, I have seen a number of churches do various campaigns around the slogan “I ‘heart’ my church.” At the surface, this does not seem to have anything wrong with it because it gets people to take pride in their church. However, from an outsider’s perspective, this can give the wrong impression. To someone who does not follow Christ and has not grown up in church, this can cause them to think the church is all about the people. If, at any given gathering your church holds, people cannot walk away knowing Jesus is the center of everything you do, then we are simply showing them a false idol. If the music we sing does not lift up Jesus, then why are we doing it? People can go anywhere to listen to music where Jesus is not the central message; the church should be a place where the music is all about Jesus and what He did for us. If we were the main attraction, then the church would be in trouble.
I know these two reasons might sound simple but it’s because they are simple. It seems many churches have problems because they get confused on these two points. We forget the church is not built on us and we believe the people of a certain church are the main attraction. We take God out of the equation and make ourselves the center of attention. If we remember God is the foundation of the church and Jesus is the main attraction, then how we respond to various circumstances and situations in the church will be transformed by the Gospel.
I believe in many ways we get this feeling because we see so many changes in how Christians are treated here in America. We see our “freedoms” being taken away, or Christians being treated unfairly and in some ways, our voices being quieted. However, this is no reason to despair. This is simply a sign the church is being the church. All throughout the Bible, we see God’s people treated unfairly. We see in 2 Timothy 3:12 “all who desire to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 1 Peter 4:12-14 says “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” 1 John 3:13 also says “do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”
According to these passages, we are to expect to be treated unfairly, to be persecuted. We are not to expect an easy life, we are to expect a life where the only freedom we experience is the freedom we have in our relationship with Christ. Christians reacting negatively when facing this persecution is not how Jesus told us to live. Jesus told us to expect trials and tests because in these, our faith will be perfected.
To conclude, I simply want to restate the church is not in trouble. The church never has been in trouble and the church never will be in trouble because we are not the foundation and we are not the main attraction. As we live according to these two ideas, our lives will make sense, no matter what we face and no matter how poorly and unfairly we are treated because of our faith.
I will leave you with John 16:33, in the words of Jesus:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.