“Pessimism and the Future of the Church”Categories: Meditations
On my recent week-plus swing through Texas, I shared a number of meals with and otherwise talked to a number of old friends. One of the themes of those conversations was pessimism about the future of the Lord’s church, at least in the United States.
Admittedly, reasons for such a bleak outlook seem abundant. Day by day, our nation appears to be growing more wicked and less tolerant of genuine Christianity. A greater percentage than ever before of children “raised in the church” are leaving it. Attendance is declining nationwide. Et cetera, et cetera.
Despite all the gloomy statistics, though, I’m not convinced that the gloom is warranted. First of all, human beings are rotten at predicting the future. Whatever you think the world is going to be like 20 years from now, you’re almost certainly going to be wrong. In the past 20 years, which is not all that much time as history goes, the United States has had to endure 9-11, the War on Terror, the Great Recession, and the celebrity of the Kardashians.
The 20 years to come will hold just as many surprises, both bad and good, and anybody who tries to predict the future by extrapolating current trends is foolish. Where will that leave the church? Who knows!
Second, if we think the world is going to wrack and ruin, we have lots of company among God’s people in the Bible. Some of the godly gloom-and-doomers are obvious: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and a host of other prophets. Some, though, are less so. In Psalm 12:1, David writes, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men!” Yes, that David—the one who was about to lead Israel to the pinnacle of its righteousness and historical attainments.
Similarly, Paul has to argue in Romans 9:6, “It is not as though the word of God has failed.” Why? Precisely because it appeared that the word of God had failed! Paul had seen the people of God—the Jews—reject the Anointed of God en masse. We think of the first century as a time of tremendous success, but that’s not how it looked to the Jewish brethren alive then. To them, it seemed as if God’s great purpose had been defeated. Only the Holy Spirit could reveal that all along, God had been aiming at another purpose altogether.
So too today. It may be that our purposes—for our country, for our churches, for our families—are being defeated. However, God’s purpose is not being defeated. I believe that He is as active in history as He ever has been, but His work today is unknowable.
Perhaps we are on the cusp of a spiritual renaissance in this country, and God will be glorified in that. Perhaps He is using our riches to establish first-century Christianity across the globe, and He will be glorified in that. Perhaps He is waiting until the iniquity of the American has become full to come in judgment against us, and yes, He will be glorified in that too.
The future is uncertain. The victory of God is not. We don’t have to worry about what tomorrow will bring because He’s got it under control. Literally.
Instead, our place is to work, not grow weary, and not lose heart. Whatever God’s purposes may be, we know that they will always provide a place for those who hold fast to Him.