Friday, July 6, 2012

Is the Church Today Dying?

Do you believe that Jesus' plan for the world today is the church? Far too many evangelicals today think far too little of the church. It is quite common today for people to interpret Jesus more like an anti-establishment 1960s radical who just liked to 'stick it to the man' than actually paying attention to the Jesus of the gospels. So people with a chip on their shoulder will tell people "love Jesus and leave the church."

WWJD? "We'll he'd call you to leave the church" is the answer we hear. After all Jesus is toughest on the religious Pharisees.

Here's the problem: Jesus promised to build the church. Those loyal to Jesus should not be trying to tear it down. I would even suggest if you run into someone tearing down the church, seriously consider: "how loyal are they to Jesus?" If someone was verbally bashing my wife, I wouldn't consider them my friend.

Of course, the church isn't perfect--that's the point of Scripture: Jesus has to clean His bride. We can be a poor representative of Jesus. But Jesus did promise to leave an organization in place of His absence. This is not to discount his promise to send the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit would come upon the people of God. He would form a body of Christ by uniting people to Christ. The Holy Spirit is the divine cleaner working on God's people to apply the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Jesus' message on earth was to preach the kingdom of God. Upon His death and resurrection, the Kingdom is ushered in and inaugurated. He now has all authority in heaven and on earth--it is authority He bears and exercises in His humanity. What does Jesus do in His absence? Well he is the mediator at the right hand of the Father. He stands for his people. 

But with the inauguration of the Kingdom, he builds the church. The Kingdom produces citizens and the citizens gather together. In their gathering, God sets up an order and means by which to administer the church with elders and deacons (see the pastoral epistles). Hence, despite the negative connotations some draw from this: the church is an organization.

In the New Testament as a whole Jesus' plan is to build the church. The church is equipped with gifts for the service of the body and its ministry. But it is ultimately Jesus who builds the church. The church is not a temporary plan until Jesus can return. It is thee plan. He will build the church with such power that death itself will not defeat the church.

Let's take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 16:18: “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

‘Gates of Hades’ is a way of translating an rare OT phrase: ‘the gates of Sheol’. Death is personified as a power. The realm of the dead or the grave is describe as sheol. So metaphorically it has gates that close around people, locking them in death. Just like Jonah describes cords of death/sheol entangling him.
Isaiah 38:10 I said, “In the middle of my life; I am to enter the gates of Sheol; I am to be deprived of the rest of my years.”  
Psalm 9:13 Be gracious to me, O Lord; See my affliction from those who hate me, You who lift me up from the gates of death, 

I'm a Star Trek fan. In the movie Star Trek Generations, the villain Dr. Soran (played by Malcom MacDowell) says the following about time: “It's like a predator; it's stalking you. Oh, you can try and outrun it with doctors, medicines, new technologies but in the end, time is going to hunt you down... and make the kill. ” 

We would say this is a good picture of death. Death is an enemy. It advances, it destroys. It is a predatory. Yet we are told... death cannot stalk and overpower the church.

Our incredible hope is realized as the church is resurrected over death.
1 Corinthians 15:54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 “O death, where is your victory? O  death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Jesus gives the victory to His church. In every age God is growing the church.

Are you worried? Do you lack confidence in what God can do in and through the church? Are you worried about your local church? Do you say to yourself--can God do that here?

Today we are bombarded with arguments that the church must change or die. Secularists tell us the church's doctrines are old and stodgy. Prophets arising within the church proclaim we must embark on new forms, methods and actions or the church will be left behind. Change or die is the message. Yet all this is nothing new. Every generation has had prophets of doom telling us the church will not survive this generation. We call them heretics. 

The church has always and will alway have its critics. People has always been saying “leave the Church, love Jesus.” It is the problem in 1 John all the way to today. What age has the church as a whole not been under assault or struggles? Look at Revelation 2-3. But here the church is called to repent and go back to Jesus. He promises restoration.

The church, as a whole, will not be destroyed. Even if your local church closes up shop, the church universal will live from now until eternity. If the church is stomped out or crushed in one area or town, God will not fail to raise it up somewhere. Jesus will always be building His church. It's His plan but it's also His promise to us. 

In every age God keeps converting people, raising up churches. Why? Because that resurrection power is active now in our midst as God raises sinners from the dead. Our hope is the resurrection. Gates of hades --death itself cannot advance against us. Just as death could not hold back Jesus, so also death cannot hold down the body of Christ which is united to Jesus.

What do you think: do evangelicals have a strong or weak doctrine of the church? How can we make the church better?

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