“The church in America is not doing well,” someone told me. I talked to her about where she wanted to serve as a ministry leader. She was against serving in the U.S.A because, from her perspective, the church is not doing well here. Is that true?
When we make claims about the current state of the church, we often make them from narrow perspectives. The church of Jesus Christ is much bigger than what we see in the West. God is doing amazing things — yes, right now — in countries like Africa, China, and others. We rejoice where there is revival even if it’s not in our church because we are one in Christ. We’re on the same team.
There’s lots of talk, furthermore, about how post-modernism is taking over, about how pluralism is the new norm, about how individualism is more prominent than ever, and about how moralistic therapeutic deism is the new preferred religion. I sense a fear and anxiety from my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ about the church in general and the church in America in particular. Things can seem scary from our finite perspective. But when we turn our attention away from the media and to the Scriptures, we get a much more optimistic picture.
The End of Acts
I’m talking about the book of Acts. This is a book about mission. Dr. Hans Bayer likes to say that Acts shows how “internal opposition leads to external growth.” So when tensions are high and things seem as bleak as ever, paradoxically, this is precisely what sets the stage for growth. The church grows through suffering. When it seems like God isn’t working at all is usually the time when he is working the most.
While the entire book of Acts encourages us of the permanence of the church, the last verse — indeed, the last two words — in particular highlights this truth:
“He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31).
In the original language, the last two words can be rendered as “unhindered.” Why? What is the narrator trying to tell us? He’s trying to tell us that the mission of God will continue to move forward unhindered — and this is regardless of external opposition or internal tensions.
In his excellent commentary on Acts, I. Howard Marshall eloquently contributes to our discussion when he writes: “The final picture is of Paul preaching . . . with boldness and without hindrance. All the emphasis lies on that last phrase . . . Nothing that men can do can stop the progress and ultimate victory of the gospel.”
This is something to store in your heart. When yet another church in your city shuts down, when you hear of all the suffering and hardship around the world, when even the church you are a part of doesn’t seem to grow, you can lift your weary head and remember that, even when it doesn’t feel like it, the church of Christ is growing and will continue to do so without hindrance. The church is, and will always be, the winning team. It’s impossible for us to lose.
This is what John Calvin meant. In his book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, he writes:
“Therefore, whenever we hear of Christ as armed with eternal power, let us remember that the perpetuity of the church is secure in this protection. Hence, amid the violent agitation with which it is continually troubled, amid the grievous and frightful storms that threaten it with unnumbered calamities, it still remains safe.”
No, this understanding doesn’t lead to passivity. Yes, you have a part to play. Yes, this means church-planting and outreach and evangelism matters. Yes, yes, and amen. But ultimately the pressure is not on you. Christ will get his glory one way or another, and he will raise up men and women to achieve his intended purposes. Yet, there is one small step you can take right now.
Pray About Your Part
You can pray. One prayer that you can pray is this: “Lord, what’s my small role in your big mission to reach the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ? What do you want me to do with my life?”
This is something that I’ve prayed before, but now specifically I’m thinking more missiologically on how I can better participate in the Great Commission. If you pray this way sincerely, it’s uncomfortable. I was hesitant to do it at first, to be honest. I didn’t want to pray this prayer. I am not sure what God will do. I don’t want him to take my idols (e.g., comfort, security) away. This was my former posture. But now, I pray it with joy knowing that comfort and security are overrated and being a small participant in God’s big mission is a great joy.
As others have said, Christianity will never die because Jesus will never die. The church of Jesus Christ will live forever. Nothing will stop God’s mission. God will get his glory, and his purposes will come to pass. He will accomplish what he has ordained and all his people — one way or another — will come to him on his timing. We need not be discouraged, but continue pressing forward in obedience to God and his call on our lives.
[callout] Key Takeaways: The mission of God will continue on unhindered and will ultimately end in victory despite external opposition. One action step you can take is to pray and ask God about your part in his mission.[/callout]
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