Enlarging Our Horizons
He does according to his will…among the inhabitants of the earth.(Daniel 4:35)
Most Christians tend to think of the sovereignty of God not in terms of its immediate effect upon us, or our families or friends. We are not too interested in the sovereignty of God over the nations and over history unless we’re consciously and personally affected by that history.
But we must remember that God promised to Abraham and his seed that all nations will be blessed through Christ(Genesis 12:3; 22:18; Galatians 3:8). Someday that promise will be fulfilled for, as recorded in Revelation 7:9, John saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb”. God has a plan to redeem people from all nations and to bless all nations through heist.
As we look around the world today, we see over one-half of the world’s population living in countries whose governments are hostile to the gospel, where missionaries are not allowed, and where national Christians are hindered from proclaiming Christ. How do we trust God for the fulfillment of His promises when the current events and conditions of the day seem so directly contrary to their fulfillment?
We must also look at the sovereignty of God and at His promises. He has promised to redeem people from every nation, and He has commanded us to make disciples of all nations. We must trust God by praying. We must learn to trust God for the spread of the gospel, even in those areas where it is severely restricted.
God is sovereign over the nations. He is sovereign even where every attempt is made to stamp out true Christianity. In all of these areas, we can and must trust God.
Here in America where we are free to gather and worship and work as the Christian community, we often give up on the idea that the church can be enlarged. We cite the times, the disinterest of people, the hardness of hearts, the depths of sin as cause. We consider lack of attendance to our particular church as a lack of our relevance to and interest by the community. We wonder why even many of those who do attend seem to have lost their enthusiasm over time and have become complacent and to some degree bored with the ritualistic routine. So we give up and settle for the continued spiral of decline. We hope to survive at least as long as we live but we have dark views and even despair of the future of the church.
Perhaps we have confused the church with our perception of what church is so when we see declining interest in our programs we interpret that as declining interest in the church. Studies show that there is an interest in spiritual things that exceeds the interest of past generations. Yet those who express that interest are often drawn away to false religions. We notice that the TV and movie industry are producing movies and sitcoms that are using the spiritual as their base story. Unfortunately most of these direct attention to the occult, mysticism, the like. There is a trend taking place in America of people wishing to connect with Christ but seeing “organized religion” as a hindrance rather than a help. We hear that people want to connect to Christ but quite often the church gets in the way. So we attempt to make the church fit into the world’s view, to mold itself to the current social norms, hoping that in doing so it will become more attractive and therefore draw new attendees.
This sounds great on the surface and it’s purporters use words like relevance, connection, seeker-friendly and so on. But when those who are seeking true peace and joy enter our environment they only find the same things they had hoped they were leaving behind.
The NT church began in a hostile, impossible environment. It’s founder was executed and it’s leaders initially were hiding in fear and doubt. It was established as a reckoning force on the Day of Pentecost when the gospel touched and impacted and transformed the lives of three thousand souls. It influenced another five thousand when it demonstrated it was not just another branch of Judaism but the church established by Christ through whose name miracles continued to happen. Now this church settled itself in Jerusalem, complacent and in conflict. By the way these go hand in hand. When the church ceases to focus on its mission and becomes complacent, conflict becomes the norm. When the Jerusalem church became complacent, they had to create the office of deacons to address the conflicts. As it continued to ignore the command to preach the gospel to every nation, God allowed persecution and the church scattered for safety reasons but wherever they fled, they established a church and so God’s purposes were carried out.
I may sound like a broken record, but I want to say again that COVID-19 has brought a defining moment to the church. We have not been able to continue our programs and activities as normal. We have been forced to consider creative ways to meet and we have been stripped down to the bare essentials. We are having to find new ways to connect and to provide congregational care. Our community activities which were largely social in nature for the most part have been placed on hold. The emerging church that not only survives the pandemic but begins to thrive and grow will be the church that accesses and adapts to what God is doing. We must remember that nothing stops or redirects the purposes of God. We must remember that His purpose for the church is and has always been the instrument that connects searchers to the Living God. While our programs and even some of our rituals in their current form may have become outdated and irrelevant, the gospel and its presentation will never become stale. Our environment is changing around us and though we do not change the gospel we must consider new means to share it. One thing remains unchanged and perhaps this is what God wishes to bring us back to. The presentation of the gospel is the work of every believer, not just pastors. Maybe we’ve left the days of just inviting someone to church hoping the pastor and the music team will be on their A-game and our invitee will receive Christ. Maybe we will move to where the Andrews(that’s us) will go to the Peters( that our friends and family who don’t know Christ yet) and invite them to encounter this Jesus whom we’ve met for themselves.
Pandemics and quarantines may limit our “normal” church activities but should we choose they cannot limit the mission of the church. In those places where the open preaching of the gospel is prohibited, the church is making an impact as those believers boldly share their faith with those around them. God’s plan of redemption for the whole world will happen with or without us. If we choose not to involve ourselves with Him in this work, He will certainly raise up someone else to do it. That’s why I say this is the defining moment for the church. There will be those who choose the mission of Christ as their directive and seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to carry it out with a willingness to recreate themselves to be more effective and more sure with the presentation of the message of Christ. There will be others who insist they continue on with the same ineffective model, ignoring the decline and their ineffective presence in the community and forgetting their God-given purpose. It may not be sudden but many of these will cease to exist for they have no purpose. Only to the church that engages itself fully to the work of God is there the promise of not only survival but the promise of expansion. Hear the words of Christ:
“Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed), the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus answered him, “Blessed [happy, spiritually secure, favored by God] are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood (mortal man) did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades (death) will not overpower it [by preventing the resurrection of the Christ]. 19 I will give you the keys (authority) of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth will have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth will have [already] been loosed in heaven.”
He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority. 8 But you will receive power and ability when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses [to tell people about Me] both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.”
See how they obeyed and the outcome:
Day after day they met in the temple [area] continuing with one mind, and breaking bread in various private homes. They were eating their meals together with joy and generous hearts, praising God continually, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord kept adding to their number daily those who were being saved.
Let His people arise from the ashes of despair, let them regain their hope and faith. Let the church shake itself and clothe itself with the power of the Holy Spirit and go forth to the fields and bring in the harvest. This is the time, the wheat is white to harvest, rise up laborers and enter the mission field of the lost and hopeless and bring them the good news of God’s love and grace. Let’s go and grow!
Dr. John Thompson