Monday, December 31, 2012

2013: Sink or Swim . . . Together!



Statistics may tell us many things, but they do not always tell us the truth. God’s redemptive action in history always trumps statistics. The ten spies reported the facts. God had  a higher reality.

However, to deny trends or to deny what statistics indicate is like playing in the band while the Titanic is sinking. Denial of the obvious is a particularly unique form of spiritual blindness. All the false prophets promised Israel that things were not that bad, and that their captivity wouldn’t last long. Their message found willing listeners. They were wrong.

All indicators are that the church in the West is in decline, not only numerically but also in substance and influence. Some might argue that if we are talking about “institutional” forms of “Christendom”–the nineteen or seventeen hundred-year-old counterfeit of Jesus’s kingdom–”good riddance” might be an appropriate response. Alas, the problem is unrelated to the structure of our gatherings, the quality of our theology, or the effectiveness of our practices, but rather the condition of our hearts.
Every time I point out a negative fact or trend, regarding our true state, I am met with: “but our church is not like that,”  “you shouldn’t criticize the church,” “there’s no such thing as a perfect church,” “we are the pure remnant,” “you should come and hear my pastor,” and other canards of denial. Funny, how a collection of wonderful churches, full of wonderful people, doing wonderful things for Jesus, results in overall spiritual and societal decline. Of course, MY church is wonderful,  the “other guy’s” church has problems.

Shiloh was a place of many wonderful interactions between God and Israel. However, it was reduced to a pile of rocks and overgrown vegetation when the substance of the life of God was lost in favor of much talk about God. External conformity to God’s demands without corresponding internal transformation is the DNA of decline.
A fire unattended and unfueled inevitably goes out. There’s a reason Paul exhorted Timothy to “fan the flame” of his faith: it’s prone to going out! An irrelevant pile of ashes of historical glory provides neither heat nor light. Real Christianity is always present. It’s hot. It’s alive. Anyone who actually lives like Jesus is really alive from the dead, will be a threat to people (and the institutions to which they belong) who have a philosophy of resurrection based on the Bible. We can handle a baby in a manger or a dead man on a cross. A baby and a dead man are not threats to how we want to do “our religion.” Let anyone actually live out of His resurrection life, well, that won’t be tolerated.  It’s a bush that doesn’t burn, and a fire that needs no fuel. That will not be allowed. It’s unmanageable.

Occasional, isolated, and cheerful exceptions at a local level, do not negate the overall trend in the West.  As leaders, we need to sound a clear alarm. The Church Universal, the Bride of Christ, is an eternal, unstoppable force. God’s redemptive reach is uniquely effective when impossibility and brokenness produce a cry for deliverance within hearts humbled by unpleasant circumstances. God’s hold on the future, and His determination for His bride, are not in question. Our participation with Him in it, is another matter.

Any local expression, regardless of how “wonderful our pastor” is or how “dynamic our worship team” is or “how relational we are,”  is not guaranteed existence and continuity: Ephesus–gone; Thessalonica–gone; Sardis–gone; churches in North Africa–gone; Europe–secularized, etc. You and I, and our “wonderful assemblies”  are not immune any more than our predecessors. When the talk of God exceeds the life of God, we are on the pathway to extinction, not withstanding our pious rhetoric and prayer for “revival.” God is not interested in reviving Bible philosophy clubs that happen to have a great lecture, great music, and a nice meal once or twice a week.

You can have a lovely private stateroom on a cruise liner, but if there’s a hole in the hull, the pleasantries of your stateroom will not save you from going down with the ship. Any of our local situations might be quite positive. However we will sink or float together in this matter. There is ONE Body. Daniel went into captivity with Israel. Jeremiah was not spared the rigors of Israel’s “divine chastisement” at the hands of a Babylonian invader.

Incarnational living in Christ does not exempt any of us from the travails of the culture we may worship or live in.  Rather, we will be the representative agents of God as we go into captivity together. God will “seed” us among the captives. The first Son was seeded into earth’s darkness and captivity, and all subsequent sons and daughters will be also.

Let each of us, in our assigned spheres of life and ministry, be sober and more resolute than we have ever been. Let’s burn. Let’s be hot. Let’s be light. Let’s remember that the ultimate act of spiritual warfare is not prophetic intercession or a spiritual warfare conference. It is a converted/transformed, soul who lives a transformed vibrant life in right relationship with God, one another, and humanity.
I pray God give each of us divine energy for every day that we have breath, that our lives may count for something other than American creature comforts and perpetuation of a way of life that may be filled with material blessings, but does not reflect Jesus’s kingdom interests.

In it together with you to the end . . .

Copyright 2012,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby

http://www.swordofthekingdom.com.
Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephcros9@aol.com.

Share/Save/Bookmark