"We live in the days when overthrow of the Churches seems immanent..." Can you guess who wrote those words? There is no shortage of voices today echoing that sentiment. In our own Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, our President spoke to us of the "trouble" in "River City" threatens the work of the kingdom and the very well-being of our Church. In blogs across the world, people post complaint after complaint, express frustration after frustration, and offer insistent directions of what "must be done."
They are not unlike the conversations that take place in congregations across our country and within our Synod where people are faced with more empty pews, fewer children in Sunday school, declining enrollments in parochial schools, and shrinking dollars.
We have no shortage of voices expressing the fear that disaster will soon be upon us. Some of those folks are angry because the Church seems so slow to change, so slow to react to change, and increasingly irrelevant to a fast changing world. Some of those folks are frustrated because the Church has changed too much and given too much to the call to be new and different ("not your grandfather's church/Oldsmobile"). Some are the purists whose greatest difficulty with the Church is that she is made up of mortals, sinful mortals, who constantly disappoint and betray the pure ideals of what the Church of Jesus Christ should be.
By the way, that quote came from Basil the Great (died 379 AD).
Only three centuries removed from the time when Jesus and His disciples walked and talked and doom and gloom were foreseen with often smug certainty. Well, baloney. I would say another word (one born of life on a farm but some of you city folk might think it impudent). Baloney! "The gates of hell shall not prevail against [My Church]..." says Jesus.
Disaster? Immanent overthrow? Don't you believe it. The Church has always been one generation away from complete annihilation and she always will. The guarantee of the Church's existence is NOT what we do to change or react to change around us. The guarantee of the Church's continue life is Christ. He speaks not as One outside who protects something inside but as the Head of the Body, the One in whom the Church has here life and being. It is because Christ is within her that she shall not be overcome.
Would it be nice if we were making visible gains against secularism or false religions? Sure. I have no argument there. I wish the graph of new members, people in Bible study and children in Sunday school, and finances were a steady incline, a steady and dramatic incline UP... But that is not what insures the continued existence of the Church that Jesus Christ calls His own. He is what makes it true.
As Christian people, we would be helped immensely if we had a bit more confidence in Jesus Christ. First of all, we might sleep a little better. We might act not out of desperation but out of faith. We might be more authentic in speaking of our hope. And we might pay more attention to that by which the Church grows, matures, and accomplishes her God's given task -- the Word and the Sacraments.
So if you hear me talking as if I were Pastor Chicken Little insisting the sky is falling, tell me to take some more time with the Book and to pay attention to what it says... and if I hear you crying out doom and gloom, you will know why I will tell you the same thing... We live in days when the overthrow of the churches seems immanent, but don't you believe it...