In response to it all, one writer in our church body lamented that we in the church had become merely shopkeepers keeping score on the profits in our effort to prove we were successful. His words were roundly condemned by those who still had a passion for the lost and quietly welcomed by those who feared they might not be up to the task of saving the world for Jesus. I will admit to being pulled both ways. On the one hand, I want my congregation and church body to succeed and success in America is measured in size, influence, scope, and, of course, power. But try as I might, I found it hard to reconcile such ideas of success to the warnings and promises of Jesus who did not simply imply but boldly insisted that the goal of the Church was not to win but to endure!
We all want to know if the number that will be saved is many. Because we want the answer to come down on the side of yes, it will, we have symbolized the 144,000 of Revelation and left the door open to suggest we can increase Jesus' tally of souls if we just try hard enough. But it was not always seen in this way. Christianity was not always seen as a kingdom building. In fact, St. Augustine was quite explicit on the fate of the unbaptized: “Few then are saved in comparison with the many who perish.” Did you get that? few will be saved in comparison to the many who will perish. That is a sobering thought -- especially in a world that finds it hard to believe in the existence of hell or that anyone would be there if it did exist! Surely God will relent in the end and let everyone in, right?
There may have been a time when it was comforting to note that the wicked pagans will get their due but that time has passed and now it just seems mean for God to help to His Word. Yet there does prevail a hint of that old idea that the Church's job is to reach the lost and, perhaps, to save them. Yes, we will use God's work to accomplish their eternal redemption but it will be our work, our passion, and our will to reach the lost, wherever they may be, with this gospel. And how will we know we are succeeding? Numbers, of course. The numbers that everyone says do not mean everything but nearly everyone things means something just short of everything.
So the question for the day is this? Will it disappoint us for eternity if it turns out God keeps His Word and those who are not of His kingdom will perish eternally? Or, do we trust that the Lord knows what He is doing and it is merely our job to do what He has called us to do and leave the rest to Him?