The Future of the Church

The following is an excerpt from an article by Rev. Dr. Robert Newton, president of the California/Nevada/Hawaii District of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The title of the article is “Facing Challenges of the Post-Christian World” and it appeared in the November-December, 2013 issue of The Lutheran Layman.

The world’s antagonism toward God’s Word presents a great challenge to the church’s evangelistic task. A greater challenge, however, grows out of our own fear of the world. Our fear tempts us to become defensive and as such to retreat from the world, fortify our ecclesiastical “boundaries,” and consolidate the proclamation of the Gospel into the hands of the professional ministry, believing that only the ordained pastor is sufficiently prepared to enter the fray. We must resist this temptation, taking to heart our Lord’s promise: “I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Grief tag-teams with fear to further immobilize us from engaging our communities…We grieve the lost influence the Christian faith and church once exercised in our society and the intentional loss of memory and gratitude exhibited by our public leaders for the contributions made by Christians in society, economics, education, science, medicine, law and the arts…

Keith Anderson, a Lutheran pastor in Massachusetts, wisely warned his people that “our griefmore than anti-Christian cultural forces is responsible for “killing” our churches. Grief over our lost past blinds us to present opportunities:

The problem is that while the church grieves the death of this post [World War II] culture, Gen X and Millennial Culture are quickly passing us by. In our grief for a culture we knew and loved, we are missing the ones that are right before…us. Worse, the way we express our grief makes it sound to these folks as if their cultures – their passions, concerns, ways of relating and communicating – are just tattered remnants of what used to be this once great and glorious culture.”

He recommends that despite our grief, we need to “engage the culture on its own terms.” In order to do that we must fortify ourselves, not with thicker walls, but with the Gospel’s promises, so that we “may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13)…

We felt more competent and confident to “lead the Gospel charge” into our world when we thought that we were “in charge” of that world. Now that we’re not in charge we’re at a loss as to what to do…

We overcome our uncertainty by dying to ourselves. Jesus instructed his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” (John 12:14) What dies in a seed so that it morphs from a single grain to a fruit bearing plant? Surely not the seed itself. If it did the seed would become worthless. What must die is the seed’s husk or shell, its protective boundary. While the shell or skin of a seed remains intact, the seed may survive indefinitely yet remains fruitless…The first (and also the essential) step in becoming fruitful is to break open its shell so that its life’s energy can go to work.

The same can be said for our churches. As long as our priority is survival and preservation we cannot reproduce. We will, in Jesus’ words, remain a single seed, sealed off from the world to which God sends us.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we have a sure hope anchored in the resurrection of our Lord. This hope enlivens us to look forward to and embrace the ministry that lies ahead of us in Him. At the end of I Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter of the Bible, Paul concludes: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

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