The World’s Posture towards us Should Not Surprise Us.
One of the great lessons that we learn in this world is that evil is inherently self-destructive. Passages like Romans 1:18-32 are examples of Biblical Teaching to this effect, so why are Modern Christians so surprised when the World acts like the World?
Jonathan David Faulkner
On Friday I saw an article from The Gospel Coalition bemoaning the fact that churches are not essential. Usually I avoid the comment sections on these articles like the plague. But when I first saw the article I also saw one of the comment previews where the commenter asked: “The world has never seen the church as essential, why are we surprised?” Which got me thinking about how so many in the secular world had claimed that pastors should not be considered essential because we do not work warehouse jobs or in hospitals or have degrees in mental healthcare (though more and more of us do). But as I saw the reactions both to the Gospel Coalition article and to me and thought about them collectively, I concluded. 1. The Commenter is right, the world has never considered the church essential because the world is fundamentally opposed to the church, just as Jesus promised it would be. 2. Because the Church is not considered essential by the world, I should not be expected to be considered essential to the world, even if Ephesians 4:11-12, 1st Timothy 3-4 and so on mean that I am essential to the Church as one who was “given” by Christ for the growth of the Church. This is not a paradox or diminishing of my position, it was never intended that the pastor be essential to anyone but the church since the world tended to persecute first and foremost the pastors and teachers of the church starting with the Apostles themselves.
What baffle me, since this was also the day the President of the United States urged governors to allow for the reopening of churches, why so many Christians are surprised that the world treates us as nonessential. Please do not get me wrong, I do not disagree that Churches are important “third places,”[i] to use Timothy P. Carney’s term, of our society and that they can and do offer refuges from the mental health issues that come with a global pandemic. The question is, as the Librarian at Gordon Conwell asked: “Does the Church need to be declared essential to carry out her work and mission?” The answer of course is no, the church was not considered essential in the ancient world, in fact, the opposite was true, it was considered anathema to the ancient world. Why should we then be surprised when the world does not consider us essential? Or acts as Jesus promised us they would act towards us.
The other argument at play here is the idea that churches can close or that a government order can close the church and cease it from doing its ministry. First of all our brothers and sisters in the Underground Church in some Asian countries would laugh at that notion. Their governments has been “closing” churches for decades and it is still one of the most vibrant and active churches most faithful to the word of God. Even while facing the possibility of extreme persecution and martyrdom if they are found out. The western Church however is seen as an institution, which is where I disagree with Carney’s idea above that is it is a “third place” because the church is actually not a place, but a people. A kingdom within kingdoms. Our buildings are just that, buildings, they are not the church itself. The idea that the government can “shut down” churches is Ludacris if the idea of Organic Unity is true. When this all started I saw memes proclaiming that the church isn’t closed, it’s deployed and I like that until the thought occurred to me that we should always be deployed in such a manner. That if Ephesians 4:11-16 is to be believed, we gather to be equipped to go out into the world by our pastors, teachers and evangelist. We also gather in our buildings to worship God the Father because He has called us to Worship.
Consider this though, none of that has been on hold for most churches during this time. Even my Father-in-Laws Church which did not have the means to do livestreams or prerecorded services made sure their people got fed during this pandemic. If we were under persecution, if the Government really wanted us to not be able to worship or preach the Word, it would have been easy to shut us down, just have facebook and youtube delete our videos and profiles. This may happen someday, but for now we still enjoy incredible freedom to worship and distribute content from the Word of God. I’ve had a sermon played through over 3,000 (13K views of at least 1 Minutes times during this pandemic. If the Government wanted me silenced, it would be easy to do it. But they have not, it doesn’t matter if the church is non-essential to the world or if we cannot worship in our buildings. God is still God, we are not being told we cannot distribute content, we can still worship, the church is not closed.
We also have to take into consideration the fact there are a well-documented number of churches that have been epicenters of virus outbreaks. One denomination has even lost 30 pastors during this crisis because their churches continued to meet despite the warnings against it. I have written before on the responsibility of shepherds who have knowingly let the wolf into the sheep pen. I will not rehash that discussion here, just know that it is frustrating to see a wanton disregard for life among my fellow shepherds.
But why are we surprised the world acts this way towards us? IF the world is opposed to Christ and His message, should we not expect all of this? If the world really hates Christ, should we not be surprised. Has Christ not promised us that we would be persecuted for His name sake? That the comfort and ease the Church has experienced in the West is actually an anomaly, not to be the expected norm? For that matter, why are we surprised when the world acts like the world? The early Christians certainly were not, why should we be? The world is drowning in its own destruction, our job is to demonstrate the blessings of life in Christ and save as many as we can. Not join them or urge them on into their destruction, as so many do. Or act surprised when the world hates us or threatens to persecute us. We must be wary of thinking these things are abnormal when Christ promises just the opposite in Matthew 24:3-38 and many other places.
Pastors, at least, are essential to the flock because we are called to teach you how to live and interact in this evil and desolate world that is opposed to our very existence and would like nothing more than to see us disappear. Yet we persist, we continue even in places where meeting in our buildings are outlawed, where we are not only non-essential, but illegal. The Church continues not because of man, but because of God, the church persists against every attack of Satan and the World not because of anything presidents or kings say, but because of what God says. To treat or reduced the church to a mere institution of society is to give it a calling and position much lower than the one which it holds simply by being the continuation of Christ’s presence on this Earth. Quite frankly, it is insulting.
The Church and her mission are essential, but the world will never see us that way, we will always be labeled as non-essential by the worlds governments and even if we are labeled otherwise, we will still be treated that way. The only “special treatment” promised the church by the world was momentary suffering that ended in God’s ultimate and eternal blessing. The end result of the church is never in question, neither is the worlds. The Church is elevated, exalted, the world is destroyed, both by its own reckless sinfulness and the wrath of God. Let us stop marveling at the ways of this world, at the destructiveness of this world and let’s also stop participating in it, which we do when we engage in outrage culture. Instead, let’s live a life worthy of the calling to which we are called. So that the world may see and know Christ.
Actually, if you think about it, we are to work against the inclinations of empire, fight against the world’s tendency to self-destruction. If we become essential to the world, and to the empire, we may need to rethink whether we are really part of the church.
We are never closed, we are always alive.
[i] Timothy P Carney, Alienated America: Why some places thrive, while others collapse, 2019, Harper Collins Ebooks
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.