The Church in Changing Times

All that remains of the Temple of Artemis is a pillar (shown above). But the Church has survived the rise and fall of empires…whatever happens next will not change that.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

It is one of my favorite pictures from Church History, the one, lone marble column surrounded by some foundation stones that is all that remains of the once grand temple of Artemis of the Ephesians. The Greek goddess of animals, hunting and childbirth is just one of the many ruins that dots the landscape of modern-day Ephesus where Paul spent 3 years of His ministry. The Pillar and Buttress construction, would be used by Paul to describe what the Church was when he commented to Timothy and the Church at Ephesus: “I have written these things to you to know how one aught to behave in the Church, which is a Pillar and Buttress of the Truth.” The Church, however, stands in stark contrast to the Temple of Artemis. The keyword being “Stand” since while one lone pillar of the Temple of Artemis remains, the Church has continued to persevere through the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires and democracies. Yes, even when internal forces threatened to tear her apart, the Church of God has prevailed.

Think about it, Paul writes his second letter to Timothy at Ephesus right before his death in 64 or 66. Rome either has or will burn and the Christians will be blamed by the nefarious emperor Nero who will launch the first of many great persecution that would, instead of hindering the spread of the Gospel, be the catalyst by which it would spread like wildfire. Christians were fed to wild beasts, lit on fire and used to light the street and the games and crucified. Some of the Apostles themselves were victims of this, Paul, Peter, and others and yet, the Church continued to grow and even gain momentum. What was meant for evil, God used for good, what was meant to destroy, God used to expand. This would be the pattern for 300 years before Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the Empire. But the Empire had to end and a combination of internal rot and marauding bands from Gal would lead to the fall of the empire in 476 AD. Yet, the Church would continue and even become a fixture of what would emerge under Charlemagne and come to be called “The Holy Roman Empire.” A dubious alliance between Church and State with Pope and Emperor ruling alongside each other, sometimes banishing each other, sometimes being the same person, the reformation around 1054 bringing about “The Great Schism’ between East and Western Churches, giving us Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet, the Church survived.

The Church survived through the tumult of European upheaval. One could say the Medieval period is marked by wars and changing political landscapes. In this time Roman Catholicism became corrupted by power-lust, which is one of the issues that lead to the Schism of 1054. The Pope’s power grew and thus, so did Christianity’s power in the West. Though not without great consequences as infighting among bishops and priests and an increasing feeling of abandonment by the Church among the Laity. This would 000lay the groundwork for the second Reformation around 1516 with the nailing of the 95 Thesis on the Church Door at Whittenburg by a monk named Martin Luther. The schism that would happen then, into Roman Catholics and Protestants and spark wars between the two groups marked by events such as the Anabaptist slaughter at Munster and Bloody Mary’s burning of 300 protestants at the stake in the U.K. Yet, the Church Survived.

In the modern period, as the Church witnessed the end of the Holy Roman Empire and the rise of secular empires such as France under Napoleon, the kings of England, Russia under Alexander the Great and so on and so forth, the church continued to survive, even as Saxxony fell and was divided up, The Church survived and even expanded under the work of the Moravian Missionaries and their leader Nickolas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. The Church continued to survive and expand though the political landscape around her was constantly shifting and moving, creating uncertainly among her ranks. She continued to survive and expand, even if at times her tactics were extremely questionable, she survived. She survived in the nineteenth century, with the rise of democracy across Europe and the new Enlightenment ideas of “Separation of Church and State.” Though she fell out of favor with Governments and was even persecuted in many parts of the world such as China, she continued forward. Through the many divides in America, justified by Hodge and Princeton, though not by the Word of God. She survived the American Civil War, just as she had survived Civil Wars in other countries and places throughout the world. She survived the fall of Colonialism, the rise of secularism, she even survived The Russian Revolution and Nazi Germany, though her numbers were greatly reduced because, like Israel in the Old Testament,  she had sold herself out to the Bolshevik’s and the Nazi’s. She still survived in the Confessing Church and a general remnant, though her lampstand had been removed, God kept a remnant for himself and that remnant is growing again in Europe. In America, she survived the rise of secularism here too, the economic collapse of The Great Depression, and she survived and even aided in the Civil Rights Movement, though many wish she had done more.

cathedral under clouds near leafless tree
Photo by David Kovacs on Pexels.com

She is not perfect, she has committed many sins though History, both in the majority world and in America in general, but the Church has survived and even though her numbers have been reducing in recent decades, she will survive again. Even if God so reduces her to the same Remnant he kept in Europe and Russia, she will survive. Meanwhile, the Temple of Artemis remains nothing more than a pillar surrounded by foundation stones.

The Church will survive.

No matter what happens in our politics, whether we remain a democracy or fall into an authoritarian dictatorship controlled by either right or left. Even if every right is stripped away, every state tries to close our buildings, the police come and arrest her ministers, the church will survive, and there is nothing the secular world can do about it.

So Church, why are you afraid? Why are you concerned about what or who is in power, both parties have turned against scripture and tried to twist it to their own purposes. The empire could fall tomorrow, and the Church will remain. Yes, we may lose our comforts and privileges, but we would only be following the way of Jesus who willingly gave up his right to Godhood to take on the form of a human, then become a servant, then die on the Cross. His downward mobility is held up by the Apostle Paul as a roadmap for us to follow as kingdom citizens (Philippians 2:1-30). We should have been emulating this from the beginning, but we failed to do that, and if we do not turn and repent, we may be forced to do it, whether we want to or not. It may already be too late. Yes, the church will survive whatever comes next, it may look different, but it will survive, so what are you afraid of? Jesus promised us this would happen, the Church being at the seat of power was not the norm when Christianity started, and it has not been the norm outside of the West. Church, your future, eternal rest, is secured in Christ, whatever the world does cannot undo that or take it away from you. Earthly Elections cannot change that, manmade laws have never been able to change that. And your perseverance and life in the Gospel through this time will testify to our opponents of their own destruction and of your salvation through Christ Jesus (Phil 1.27-30).

Church, are you tired of living in fear of this world and what happens in its governments? Then come and drink of the fullness of Christ, the one who loves you so much He gave his life for you and His spirit to you so that you might become like Him. The Church will survive whatever comes next. So turn off the voices, Christian and otherwise, who are prophesying doom and come back to the voice of the Father who tells you that your future is secure and who has already saved you. Lay down your fear and put on the Joy of Christ, a joy that comes in whatever situation you find yourself in, a joy that brings contentment even to a prisoner wondering if he will live or die named Paul. The Church has survived 2020 years, despite all that has gone on, why are we worried about what comes next. The temple of Artemis has fallen, but the Church remains. Praise God!

white concrete chapel
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. 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.

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