You might not know it, but there are a lot of faithful ministers waking up this morning feeling very down about the state of the church. Last week, many denominations met to discuss the business of the church, and many of them didn’t do a great job. Through June, many Protestant denominations showed different weaknesses and struggles: the PCA wouldn’t reaffirm God’s special, immediate creation of Adam and Eve; the EPC opted for a night of skits and comedy instead of the usual worship service; part of the RCA is pushing against basic biblical morality — the list goes on.
In each of those denominations, few to many pastors who love the Lord and His Bride spoke up for truth, for the authority of Scripture, and for the great theological heritage we have had passed down to us through the centuries since the Reformation. Sometimes these men had a positive impact on the denominational direction. But many of them felt like they were useless, that it’s a losing battle. They feel alone, as Elijah did when he told the Lord, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant… I only am left…” (I Kings 19:10).
So if you are a minister or elder with the “delegate blues”, take these encouragements:
– You’re not alone. Even if you were in the unique position of being the only man in your denomination to uphold a biblical teaching, there are other faithful ministers doing the same work that you are all over the country. Elijah thought he was the only one left when the Lord actually had 7000 other believers in the country who were rejecting Baal worship and worshiping faithfully.
– Your work does matter. In every generation, God uses faithful pastors (often unknown to church history) to stand up for truth in the little things and the big things. God allows nothing to go to waste, least of all the prayerful service of an under-shepherd.
– Synod/GA largely deals with the problem cases and issues in a denomination. It is often in the local church that you see the greatest encouragements: the elderly widow patiently bearing her grief; the dedicated elder who persists in pursuing an unrepentant sinner; the single woman growing in her understanding of Who Christ is; the young couple faithfully teaching their children; the teenager converted by the preaching of the Word; the child memorizing Scripture; the infant baptized into the visible covenant community. There is an amazing amount of growth in grace going on everywhere God sends out His Word. So often, it comes through faithful preaching to the local expression of the universal body.
– Not everything was bad. Yes, some big things were, but there was work that needed to be done that get did done. Good things did happen, almost with out exception, in each synod or general assembly.
– The church exists. This is obvious — so obvious, that we often miss how amazing it really is. God preserved the church through the initial, fierce persecution of the Roman Empire; kept His Word clear through the dark ages; brought massive revival and renewal through the Reformation; preserved through renewed persecutions; granted revivals in the 18th century and then a missions movement that brought the gospel to the corners of the world; took a poorly taught, isolated handful of believers in China and grew them into the largest Christian mass in history. Yes, the church is in decline in North America, not through persecution, but through apathy and error. But even here, the gates of Hell are not prevailing. Satan and man have sought for millenia to erase the church and have failed. They are not going to succeed now, regardless of any synod’s actions.
– The church will be perfected. God is more passionate about the purity and safety of His Bride than we can ever be. It was His death that bought her, and He will not allow any of His purposes for her to go unrealized. He is not going to allow error to deceive one of the elect (Matt. 24:24). The great work of preserving the Church is His. Ministers, elders, and all believers are simply tools that He uses. Our job is to be faithful where we can, pressing on in the good fight, knowing that the battle is the Lord’s. Satan’s head is already crushed – we simply await consummation.
“Though with a scornful wonder/ Men see her sore oppressed,/ By schisms rent asunder,/ By heresies distressed,/ Yet saints their watch are keeping;/ Their cry goes up, “How long?”/ And soon the night of weeping/ Shall be the morn of song.
Mid toil and tribulation,/ And tumult of her war,/ She waits the consummation/ Of peace forevermore;/ Till, with the vision glorious,/ Her longing eyes are blest,/ And the great church victorious/ Shall be the church at rest.”