As a new year dawns on most of the nations of the earth, people's thoughts often turn to what lies ahead. As the world ponders things like the upcoming U.S. election, the resurgence of Russia, the unknowns of the global economy, and the ever-fractious Middle East, those in the church of God tend to reflect on the things that are closer to home—and of greater significance.
Within the church, the stage is set for another year of continued—and more destructive—upheaval as some leaders try to lead more people to themselves and their projects rather than to God. A few have grabbed for themselves titles such as "apostle," "prophet," "the First Witness," "the Voice," and even the Messianic "Prophet" of Deuteronomy 18:18. We have seen wild predictions that much of the church's leadership will have died in 2007 (oops), and that the end will begin in 2008. Greedy men who are bound and determined to do God's work for Him—and to do it right now—are fleecing the flock. In some corners, we see an extreme focus on days—and leadership—gone by, as well as a resolve to recreate the "glory days," not in terms of faith, character, and following God's lead, but in media and mammon.
Amidst so much turmoil, it is imperative that we remember that God is still sovereign and that He is not oblivious to the dysfunctions affecting His begotten children. Jesus Christ tells Peter, "On this [R]ock"—referring to Himself—"I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18, emphasis ours throughout). His church will not disintegrate into oblivion, but He will continue to build it.
Paul tells the brethren at Ephesus that the Father put all things under Christ's feet, and made Him head over the church (Ephesians 1:22). Later, in his marriage analogy, he instructs them that Jesus is the Savior of the body [church] (Ephesians 5:23), that He loves the church and gave Himself for her (verse 25), that He sanctifies and cleanses her (verse 26) and nourishes and cherishes her (verse 29), and that He intends to have "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing . . . holy and without blemish" (verse 27). Because of this, we can have every confidence that Jesus Christ is still aware of all that transpires within His church—regardless of how out-of-control things may seem—and because of His love for it, He will always act in the way and at the time that is best.
As stated above, Jesus is sanctifying and cleansing the church, activities that involve a great deal of pressure and friction to strip away the carnality that does not belong. While the church can (and should) be a safe haven of sorts, a place of peace, it also serves as a kind of mortar and pestle, grinding imperfections into fine powder. Christ knows what calamities and catalysts are needed for the members to be brought into alignment with Him, so at times He allows the enemy—whom He can restrain at any point—to come in to test and temper the Body. Along these lines, Paul says in I Corinthians 11:18-19, "I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you."
In addition to the church members' remaining carnality, not everyone associating with the church of God has been begotten by Him. The New Testament is replete with warnings about false prophets (Matthew 7:15; 24:11; Mark 13:22; I John 4:1), false apostles (II Corinthians 11:13), false teachers (II Peter 2:1), and false brethren (II Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 2:4).
Jesus warns us that the field has tares in addition to the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). What may be surprising is that the Owner has decreed that the tares remain with the wheat until the harvest—for the sake of the wheat! It would evidently be too traumatic for (at least some of) the wheat if all the tares were removed at once—their faith would be shaken, and they would be spiritually uprooted. This highlights how intertwined the true and the false can be at times. Rather than causing spiritual uprooting, He allows the false brethren (of whatever position) to remain, but He uses their proclivities and carnality to further the preparation—the tempering, the refining, the proving—of the true brethren.
Notice how these parables and epistles, though written two millennia ago, are perfectly applicable today. In fact, they have been applicable all throughout the Christian era because this is the way God has chosen to work. This consistent pattern is the means God has chosen to purify and perfect His children.
In some instances, God saves us by removing us from caustic environments, as He did for Enoch, Noah, and Lot. In others, He saves us through requiring that we remain where we are because it is what we need to grow "to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). This is the same principle found in Jesus' prayer to the Father: "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15). Yet, even when He requires us to stay in a situation, He will not allow us to be tested beyond what we can bear (I Corinthians 10:13). He will always supply what is needed for His will to be done in us.
Truly, only God knows what this year will bring, especially for the church of God, but we do not have to fear it. If we have been called by God, and we love Him, we have Christ's assurance that the gates of the grave will not prevail against the church. He will continue to build it—and its members—into the image that pleases Him.
- David C. Grabbe