I’m sure you’ve seen the footage on the news of the great cathedral of Notre Dame burning. The world seemed to react in horror and concern, mobilizing millions of dollars overnight to save and restore the art and architecture. Most of the commentary focused on the cathedral’s place in history rather than its necessary mission of offering the salvation of Jesus to the world. That footage of the Church on fire seems symbolic of a felt reality of the Church in the West. “The Church isn’t what it used to be.” All around us congregations dwindle in size, slash their budgets, merge with each other to stay open, or simply close. It seems as if some great thing of God is dying and we grieve it. It is painful. We remember the Great Awakening, a period of revival that swept across our young country bringing thousands if not millions to Christ. Now there is a cynicism in our culture about the Church or worse yet, indifference. Many are questioning their faith in God, wondering if maybe God has died too.
The history of the People of God is filled with good times and bad. There have been seasons of revival followed by strength, growth, and influence upon the surrounding culture, as well as seasons of calamity and destruction. Much of our the Hebrew Bible as we know it was rewritten after the walls of Jerusalem were pulled down and the Great Temple (along with the rest of the city) burned to the ground. Finding themselves once again slaves exiled in a foreign land, they cried out to God grieving what they had lost and fearing the future. The early Church saw 3,000 people brought to Christ in a single day but then was scattered across the realm as the persecutions of Rome tried to stamp out the Church once and for all. The Book of Revelation was written to strengthen persecuted churches that were giving up on Jesus. The disaster and suffering around them was very real and the pain of it eclipsed the future hope they had of the Reign of Christ over all the earth. It seemed more like an unrealistic fairy tale than a promise worth dying for. Today as the Church withers in the West not from the fire of persecution but from the silence of indifference, the Reign of Christ seems again a distant, if not impossible dream.
Did God not need the Great Temple after it was torn down? It was rebuilt and torn down for good by the armies of Rome in 70 A.D. Because the building was gone, was God gone? The Jewish people were then scattered without a homeland for thousands of years. Was God gone, too? The Church has been attacked and ignored by culture since the beginning. Does that mean God is gone for us, too? The walls may crumble, but God never will. Sometimes we lose in order to win. Sometimes we die in order to live. Sometimes we give in order to gain. It is a mystery of the Gospel. Without death, there is no resurrection. Therefore, we have a choice. We can grieve amid the ashes of what once was as the walls continue to crumble, or we can let the things of this earth go and focus even more intently on God. The art and architecture will pass away. The influence and popularity will ebb and flow. Yet God remains our eternal rock and redeemer, regardless of what season we are in. Grieve the loss if you must, but realize that what feels like loss is the early stages of resurrection and revival. I believe this with all my heart. Without death there is no resurrection. If the Church seems to be dying, resurrection will follow on its heels. Do not lose hope. God is with us and something incredible is coming.
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