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The Church's Progress and Regress

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Acts 8:1, 4, 11:19  “There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria . . . Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word . . . . Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch . . . .”

A naive assumption that young followers of Christ often make is that they expect the church corporately to experience continual growth.  They reason, “Jesus states in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of hell will not withstand the church’s progress.  A healthy local church or denomination will experience ongoing growth.”

This assumption overlooks the fact that Jesus’ own public ministry was marked by times of numeric progress and regress.  There were times when crowds flocked to hear him, and there were times when the same crowds turned away (John 6:66). 

This assumption overlooks passages like Acts 8 in which the church in Judea is scattered.  Furthermore, it ignores the testimony of church history.  The church experienced sharp regress from the rise of Islam, internal schism, and doctrinal pollution.  The church’s influence on culture and society has been extensive or negligible depending on the time and place in history.  Church historian Kenneth Latourette describes this reality.

“From the seventh into the tenth century the Moslem Arabs mastered about half of the lands which had been ruled by Rome.  This segment also embraced about half of what might be denominated Christendom.  In it the Christian churches dwindled more or less rapidly.”

Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Volume 1, page 270

“In the four centuries between 950 and 1350 Christianity was carried over a wider reach of territory than even in those great first five centuries of accomplishment which had inaugurated its course. . . Now followed another period when it seemed that Christianity was fading from the human scene.  Between 1350 and 1500 the geographic frontiers of Christianity shrank alarmingly.  The faith vanished from most of Asia and was hard-bested in Asia Minor and the Balkan Peninsula.”

Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Volume 1, page 587

These facts should promote a more mature view of the church’s vitality.  Seasons of pruning can be ordained by God to purify the church.  Persecution can diminish the church in one region and force people to migrate.  This in turn can cause the church to bloom in another region.  

A mature faith says, “The Lord may place me in a time and location in history in which the church is experiencing numeric growth or decline.  He may place me in a time and location in which the church’s impact on culture waxes or wanes.  Regardless of the circumstances, I know that God's eternal purpose will prevail.  Whenever and wherever Jesus places me, I will be faithful.  The church doesn’t have to appear successful in order for me to faithful to Jesus Christ.”

Posted by Matthew Roberts with

Repentance for the Overextended

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Ecclesiastes 2:23 Even in the night his heart does not rest.

Our lives are frantic with activity.  Part of this stems from the demands of a highly competitive marketplace.  If we don't put in the time, then there's a line of people waiting to take our spot.  Part of this stems from technology.  We can be reached anytime and anywhere.  E-mail enables us (and often requires us) to work when we're not in the office.  

Yet, if we're honest, there's something deeper at play.  A busy schedule is a mark of being important; it is way to say to ourselves and to others "I'm significant."

Jacqueline Olds, in her book The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century writes, "Talk to Americans about their lives and one thing you will hear over and over again is how busy most people feel.  People complain about being too busy, but if you listen closely, you will hear that people are proud of their busyness.  It serves as a badge of toughness, success, and importance."  (page 14)

Tim Keller, in his small group guide on Romans writes, "An inordinate need for people’s approval continually leads to over-commitments and over-estimations of what we can accomplish in a given amount of time."  (page 148)

Do you continually over-commit and over-schedule?  Are people around you annoyed with you because you can't fulfill the promises you've made?  Do you continually over-estimate your strength to accomplish as much as possible?  

You're living in unbelief and idolatry.  You're seeking to derive from your busy schedule what you can only find in Jesus Christ, namely, that your important because you're a beloved child of the King.  You are approved by the only One who's opinion counts not because of your productivity and success, but because you're clothed in Jesus' perfect righteousness.  

Our culture won't prescribe repentance and faith for a life of over-scheduling and exhaustion, but that's precisely what's needed.  Try this, "Heavenly Father, forgive me for finding my worth in my busy schedule.  Thank you that Jesus suffered and died for my unbelief and idolatry.  Thank you that He rose from the dead to eternal rest for me."

Posted by Matthew Roberts with

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