WOULD IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF YOU KNEW THAT CHRISTIANITY IS ALWAYS ONE GENERATION AWAY FROM EXTINCTION?
- We must be more afraid of flattery from the camp of the enemy than persecution. Read the pages of Church history. Persecution never did the Church of God any harm, but compromise with the world has always robbed it of the power of its purity (James A Stewart)
- We need to explore the difference between the early Church and ourselves. For only there will we discover the secret of repeating the success of the first century Church (B. H. Clendennen)
- An unholy church! it is useless to the world, and of no esteem among men. It is an abomination, hell’s laughter, heaven’s abhorrence. The worst evils which have ever come upon the world have been brought upon her by an unholy church (C.H. Spurgeon)
- Courage is like guardrails on a highway. You may not know where the road will twist and turn, but godly courage will keep you out of the ditches of sin and compromise and political expediency (Lance Witt).
- The early church was married to poverty, prisons and persecutions. Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity (Leonard Ravenhill)
TEXT: 2 Timothy 3: 1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
Do you wonder what the difference would be if Christ is no longer Lord in the hearts of all men and women? This thought came as I pondered the statement ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction’. The truth of that statement appears prophetic as one observes the continued captivity of those who proclaim that Christ has set them free. There is a general trend of rebuking the darkness instead of being the light. Consider the vision of young Christian men and women who come together in marriage, looking to each other for fulfilment and so set each other up for ‘idol’ relationship and worship. Fear of what people think, not being liked, and viewing any opinion contrary to one’s view as criticism, results in Christians who are vulnerable, tired and frustrated. When such are a majority of those who are known as believers, then it would be true to say Christianity is just a generation away from extinction. “We are cursed with programs…we have a program for every category of the human, and the world goes to hell while we labor to make these manmade schemes work. The fruit of our labor is a generation of tares that has no reverence for God.” (B. H.Clendennen). Once the love of self and individual pursuits replace the fear of God, people can go through motions that make them appear religious while they are hollow and self-conceited.
SOME WAVES THAT HAVE THREATENED THE CHURCH
Warmth of togetherness – When the Holy Spirit was poured on those who were waiting in the Upper Room, the Presence of God manifested in diverse ways. The believers gathered together, read the word, prayed, broke bread and encouraged one another. That commune encouraged Ananias and Sapphira to assume that they could ride on the wave of the fellowship (Acts 5) and the widows were starting to note their ethnic differences in regard to food distribution. ‘Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen’ (Acts 6:9). This led to the killing of Stephen and the fleeing of the believers. Whenever believers have settled and started to establish and refine the systems, they tend to veer off the path of righteousness. That happened during the Middle Ages where very little of the manifestation of the power of God is heard of.
The existing traditional beliefs – In the first and second century, the message of the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ had spread. In the Roman Empire, there was an agreement that Jews were exempted from the tradition of sacrificing to the god of the Emperor. However, it was odd when non-Jews refused to participate in the religious functions that were necessary to maintain the relationship between the society and their gods. That made them conspicuous and aroused suspicion that led to their persecution. It is important to note that it was not a crime to be a Christian, all one needed to do was to also sacrifice to the well-being of the empire by sacrificing to their gods. While many believers remained firm, were tortured and even killed, others gave in to the Emperors’ demands while remaining in the Christian fellowship. The fear was real. Some of the Christians bought a ticket indicating that they had sacrificed to the gods. ‘You can have your servant go and do it for you. He might also be a Christian, but, you know, that's his problem. Pay him. He'll get two chits and then you're covered…. Or you can pay for the ticket but not actually do the sacrifice if you can bribe a friend of yours who's a magistrate.’ (The Acts of the Christian Marytrs). It was another kind of persecution when those who had given in to the idols were the ones to baptize the new believers. Today there are people who want the blessing of the Living God that has been availed through the sacrifice of Christ, while also seeking ancestral blessings by slaughtering sheep to appease the spirit of ancestors.
Established governance and economic progressive systems – What a people focuses their attention on, particularly as they vie for influence in the corridors of power, defines who and what they worship. A way of life that leaves people obsessed with making as much money as one can, subordinating any other consideration to that goal, means that one is effectively serving an idol. An Idol is anything that takes one’s devotion that is due to God alone. Idols are jealous and refuse to share space with activities such as family time, nurturing friendships, and resting, and that may be why it is difficult for people to get time to examine why they do what they do. Even though no incense or time is consciously set aside to sing praise to the idol, it dominates the mind, and shapes every conversation. Politics and economics are so intermeshed in the mind that one cannot see who God is without the ‘color’ of the systems. A lot of effort is put into securing good governance and converting systems into what is regarded as godly. When the faith of the believer is locked up with the welfare of the state, and the kingdom of God is mistaken with the kingdom of this world, then the focus is lost. When caught into this thinking, whether schools are established or Christians join government and politics, there may be little difference until worship of God is separated from the worship of idols. Organizations and systems do not change, it is people who have changed through the cleansing by the blood of Christ, that subsequently change the structures in which they live and operate.
WHY CHRISTIAN FAITH CANNOT BE A GENERATION AWAY FROM EXTINCTION
While it is a fact that any principle, whether it is freedom or biblical values, must be taught and promoted to the next generation if there is to be any hope that those principles will continue, there is something unique about the faith in the Living God. When Christians listen to the many voices that create doubt about the sovereignty of God, they end up losing the passion and consequently the vision of the cause of Christ. However ,it defies all human logic as Mordecai told Esther, ‘For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish’ (Esther 4:14a). That is why Christian faith cannot be one generation away from extinction. Christian institutions and churches may decline in power and prominence; individuals may live by beliefs that do not magnify the Lord, yet the church of Christ marches on. What Jesus told Simon Peter together with the other disciples, that he was building his church that could not be overcome by the gates of hell, remains true today (Matthew 16:13-20). Church history teaches us that even when a generation loses passion and vision, God raises other people who carry on the work. That is why it is wise to choose to align with the church that Christ builds.
The presence of the Holy Spirit- Since the church, not buildings or denominations, began on the day of Pentecost, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is dependent on Him to sustain it. Just as Christians in the early church had no government to rely on for favors, no courts to which they could appeal for their protection, and yet ‘they turned the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6), so are those who depend on God. If there is something to learn from history, it is total reliance on God to spark transformational impact in our time. No spirit filled believer whose daily prayer is ‘May Thy Kingdom come’ can claim that his days of wanting great things are behind. The work of God is not about preservation of institutions and traditions that may be blocking the freshness of the Holy Spirit. When every believer is praying for God’s guidance in their new predisposition, whether it is growing older, or acquiring power status or wealth, the mission mind remains active. Instead of wondering about those who have sacrificed to the gods of the time, seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The Lord of the harvest will show you new frontiers that bring excitement and life. If you are God’s co-worker (1 Corinthians 3:9), and He does not change (Malachi 3:6), then you cannot fail to proclaim His goodness in the land of the living. Since the work of the Holy Spirit is done through believers, the concern is whether you are allowing yourself to be a vessel that God uses to keep His church in progress.
Obedience– Holman’s Bible dictionary defines obedience as hearing God’s word and acting accordingly. That means a Christian who is to teach others to obey everything Christ commanded (Matthew 28:20) is one who hears, trusts, and surrenders to God and His word. Even when the leadership may fail in being obedient, God in His own way raises unlikely and often unknown people as vessels to carry on His work. These are people who have distinguished between obeying the systems and sacrificing to the gods of the people, obeying self and obeying God. An obedient Christian communicates the life giving faith through their everyday life. For example, when the world failed in times of Noah, God used that one family to revive His work. Even when the world moved away from worship of God, Abraham was called “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.'” (Genesis 18:19).
Through the intergenerational interactions, the memories of God’s redemptive grace are shared, the creative visions of the youth are nurtured and so the kingdom story continues. How then can the faith be a generation away if trusting children and youth are seeking counsel of those older? It is a command to teach children about God and His great works (Psalm 78). Are the believers living in obedience to the leading of the Lord and His revealed word? It could be worthwhile to check the living arrangements if you realize decreasing interest in God’s work. There may be a need to create opportunity and time to share testimonies of what God has done and is doing. Obedience means one total communication, such as literature, architecture, and pictures, among other communication signals; tell the story of God’s goodness in this land of the living.
The church cannot be one generation away from extinction unless those who claim to be Christians are not obedient to Christ. Lack of obedience makes people anxious and so they spend their energy on survival. That increases the toxins of unbelief that become contagious leaving a sterile community. It is through using opportunities to give credit to God about who He is and His works that ensure that the church remains orthodox. It is when the church becomes inward, fearful and self-interests of individuals are given priority that fear and anxiety increase. A sense of shame in identifying with Christ is likely to be a result of lack of gratitude and so share God’s credit. That is the beginning of death. Just as Mordecai told Esther, it is good to know that death will be individual because God will find a way to raise His servants. It is those who disobey Him and their children that lose the opportunity of life with Christ. While evil and faithlessness continue to increase in these apparent last days, the church of Christ still progresses. Is your life communicating the extinction of the Christian faith or the energizing, creative flow of the life giving Spirit of God?
“The apostles of Christ knew that to plant a Bible based, Christ centered, Spirit-filled Church, walking in holiness and preaching the gospel was true success. Many of these churches were poor, some were small, many were persecuted, there was little organization apart from Christ as their Head and the Holy Spirit as their guide, but if they truly expressed the character of Christ this was indeed success.” (K. Malcomson)