Your Eschatology Will Shape Your Ecclesiology!
This is Everywhere!
So said David Holden at the Brighton Leaders Conference 2000. I've been thinking a lot about this quote over the past few days. In a sense, the truth of it lingers behind almost everything that the Christian bloggers and authors have been writing or prophesying about!
For example, it lingers behind Mark's meditations on the rightness or wrongness of the mega-church. Why bother trying to build a mega-church if your eschatology is pessimistic (you might call it realistic) and you don't expect much to improve for the Church before Jesus Christ returns again? In fact never mind mega, why bother to build church?
The truth of this quote definately drives the prophecy that I have just transcribed of Terry Virgo's on my "Spirit of God!" website. He brought it at the Brighton Leaders Conference 2003 and it is possibly one of the most Gospel-orientated prophecies I have ever heard. The essence of it is this: "The great work is done! ... Resurrection is established ... A victorious Saviour sends His Spirit among you ... Now I have chosen you. Go and build it! ... Go and proclaim!". Can you sum up the Gospel any better? The finished work of Christ is done! The Spirit has been sent among us! Now go! There is a world to be won!
The truth of this quote is most definately behind the heart of John Piper. In one of his latest books, "What Jesus Demands From the World", Piper wrote; "The universal authority of Jesus issues in a mission that lasts as long as history and extends as far as humanity ... the words, "to the end of the age" show that the mission should last till Jesus comes back. The demand is not given only to the first generation of disciples. The mission lasts as long as the mission-sustaining promise lasts. And that promise is; the all-authoritative Jesus will be with us to the end of the age. As long as there is time and as long as there are nations to reach, Jesus' demand to go and make disciples is valid".
This isn't New!
A mistake that Restorationists such as myself often make is to think that we are the first to hold fast to this positive indeed optimistic eschatology of how things will shape up for the Church. This is a grevious mistake. The first transcript I ever completed was of a Panel Discussion from the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors 1999. The participants were Dr James M Boice, Dr John Piper, C J Mahaney and David Bryant. During the panel discussion the participants were asked to recommend books that particularly had impacted their ministry. I was not alone in finding their commendations note-worthy.
Dr Piper unsurprisingly recommended Jonathan Edwards, Mahaney unsurprisingly recommended books on the Cross, Dr Boice recommended a variety of books ranging from C H Spurgeon to George Whitfield but David Bryant recommended a series of books that I hadn't heard of before. Kenneth Scott Latourette's "A History of Christianity". I took more serious interest in them when I saw them on the library shelves of my pastor Dr Stanley Jebb, but found them to be a little beyond my price range.
I was therefore thrilled today to visit the local S.P.C.K bookshop in Bristol and I found the volumes for £2 each! I duly brought them and am deep into them and finding them just as thrilling as David Bryant promised they would be at the Bethlehem Conference in 1999. Why so? Here are a number of "smooth stones from ancient brooks" from Volume 3 - '3 Centuries of Advance' by Latourette that may sound familiar to our present day situation.
"In the fifteenth century and in the first half of the sixteenth century Christianity faced a major crisis ... The first flush of enthusiasm, characteristic of a new religion was presumably long past. A younger rival, Islam was continuing to supplant it in wide regions and was threatening it's remaining strongholds".
"Much ... was indifferent or even antagonistic to Christianity or sort to control it for it's own purposes. In Western Europe where Christianity had seemed most vigorous, decay had fastened itself on the Church. Ecclesiastical leaders disregarded Christian ethics in their programmes and practices and used their positions to advance their private interests".
"Under these circumstances could Christianity continue to spread? Could it even survive? Had it sufficient vigour to enable it to permeate the new culture of Europe ... to win the nations ... in AD 1500 the outlook was far from promising".
"Yet Christianity not only survived. It also displayed new life. In Western and Northern Europe, it revived, showed more vigour than ever before and made an even deeper impress upon the culture of Europe that it had previously been able to do ... Never had any religion spread so widely. Never had any faith had so great an effect upon so large a proportion of mankind".
"Protestantism was so engrossed in making a place for itself against Roman Catholicism, in working out its own theological positions, in controversies among it's various leaders, and in effecting an organization, that it's members had little leisure for concern for non-Christians outside of Western Europe".
"The ... chief reason why in general Protestants were not active in propogating the faith among non-Christians was that until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries they had relatively little touch with non-Christian people".
Does the Future Have a Church?
Sounds familiar! It seems to me that many of us are so busy trying to actually believe that the Church can survive against the flood of Islam (not helped by utterances from David Pawson) or survive against the flood of post-modernism or of secularism, that there is little room left for faith that the Gospel is destined for success! Ern Baxter was fond of quoting the verse, "I will build My Church and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it". He said that verse is often misused by the nervous who huddle together and declare that hell's gates will not prevail. They are safe. Hell's gates can't get at them. But Ern asked since when has anyone been chased by gates jumping off their hinges and running down the road?! That verse meant that Hell's gates cannot prevail in keeping the Church OUT!
Jesus Christ will build His Church to such a degree that the gates of Hell themselves will be battered in from the relentless advance of the Church of Jesus Christ! Rather than taking our theology from the world and the newspapers, we need to reclaim a vision from the Bible itself - our authority - about what it promises for the end-time Church. I am so grateful for these quotes from Greg Haslam (preached at Brighton 2003) that make it clear how powerful such a vision can be.
"People won't even cross the road for a little vision - but they will go to the ends of the earth for a big one".
"Vision is sanctified dreaming".
"Until you find something to die for - you are not really living".
"Visionless people view all change as a threat because they are wedded to the past".
"Visionary people need to seek out other people - preferably with a bigger vision who will fire what they believe".
Let's start believing that He must reign UNTIL He has made all His enemies His footstool! We are in good company - Church history demonstrates that the Church has not only survived before but has flourished before and it will do so again! For as surely as He lives, ALL the earth SHALL be filled with the glory of the Lord!