Most Christians alive today are aware of the vast cultural, moral, and religious changes that are happening in the United States and in the world. The open acceptance of living with partners without marriage, children born to unwed mothers, the coarsening of television programs, the acceptance of the drug culture and gambling, the rejection of the voice of God’s Word as any answer to society’s problems, and the pandering of churches to speak what people’s itching ears want to hear—all point to a difficult future for the Christian Church.
Such a realization by Christians can become a bitter pill to swallow, both for the future of the true Gospel and for the future faith of more generations. Many have already concluded that God’s Word has failed the Church. They have begun catering the message and the music to suit what people want to hear. Others despair of any hope for the Church. They hide behind their sanctuaries and watch the world pass them by. Some might even be angry at God for allowing this to happen in a “Christian nation.”
Then consider how the generation of faithful Israelite parents felt when they realized that their grandchildren were growing up and did not know God (Judges 2). Consider how Christians in Russia felt when communism took over and they were persecuted, killed, and sent to asylums or to Siberia. Consider the Christians in Rome when in AD 400, Vandals invaded the city to loot it. Anarchy arose in the lands once ruled by the Roman Empire. Christians were accused of destroying that empire by turning the people away from the Roman gods. Even the Christians wondered if God had deserted them.
Augustine was the bishop of Hippo, a city in north Africa. His book, The City of God, was written to defend God’s will and to remind people of God’s truth. In this book, Augustine stated that God’s Church was not identified by the earthly churches, the powerful bishops, or the church in Rome. He taught the biblical distinction between the church on earth, which is visible and frail, and the Church of Jesus Christ, which is invisible, glorious, holy, eternal, and united with Christ through Baptism.
This distinction of the outward visible church and the Holy Christian Church is important for God’s people to understand today. The congregations, schools, synods, and denominations are living in this sin-infested world, on the one hand needing to fight against temptation and Satan’s attacks, while on the other hand proclaiming the praises of God, who rescued all people from their iniquities through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. And while we work together to keep these outward institutions as lights in a world of dark unbelief and pray that God would preserve them, we also understand that they could cease or change and that Jesus’ Holy Christian Church will continue until He comes, as Jesus promised.
Many a time in history, the Holy Christian Church has been reduced to a remnant—eight people when the Flood came, 7,000 in Israel during the days of Elijah. Throughout history, many a believer has sat down by “the rivers of Babylon” and wept over the ungodly conditions in earthly churches (Psalm 137:1). But God has always preserved His Word and true believers living in the midst of the enemies of Christ.
God “raised up Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” and “gave Him to be head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:20, 22). As Lord of His Church, Jesus directs all history for the spread of the Gospel into all the world. He allowed Saul to persecute Christians in Jerusalem so that believers “who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). St. Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome, wrote, “I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains, but the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9). Jesus can even bring about the suffering of Christians and the cruelty of ISIS in Iraq to lead people to want to hear the Gospel. In all circumstances, God’s Word declares, “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19), and that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).