I flicked my phone screen, scrolling down, down, down through an endless feed of political news. Each headline built on the one before it, their all-caps all-bold typeface seemingly screaming at me from the screen. One candidate’s aggressive proposal to further abortions in our nation, the other’s ongoing dismissal of those who are different than he, and an apparently endless supply of Christians who say the sky is falling. As the navigation bar sank lower and lower on the page, my heart was fit to match. And sitting alone in my room in the wee hours of the morning I realized: I am afraid.
Somewhere and somehow over the past several months of discouraging articles from every voice within and surrounding the Church, fear has sunk into my soul. Maybe it is the fact that I’m waking up to the reality that things are very likely going to change for the Church very soon, or maybe it is the realization that they already have (most likely, it’s a bit of both). I received an overwhelming number of responses to my last article on the election; the vast majority were overwhelmingly positive, but the negative responses were dripping with fear, urging me that the Church and our nation is quickly losing ground. The messages were a call to man the gates, a last-ditch effort to save Christianity from liberal agendas that will allegedly snuff out our faith altogether. Dismissing my best efforts to keep my head and my faith, fear has tied itself in a knot in my gut and refuses to come undone.
I know Christians around the globe who live in nations that do not permit their faith to be spoken aloud. Just this morning I received a message from a friend in a closed country (a country that doesn’t allow the Christian faith to be proclaimed in the public square), and through her encrypted words, reading between the lines of her carefully chosen verbiage, I wondered: how far is this from our reality? Is persecution coming soon? Are we seeing the end of free faith-speech? I suppose the real question I’m asking is this: Is the Church in jeopardy?
And then I remembered Jan.
I was back in my hometown for my sister’s wedding last week, and I saw Jan, a former mentor of mine. She is now elderly with withering hands and milky eyes. Her knuckles are warped with arthritic pain and her once-gregarious hand motions are small and restrained. I hugged her gently, not remembering her to be this frail. She sat cautiously and told me about her grandchildren, especially about the one going to Bible school this fall. She couldn’t be more proud. She told me about her family, avoided the topics of her health, and complimented my father’s recent sermon emphatically. She has seen much, loved much, lost much. She has seen the rise and fall of Christian leaders, studied more than most ever will, and can still give me that knowing look when I’m going on a rant that is going off the rails (it kills me every time). In her lifetime prayer has been put in schools and taken out, marriage has changed on a national level, and the global center for Christianity has moved from the West.
And as I listened to her – her speech punctuated with brief coughing fits – I realized: the Church isn’t going anywhere.
Embodied in the frail and fading body of my dear friend is the Body of Christ. She stands as proof for the Church today that regardless of the times or the headlines, the Church will press on. She emanates the reality that Christ has chosen to make His home among His people, to be present in the world through them, and to make His name known among the nations through imperfect, learning, frail creatures like us.
Jan stands as a physical reminder that some things may change, but some never will. There will always be old saints, those who bake casseroles for new mothers even though they need someone to pull it out of the oven for them. Like her, the Church will endure much, but she will endure. Like her, the Church will continue to pray, to preach, to come limping to the Supper of her Savior hungry for His presence and His grace. The Body of Christ may be warped with the wounds of this world, but the grace of her God will relentlessly meet her right where she is.
This election season seems to have believers running a bit scared, including me. But with our eyes on the God who has seen generations and generations of His Church, we can look ahead at whatever might come with great confidence that He who abides with us will keep us abiding in Him. By His grace, pastors will shepherd the flock of God, believers will meet and marry and bear children, and we will tell and retell the stories of our spiritual ancestors. The Supper will continue to be set and the waters of baptism will continue to be stepped into. Regardless of this election’s outcome our sure hope is that Christ will reign. Our nation may change, but the promises of our God will not: ““Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32).
Do not fear, Church. The faith will keep us. The Spirit will sustain us. We’re not going anywhere.
Ever singing march we onward
victors in the midst of strife.
Joyful music lead us sunward
in the triumph song of Life.