“For He will consummate God’s gift of salvation, peace, and happiness. This promise encourages us, in the earthly rubble and devastation of the community of His people, to play our part in building something new, on the way from “futility” to “glory.” – Hans Walter Wolff
This quote showed up from my social media two years ago (10/27/2019). I was in the early days of my time as pastor here in College Corner having left behind a position that caused pain for the Schrage household. Your own recent history was also colored with challenging days. Our union seemed to be two groups of hurting people trying to find comfort, love, and renewed trust after a particularly trying time. We just returned from a trip to Texas where the church we served split twice in the last five years. There were all sorts of accusations thrown around and relationships became strained, some severed. One need only listen to the podcast, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” to learn the ugliness that can and often does show up within the Church.
These things illustrate the sadness that can be caused when the call to Christian love and Gospel reconciliation becomes strained, divided, or completely ignored. These things are real, they happen, and they reflect very poorly on the Body of Christ when viewed by the outside world. For many who witness and experience these ordeals, this is a time to give up hope. It is easy to make the argument that the Church is irreparably dysfunctional and flawed. I am sure that we have all wanted to make this case, stay home, and just hide from the reality of Christian living in a fallen world. Add to this the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, and some have hastened a move into this independent Christian worship model freeing them from the unfriendly confines of Christian community. This is today’s reality.
Yet we have moved beyond the messiness that plagued this church in the past. The Schrage family has moved beyond the messiness that was our last call in ministry. The church in Texas is healing and growing under a new vision toward the future. And how has all of this been accomplished? How does the Church recover? The answer is so incredibly simple and the solution is the same for each of these situations: return to the Word of God, bathe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and gain a perspective that moves toward a God-glorifying ministry. Doing this leads to an acknowledgement of sin and failure, potential reconciliation, and continued growth in humility and understanding.
When someone disparages the Church and recalls some of these chapters of challenge and difficulty, call their attention to the steady faithful work of the Spirit in the Body of Christ. Point them to story that should be reflected in the aftermath of any Church dysfunction. The story of Jesus Christ who died for such sinners as these who make the Church look foolish. Of course you hope to see justice, but the point really is the message. The Gospel of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration.
As we move forward as a church I hope that we are communicating to the community around us that Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and life regardless of the mess mankind makes of His body. Ultimately, God, in restoring churches that struggle through difficulty, will illustrate that transformation from “futility” to “glory.” May this be our prayer as we reach the community around with the gospel. Acknowledging our warts, but pointing to the source of our inward beauty that comes only from a gracious, loving, merciful, and long-suffering Heavenly Father.