I recently read a blog which asked five questions about the future of the local churches I am associated with, and which are often referred to as ‘Brethren Assemblies’. The underlying sense of the blog was that ‘they are not what they used to be.’ I would agree with that sentiment; and have a significant concern about the future in that regard; but at the same time know that the One who said He would build the Church, will do just that. Now I know He was referring to what we sometime call ‘The Church Universal’ but if I understand the New Testament at all, I am confident that He is the One who will see to it that all the little parts of that grand edifice will persist until He returns.
Obviously, the epistles teach that there is a joint responsibility in the building, caring for, feeding, guarding, and so on of the local church. Paul’s entreaty to the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20 is a clear summary of that responsibility. Paul’s comments in chapter 3 of 1st Corinthians also lays that out for us: “But let each one take heed how he builds on it.” Paul writes about being “God’s fellow workers”; an amazing thought in itself! The context is that of the local church. We need to think deeply about that responsibility.
A Few Additional Comments:
Broadbent wrote a book quite a few years ago titled “The Pilgrim Church”. My copy is now in someone else’s library, but his principle thought was that, although we may not recognize them for what they are; the Lord will always, in each generation, have His Pilgrim Church. Brother Broadbent digs into church history to document the various movements down through the years that were ridiculed and persecuted (even to the point of death) and yet were little glimpses of something special: men and women who were faithful to the Scriptures, and their Lord. So there is a sense in which I am not too concerned about the future; when He returns with His Bride, all will be well.
There is another aspect that I sometimes think about, and comment on when asked; and it is this: When you walk in a forest you see trees in all conditions: young saplings, vigorous mature examples, some trees that have disease, some that are just old and beginning to decay, some trees that are burdened with parasites, and some that are riddled with holes where woodpeckers have dug for larvae. Many of these individual trees will die, providing nourishment for the next generation. However, the forest keeps on. Obviously I’m over simplifying only one aspect, and someone might interject that not all forests survive. True, but we know, as I have already touched on, the Church will persist until He comes to take it to be with Himself, and to present it to Himself as a glorious and perfect bride.
So when we see a local church with serious health concerns; possibly moving inexorably toward its death, it is certainly something to be deeply concerned about; but it is not the end of the story. The Lord is building His Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
Some years ago a tornado went through the area of Graphite Bible Camp. I remember being at the window watching the roof shingles fly through the air like a flock of ducks. Quite a few trees fell; particularly those along the shore of the lake where the soil was shallower. After the storm passed, the men surveyed the damage, and started to work. Some trees were cut up for firewood; however there were some that only needed someone on a tractor to push (or pull) it back to its upright position. Many years later, I look at those trees and remember that they were preserved, and still give shelter and shade along the shoreline. A little parable, perhaps?
Going back to the blog I mentioned at the beginning. I agree with the five questions, and the ruminations that flowed from them. In fact, I do have some additional questions I could add to those five. Maybe I will have that opportunity.