In the first part described the church as a social group. It is certainly no less than that but it is definitely more and it is that which should make us even more wary of complacency. We are not a mere social club but the church of the living God. Of course many Christians are aware of that but wrongly conclude that the church they are in is safe. ‘Surely, if this is something God himself has ordained it will last forever,’ they reason. Even though Jesus faced trouble and told his disciples to expect the same, they will point to passages like he will build his church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. As I will demonstrate, this line of thought is theologically flawed on several accounts.
Yes, the Church is built on the immutable foundation of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the vindicated Messiah. It therefore exists in the world as the spearhead of God’s project for the redemption and renewal of all creation. This means the Church will always be in the world but that does not mean it will always be in a particular part of the world. It is this nuance that people fail to recognize. There is a difference between the Church, with a capital “C”, and a church, with a small “c”. Since the Church is ultimately divinely ordained, God calling people to participate in the Messiah, it will always be there even if it is just one individual. However, individuals do leave the faith and it is possible for entire cultures to abandon it, as we have seen in the West, or for it to be forced out of entire regions, like in the Middle East the faith’s birth place. In some places like North Korea it is not allowed entry at all. As I mentioned earlier, the scriptures offer no specific guarantees that Christianity will survive in any part of the world, as small as a within a living person or as large as entire global region. It only promises there will be followers of Jesus in the world because God will always call people to himself. It rather exhorts us to be vigilant and contend for the faith, examining ourselves as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
The other theological reason why we cannot rest assured about the future of Christianity in our part of the world is eschatological. The scriptures never present a vision of the end of days where all people submit to the authority of God. Apocalyptic revelations all end with God’s final triumph over the rebellious. There will always be people who will resist the rule of God’s Messiah. This theme of eschatological conflict is itself an extension of present circumstances because the coming of God’s kingdom is naturally resisted by the kingdoms of this world. The entire story of scripture borne out over the course of history is of humans wanting to do things their way instead of God’s way. As C.S. Lewis put it, either you say to God your will be done or he says to you your will be done. The New Testament portrays the people of God thoroughly embroiled in this spiritual battle, not only fought in societies and cultures but within each believer’s mind. So in the scriptures view of the present and the future there is no room for comfort based on past circumstances.
The contention that I have just described theologically is what I initially identified sociologically. The social component exists as part of a larger theological battle after all, human society is a part of the larger world. Scripture operates on an integrated view of reality. So who is the god of the world? Who will all creation serve? YHWH, the God of Israel, revealed himself as the true creator of all things when he raised Jesus from the dead, exalting him as king over all creation and through his spirit started remaking the world. In the world the Church is the chief representative and prototype of God’s new creation project in the Messiah and by the Spirit. She is therefore a co-agent of new creation, participating in implementing the Messiah’s victory which is a new world order. So we are agents of creation who contend with the forces of destruction. In New Testament theology, this conflict is cast in language that evokes creational motifs rooted in the scriptures. A popular one for instance is light versus darkness which harks back to Genesis but there are some less obvious ones like kingdom versus kingdom.
So we are actually participating in something of cosmic scale so the social dimension cannot account for everything. There is a pervasive spiritual/metaphysical component to all of this. To simply trust how things appear and therefore conclude things are or will be hunky dory is spectacularly spiritually naïve. We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against dark spiritual forces. When society resists the church it, it cannot all be reduced to social reasons. They are being used by sinister spiritual forces. The world is simultaneously perpetrator and victim. While we are called to help bring new creation, their agenda is the continued destruction of God’s good world. The Church is therefore the obstacle in their destructive program therefore their only option is the annihilation of the Christian faith. I am not saying that every non-believer is out to get us but when we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, following Jesus is definitely not the way of the world. A careful examination of history bears it out clearly. If they killed Jesus why should we ever dare think the world wants us?
I described the annihilation of the faith in the first part in social terms, assimilation or exclusion. Either they take the belief out of the person or take out the believer. Both ways you do not have the faith in the culture. This is the world’s unrelenting manifesto even though it does not often say it so many words. The call to join the Messiah fundamentally interferes with the world’s project and it is always actively trying to get rid of the stumbling block. To dress these tactics in familiar biblical language it is either temptation or tribulation. It is always going to be one or the other. The enemy either deceives you into following the world or he harasses you till you ask him for relief. If you do not give in, you either pick expulsion or face the ultimate exclusion, death. Since in Ghana we do not experience that extreme kind of persecution that some believers face in some Muslim countries for instance, we think there is no serious threat to the church. However, if you are not being persecuted, then they are trying to seduce you. The scriptures warn us against friendship with the world even more than it forewarns us about hostility from it. It is a ruse to suck us in and spit out our identity. The aim of temptation is simply not to flirt with unrighteousness, have a fling with the world. It is to completely divorce us from the Lamb and pimp ourselves to another.