THIS WEEK’S R2R DISTINCTIVE
The Church (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Ephesians 4:15-16): We believe in the church as the body of Christ, which is composed of all believers who have accepted Christ as Savior. We believe the church is God’s primary way to accomplish His purposes on earth today.
The roots of my family heritage are near the small town of Radcliffe, Iowa, some 50 miles north of Des Moines. In the last quarter of the 19th Century, my great grandfather traveled from central Illinois with his brothers to homestead in Iowa. Together, they purchased several hundred acres of Iowa farmland and began building a community. At the center of their community was a church–Evergreen Church. It was the classic white country church built at the intersection of two gravel roads. My great grandfather donated the land for the church from a small portion of his farm. The church stood until the late 1960s or early 70s. I can still remember attending a service or two at Evergreen Church when I was very young. My Dad and his many cousins have fond memories of growing up in the church and the community it represented.
In the late 1960s, the small fellowship the church belonged to (the Evangelical United Brethren) merged with the Methodist Church to become the United Methodist Church. This proved to be a dividing point for the little church. While the Methodist Church was still conservative at this point in its history, many felt the writing was on the wall. Not interested in following the Methodists into liberalism, the little Evergreen Church divided, with half of the families forming a new, independent church in Radcliffe (Faith Evangelical Church), and half forming a new Methodist church in Hubbard. To this day, Faith Evangelical Church in Radcliffe continues to carry on the faith and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ that was sown into its roots by the families of past generations.
Such is the story of one little church in rural Iowa, but it is a story that can be told and retold over the centuries. When we think about “the church,” we see her represented in both the local, community sense, but also in the larger, universal sense. In Matthew 16:18 we see Jesus making the declarative state: “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Sometimes, when we see individual representations of the local church come and go, it’s hard to remember this. Like the Evergreen Church, there are many churches that have had their day in the sun only to eventually die and turn to dust. This fall, I am leading a mission trip to Europe, where we will see the very cradle of Protestantism trying to survive in a post-Christian Europe. Across England, France, and Germany, churches are being repurposed into Mosques. As the Gatesone Institute notes,
There are now more practicing Muslims than practicing Christians in many parts of Europe, not only in large urban centers, but also in smaller towns and cities across the continent.
As Islam replaces Christianity as the dominant religion in Europe, more and more churches are set to become mosques, which increasingly serve not only as religious institutions but also function as the foundational political building blocks for the establishment of separate, parallel Muslim communities in Europe that are based on Islamic Sharia law.
The latest churches destined to become mosques are located in Germany, where the Roman Catholic Church has announced plans to close up to six churches in Duisburg, an industrial city in northwestern part of the country, due to falling church attendance.
When we read reports like this, it’s easy to become concerned. What’s happening to the church? What about Matthew 16?
Let me assure you, Jesus is still building His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it! The church is more than a building, it is the body of Christ here in Ankeny, Iowa, across our nation, and around the world.
True, if you go to the place where the Evergreen Church once stood, you will simply find a stand of trees at the corner of a field, but the people of that community are still worshipping the One, True God. The building is gone, but the church is still there!
As we study from Hebrews 10:19-25 this week, we see a beautiful picture of the church as God intends it. The writer draws a picture of the family of God when he calls us brothers (v. 19), and the house of God, where we can draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (v. 22), holding fast to the confession of our hope (v. 23) so that we can stir up one another to love and good works (v. 24).
There is something very special that happens when God’s people gather together. Yes, it’s been through the storms of history, but it continues to sail towards Heaven’s shore, carrying a most precious cargo. There’s an old song that offers us a perfect picture of The Church Triumphant:
Let the Church be the Church, let the people rejoice.
Oh, we’ve settled the question,
We’ve made our choice.
Let the anthems ring out, Songs of victory swell
For the Church triumphant is alive and well.
Is alive, is alive, is alive. For the Church triumphant is alive and well.
Someday this old building on SE Magazine Road may return to serving as a warehouse, but the people of First Family will leave a heritage of faithfulness and devotion to our children and our children’s children. For He is faithful to build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!–Chris Eller