Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A test of our zeal

Now that we are forced to stay home due to an outbreak, I've seen a few people asking questions along these lines: What is the worth of the instituted church? Unfortunately some don't understand the implications of what they are asking and how drastically the earth may be shifting under our feet at this very moment. 

Answering this question will be a culling for Christians. If we already understand how fundamental the instituted church is to our kingdom identity, then this time of "distance" will induce fervent yearnings to be gathered and physically numbered with fellow saints. Indeed, zeal for God's house is consuming us at this very moment. If we don't understand or apprehend the church, then this time is a two-edged sword: It will normalize and seal our habit of neglecting God's house and the means of grace, leading to greater working ignorance, selfishness, and idolatry. However, it may be that some will have their eyes opened and they will begin to treasure what they have lost.

We've all heard the numbers -- Church attendance is down, generation over generation. Each successive decade features an even steeper drop than the last.
One key data-point: Aside from the overall drop in church attendance, the percentage who attend church among those who identify as religious is dropping. This obviously has implications on views of the spiritual authority of the church if professing Christians no longer view the call to corporate worship as binding. Depending on your view of cause and effect, you either see this shift in views regarding spiritual authority as driving the drop in attendance, or you see it as a result of the drop in attendance.

I think it's both.

What should we expect both now and in the future? I think we should expect to see a continuing fall-off in respect for any spiritual authority. Those who who claim to follow Christ without acknowledging his kingly authority will continue into worse idolatry. Keep in mind "attendance" doesn't even mean "membership." The reformed churches in which I grew up have a strong culture/subculture of membership and discipline. But in many other churches, even orthodox ones, membership is a much smaller subset of attendees, making discipline in life and attendance more difficult to enforce. The best you can hope for is to maintain the preaching so that people will be convicted and admonished to submit to the authority of Christ both in the Word preached AND in the physical context of church membership.

Realistically, at some point, church attendance/membership won't even be measured anymore by pollsters. We should cherish every day that we are allowed to gather without hindrance from either persecution or providential judgement.

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