When I take time to sit back and reflect on the times in which we live, I am often filled with awe and wonder. Although the church in Europe is gasping its last trembling breaths and our church here in America shows all the signs of following suit, the Christian faith is exploding in other parts of the world. In Africa the Body of Christ is growing at an unprecedented pace and in Asia the same thing is happening. Living and serving in China for five years, I was able to witness firsthand the phenomenal gains the faith was making despite over fifty years of Communist oppression.
Everywhere the faith is exploding we see an accompanying display of Holy Spirit fireworks – especially in Asia and Africa. Signs and wonders, much like those witnessed in the early church, are commonplace. People are being healed, demons are being sent back to their dark abodes, and countless lives, once seemingly destined for society’s slagheap, are being restored and renewed. Everywhere one looks one sees God doing a vital and mighty new work.
As the current century unfolds, I think it will become readily apparent that the West in general and America in particular will no longer be the “leader” when it comes to global Christianity. In fact, we can already see this shift taking place as numerous denominations struggle to give equal weight to the rising voice of its new global membership. Here on the home front, we are undergoing our own shake up as long-accepted, traditional forms of the faith are rapidly dying out. The problem is, new forms, although many are taking shape, have yet to find any widespread cohesion, and, as a result, many Christians find themselves in a sort of “spiritual limbo.”
In many ways I think we can liken our current situation to that of the original disciples as they found themselves in the Upper Room after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. As they awaited further instruction I am sure they reflected on and discussed many of the things the Master had told them over the preceding three years. Jesus had told them to expect the birth of new wineskins as the old forms could not possibly begin to hold this new wine that he was bringing. As his Ascension drew near, he commissioned them to go and make new disciples in all the earth and breathed into them the Holy Spirit.
After the coming of the Spirit in power at Pentecost, the apostles went forth to launch this new faith. Still uncertain and unaware of what the form and structure of the fledgling church would take, the early church leaders employed a proactive strategy. Rather than sitting back and waiting to see how things would unfold, they went forth into the streets and preached the gospel to anyone who would listen. In addition, they healed the sick, fed the poor, and did all manner of service work, all in the name of the Master they loved and served.
Our calling in the 21st Century is no different. Just like the early church, we find ourselves living in an age of rapid change and cultural transition. And as our old church structures continue to crumble, we have yet to give birth to any solid, faith-sustaining alternative. This, too, is much like the situation the early followers of the Master faced.
I think we can profit greatly by looking to those first Christians as a prototype for how we should move forward in this time of transition. Although the early church structure was still very fluid and most likely varied from place to place, the first Christians understood and applied two fundamental principles. They understood that they were primarily called to two foundational activities: disciple-making and service to others.
Twenty-first century Christians would do well to emulate them.
© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved
- Making Straight the Way: The Bittersweet Mission of John the Baptist (lifebrook.wordpress.com)