From: T.M. Schoewe
Speaking about the Chinese last week we are reminded about a remark one of my church history professors at the seminary made about 70 years ago, that “in or about the year 2050 we will most likely see Chinese missionaries coming to America.” We are reminded of this when reading about how many church congregations were developing programs to attract foreign students and introduce them to the Christian faith. In the meantime we have also been reading about the “dark days” many Churches are experiencing. In the book “the mystic way of Evangelism” the question is asked “Is there a dark night of the church?” “Are we experiencing it?”
Then we recalled that sometime ago an older gentleman in his 80s said to me when leaving church, “things are not like they used to be!” Giving that remark some thought we had to answer “you are right!” Going our separate ways we thought about that some more and back down memory lane we went—indeed in the 1930s and even up until about 1960, churches were generally full of worshippers. But as time rolled on attendance waned and there were fewer young people. Looking into many congregations today we find more and more gray hair, and most of them are older ladies. Also looking back we remember how in our communities churches were looked up to and had a significant role in society. You know as well as any Christian that now our secular society has no time for the commandments or the cross which most churches represent!
Another interesting recollection we have is Martin Luther’s depiction of the gospel as a rain shower, moving from the East it goes out to the West and back to the East. So it seems in the world today, as it makes its rounds or circles the globe and is moving back to the East. Maybe as a result our churches are experiencing “dark days.” We also remember living in Europe from 1954-1957. Especially in Germany, we saw a few old ladies in church while the streets on Sunday mornings were filled with athletes and contests and other games engaged in by the young people. Is this going on in our country? We want someone to tell us, is this going on here? Is there a solution? In this obscurity we want someone to answer our question and give us solutions.
In the midst of our obscurity God may be doing something! He may be detaching us from things, like a dear church building that we love for its own sake rather than God’s. If the church is in a dark night, what kind of detachments are we experiencing? We know of some churches whose basement walls are full of pictures of winning ball teams and many important members who were influential on city councils and some who even served as mayor in their city.
And in the dark night, what is the church learning? Maybe that its essence lies not in its programs and accomplishments and its activities but in the truth that on earth she simply has union with God, the Three in One, and that should be enough! To put in differently, the purpose of the church is something God gives us and for which we are created and our primary mission is to be a community of believers that worships the God of our Lord Jesus Christ in a culture that worships other things or gods.
Maybe telling the story of the decline of the church in our day is God telling us that just keeping the communion Jesus gave us in Matthew 28 should be enough for us, and that we just need to depend on His assurance that “Lo, I am with you always!” That ought to be enough for anybody.