This is the first time I’ve written you anything. I hope I get it right.
Who I am is not relevant; identity is not quite as important as you folks think. You label your eternal selves in temporal nomenclature, hoping your names will grant you a kind of forever that you already possess. You’ve distinguished between This and That, twixt Them and Us, when in fact you’re all a part of a grand collective.
But I digress; my compatriots say it is one of my less endearing characteristics.
We’ve watched you longer than nearly anyone could imagine. Notes have been taken, observations compared, theories floated. Obsession with the events in your lives is practically our only pastime, with your condition being something we’ve longed to examine and understand. We’ve kept an eye on you more closely than you know, though without interference. One of your writers, a scientist, said it is impossible to observe something without changing it. We would beg to differ; of course, he posited his theory as a way of explaining the uncertainty principle. Therein lies the problem – he was uncertain. Not Everyone is, you know; I’m getting ahead myself, though.
You’re afraid. We can see it, all of Us.
You’re examining your universe – one that’s never been exactly friendly – and wondering just how much more hostile it could become. Society hates you. Laws have begun infringing on areas you believed untouchable. Values you’ve held dear are beaten and flogged in the public arena, openly mocked as you reel and stagger. Worst of all, your churches shrink and wither.
It’s hard, is it not?
How many walls might you build to protect the precious bride of Christ, and how high must they rise? What sort of guard will bar the door against attackers while also allowing in the unredeemed? How do you fight back without fighting those whom you are called to love? You fear becoming the antithesis of what you are called to be in your struggle against the world’s tide. You cower before the specter of the Old Man, the one you thought you set aside on the day of your salvation, because you fear that in fighting back against your persecutors you will become the Old Man once again.
More than anything, though, you tremble at the thought your church’s mortality.
Yes. You are afraid.
“Unity” disguised as theological compromise. Cultural relevance undermining moral standards. Musical melees tearing the heart out of worship. Religious pluralism muddying the waters of the truth. Spirituality without morality. A slow, trickle-torture destined to kill the strongest of churches.
What you fail to understand is that the Church cannot die.
Not your church, of course. Not your local body of believers, autonomous (a misunderstood concept if ever there was one) and visible. The location you consider so sacred will be sold and re-purposed. It will become a strip mall or museum or school sooner than you could possibly imagine. Your miniscule little congregation, with its PowerPoint and library and Single Mothers outreach will crumble and disintegrate under the waves of time and social change and re-zoning ordinances.
The Church, though, shall never expire. The Church is not exactly “…spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners,” as another of your writers once opined, but that’s as close a description as any language of Earth could approximate. She was established by divine fiat, founded on and in the death and resurrection of Our Lord, and is mightier than bad theology, irrelevance, and any other petty human condition you people could possibly imagine. For all your church’s tenuous grip on life, The Church is such that nothing – not legislative acts, not fire-bombings, not social pressures, not the gates of Hell – shall successfully stand against it.
How do I know?
I was there for Roman persecution and martyrs. We watched bad theology and worse leaders wrench the Church from proper pathways in the following centuries. Power grabs and ruined testimonies passed before our eyes, and we groaned with all creation as nations blasphemed His bride as a result. Nominal heads of the Church bedded multiple partners while decrying immorality. Repeated genocide of the Jews, slavery of the disadvantaged, wars leveraged by political might in the so-called name of papal (and Reformist) authority – all took their toll. The result? The Church is still here.
You’ve been debating how to reform your denomination, or how to save it, or restructure it into relevance; the predominant emotion driving you is the anguish over the potential loss you are facing should your church die. In other words – foreboding, distress, dread over a future that lacks your church’s presence.
And so facing a fearful future and a dreadful fate, you lash out the way humanity has done for time immemorial: with anger and vehemence. You frantically grasp and fumble for your sword and shield, tripping over your feet and the nursery department and the Brown Bag lunch ministry in your attempts to violently preserve your church.
Don’t you see? It’s not your Church to defend. You are, as individuals, specific aspects of the collective Bride of Christ. In what fairy tale version of life does the Bride defend herself? Your Bridegroom stands in the gap, mightily supporting you! Is He too weak? Are His hands too small or fragile? Is He a T. Rex, with stubs for arms that are not long enough to shield you? Cling to Him first and always, and He will defend you.
Besides – just as I was there all those years to observe the struggles through which you’ve passed, someone else was there as well: you were. Not you, of course, with your 60 or 80 years of life; The Church of which you are a part, though, has existed as a concept for longer than even I can imagine. You stand on the shoulders of the pastors and ministers and Sunday School teachers and reformers and, yes, even the flawed leaders of the past; and they in turn stood on the shoulders and clasped hands of those who lived before. You, as a living physical and spiritual organism, have existed for centuries, and you bear the scars and benefits of experience. And you should know by now:
You are immortal.
The Church shall never die, but instead will be united with her Bridegroom. And why not? Are you not individually everlasting as well? Will not your souls continue to exist into eternity? How natural, how reasonable, how logical that the Church is as everlasting as her individual members!
Sure, you’ll weaken at times. Like a rousing campfire with too much wet wood thrown on, the Church will lose its zeal, reducing itself to a smoldering heap of charred wood and smothering ashes. History is my witness: it happens locally, nationally, and globally. You’re only human, you know. Even so, fear not: the mighty wind of His Spirit cleans and feeds. He always whirlwinds away the ashes and breathes new life into dying embers; an everlasting fire testifying not to your strength, but to His faithfulness.
And it is because of His faithfulness that you can serve without fear of death, that you can remain immortal.