State of the Church 2023

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As you all know, it is our custom sometime around the first of the year to give a “state of the church” message. Sometimes it relates more to the condition and challenges of the national church, and other times the emphasis is more local. This year, for reasons that should become obvious, these observations and exhortations will be more local.

The Texts

“But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” (Exodus 11:7).

“When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7).

“And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly” (Acts 5:12–13, NKJV).

Summary of the Texts

I have selected three texts that all have a common theme. When the children of Israel departed from Egypt, they did so with the rank-and-file Egyptians respecting them highly. “And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:36). Pharaoh was hostile to them, but others around him could see the bigger picture (Ex. 10:7). The nation of Israel had the respect of the Egyptians.

Too many modern Christians believe that the Lord’s requirement to love our enemies somehow means that we are not supposed to have enemies. But a simple glance at Scripture (not to mention church history) should show this to be false. Nevertheless, the fact that we must have enemies does not mean that we must be perpetually belligerent or bellicose. Just the opposite, if we believe ourselves to be under the Lord’s favor, then we should seek for that favor to grow and increase. One “tell” that this is happening is that the Lord grants a measure of stability, and even our enemies get tired of the hostility. This is the grace that the verse from Proverbs mentions—the hearts of our enemies are in God’s hands. And then last, right after Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead by the Lord for lying about their generosity (Acts 5:1-11), we are told that the attitude toward the Christians held by the general population was something that ran along the lines of whoa.   

Summary of Our Situation

Now for a number of complicated reasons, Moscow, Idaho has made a series of splashes. Something is going on here, and seemingly unrelated events are conspiring to turn it all into one big something. I am talking about Meet the Press, other international news organizations showing interest, the reach and influence of Canon+, the international news created by the horrific and sensational murders, along with the arrest of a suspect, the national controversy over Christian nationalism, and the fact that our disintegrating national culture has decided that the conflicts in our small town are a microcosmic representative of the larger chaos. That is where we are. Like it or not, that is where we are. We are the sampled culture that has been put on the microscope’s slide.

How Shall We Then Live?

When we come to the realization that a bunch of people are staring, a natural question is “what are we supposed to be doing?” While I have a few specific suggestions for you, the main things we should be doing in this unique circumstance would be all the things we should be doing in all the mundane circumstances. That is, worship the Lord—every Lord’s Day, come before His presence with singing (Ps. 100:2). Love your family and hang together with them (Josh. 24:15). Work hard at your vocation and seek to bless the city (Jer. 29:7). Use all the content that has been generated here over the decades as a force multiplier—do what it takes to get up to speed (1 Chron. 12:32). To summarize this point, Martin Luther was once asked what he would do today if he knew the world was going to end tomorrow. His answer was to “plant a tree.” The best place to be is at your post.

And then just a few unique things . . . 

The Moscow Police Department: It should be possible for you to pray for two distinct things at the same time. The first is that you have been praying earnestly for their success in capturing the one responsible for the recent murders. This is the job that God has assigned to them. The news that just broke a few days ago seems to indicate that our prayers are being answered on that front. Now we should pray for the trial, and for everything related to it. On this subject, we should render a well done to the cops, and offer thanksgiving to God. At the same time, you should also remember that the MPD is currently being sued (rightly) by one of our deacons for an unlawful arrest, and in another suit (rightly) by one of our elders for a host of tangled and incompetent corruptions. So you can also pray that the extra scrutiny that has resulted from the murder cases might be used by God to bring about some much-needed reforms. But when in a conflict like this, remember the spirit of this proverb: “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him” (Prov. 24:17–18). This is because the Lord knows how to do it right, and it is frequently the case that we do not. So with regard to the MPD, if you cannot stand for right principle contrary to them in one situation, and rejoice over their success in the other, then that should be a clue you are doing it wrong.

Don’t get conceited or giddy: The fact that God can work through insignificant people does not make them important or significant in their own name or in their own right. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). If God is just giving us Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame, we shouldn’t be acting like we are a new Geneva. If we were to be privileged to be part of something like that, it won’t happen through us plumping it up. “For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear: For a servant when he reigneth; And a fool when he is filled with meat; For an odious woman when she is married; And an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.” (Proverbs 30:21–23). In short, focus on your assigned duties, and don’t act like an idiot with a full tank of gas.

Christ Builds His Kingdom

As we are engaged with all these different issues, with moving pieces everywhere, it is easy to find yourself chasing squirrels, all of which are faster than you. And so let me return to the earlier point that we should always keep the main thing as the main thing.

And worshiping is always the main thing, and it is something that cannot be approached or done apart from the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. We gather here on the Lord’s Day in the name of Jesus Christ. And that is the name that has authority over every other name.

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12 (KJV)

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A Reader
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