One of our customs in Christ Church is to have a “state of the church“ message sometime around the first of the year. There are two slight changes this year. First, this year it is right at the first of the year, and the second difference is that this year we are going to focus on the state of our local church, this particular congregation.
But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing (2 Thess. 3:13).
At the conclusion of this letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul is doing what he commonly does—he gives a series of ethical exhortations. This particular one is preceded by the charge to contain the disorderly busybodies (vv. 6-12), and is followed by instructions on how to deal with members in their midst who did not want to live by the apostolic instructions (vv. 14-15). This shows that living in community always requires maintenance and discipline in love. And given the nature of the case, the work is constant and ongoing. This is what lies behind the exhortation here. Those who are not disorderly have to deal with those who are, and this takes constant work. And so Paul encourages them as brethren, and tells them not to be wasted, spiritless, exhausted (ekkakeo) in the labor of doing well, or acting uprightly. Among other things, this tells us that doing well (kalopoieo) is the kind of thing that results in temptations to exhaustion. Don’t do that, Paul urges. Be encouraged. “And let us not be weary (same word) in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6-9-10).
One Other Thing:
Much of the New Testament is occasional. By this I mean that letters or epistles were written with particular circumstances in view, and particular people were warned to guard against discouragement for particular reasons. And this means that when we read the Word of God we often find very local and specific details given to us. We should learn from this, and take it as encouragement, not to obsess over our particular circumstances, but rather to consider them in the light of the Scriptures. We want to apply the principles of Scripture to ourselves. There were Christians who knew and loved Antipas (Rev. 2:13). There were saints at Philippi who were caught up in the dispute between Euodias and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2), and who didn’t know what to do about it. There were those at Sardis who kept their garments white (Rev. 3:4). Now in a very similar way, this is an occasional sermon. Over the course of the last four years, we at Christ Church have taken what many would describe as “a pounding.” But I want you to be encouraged on two counts. The first is that as a congregation you have (overwhelmingly) handled the trials with winsome grace, humor, and a remarkably good attitude. The second reason is that we are winning.
The Score At Halftime:
But I want you to be encouraged by faith, not by sight. And this means that before we look at what has transpired, we should remind ourselves that growth is not an automatic sign of God’s blessing. Cancer grows, and so does morning glory. Neither is persecution an automatic sign that we are under God’s favor. All cows have four legs, but that doesn’t make your cat a cow. At the same time, by faith in Jesus Christ we may see this: as we have grown, it has been because God has added to our number (Acts 2: 41, 47). And as we have been reviled, it has been for the sake of Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:11). And this means that we are recipients of God’s blessing, which, as a congregation, we receive by faith.
What Has Actually Happened?
The combination of events that have made up our “perfect storm“ of controversies can be dated from very early in 2002, and we are now at the very beginning of 2006. The first controversial Auburn Avenue pastors’ conference was early 2002, and various upheavals have been coming with some regularity ever since. During this time period what has actually happened in our midst? What have these four years been like? Consider these things against the backdrop of regular predictions from outside (made by some for many years) that Christ Church is teetering and is going to blow up, melt down, or split.
During this time period, we have successfully planted a sister Reformed congregation here in Moscow, Trinity Reformed Church. Church attendance in 2002 was 938. Now there are 907 at Christ Church and 185 at Trinity. The two churches have conducted 100 baptisms during this time. Look in today’s bulletin here under expectant mothers, and note that we are currently expecting about twenty-four covenant children, about the size of our entire church when it first started. In 2002, our presbytery (the CREC) had only eleven member churches; we now have seventeen members, have divided into an international council with two presbyteries, and with our mission churches, we have (in 23 states) over 33 congregations, not to mention the churches in Japan, Canada, Poland, and Russia. The bad guys have priests who keep arriving at the hospital to pronounce last rites over us, but they keep finding us doing wind sprints in the hallway, and pestering the nurses to let us out. And so the disconsolate priests go away again.
Complaints and Such
During this time, a number of complaints have been filed against us, I am not quite sure how many. But the more significant complaints have been resolved in our favor, with some of the others still outstanding. The Moscow City Council adopted a change in the zoning code that was a decisive victory for NSA. An anonymous someone filed a complaint that alleged perjury on the part of Eric Burnett and me, which the Idaho Attorney-General, after investigating, declined to pursue. While the tax-exemption hearings against various entities (CCM, Logos, Christ Church, NSA) are on-going (and still require prayer), our larger community has gotten clear view of the harassment and has a very different view of things than when it all first started. And the publication of Black and Tan was a huge wet blanket on the big slavery “confetti party” that some were trying to get going.
The Word Is Not Chained:
The apostle Paul knew that particular restraints and afflictions did not apply to the gospel at all. “Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim. 2:9). We may be tied up with various complaints, and have to deal with them, but the gospel is not tied up. We may be harassed by various irresponsible charges, but the gospel is not harassed. The gospel is not bound—the Word still goes out, for which we thank our sovereign God.
Credenda continues to flourish as a magazine. Canon Press is doing quite well, particularly in the refurbished audio department. Dr. Leithart has a blog that is a very significant presence on the web. This last year, Nate Wilson’s article on the Shroud of Turin broke and made international news. My blog (Blog and Mablog) has averaged (this month) almost 3000 visits a day, and almost 17,000 hits a day. Last January, the traffic was about half that. The more our foes try to create controversy for us, the more they succeed in doing that, but they also create an ever expanding audience, for which we are grateful. When a fight breaks out on the playground, everyone gathers around, and no one pays attention to the good little girl on the swing set anymore. So what is that but a great preaching opportunity? It reminds me of the time when a Maoist was a big help to me with some open air preaching. I have been a member of this church since 1975, and have pastored this church since 1977, and I can honestly say that these have been the most blessed times we have ever experienced.