What might be the biggest change that the church experiences in 2018?
Religious freedom laws changing is certainly high on the list in the Western world. For others that idea would be luxury. Especially in places around the world where getting killed for one’s faith, not merely insulted or sidelined, is a real possibility.
The religious freedoms issue is high in our minds following the same sex marriage precipice, which has, as so many have said (and so many have denied), changed the rules not simply of marriage, but of what the state considers transgressive belief and practice. This will be a primary issue in 2018
2018 is also going to be a year in which orthodox Christianity will begin to cope with the fact that it holds a minority position in the culture in terms of practice.
Sure lots of people still ticked “Christian” on the census, but like the word “evangelical” in the United States, that doesn’t even mean anything anymore, and the sooner we realise it the better. Let’s make 2018 the year to do that.
So gird your loins.
But while those matters are all distinct possibilities in 2018, and ones we should prepare for, there is another distinct possibility in 2018. And it’s this: Jesus could return.
Say what? Forgotten about that, hadn’t you? In the turmoil and tumult of the past couple of months, never mind the religious freedoms debacle in our Parliament, perhaps the possibility of the Parousia in 2018 had slipped your mind.
But it’s instructive that from day dot of the church, that’s been a crucial – in all senses of that word – focus of the church, even as it had to navigate its way through a hostile environment.
It could be so easy to get caught up in the furore surrounding our religious freedoms, that we lose sight of the hope to which we are called. This is not to say that we should ignore what is going on in the political or social arena, but it does remind us that we need to be reminded of what Christians always seem to need reminded of every year: that Jesus could appear in 2018 and change everything.
So while I have committed myself to helping Christian institutions in 2018 to prepare for the hardening secular frame, I have also committed myself to ensuring that if the capital “T”, capital “L”, capital “D” The Last Day, should arrive in 2018, then I have prepared myself and the congregation I pastor for that eventuality.
And what does preparing myself and them for that eventuality look like? Glad you asked! Peter has some instructive words in 2Peter3:
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming… So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
Holy and godly and eager for that day. Spotless, blameless and at peace with him. I truly believe that in the coming years Christians need to build and protect Christian institutions in the face of the secular destruction. But if everything that is of this age is to be destroyed? Then our Christian institutions need to be populated by holy and godly Christians, because if they’re not, they’ll be swept away too.
I’ve found it instructive reading about the Roy Moore debacle in the United States, in which this Republican candidate for Alabama lost the seat while continuing to be championed by evangelicals. I get why people there won’t vote for the Democrats who take a certain glee from shutting down religious freedoms, but Moore was anything but holy and godly, even while claiming to be Christian. We should be wary of putting our hope in anything or anyone who is not holy or godly, spotless or blameless.
What else should the church be living like if Jesus were to return in 2018? Paul tells Timothy in his second letter:
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2Tim4:8)
If all we long for is peace in our time, or that our institutions are left alone by the hostile culture, then we’re not longing for enough. Our longings are too small, too earthly
The church is supposed to long for the appearing of Christ. Long for it like a child longs for Christmas. Long for it as a Christian couple long for their wedding day. Long for it as a woman in labour longs for her child to be born.
Pastors are you stirring up that longing in your congregation? I hope so. If not you are doing them a great disservice. And the reality is you are stirring up some sort of longing in them anyway.
It may be a political longing (power), it may be a material longing (pleasure). But those are poor substitutes. it ought to be a godly longing for the Parousia, because only that longing will bleed back into the rest of their lives and enable them to cope with the loss of power and reject the fleeting pleasure of material pursuits. Create Parousia longing in your people! Don’t mask it with promises of political power or material pleasure.
We do not know if Jesus will return in 2018. Since that is so we should work hard to create solid Christian institutions that stand in the face of a hardening secular culture. But we should create them in light of the new creation. For it would be a great pity to regain a place at the cultural table, only for everything we have worked for to be swept away with if Jesus should return in 2018.