What has the church lost?
Almost everyone I know has an idea about what has become of the church in the contemporary era. I fear that what has been lost is a more serious forfeiture than worship style, preaching method, or even pastoral effectiveness. The subject of baptism occupies Paul’s attention in Romans 6. In that passage the apostle speaks of baptism as picturing the death of the old man and a subsequent resurrection to walk in a new life. In baptism, the candidate is depicting his death to an old way of life and a resurrection to a new way of life.
This process is regeneration. While the church supports the Old Testament Law and recognizes the Law as a schoolmaster to direct humans to Christ, the task of the church is to act as custodian of the redemptive message of regeneration and as the ambassador of forgiveness. The foremost task of the church is to point lawless women and men to a Savior who forgives them and remakes them in His own image.
One major evangelical denomination has notched 17 years in a row of a steady decline in baptisms. During the same period, that denomination of churches has led the way in merciful acts at the time of tragedies and has more recently turned its focus to social justice. None of these acts are sinful in themselves since Jesus Himself was immersed in such activities. But however good such endeavors might be, they are a colossal failure as the primary focus of the church.
The problem is that the Law itself is a perpetual failure. The “failure” of the Law is not found in the nature of Law. Law came from God and, therefore, is as it came from God—perfect. The problem is not with the Law per se but humankind’s total inability to obey the Law. Threaten man with the just penalties of abridging the Law and he will, nevertheless, display the selfishness of his soul and break the Law. Announce that man will forfeit the joys of life if he fails to keep the Law, and he will demonstrate the depravity of his nature by his rebellion against the purposes of his Creator.
Good laws, just officers, and courts of law limit the extent of lawlessness but can never eradicate the evil of the human heart (Jer. 17:9). Only God, through redemption, can alter the human spirit and produce love for God and all that He created and purposed. Glorification, the final phase of salvation, is not complete on this earth; but if you want to effect major change in the right direction, regeneration is the only way that it develops. Pass just laws, but a just law supervised by a corrupt court gains little ground. Likewise, a just court is hamstrung by unjust laws; and even if you have justice in both, the subjects ruled are sinners and will surely need only a short time to manifest the same problem.
The most profound loss of the church today is that she no longer pursues the work of preaching the love, forgiveness, and regenerating grace of God. Until the church recovers this noble mission, band-aids will continue to be offered by the church to heal the fatal heart disease of the race. The band-aids will only mask the problem and never heal it.
Chapters 4 and 5 of the Apocalypse chronicle the first five minutes of heaven. There is no mention of the structures of humanity, of justice, or of human goodness. The entire focus is on the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God. He is proclaimed “worthy” because He has redeemed us to God out of all the nations of the earth. (Rev 5:9-10).
Oh God of all creation, grant that we, the church, will return to the task you assigned to us, the task of proclaiming redemption.