There is no question that in many parts of the Western world, the size of the church has diminished. There are still large churches but, even in those churches, the loss is felt when people leave because of moving away or to go to a different congregation.
As a professor of church history, I am often asked about the future of the church. “I am not a futurist, I am church historian,” is the evasive answer. However, one can evade only so much. The longer answer is that I am very optimistic when it comes to the church.
I have heard skeptical conversations for many years of my life. When I was a child, I went to one of the largest baptism services we had in our areas. One thousand people came from all of the local villages to this place where we had an open baptism in a large church yard. As we were traveling from the train to the church, I saw one lady observe the long caravan and say to her companion, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” I told my mother about her negative remarks.
Many years later, I was in Grand Rapids and a missionary was giving a talk right after Mao closed all of the churches in China. There was not even a church open as a museum. Thousands of believers were in jail, the Red Army youth was destroying all vestiges of capitalism and Christianity, and this speaker asked if we will find any believers in China if those church doors were opened again. The rule of Mao and his cohort did come to an end and when the doors opened, the churches were filled with young people who found Marxism empty.
I view the church of Jesus Christ in a very positive light, even though I have heard some very negative interpretations. My reasons for being positive are threefold:
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Jesus has always been faithful to us. When He comes again, I believe He will find many who sought to imitate His faithfulness because He is the Faithful One.