Some time ago I asked an aging pastor friend: “If you had one piece of advice to offer the church, what would it be?” His answer was apt “Stay anchored to the Rock and be geared to the times.” By this he meant that the church must preserve the faith “once for all delivered to the saints,” and propagate it to the various strata and circumstances in society.
Isaiah recorded a similar thought when he said in chapter 54:2b: “Lengthen your cords,” (propagate) and “strengthen your stakes” (preserve). When Paul in 1Timothy 3:15 called the church “the pillar and ground of the truth,” he demonstrated the task of the church to be a foundation (preserver) of the truth and a pillar (propagator) of the truth for the world.
At this point in time, the Church of Jesus Christ stands on “the hinge of history” as Alvin Toffler puts it in the third volume of his trilogy, Powershift. Our mandate for the third millennium is to preserve the truth and propagate it.
In the context of the widespread clashing cosmologies of naturalistic humanism and the New Age, it is imperative that we as a church maintain that God is a person, not an “it” that human beings are created in God’s image but have fallen into sin. Consequently, they are in desperate need of redemption which can only be accomplished by Jesus, the Son of God Who came in the flesh. Whose work can only be appropriated by repentance and faith.
Today the Bible is being attacked and its message garbled by attempts to “demythologize” it. As a Reformed church we must reaffirm our commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible and to the Reformed Confessions which articulate so beautifully and completely the truths of the Word of God.
We must examine our practice of worship and observance of the Lord’s Day to see that it conforms to God’s expectations for His special day. We must renew our appreciation of Psalm-singing and maintain a strong church education program for our children. We must operate with fairness and integrity in our church courts.
With that foundation and “strengthening of the stakes,” we will be prepared to “lengthen the cords,” to propagate that Word. But we must realize that the context and complexion of our witness in the third millennium will be vastly different in most ways from that of the early and middle second millennium. Also, the call of the gospel will require carefully designed criteria for expression.
In the past the church perceived its mission to be largely directed to far-flung lands and primitive illiterate people. The objects of our witness today are and will increasingly be well-educated people who favor pluralism, diversity and tolerance: people who stumble over the supernatural in the Bible and consider its worldview archaic. Some of these people will be students who occupy classrooms where distorted alien philosophies are taught. Others will be in business, in professions, in the media or in other fields where ethical judgments are made.
The problems of missions in the third millennium will not be only those of language and physical hardship, but also those which require in-depth Biblical research, study and Spirit-led reflective thinking on issues which were non-existent or remote in the previous millennium.
One example is that of bio-ethic’s. What direction will we give on issues of genetic engineering, surrogate parenting, artificial insemination, invitro fertilization, organ transplants, euthanasia—withholding food and water and assisted suicide?
Our Christian commitment to the stewardship of God’s Creation will demand a close examination of environmental concerns such as the preservation of natural resources, reduction of pollution and the preservation of species and ecosystems.
It will no longer be possible for God’s people to divide spiritual life from political life in the third millennium. If our Christian values are not articulated in the political “marketplace of ideas,” and lawmakers are not found and elected to implement these values, our nation will become a moral wasteland.
Will our “comfort zone” be threatened by the large influx of Asians, Hispanics and Afro-Americans? Or will we “seize the moment” to present the Gospel and demonstrate the strength of lives lived for God? Will the inner cities begin to experience the healing power of God as His people reach in to educate and energize that population in the name of Christ?
Undoubtedly, the most complex and difficult set of problems the church will face in the next millennium is that of technology/communications/education/family life and how they impact each other and the church’s mission.
The technological revolution has ushered in the information Age. Futurist experts have coined a new word to describe the future—telepresence—a technological takeover which will allow everyone to see everything about everybody (a “global electronic nervous system”). Industrial robots will take over factories; microbots will perform surgery; a universal computer language will be found; houses and cars will be completely automated; there will be a threat of a mega network which will control news and all kinds of information and services: computerized games and gadgets will provide escape from reality for children.
Experts report that TV now controls the flow of public discourse in America. Huxley’s prediction that people would come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think is being fulfilled. Television has destroyed childhood innocence and reshaped children’s understanding of family life. It has driven people to fanatic consumerism and attempted to provide a surrogate intimacy that people used to seek in each other’s company.
Because today’s students are video-sophisticated and accustomed to interactive screens, future educational systems will have to stay in touch with developing media systems. The emphasis in education will be less on accumulating knowledge and more on knowing where to find information.
Family values are being eroded by the impact of abortion, homosexuality, AIDS, divorce and live-ins. Families are besieged with absentee parents and latch-key kids. Six million households are headed by single parents and 2.9 million households are composed of unmarried couples. In 1990 one out of every 15 children was born to partners out of wedlock. One social analyst has defined the family as a group of two or more persons related by birth. marriage. adoption or residence together.
In a Time magazine article, Philip Elmer-De Witt asks some probing questions:
What kind of bonding takes place when a child is passed around from one caretaker to another? What are the risks of growing up withouta stable nuclear family or any real community support? How do values get passed from one generation to the next when the dominantcultural influences on children are television, pop music and Nintendo?
Into this emerging millennium, the church must come with the Bible as the only “sure Word of prophecy” for laying a foundation, creating a framework, developing a perspective and setting priorities for all of life. The church must call its flock and the world around it to a joyful life of faith and obedience.
That call must be clear. The Bible does not speak in riddles: nor should we. It has answers for all of life’s perplexing problems if we are open to receive them.
The call must be contemporary. It must not speak in platitudes and abstractions. The truth of the Word of God must be applied to today’s world with all of its variety and complexities.
The call must be compelling. It must be given by God’s people in an enthusiastic, loving and compassionate manner.
The call must be confrontational. It must not sweep sin under the rug; it must rather expose sin so that amendment of life and healing may occur.
The call must be constructive, having as its goal the restoration of the sinner to true peace with God and others. The call must be cosmic, penetrating all strata of society at home and abroad.
A beloved teacher of ours, the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 48, A. 123 reminds us that when we pray “Your Kingdom come,” we are really asking God to: “Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you. Keep your church (preserve) and add to it (propagate).” We notice from this answer that the battle is the Lord’s and that gives us courage in the face of a staggering task. If we submit to Him and are ruled by Him. He will use us to accomplish His purpose. May this be the prayer of our church family:
O lead me Lord that I may lead
The wandering and the wavering feet.
O feed me Lord that I may feed
The hungry ones with manna sweet.
(Psalter Hymnal. no. 528)
Laurie Vanden Heuvel is the mother of five children, grandmother of seven, a Christian school teacher and co-editor of The Outlook.