We live in the world. It’s not our home, but it is where God has placed us and He has a purpose for our being here. Because we are in the world, our expectations and experiences here influence and shape how we view ourselves as the Remnant Church. When we allow worldly thinking to fashion our understanding of ourselves, we’re likely to see being a remnant of what was once large, influential, and celebrated in our culture as evidence of God’s disfavor with us. The world can’t help but to see a declining church in this way and we get caught up in this perspective.
Martin Luther spoke of this way of seeing the shrinking church when he wrote,
· You see that the church is forever about to fall, and therefore there must always be consolations. Although there would scarcely be a remnant, God is the protector of this poor little church. Paul especially used this argument against the Jews, calling himself (Phil. 3:5) “of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul made use of such and similar boasts to strengthen his church, even though it was always the most wretched in appearance … So it was with the primitive church. It was a handful of people, a fistful of dough, hardly one little biscuit in a whole bakery. This smallness of the church is the supreme offense in the world. (Luther’s Works, volume 17, page 84).
When we lose the proper perspective of the church as “always the most wretched in appearance” according to the standards of our world, we’re also likely to lose sight of our purpose. Instead of pursuing what makes the church in all of her smallness “the supreme offense in the world,” we suppose that the church should be admired and respected by the world. When we do, we are likely to be missing — or possibly even ignoring — God’s purpose for the Remnant Church.
What is God’s purpose for the Remnant Church? It is the same as it is for the church in every age and in all circumstances. No matter how large or small, admired or disdained, wealthy or poor, etc. the church may be, the purpose for us while we are in the world is to bear witness of Christ so that others may come to faith as we have come to faith. Luther’s commentary on 1 Peter 2:9 states it well and plainly, “We live on earth only so that we should be a help to other people …For this reason, however, He lets us live that we may bring other people also to faith as He has done for us” (emphasis added).
We might think that we would be more effective in carrying out this one reason for our being in the world as a church that is large in numbers, rich in resources, and influential in our society. In our way of thinking, a strong and powerful church is far better suited for engaging our world with the Gospel, especially when people are hostile toward the church. Why does this work fall to us while our numbers are decreasing, our resources are dwindling, and our culture increasingly despises us? What is God’s purpose in shaping us as the Remnant Church?
Perhaps the best way to explore God’s purpose for us being the Remnant Church is to revisit Gideon and the Israelites as they went up against the Midianites (Judges 7). As they mustered to confront their powerful enemy, the Lord told Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.'” By reducing Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300, God made it clear to His people that He was their deliverer and that He had won the victory for them. Their call was to destroy those opposed to the Lord. Our call is to engage those opposed to Christ in love and compassion. Two very different callings, but we share the same purpose in being made small. Should it come to pass that we would see the Church grow in numbers, resources, and status, we will know better than to say that we have made it happen by our own methods, wisdom, or strength.
The purpose of the Remnant Church is to bear witness of Jesus in our world so that others would come to faith just as we have. God’s purpose in doing this through a remnant is that we would give Him the honor, praise, and glory that is due Him. Whatever we may think of God’s reasons and His ways, our call as the Remnant Church is to embrace God’s purpose for us.
[Next in the series: Take Your Stand in the Land]
Questions to consider:
How have I tried to engage the people of our culture who are hostile toward the church with Christ’s love and compassion? What new ways might I try to do this?
In what ways have I let the “smallness of the church” affect my attitude about the work to which God has called us?
How many more people, how much more money, and how much better status does the church need to have before I can be faithful in being a witness of Jesus in my everyday life? What does this reality call me to do?
What’s my reaction to Luther’s statement that the only reason God leaves His people on earth is so that other people can come to faith in Jesus? For what other reasons am I living? How do these other reasons impact my commitment to the only reason?