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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Being the Remnant Church: Planting for the Promised Future

LCMS Mission and Witness blog

[The fourth and final in a series]
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, 
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; 
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, 
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, 
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, 
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, 
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise 
    to sprout up before all the nations.  Isaiah 61:10-11
We are not yet the remnant church. But we are becoming the remnant church. We still enjoy having a substantial number of members, many vital congregations, and a residual level of respect in our culture. We aren’t the church we used to be in terms of numbers and influence. We’re also not the remnant church that we may soon become. We are the church in decline. We are heading toward our remnant status. We can and should fight against the trends that are driving us toward that status, but only if we can do so without compromising our confession of the Faith. And only if we are willing to embrace the underlying call of the remnant church.
In this series we’ve explored what it means to be the remnant church, God’s purpose in shaping us as a remnant church, and where He has placed us as His remnant church. In this final installment, we look at the foundational call of the remnant church. In this call we find clarity in God’s purpose for us, why we need to take our stand where He has placed us, and why He so adamantly forbids His remnant church from going to our own versions of Egypt. This call reminds us that, while we may be confounded by our present circumstances, hindered by our sinful attempts to re-create our glorious past, and troubled by our apparent future, the Lord is unbound by time and its limitations. He can see what we cannot. Our call as the remnant church is born of His unlimited vision of His church.
What is this all important call of the remnant church? This call — our call — is to sow for the promised future.
Sowing is repeatedly used in the Bible to describe the work of the church. It is an activity that is inherently based in hope and anticipation. It focuses us on doing work in the present that will bear fruit in the future. As difficult and demanding as sowing can be, no farmer who desires a harvest would ever consider skipping the hard work of sowing. Instead, he sows for the future. Like such a farmer, we are called to sow for the future. Unlike him, we sow for a promised future.
The promised future of the remnant church is not based on our desires and expectations, but is rooted in the Lord’s vision of what His church will be. It is a vision which we may never know or see. It’s fruition may come long after our time in this world has run its course. But it will come to pass according to God’s plan and purpose.
Because the future of the church is promised by God, it will come about whether we answer the call to sow for it or we leave that work for others to do. The Lord does not depend on us to keep His promises. Instead, He invites us to this work as our purpose and for our joy. Through it He turns our eyes from our circumstances as the church militant to a glorious vision of the church triumphant; from the church declining as the battle rages to the church reclining at the marriage feast of the Lamb. In that vision, in which an innumerable host assembled from every tribe and tongue and nation gathers in glorious celebration of the victory won by the Lamb and made ours by grace through faith, we see the promised ultimate future of the remnant church.
This is the future for which we sow.
We do not sow to regain a favored place in our culture. We do not sow to secure influence in our society. We do not sow to balance budgets or fill pews or for any other goal that will fade away when time is no more. In strength or weakness, when we have plenty or when we are in want, as a powerful church or as a remnant church, we sow only for this future with confidence that it will come to pass. It must. Because, whatever may happen to the church over time and however weak and small she may become in our world, this is the future promised by the Lord.
Questions to consider:
  • Am I willing to sow for a more vibrant future for the church which I may not see in my lifetime? Why/why not?
  • How does the continuing decline of the church affect my willingness to continue to be faithful in sowing?
  • What does it take for us to be faithful sowers as the declining church? As a remnant church?
  • How does the ultimate future of the church guide and inform me as a sower now?

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