I remember when I first left America. Well, I had actually been outside of America before for shorter holiday trips and mission trips. But I am talking of the time I moved outside of my good ol’ home of the USA to that land across the pond, as they say – the UK. That was in 2003.
It was not a culture completely unlike that of America, but it was different. Still, I had visited there twice before. So I had had my tasters. And at least they speak the same language, or pretty much the same (interestingly enough, I have shifted into more British linguistics). Therefore, it wasn’t too different.
But living there for 3 years actually made it feel much different than home. Very much different. I began to take on parts of the culture – loving pints of beer at the pub, fish n chips, Indian food, football (soccer), and every saying word like cheers and mate.
During my 3 years in Britain, I was part of a ministry training college that was in major transition and reconstruction. And this college was filled with some 10 to 12 differing nationalities, not to mention its focused purpose in praying for the nations. Therefore, my eyes were greatly opened to the rest of the world in those 3 years. We all know there is much more going on out there. But I had my vision widened, lengthened, and stretched beyond into the nations. I am deeply grateful for that time, even with another sub-culture of a culture, which focused on the nations of this planet.
Presently, as I come up on two and a half years in Brussels, Belgium, I have lived the better part of the last 5 out of 7 years outside of my homeland of America. I am immensely thankful and humbled for the opportunity. I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now, not even for a chance to live back in my land of birth and upbringing. I am very content to live out my life here, or elsewhere, as God directs in the months, years and decades to come.
With this opportunity to live abroad, as well as opportunities to travel into other parts of western Europe and Africa thus far, I have had a desire in me stirred to see the bigger picture a little better. I don’t see it fully, nor do I see clearly what I now already see. But I have moved at least just a little bit beyond my former glory of too much near-sightedness.
And, for many of us, we might just be stuck with such short-sighted glasses upon the bridge of our noses (I seem to be bringing up the metaphor of glasses and lenses a bit lately). What I mean is that, when I talk to people, they speak as if the status quo of their own particular local church, group of churches, or possibly national setting is the exact same across the entire planet. Well, they probably wouldn’t say it that way. But their words at least imply such.
I personally don’t get excited when I hear people speaking of the church in apostasy. Sure, we can all quote the verses, such as 1 Timothy 4:1, that says some will depart from the faith in latter times. Though, interestingly enough, it does not say those that are truly part of the church will be the ones departing from the faith, but only that some will depart. And notice it says some, which does not necessarily mean a large portion. It simply means some. And I would counter those who would say the word some must refer to most with words like those in Isaiah 2:2, which I share more here.
Nevertheless, let’s move on……
With the declaration that the church is in grave apostasy, I simply ask: Is it really? Well, we can point to numbers in western Europe and America. But this is where we have our near-sighted glasses affixed firmly in front of our eyes. Do we not realise that the church in the ‘western world’ makes up a lesser percentage than the church in the rest of the world? It is most probable that there are now more Christians in China alone, than in the US. Some might guestimate that the church in China has now reached well over the 100 million mark. It’s just that most of them are in the underground church, hiding from the government. That means that at least 1 out of every 10 Chinese are now Christians, and this in a Communist-closed nation.
Let’s not forget to mention what is going on across India, especially in places like northern Indian Nagaland. A close ministry friend of mine works into Nagaland and has just shared with me that about 80% of these people are Christian. He said they have very little, but the Bible training is superb for these Indian believers.
And let’s move on to Africa, South and Central America, not to mention the seeds that are beginning to sprout up across Eastern Europe. God is very much at work in His world, since it does belong to Him (Psalm 24:1).
But, where things might not be as stirred in certain places of America or western Europe right now, we can find it easy to look around and think that this is the base condition of the church in the world. Yet, this is simply not true. Actually, it is quite far from the truth.
Or, at times, we make judgment statements based upon what is happening with our church tradition, denomination or background. But our church group, small or large, is not representative of what is happening today in our world. It is a part, but a small part at that.
You see, we need to guard against blanket statements about what is going on in the world today, especially in regards to the work of God in seeing His glory cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). The church is alive and well. No, not in every nook and cranny. But Jesus is still Lord of heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18) and he is still building his church (Matthew 16:18). It might not be going as we had planned, but I am glad God was not interested in consulting us in regards to His plans and purposes in seeing His rule extended in the four corners of the world.
And some might say that I am not seeing clearly myself. I have been duped to actually think things are in a good state today. I’ve buttered it all up. Well, I didn’t say that things are perfect. True, they are far from the goal of a Bride prepared to marry its Bridegroom. Still, I am convinced the purposes of God are moving forward, His kingdom rule is expanding, and His church is being built up, even while there are still definite needs for change and transformation.
But reality all seems to point to the fact that God is still in charge and He is still very, very active amongst His people, as well as drawing plenty of new sons and daughters to Himself on a regular basis. I could give you accounts of what I have seen and accounts of what other leaders and missionaries have witnessed in just the past 10 years, not to mention the accounts prior to such a small-minded approach as to only consider the past decade.
So, though many who read these words live in the same hemisphere as I, that of the western world, please be careful of living too much with a near-sighted and somewhat myopic perspective. It can be damaging to our own faith and the faith of others as we pass on that which does not represent the full picture.
I don’t want to paint a fluffy picture that is actually not there. There is much to be done to see the body move towards maturity and the gospel of the kingdom continue to be proclaimed to all peoples. But God has called His people to catch a God-vision as best we can, though it will continue to remain dim in this age (1 Corinthians 13:12). Let us be stirred to know that God is keeping His word in His world, for He could do no less amongst that which he claims as His – the world.