“Is this the end of the Church?” I heard a church pastor ask earlier this week. Of course it’s not! Jesus will build His Church and the gates of Sheol will fail to prevail (Matthew 16:18) and the Church will be presented in perfect, wrinkle-less splendour to Jesus at the end of the age (Psalm 2:8; Ephesians 5:28).
And yet, “of course it’s the end of the Church!”, I think is the answer that we all really need to hear, even if it’s not what the pastor fully meant.
Why do I say this? There is currently an earthquake occurring within the Body of Christ in which an ancient misunderstanding of the Church has been graciously lanced and that is mercifully coming to an end…though, tragically, not for all.
Faulty churches and church systems, like the Church of England, will continue until Christ returns, but the Church of England is not the Bride of Christ – the true (invisible) Church.
“Church visible/invisible” is a phrase sometimes used to differentiate between the churches that we can all see now, (whether out of your window, around the corner or a bus-trip away), and the true/eternal Church – the Bride of Christ finally prepared at the end of this eschaton (Ephesians 5:26 cf. John 15:3 cf. Luke 1:17). The former does not necessarily have any real relation with the latter, though in parts it might.
Should the point still need to be laboured, 2020 has witnessed the closure of the churches (visible) not the closure of the Church (invisible)! It is of course impossible to close the Church without removing every Spirit-filled lover/follower of Christ (true Christians) from the planet, just in the same way that it is impossible to actually “leave the Church” when leaving an/the institution, (unless you happen to believe that you can lose your salvation which, of course, is no salvation at all).
So, “Is this the end of the Church?” (visible) – the answer is, “Yes”, even though the visible church (system) will not necessarily come to an end. (In fact, as the nations continue to be shaken, as the Day draws nearer and lawlessness swells, the false institution of “church” may well grow in rapid and unparalleled popularity).
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that the church (visible) hasn’t come to an end. We are witnessing a God-given, spiritually-primed watershed whereby the ‘Church invisible’ is being seen more and more distinctly from the ‘church visible’, and not just on Earth either.
…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.Ephesians 3:10
Have you ever experienced an earthquake? Probably not; neither have I. Yet you and I are currently living in one.
If we are to respond faithfully to what God is saying, we must imagine what it would be like (in material reality) to experience a physical earthquake beyond the sensationalised Dwayne Johnson movies of our time. If our hearts are genuinely willing to be surrendered to Jesus in 2021, the events of 2020 will nurse our conception of a spiritual event sufficiently seismic to be comparable with the inescapable inevitability of a pyroclastic flow barrelling upon us.
We may well run but we will never (successfully) hide.
Revelation 6:16 paints a picture of a future event in which the proud, unrepentant people of the earth will prefer to cry out for the mountains to fall on them rather than confessing Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
The word petrified carries with it a sense of being paralysed by fear, (lit. calcified) as though becoming one with the inanimate mountain that is incapable of repentance and praise. (Perhaps this is why Lewis made his White Witch turn Tumnus into stone).
This kind of petrifying fear is what we would experience during a physical earthquake when the earth may swallow us up like Korah (Numbers 16:31-33), may pour down molten lava on us like Pompei’s Vesuvius, and that may crush us with every building that falls. This is exactly the same sobering fear that Frank Bartleman highlighted during the Asuza St. revival following the San Francisco quake of 1906. People were shaken then in more ways than one. (Where is this in the Church today? One certainly recognises it when one sees it…or doesn’t).
This is what is happening around us now in the spiritual realm of the heavenlies: Through immense spiritual pressure, collision and conflict leashed by the Sovereignty of God, the Church (invisible) is separating from the church (visible) and false buildings/mentalities/theologies and outright deceptions are falling.
At this time more than in any other in history, as this spiritual war manifests primarily (but not only) in the Church, we need sobriety and alertness like Charles Francis Richter.
You Are in Danger
The grave danger of having or ignoring an undiscerning heart is that you are likely to miss God. (Imagine a sheep on the verge of a foggy cliff unable to hear the voice of its shepherd).
When I see recommendations of “Christian content” and prophetic words/ministries ‘left, right and centre’, I literally have no time and zero tolerance for preachers and pastors who do not seem to be hearing God at all.
And, frankly, neither should you.
Please note: it is not only a matter of deliberately false churches/pastors that we should be guarding against; very commonly, there are also a lot of well-meaning ministries that simply don’t realise their error. There is a difference here but the net result will be the same.
It’s not always that pastors or churches are willfully false (though some are), but more often than not that they are continuing to pedal a “word”, “message” or emphasis that lacks any sense of sobriety and humility in light of the ensuing earthquake and church closures of 2020. (Think of the shell-shocked San Franciscans in 1906).
Many Christian leaders exude a triumphalist fragrance more akin to the fragrance of death, (“we’ll just carry on and ‘build back better'”; “who are the government to close our churches anyway?”).
Where is the repentance? Where is the selah?
Others, more subtly, (and dangerously) seem to acknowledge something of the obvious fact that God has sovereignly interrupted our “normal” and yet, betrayed by their treadmill thinking and speech, and paralysed by their perpetual allegiances to church/movement/denomination to the expense of the Kingdom, prove that they really don’t know what to say or do at all.
Again, where is the repentance? Where is the selah?
COVID-19 is not to be ‘interpreted’ and woven into a prophetic online message; COVID-19 is a cushion of grace on which the penitent people of God must bow…privately and in community.
It’s palpably obvious that God is shaking the Church, His people, His beloved possession. He will not have a sullied bride as though dragged through a hedge backwards, or a whore of an inheritance that He can but abhor (Psalm 106:40).
The Lord Jesus will have a Bride who will have prepared themselves in keeping with an advent more colossal than the rising of the sun: the final return of the Bridegroom King. (Psalm 19:5).
Were we to be literally witnessing a physical earthquake of sufficient scale to collapse all of our idolatrous buildings, would we stay inside in vain attempts of propping them up? Would we double efforts and actually do that? Would we really gather around those who would ask us to do that – those prepared to be that foolish themselves?
This is surely not a prophetic but rather the sunk cost fallacy.
Instead, would every true Christian in the land heed the voice of the Shepherd to get out – to leave – that which is collapsing in fear of being buried by the ruin?
If there is no major emphasis on the urgency of personal/corporate repentance, whether wilfully or ignorantly, I will not be listening or encouraging others to listen…and neither should be you.
Yes, this is certainly the end of the “church”…as we have thus far known it.
He brought me out into a broad space; he rescued me because He delighted in me.”Psalm 18:19
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