A quick glance at world events over the past year, not to mention this week, presents an ominous picture. From beheadings to terrorism, nuclear negotiations to ceasefire negotiations, Supreme Court rulings to the court of popular opinion, the daily headlines don’t exactly evoke confidence and stability for Christians.
In seemingly dark times, how should Christians respond?
Return to Old Paths
Our response should be the same as that of believers of old. If you were a Christian living in the first century, you’d have probably known some alarm as you lived through major events that dramatically altered the course of the world: the first Jewish-Roman war (AD 63–73), Roman persecution of Christians (e.g., AD 64), and even the destruction of the temple (AD 70).
Certainly believers then, as now, had fears and would have wondered how their newfound faith in the apostolic message of Jesus made sense in a world that seemed to be spiraling out of control. And yet the overall picture we see in the letters that emerged to form the majority of the New Testament isn’t one of doom and gloom but of realistic hope and confidence. Our ancient brothers knew something their neighbors did not: the world and its powers aren’t ultimate. The Lamb who was slain now reigns as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5–6).
In this context, the apostolic message and example was clear: keep calm and plant churches.
In a world filled with rivals, kings, and shaky kingdoms, the church bears witness to the true King and his unshakeable kingdom. Whether she emerges in the increasingly hostile climate of the Middle East or the relative calm of much of the Western world, the church has been uniquely tasked with declaring the good news of Jesus’s authority and calling people everywhere to bow the knee (Matt. 28:18–20). And in this age that mission and mandate will never cease, whether the world is ruled by an apparently friendly ruler named Constantine or an openly hostile one named Nero. In a world increasingly filled with rampant foolishness, God’s redeemed people must labor to display what the apostle Paul called the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10).
Apostolic Call and Example
Paul faced the wrath of Nero, John faced the exile at Patmos (Rev. 1:9), and James faced the sword of Herod (Acts 12:2); but, strangely, the New Testament letters are not filled with dread. The apostles didn’t resort to calling the church to hedge her bets in the event that Jesus’s mission didn’t pan out. Like good pastors, the apostles were concerned with the events of their day and instructed the church in light of them; they did not, however, view the events or empires of their day as ultimate. While Peter realized “the end of all things is at hand,” instead of rolling out his prophecy chart he calmly called on believers to love, to pray, and to practice hospitality (1 Pet. 4:7–9). Likewise, in the face of exile and sure death, John was confident that the world and its narrative weren’t ultimate, because the slain Lamb was being praised in heaven as the only one worthy to take the scroll and open its seals (Rev. 5:9).
As we survey the world today, we love the various kingdoms and kings of this world by bearing witness to the true King and his kingdom. The risen Jesus who reigned over the imprisonments and even beheadings of the apostles under the Roman Empire is the same Jesus who reigns over the imprisonments and beheadings of his people today. And, just as the various world powers eventually receded into the background of world history in that day, the same will be true today. More than just a small hunch or a good reading of history, we’re assured by Jesus’s promise that the church, by the power of the Spirit, will continue to triumph (Matt. 16:18). In the face of a world in seemingly continual crisis, the call to Christians can’t simply stop with the admonition to be calm; we must also follow in the footsteps of countless brothers and sisters who have gone before us.
So keep calm, and plant churches.