The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. (John 1:5 Common English Bible)
In a culture war that may seem to have more casualties than victories, the Church of Jesus Christ can be assured of one thing: the darkness does not extinguish the light. Jesus said something similar when He said of the Church, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18), but the passage in John predates the Church or even the Garden of Eden. It speaks of the very primal forces that were unleashed in the creation of the universe when the Word of God broke into the darkness of the void with a burst of energy and light that brought order to the cosmos. The darkness could not keep the light at bay then, and it still cannot.
For some of us, the recent news may feel like Déjà vu. The Church has once again been rocked by scandal in both the Catholic and Protestant worlds, with allegations of sexual misconduct tarnishing the reputations of an ancient Christian institution and a famous evangelical mega-church. Both the scandal and the failure of leaders to properly respond have added insult to injury for the victims and their families, as well as providing fodder for the late-night talk show hosts and other media outlets who are all too happy to attack an already beleaguered Church.
The battle fought between Masterpiece Cakeshop owner, Jack Phillips, and the state of Colorado continues as he is once again obliged to stand against a government agency threatening his religious liberties, despite his recent victory in the United States Supreme Court. Religious pluralism, which once meant an equal voice in the marketplace of ideas, is now taken to mean equality in every sense of the word, thereby suggesting that any Faith that claims to be THE truth is a narrow, intolerant, and possibly even dangerous ideology. This allegation is usually aimed at Christianity, regardless of the fact that all religions make similar truth claims of their own. If anyone doubts whether Christianity is unfairly targeted in our culture, one only has to think back to the last time a Muslim baker had to go before the Colorado State Civil Rights Commission for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Exactly.
Far more serious than any of these minor attacks against the Church in the west is the reality of religious persecution currently going on in the Middle East, Africa, and nations such as North Korea. Barbaric attacks against Christians have included the brutal slaughter of innocents by militant, Jihadist Muslim groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria. A veritable Christian genocide has been going on in Syria and Iraq against Christians whose numbers have dramatically dwindled over recent years due to violent persecution including rape, beheadings, and even crucifixions.
With all of this, one may think the world of Christendom is weakening under the load, but such an appraisal would be wrong indeed. While it is true that the Church in America is waning somewhat in its influence, the Church in the global south is thriving. Even more amazing is a recent report that the underground Church in Iran may be the second fastest growing underground Church movement next to China (which is expected to have more Christians than the United States by 2030). It is commonly acknowledged among Christians working in Muslim areas that many are converting to Christianity through dreams, visions, and other miracles. God is moving, and neither the headlines of secular magazines nor the crass, cynical humor of the purveyors of late-night, anti-Christian drivel are slowing Him down in the least. It is like the tale of Narnia in which the White Witch’s seemingly interminable winter is beginning to give way to a new spring, rejoicing the hearts of the poor and oppressed inhabitants of the land. Aslan is on the move and winter will not remain forever. The darkness does not extinguish the light.
What has happened in the west in general and the United States, in particular, has not made the Church weak – rather it has exposed the weakness that was already present. Peter warned us that judgment must “begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17), and if the recent scandals serve to alert us to the need for a revival of Christian character in the Church, then at least some good can come out of an otherwise tragic season. The need for authenticity is greater than ever, as is the need for both clarity and creativity in sharing the truth of the gospel. There is great reason to be hopeful. Reports of God’s soon demise in the west are greatly exaggerated, no matter how hopeful the heralds of doom may be. The darkness does not extinguish the light, even when that darkness is found at times in the Church.
Instead of a handful of celebrity preachers who are all too often set up for failure due to the high perch upon which their adoring acolytes place them, we need all believers to assume their posts and use their gifts for the work of the Kingdom. Many hands make light work, and if we’re all serving in our area of giftedness, the labor is both fruitful and delightful. We need those who will share their faith with friends and co-workers. We need writers and bloggers to articulate the truth in clever and winsome ways. We need missionaries and aid workers who can preach to unreached people groups and relieve the suffering of the needy. We need those who can creatively use social and conventional media, as well as those who are called to support all such efforts with their finances and prayers. In short, we need the body of Christ acting like the body of Christ, with all the parts functioning in their place. The Church is not a cruise ship with a few doing the work while the rest enjoy the amenities. Rather, we are to be more like a battleship, with all hands on deck and each knowing their respective tasks.
Most of all, we need to remember from whom flows the grace and strength we need to finish the task to which we’ve been commissioned. We need once again to come to God humbly, contritely, and earnestly, knowing that no work of our hands is capable of succeeding apart from His initiative and blessing. That, along with a restoration of the love that Christ commanded we demonstrate to one another, will restore the Church’s influence in ways no human program or state of the art gospel media presentation ever could. We don’t need more pizazz. We need more prayer. We don’t need more television time. We need more “carpet” time, with faces pressed to the floor, humbling asking that the God who answers by fire might show His power to a wayward nation once again. It may feel that the Church has been stripped of its influence and made a laughingstock, but like Samson in his humiliation, the hair can begin to grow again (see Judges 16:22).
God is a God of restoration and revival, and, as He has done so many times before, He will visit His Church in power if we earnestly seek Him. The darkness does not extinguish the light, but when that light shines dimly the way of truth is obscured, and false gods are erected to replace the One who seems to have been misplaced by a neglectful Church. You and I are the vessels through whom His light shines on a darkened world. The clearer and cleaner we stand before Him, the brighter His light will shine to show a lost world the way of salvation.
Dr. Randy Bunch is the pastor of Connecting Point Church, located at 101 Adkisson Way in Taft, California, as well as a graduate advisor and adjunct professor at Summit Bible College in Bakersfield, California. He is the author of several books, including his new devotional, Immutable: Changeless Truth for a Changing World. For more information, or to purchase your copy, go to randylanebunch.org. For more information on the ministries of CPC, you can go the ministry’s website at connectingpc.org.