Among believers in the Christian West there has arisen a preference called “church-hopping” where they are not committed to any church or fellowship, but rather go from one church to another tasting and sampling. In such a way they might find something which will satisfy their needs—whether spiritual or otherwise. Like nearly everything else in the prosperous free-enterprise West, the Church is market-driven. It’s a marketplace where consumers are free to pick and choose, and the winners are the churches with the best marketing embedded in their teaching and preaching.
Believers in the New Testament of course did not have the luxury of “church-shopping.” At that time believers often had to pay the price of persecution for following Jesus Christ: rejection, loss of possessions, even death. There were no church buildings on every street corner, no welcoming church billboards along the byways, and no radio or TV broadcasts advertising the earthly blessings of following Jesus to draw people to the church or ministry. (But, as Bob Dylan once sang, “the times, they are a-changin.”)
The lyrics of Steve Green’s “No Surprise”
He was a man of sorrows, who
wept in human pain
He knew the grief of parting and His hunger was the same
He felt the sting of insults, and he bore the weight of sin
He humbly drank the suffering God set before him
And it should arrive
As no surprise
That tears are gonna come
If you’re called by his name
You’re sure to suffer some.
He did not seek his happiness,
He made no earthly claim
For the joy set before him he endured the cross and shame
He was born into the darkness, to shine the light of truth
And if the world hated him, the world will hate you too.
[Chorus]But consider it joy when you
share in his pain
For you’ll share in the glory to come
The early disciples suffered through trials, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit composed the epistles we have in the New Testament. They urged us not to set our hope on what earthly blessings we could receive by faith in Jesus, but rather to set our hope fully on the eternal glory to be given us when Jesus Christ is revealed. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul taught about the eternal reward to be awarded to each disciple—beyond and in addition to salvation—according to the fruit of his or her labor while on earth. Regarding the fulfillment of our earthly needs, Jesus taught us simply to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”
For most Christians in the West today, however, the promise of eternal glory and ruling with Christ in the coming Age takes a back seat to what many preachers today promise to their people. Here in the West Christians have the luxury of “pie in the sky” and enjoying it here as well. We can have heaven on earth since Jesus came to give us “abundant life.” The preacher or church which can deliver the best goods is the winner in terms of fame and size of congregation.
The Church in the West today is of course not the Church we see in the New Testament. What can be done about this?
Probably very little.
Yes, we can pray for revival. But it is very likely that given human nature and the nearly irresistible promise of prosperity around us in the West, only a few believers today will be able to imitate the early disciples.
The pure gospel is not meant to thrive in the conditions we enjoy in the West today. It thrives when like Abraham we “strangers and aliens” on earth look forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
What should we as committed disciples then do?
We should focus on reaching hostile, gospel-resistant nations where the Lord Jesus Christ has never been preached. When we do so we will see the New Testament in action. We will raise up disciples like the early disciples of Jesus Christ. We will witness the miracles as recorded in Acts—the powerful healings which resulted in great harvests for the kingdom of God.
The reality is that the primary harvest for the gospel in the West has already been reaped; what remains now is the only gleaning of the harvest. The primary focus of the gospel has now rightly moved on to those regions of the world where it has never been heard even once. After this gospel of the kingdom has been preached in the whole world as witness to all nations, then the end will come.
History has a beginning, and it will have an end. The gospel was born in Israel, it then spread throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond to impact Western civilization. Now its focus has shifted to the Third World currently dominated by Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and idol-worship. Following the reaping of the harvest there, the end will come.