The Real Danger Facing the Witness of the Church
[A Retiring Pastor’s Message to his Flock]
These are dangerous times for Christ’s Church. As I prepare to retire as your pastor, I want to leave you with some resources for facing them. I care about you individually, and I care about you as a church. And because I care so much about you in these dangerous times, I feel anxious for you.
But let me be very clear about the dangers that face you as a church. There are many loud, angry voices who would like you to believe that the real threat to God’s people today is from outside the Church. They will tell you with anger and outrage that the great threat to the Church comes from the secular society, that enemies of the Christ are seeking to destroy the Church in America.
There may indeed be such people in our time who are opposed to the Church of Christ. But there have always been such people from the beginning of the Church. Jesus talked to his disciples about such opposition often, and he told them not to be afraid of it. “Take heart,” he said, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The Church through all the ages has faced persecution from its enemies. And yet still, the Church remains and faithfully bears witness. Everywhere the Church has gone century after century, the people of God have faced opposition from the world. And yet the Church remains and faithfully bears witness. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church (Matthew 16:18). Jesus’ promise has proved true through the centuries past. I trust his promise for the Church’s future as well.
The great danger to the Church in America is not from the enemies of Christ outside the Church. Those who try to tell you that the Church of Jesus Christ is at risk of being destroyed by some secular political movement or some godless ideology show by their fear that they do not believe Jesus or trust his word. The world cannot destroy the Church or its witness. Only the Church itself can destroy its own witness.
That self-destruction is what the Church in America and the church at Venice must seek to avoid. Soon I will no longer be able to help you with this directly. So, I want to write to you my exhortation and encouragement now.
First, have nothing to do with fear or anyone who is telling you that you should be afraid. There are many today who want to use fear to motivate you to do what they want you to do. Do nothing out of fear. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Fear is not from God. Those who tell you that you should be afraid are not from God. Have nothing to do with them.
Second, have nothing to do with anger or anyone who tells you that you should be angry or outraged. There are many today who want to use anger, outrage, and resentment to motivate you to do what they want you to do. Do nothing out of anger, outrage, or resentment. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Do nothing out of anger. Those who tell you that you should be angry or outraged are not from God. Have nothing to do with them. Those who want to stoke resentment in you are not from God. Have nothing to do with such people.
Our troubled world is full of anger and outrage, fear and resentment. We do not serve God or our neighbors by adding more of that to the world. Yours is a different calling, a high calling. Yours is to add light and love in this dark, angry world.
The way of Jesus is different from the ways of this world, and so the way of the disciples of Jesus is different from the ways of this world. The people of this world seek to dominate one another. The people of Christ are sent into the world to serve our neighbors not to dominate them. Jesus says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He shows us a different way from the way of this world. Loving, self-sacrificing service is the way of faithfulness for the followers of Jesus.
The way of anger and fear destroys the witness of the Church. When the Church chooses that path, it destroys its own witness and fails its Lord. The way of loving service is the way of faithfulness and witness. When the people of Christ love their neighbors as themselves (Matthew 22:39), when the people of Christ love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:44), they bear witness to Jesus with power, a power that can change the world. Do not listen to those who would tell you that the way of anger and domination is the way to win the world. Listen to Jesus instead, and choose the way of loving service.
Do not lose sight of the powerful truth that the people who make you feel angry or afraid are people whom Christ loves and for whom he went to the cross. Will your anger and fear guide you? Or will you follow Christ in the path of selfless, sacrificial love for those who oppose you? The Scriptures are clear. The kingdom of God and the victory of the Gospel can only be won through selfless, sacrificial love.
Serve one another and your community with love, “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). When you do that, your community will see the truth and reality of Jesus Christ in you.
It has been a great privilege to serve God as your pastor. I will continue to pray for God’s guiding and blessing to you as he leads you into the next season of your service to him. May he bless you in every way through his grace, mercy, power, and peace; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© 2021 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.