Christianity 201

May 27, 2015

The Church: Rising From the Statistical Ashes

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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I really appreciate Pastor Clarke Dixon’s weekly contributions here. In light of recent polls and news reports, this is very timely. Click the title below to read at Clarke’s blog.

Is There Hope for Christianity?

People say there is no hope for Christianity. They point to statistics. They point to unpopular doctrines and unloved ethics. It will die out eventually, they say. Furthermore, churches are boring and irrelevant, they will all die out. And people say there is no hope for the Christian. There is no such thing as the supernatural, at least not as described by the Bible, and so the Christian who dies will stay dead. They say that spirituality is something to be enjoyed in this life, the best one can hope for in the next is to push up daisies. Or perhaps your karma will catch up to you and you will be pushing up dandelions instead. But as for the classic Christian doctrine of the resurrection, there is no hope for the Christian.

People have said there was no hope for God’s people before. Their great city, Jerusalem, was destroyed. The central place for the expression of their faith, the temple lay in ruins. That temple was known as the place on earth that God had chosen to take up residence among His people. He was long gone. So too were the people, exiled, taken away from their land and dispersed to ensure they would remain weak through disunity. There was no hope for them. Or so they even they themselves said. But God said otherwise:

​The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:1-14 NRSV

We can first note the picture of hopelessness in Ezekiel’s vision. The first image is of a battlefield from the days of hand-to-hand combat filled with the bones of the dead. They are very dry, and so they have been dead a very long time. They have suffered the indignity of not having had a proper burial and they belong to the losers. The second picture is of the dead being sealed in graves, as if their fate was sealed.

But now note the picture of hope. In the vision the bones come together, and the dead are put back together complete with muscle and skin though they still do not live. Then Ezekiel is told by God to prophesy to the winds to have breath enter into the bodies. The significance of these two steps in the resurrection to life is that it recalls the creation of humanity by God in the first place:  “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” Genesis 2:7 NRSV. In other words, remember God’s amazing work of creation, don’t doubt God’s ability to do what He wants to do. And what does God want to do? To fulfill His covenant promises. To bring life and hope to what was thought to be dead and hopeless: “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” v.14.

There should have been no hope for the disciples of Jesus in the early decades of the Church. The doctrines and ethics of the Jesus followers were repulsive to Jew and Gentile alike. Persecution often broke out against the Christians. But, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Acts 2:1-4 NRSV

Were it not for God’s Holy Spirit Christianity would likely have died out many times over throughout history. Yet it is still growing worldwide and exerting a positive influence on individuals and society alike.

People say that it is hopeless for God’s people in North America today. People say that Christianity will die. God says “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” People say that all churches will eventually close. God says “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” People say that Christians when they die, will stay dead never to be raised from the dead. God says “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

When God puts us back together, whether he is taking the dry bones of churches across North America that have become stale, whether he is taking the dry bones of a Christian whose fire for the Lord has gone dim, or whether he is taking the dry bones of the dead in Christ, He will accomplish what He wants to accomplish. If we feel the future is hopeless for God’s people, well then it is time to seek His Spirit.