References: Matthew 16:17-19; Romans 8:30
The Old Testament prophet Elijah, as he was fighting the forces of evil, concluded he was the only one left still serving God, but the Lord showed him there were in fact seven thousand others who had not bowed to Baal.
It is easy to think like Elijah did and be convinced Satan’s kingdom is winning — if not completely, at least enough to make the church insignificant. I have had people express such concerns to me. We don’t have to study church history long to see there are times the church seems to have been overcome by the forces of evil and almost disappears.
Where are all the churches we read about in the book of Acts? Where are the great churches of the reformation in Europe? Where is the predominately Christian influence in our own nation? And after recognizing such changes, what do we do about it? How should we view ourselves as a church, when it appears that the kingdom of the world is powerful and dominates the earth?
I will leave it up to you to conclude just how insignificant the church of Christ has become today. What I want us to focus on now is our measure of confidence regarding the future of the church.
Let us take a closer look at the words of Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1: “…and so preserves me.” In the last installment, I considered this from the perspective of the individual believer. We now consider it regarding the church. Specifically, what is the church’s future, and what can we rely on to ensure there is a future?
God’s work of perseverance
The catechism is written as a personal statement of faith. What is “my only comfort…” that “I with body and soul…” Likewise this statement, “…so preserves me.” Jesus is our Savior; we are saved because he specifically died for our sins. Yet American Christians make a great mistake when they focus exclusively on that one-on-one relationship.
Notice as soon as we have Peter’s confession, Christ speaks about the church, not just the individual. It is the church of God. “With your confession, Peter, I am going to not just save a bunch of you, but the church.” As Christ continues to explain how this is possible and how the relationship and perseverance are inseparable, he speaks about the church, the kingdom of Christ.
Remember, the simple definition of perseverance is to last, to not decay or spoil, or to continue. The promise of Christ to you, “and so preserves me,” must also be understood in the context of Christ preserving the church.
The basis for survival
We could use multiple examples from history, but we really don’t need to look beyond our present situation. If you are at all aware of popular views of life and the concept of truth today, you cannot help but be concerned, and even wonder how the church can survive.
Let’s begin with the basic premise we find in the catechism. It is Christ, the Savior sent by God, who promised to preserve the church. But how is that possible? What is the basis for our confidence today regarding the church’s preservation?
In Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 7 about the man who built his house on the rock rather than sand, Jesus refers to the rock as his own words. If the church is based on human thought and human effort, it is indeed like a house built on sand. It will not last. So the word of God must be the foundation. The promise of Christ is real, because He has given the foundation. His foundation will not be washed away.
Very simply, understanding the church’s perseverance means understanding the basis for such confidence: God Himself. He provided such a foundation in His Word. All of the foolishness of the world will not destroy the word of God. “My words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35b ESV). Therefore, that which is standing on the word has an equal basis for standing.
Blog post content taken from a sermon series delivered by Dr. Maynard Koerner, President and Professor of Ministerial Studies at Heidelberg Theological Seminary.