I’ve been a member of the same men’s Bible study group for over 30 years. During that time someone will, on occasion, raise the question of studying the Book of Revelation? Just this spring we committed ourselves to that study, trying to be thorough, taking one verse at a time, digging deep, using at least 7 commentaries and trying to understand the vision and the message.
Revelation is best tackled with a rich, creative imagination. It is a book filled with images and symbols, but at its very core, Revelation is a book of hope! But Revelation is also a book of warning. Things are not as they should be in the churches. Christ calls the churches to commit to living in righteousness, and we need to understand what that commitment means for it is the key to determining God’s purpose for the church, specifically, your church.
Greg Finke, in his book Joining Jesus on His Mission, tells the true story when, in the early 1960’s, the Honduran government contracted with a Japanese firm to build a state-of-the-art bridge to span the Choluteca River. It was a beautiful bridge and exceeded the expectations of the Hondurans. In 1998 hurricane Mitch swept in from the western Caribbean. It was a category five, but by the time it reached land it had weakened to a category one. Over the next few days it stalled and rained up to 75 inches in many areas of the country. All that rain came down the mountains and into the Choluteca River Valley with such force that it literally changed the course of the river! In a matter of days, that bridge, hardly damaged, no longer spanned the river. In stead it rested parallel to the new channel of the river.
Finke uses this story as a metaphor for what has happened to perfectly good churches over the last 20 or 25 years…the river, culture, moved! In that same period, my own congregation moved from 150-175 average attendance at Sunday services, down to our current average of about 50.
What has happened to us over these decades mirrors what has been happening to churches throughout the country. I know families who previously were active members of our church who have walked away, feeling that the church no longer met their spiritual needs. More and more people say they have no religious affiliation, nor do they wish to have that association.
Finke cites a striking figure that does not bode well for the future of traditional churches. Fewer than 10% of adults under age 30 regularly participate in the life of their local congregation. The majority of young adults see traditional churches to be unnecessary to their spiritual journey.
This directly affects all churches. The river, our culture, has moved and the solution is not to change the course of the “river”. The solution rests on building a “bridge” that reaches to where the river is. The building program for the bridge involves focusing our prayers and planning on programs and outreach to where the culture is now…in our front yard, all around every one of us.
For my congregation? We are on the front end of potentially one of the most exciting periods for our church. According to Finke, the key to that happening is to recognize that Jesus is already at work in my community, in my church. He is doing the heavy lifting, right now. What is our role? We have our marching orders…Micah 6:8: “…what does the Lord require of us? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” Note that last part: “walk humbly with God.”
So, what does all that have to do with Revelation? Revelation is unique in appealing primarily to our imagination…not a freewheeling imagination, but a disciplined, spiritual imagination, a God-directed imagination. We need to dream and then translate those dreams into ideas, and translate those ideas into plans, and turn those plans into reality. As a Lutheran, I know it is hard to think outside the box of traditional church. Our survival as a church in our little town depends on building that “bridge”.
Jesus is setting the stage for all churches and presents us with a rich mission field. People are looking for those who exhibit grace and wisdom, who show love, joy, peace, kindness. They are impressed by those whose actions enhance the human condition. They also seek answers to their spiritual questions without manipulation, but with honesty and security.
That is the good news. The bad news is that too many people no longer believe they will find these things in our churches.
One final point about Revelation – Who is sitting on the throne? God. Who is in charge? God. Who is Jesus? Both Lion and Lamb. Power, majesty, love, forgiveness. Jesus is currently at work, right here, in your town and mine, in your church and mine, waiting for us to come along and join Him in His mission.
For What It’s Worth.