Relief From the Strife

As we find ourselves approaching the Lord’s Day tomorrow in the middle of an extremely heated and odd campaign season I continually find Sunday to be a welcome break to the chaos and bickering of the week. Unfortunately not all feel the same way but wish to drag the problems of the world (or most specifically and more commonly the problems of the GOP) into the Church. What was once an oasis in the desert becomes another opportunity for scoring political points or pursuing one’s personal hobby horse issues. As if one’s personal sins and family conflicts were not enough to deal with you must now deal with and sort out the potential sins of Ukrainians and Russians, or Chinese and another group of people that you cannot pronounce let alone point out on a map but must now decide who’s side you are on and viscerally oppose all those who side against them, even within the Church. Where one goes to seek relief from his own sins he finds instead the burden of another’s. Those seeking relief from the toil and temptations in their life find no relief even within the Church. More than ever we should consider the final paragraphs of Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism:

“But whatever solution there may be, one thing is clear. There must be somewhere groups of redeemed men and women who can gather together humbly in the name of Christ, to give thanks to Him for His unspeakable gift and to worship the Father through Him. Such groups alone can satisfy the needs of the soul. At the present time, there is one longing of the human heart which is often forgotten–it is the deep, pathetic longing of the Christian for fellowship with his brethren. One hears much, it is true, about Christian union and harmony and co-operation. But the union that is meant is often a union with the world against the Lord, or at best a forced union of machinery and tyrannical committees. How different is the true unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! Sometimes, it is true, the longing for Christian fellowship is satisfied. There are congregations, even in the present age of conflict, that are really gathered around the table of the crucified Lord; there are pastors that are pastors indeed. But such congregations, in many cities, are difficult to find. Weary with the conflicts of the world, one goes into the Church to seek refreshment for the soul.

“And what does one find? Alas, too often, one finds only the turmoil of the world. The preacher comes forward, not out of a secret place of meditation and power, not with the authority of God’s Word permeating his message, not with human wisdom pushed far into the background by the glory of the Cross, but with human opinions about the social problems of the hour or easy solutions of the vast problem of sin. Such is the sermon. And then perhaps the service is closed by one of those hymns breathing out the angry passions of 1861, which are to be found in the back part of the hymnals. Thus the warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God, And sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace.

“Is there no refuge from strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus’ name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world.”

As for this campaign-election season and its results for the United States or the Church, “What the immediate future may bring we cannot presume to say.” But, adds Machen, “The final result indeed is clear. God has not deserted His Church; He has brought her through even darker hours than those which try our courage now, yet the darkest hour has always come before the dawn…another Reformation in God’s good time will come.” (Christianity and Liberalism, pg. 179-180)

No political party, social-activist group, or even country has been given the promises of God. The Church is the only institution on earth today that God has promised will last forever. Its foundations are sure, for its Cornerstone is Jesus Christ, He who was dead and is now alive forevermore, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” He has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” (Revelation 1:4-7). Yet in the meantime our souls are tried. For now, as the Church awaits her triumphant King her cry is “How long? O, Lord?” (Rev. 6:10; Zech 1:12; Ps. 94:3).

Even as the enemies of Christ and his Church might gather, we witness and wait, we work and pray,  with one eye turned to the sky we watch for the one “has freed us from our sins by his blood,” (Rev. 1:5). “He is within us now by the Holy Spirit of promise, who seals us in Christ and is the earnest guaranteeing our inheritance, hoped for but not yet seen (Eph. 1:13,14). We persevere in hope, persuaded that the momentary, light affliction of this age works for us a far greater, eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). Through Christ’s holy Presence within we are strengthened with all power by his glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (cf. Col. 1:11,12), “to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).”[1] Only that message, and a Church with its worship defined, shaped, and built up by that message will be able to satisfy the needs of the souls of those around us seeking rest. A Church that is no more than a social group pursuing whatever popular cause of the day with trite answers of the party alignment they find themselves in will simply add sticks to the poor man’s burden that walks into their doors.

[1] Meredith Kline, Glory In Our Midst, pg. 54.