This week, we’ve seen different ways God grows His church and forms His church. Even though European colonizers in the West were concerned with conquering new land, God still raised up faithful and humble workers to speak up against these abusers and to even suffer alongside the victims. As a result, the church did spread in the Americas, and it remains there to this day.
Even though Europeans were driven to find new routes to Asia for their own economic advantage, the trade routes enabled missionaries to share the gospel with cultures that had not yet heard it. Many of these missionaries had the wisdom to not confuse the gospel with European culture, and were open to new ways of relating to and sharing God’s truth with other cultures. In what ways might you be confusing the Christian faith with your community’s or even church’s culture? Why is it important for Christian faith and culture to remain distinct in your mind? On the other hand, why is it important to see how these two things can be beautifully integrated?
Later in the week, we saw two different members of Christ’s body adopting different forms of church life in reaction to the tumultuous events of the Reformation. At the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church said no to Protestant doctrines, but it also reevaluated and revamped its life and practice in healthy ways. In Scotland, the Reformer John Knox organized a Protestant church under Catholic rule, emphasizing listening to God’s Word, no matter who was in power. How do you see the church reacting differently to the specific events in our own time? Are some of these reactions more faithful than others?
We’ve seen some in inspirational figures in our tour of church history in this study: from Gregory the Great’s sacrificial service during Rome’s fall and the brilliant intellect of Thomas Aquinas, to the courageous voices of the likes of John Wyclife and Martin Luther. We can celebrate the fact that we get to count these as our family—fellow saints on our journey home to Christ. They can serve as both an encouragement and an example to us today.
But we’ve seen some ugly moments in the church’s life too, moments that make us want to distance ourselves from the church, and to look away—crusades, stake-burnings, torture, victimization of indigenous people. We shouldn’t ignore these moments of church history, because this is our body. What we’ve seen should remind us that we must continually repent and ask for God’s forgiveness.
But it also reminds us of God’s power and grace. He made a symbol of torture and humiliation— the cross—into a powerful sign of love and of hope. He is no less able to weave our failures into His grand story of redemption (Genesis 50:20).
We’re still in the middle of that story today—a story that showcases Jesus’ love for His church. Jesus loves the church so much that He came to die for her (Ephesians 5:25). He gives spiritual gifts to the church that we may all be built up into Him who is the head (1 Corinthians 12:4–31; Ephesians 4:15). He desires unity for the church, that the world may know God the Father sent Him (John 17). And one day Jesus will return, and all the members of the church for all of history will be presented to Him as a pure bride (Revelation 19:6–9). Jesus dearly loves His church. Do we love the church in this way?