The Christian Post’s Cross Map blog has pointed out yet another “gem” in the ever-disappointing prophecy book genre. From the article:
“The Church in Prophecy and History” is a detailed commentary on the Book of Revelation, Chapters 1 through 3. It illuminates Jesus’s own predictions about the future of His church, and explains how the major events of church history fulfilled His prophecies.
Oh, good! Another commentary that reads the book of Revelation like a choose your own prophetic adventure guide rather than a book of sacred scripture. Despite Revelation clearly fitting into the apocalyptic genre of literature and specifically addressing seven historic churches–seven churches that we actually quite a bit about–interpreters persist in turning these historic churches into church ages that just happen to culminate with today’s church.
I wouldn’t normally waste my time even mentioning a commentary like this, but the article notes something that I found quite revealing about the state of American Christianity and how we interpret scripture. The Christian Post added a telling note about this Revelation “Commentary”:
It focuses on the current state of Christianity–how it arrived at its present weakened condition just before the beginning of the end times, and why it still has a victorious future. It issues a call to return to the simple and powerful message of the Bible and envisions a fresh effort to reach those in the younger generations who have not experienced the life-changing power of the Gospel.
Did you see that? Christianity is weakened and in decline before the return of Christ.
If you’re an Anglican in the UK or Southern Baptist Convention Christian in America watching declining attendance, especially among younger generations, such an observation about the decline of the church would possibly make sense. If you used right wing political gains as the markers of God’s influence, perhaps you’re feeling a bit discouraged after two terms under a Democratic president.
Even if the church was in decline, that’s not necessarily a sign of the end times, especially since it’s preposterous to read Revelation 1-3 as a series of “church ages” throughout history. Play connect the dots with the historical record all you want. It’s just not there. John was writing to seven historic churches. However, most importantly, it’s even more preposterous to argue that the church is in decline or is weakened.
Christianity is plenty influential in America still, and its is exploding in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. If you want to find the largest church in the world, it’s not in America. It’s in South Korea. If you wanted to learn from experienced church planters, you’ll learn a lot more from Christians in India, Cambodia, and China.
If you dared to suggest that the church is in decline, you’d have to explain to this global south and eastern Christians that their ministries don’t really count. You’d have to explain that the church only matters in the west. You’d have to tell them that good news for all people is only “really good” if white people in the west aren’t believing it. You’ll have to explain why you’re praying for a rapture to save you from a world that’s clearly rejecting the Gospel while they see new converts joining their ranks.
Only a Western Christian, most likely an American, could be so short-sighted to suggest that the church is in decline.
The church is growing. Jesus is setting people free. The Spirit is descending and changing lives. The Gospel is restoring lives and communities.
As C.S. Lewis wrote, Aslan is on the move.
Let’s join him and rejoice over his work around the world and ask how we can join in.
Want to Learn More about Revelation’s Message?
My book the Good News of Revelation recaptures John’s original message to the seven churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and shows how that message continues to speak today about persevering through suffering, God’s triumph over evil, and the future restoration of earth. My co-author, Larry Helyer, is a life-long Bible scholar who specializes in New Testament background studies.