Within the church at any time in its history, has been a tiny cadre of people hungering for change. The Bible calls this a “remnant.” This may be a very small number of people, in terms of the whole. In Moses’ era, there was Joshua and Caleb: 2 out of 603,550 men (see Ex.38:26). Joshua and Caleb went into the promised land, and were buried there. 603,548 men weren’t.
It hasn’t got to be a lot. God doesn’t need a lot, but He chooses at least one willing person, who He may use to light the fires of reform and freedom in the church.
This is why I don’t hold out much hope for institutions revitalising themselves. It never seems to happen in human history. They either can’t or won’t change, and then they get old and doddery (or stubborn), and institutional change has no chance of happening.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were never going to accept Jesus. He was way too confronting, way too radical, way too faithful to God for them. It was them, or Him.
Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (Jn.11:47-48).
This is what happened in 1517. Luther had been a good Catholic, but his visit to Rome finished that off, well and good. He was disgusted by the corruption and immorality of the church of his era.
And what did the Catholic Church do when it heard of him? Why, it persecuted him, of course. In its apostasy, it was logical that it would. Either the church was right or he was, and the Catholic Church was a powerful religious and political institution. To acknowledge he was right, meant to acknowledge that the church was wrong, in many ways. That was never going to happen. Too many vested interests from the Pope down, had a vital interest in him being silenced, thanks very much.
It was the same with the Biblical prophets. Nathan was one of the few who got away with confronting/denouncing a king who had the power of life and death (II Sam.12:1-15). The more common response was the one that Amos received from Amaziah:
Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence” (Amos 7:12-13).
So, the leaders who got the church into its mess, are never the ones to get it out again.
What does this mean for the future? If institutions like the church rarely reform themselves, reform will probably come from outside. An outsider with truth and credibility will be the logical solution.
That is both exciting and intriguing. God is both predictable and unpredictable. He is predictable according to His Word, but unpredictable in terms of the where, the when and the who.
Institutions always resist reform. They say, “Change? Me? Don’t think so!”
And their stubbornness becomes their downfall. They simply cannot grasp that the God of heaven could create some kind of rocky outcrop that could tear the bottom out of their boat as it trundles along the coastline. So, they continue to destruction. Those that wanted to, have already gotten off at the last landing.
The Bible makes reference to times when the church has been in serious decline:
O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with the prayer of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and You have made them to drink tears in large measure. You make us an object of contention to our neighbours, and our enemies laugh among themselves. O Lord God of hosts, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved (Ps.80:4-7).
If you don’t like the way things are, do something about it. Here are four things that are always necessary: faith in God, prayer, waiting and being willing.
I don’t have a lot in common with Gandhi, but he made this shrewd comment about the enemies of successful reformers.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
It’s much more important to be faithful to God, than to a human institution. Institutions come and go, but God remains, forever. And He’ll use His faithful servants to accomplish His plans for godly Reformation.