“No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. Do you realise what the Scriptures say about this? Elijah the prophet complained to God about the people of Israel and said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” And do you remember God’s reply? He said, “No, I have 7,000 others who have never bowed down to Baal!””
Romans 11:2-4 NLT
We look around in our churches and see so many empty pews. We wonder too about the increasing ages of the congregants and the sad message that another dear friend has passed on, reducing the numbers even more. And news of churches in our towns and communities closing down seems to add to the feeling that perhaps we are living in what has come to be called “post-Christian” age. Elijah must have felt much the same. We read his story in 1 Kings 19, where he, depressed and weary, traveled to Mount Sinai to meet with God. We read in 1 Kings 19:9-10, “There he came to a cave, where he spent the night. But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too””. The story continues, with God passing by on the mountain. After the wind, earthquake and fire, Elijah heard the “sound of a gentle whisper”. 1 Kings 19:13-14, “When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied again, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.””
Elijah thought he was the sole remnant of faithfulness, in a nation of unfaithful people. But God knew differently. In 1 Kings 19:18, after some practical instructions, God said to Elijah, “Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!”” We need never underestimate God’s amazing plans and promises. The church, since the first century, has experienced seasons where its very survival seems in doubt. But before we know it, another visitation of the Holy Spirit brings a revival, a new awakening, to the people and excitement grips the church once again. In the doom and gloom of waning churches in the West of Fife, in Scotland where I live, news filters in of a different experience elsewhere in the UK. We hear about churches in London packed with young people and growing. Holy Trinity Brompton (of Alpha fame) planted 21 new churches in 2021, with more following in 2022. A church in Birmingham has grown by 30% since the pre-pandemic days, again powered by an influx of young people.
A minister of a lively and growing East London church was recently reported as saying the following, “Traditional Judeo-Christian values of compassion, personal responsibility and loving thy neighbour resonate with cause-driven Gen Z-ers. ‘It’s quite cool to do something that’s counter-cultural,’ he says, arguing that Gen Z-ers don’t want ‘big organised religion, flexing its muscles’. They have ‘an allergy to the wrong kind of power’. … ‘The tide has felt for a long time in this country like it’s going out, but what I feel – and I might be wrong, and we’ll know in 100 years’ time – is our feet are starting to get wet again.’”
In the light of such encouraging news, we remember that Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” Jesus never told lies. He promised a church that would never be destroyed. So, we pilgrims set our faces firmly in the direction of Heaven, assured and confident that God will never reject His people or allow His church to die.
Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness. Your Church will never die. Amen.