Living in the last days

"People were convinced it was the end of the world."

Over and over again, this phrase was repeated in the Lausanne Congress's 30-minute walk through world history, from the first century to the twenty-first. Generation after generation thought things were so bad -- morals so degenerate, or conflict so pervasive and entrenched -- that it could only be the Last Days the Bible speaks about in the prophets and Revelation. Christians thought the world was in such a state, the only possible remedy was the coming of the sovereign Lord.

I tend to think that's how it's supposed to be. Not that things should always seem so bad they couldn't possibly get worse, but that we should always be expecting that Jesus will come back at any time. Not that we should constantly despair for the condition of society, but that we should yearn to our marrow for the suffering servant to turn the world upside-down, thus setting it truly aright. The expectation is meant to keep us on our toes, but more importantly, to anchor our perspective in the one who gives life, rather than uncritically chasing the pleasures of life.

But it seems we've lost that expectation of the King's return -- and by we, I mean the evangelical church in North America. Perhaps also we the Anabaptists, but I am less able to comment on this subject from that part of my faith heritage. (I suspect in other parts of the world where things aren't so rosy for Christians, they have a healthy awareness of God's immanent coming, but I have neither statistics, nor personal experience to support any such statements.) When was the last time you heard a North American evangelical talk about their anticipation of Christ's return? When was the last time we mentioned it at all?

To the extent to which we have stopped making charts mapping out the tribulation, Armageddon, and --heaven forbid -- setting dates, we might be grateful for the change. To the extent to which we've stopped "evangelizing" by getting people sufficiently frightened of "the fires of hell" that they sign up for a "ticket to heaven," we might count this a positive move. To the extent to which we've realized destroying the created world because "it's all going to burn" is foolish and that Christian charity means caring for the body, not only the soul, we have learned something good. But to the extent to which our silence on the coming Day of the Lord is symptomatic of our love of this present world, we have a problem.

We have big multipurpose churches with big budgets and flashy ministries. We've got glitzy marketing -- slick branding, and a vibrant online presence on several different media. We've got schools catering to every program or experience that might interest a prospective student. We've got books on any subject under the sun, and the Christian music industry is finally starting to grow into maturity with at least a few artists/bands making decent, well-rounded music. And speaking of artists, we're even starting to recognize once again that they might have something to contribute to the church.

Frankly, we've got it so good here, why bother with looking for the Lord's return?

One day, those who thought they were living in the last days...will be right. And all the ones who came before, whose hopes went unrealized, did not wait in vain, but tuned their lives to a song of justice and hope that is outside of this world. Wouldn't we rather be one of them, than one who is surprised when the thief comes in the night?


Anonymous said…
from "Walking Papers" by Thomas Lynch.........

You can think of it as punctuation
and maybe take some comfort from that, friend—
a question mark or exclamation point—
no matter, we're all sentenced to an end,
the movers and the shakers, bon vivants,
all ne'er-do-wells and nincompoops, savants,
sage and sluggard, deft and daft alike:
everyone's given their walking papers.

Inevitably we all will have our "end time" - that is our destiny - perhaps its more useful to focus on that.

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