Is there any HOPE for the church in general? What about your church in particular? While realizing the Scriptures promise a triumphant hope at the return of Christ, is there any present hope for the church as we anticipate the Second Advent of Christ? I believe so because the Scriptures say so. But first let me share a personal experience concerning the church and our present hope.
In 1988, I was privileged to go on a pastoral mission trip to Uganda. Most of the ministry time was spent in and around the capital city of Kampala. I can't tell you the joy of experiencing firsthand the 15–20-year-old East African Revival. Even in Uganda, which had been under intense political, military, and religious oppression under the reigns of both Amin and Oboti, the winds of revival were being experienced in almost unbelievable proportions. While there, one of my tasks was to conduct an eight-day conference at the All Saints Cathedral. One evening after a meeting, I walked outside and while in conversation noticed a large house across the street. It was encased with a bamboo hedge and also had an armed guard of Ugandan soldiers stationed at entry points. Almost instinctively I picked up my camera to take a picture, but my Ugandan host stopped me and cautioned me against the photograph. He explained to me that the house had been used by a government agency for interrogation under Amin and Oboti. He then shared with me how many of his Christian friends had been interrogated, persecuted, tortured, and a large number of them put to death within the walls of that building. Just a few weeks prior to my arrival a mass grave had been uncovered under a road in an outlying district, containing 500 skeletal remains of Christians. I am convinced that it awaits for us in eternity to hear of the many episodes of faithfulness to Christ by our Christian brothers and sisters in Uganda during those terrible years. Yet stop and think with me for a moment. Across the street from the secret government agency was All Saints Cathedral, established at the turn of the century. The agency was empty, guarded, and a point of shame. All Saints Cathedral was full and overflowing with believers and new converts coming to Christ.
Our last day in the conference more than 1,000 attended, some having to stand outside the windows four and five deep in the equatorial sun to hear the good news of the Gospel preached from the pulpit of that church. Our subject matter that week was the present hope of the church found in Matthew 16:13–18. Jesus made clear His promise, "I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Right in front of us, as we studied that text for eight days, was a living example.
The word hope does not mean "wish"; it means, according to Webster's, "a certain expectation of a future event." The church of Jesus Christ, of course, anticipates the future "blessed hope," the return of Christ and that glorious age in which the church militant becomes the church triumphant for the glory of our King. Much should be said about that future hope. But much also should be said about our present hope.
No matter what Satan and his kingdom of darkness bring to bear upon Christ's church, he will never succeed ultimately. For Christ has promised that His church will prevail, not the gates of Hades. In fact, the use of the term "gates of Hades" tells us that Satan has been put on the defensive. Gates are part of a wall and are used for defense. Satan and his kingdom were mortally defeated at the Cross, and he is now in a death struggle that will be terminated at the return of Christ. Until then, the church is to penetrate, permeate, and proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom to all creation and challenge every sphere of culture with the truth of His Word. The success of this task has been secured in three ways.
The success was secured first at the Atonement. Jesus Christ not only died for sinners, He died for His church. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her: to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:25–27). The Word of God clearly states that the Atonement was sufficient and efficient to save sinners. It is also clear that it was sufficient and efficient to make the church of Jesus Christ sanctified, washed and glorious in triumph.
It was also secured at Pentecost. There she was empowered by the fullness of God with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that the church of Jesus Christ is the one eternal, supernatural, and divine institution chosen as God's instrument to be the body of Christ bringing the Gospel of Christ to bear upon this world. She is not a reservoir of blessing, but an instrument of blessing for the glory of Christ.
Finally, the success of the church has been secured in the promises of God's Word. We are told that the church built by Christ will never be overcome by Satan but will tear down the citadels of darkness, taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. The words spoken by Paul to the church of Rome resound to this day: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you" (Romans 16:20).
Now I have a question. Is this present hope a reality in our churches? Is our church a movement of the kingdom of God or is it a maintenance effort of an institution? Are we moving from victory to victory as the body of Christ and the army of Christ? Or are we attempting merely to survive from year to year? Where does the realization of the present hope of the church begin? Here is a place for us to start.
As a body of believers we must make a conscious commitment to developing corporate excellence of character for Christ instead of merely working on techniques in the name of Christ. The church, your church, needs to take the time to know who we are in Christ and, therefore, who we are to be for Christ. As a church, we must say "yes" to character excellence and "no" to cosmetic effectiveness. Then we as the church will be able to meet the challenges of a secular society with the salt and light of the kingdom of God.