What is the mission of God as we look to the next 500 years?
GODFREY: As I sat listening to the international panel, one of the things that struck me was how truly global Christianity is today, much more so than it was at the time of the Reformation. And to some extent that is the fruit of the Reformation, and we can really rejoice in that. But the historian in me sat and pondered those parts of the world that once were full of churches and Christians and gospel-light, where that light has so significantly gone out.
I’ve been contemplating writing a book for which I have a title. I have a friend who’s keeping all the titles of books I don’t write, and he’s going to publish them—the titles—after I die. So this may fall into that category, but I think we need a book entitled something like “Embracing Weakness,” because when we read the end of 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10). And when I thought of the struggle of Christians with Islam, with secularism, with sin, and with trouble all around the world, it reminded me, belatedly, that at the end of the day, Jesus builds His church. And He’ll do it. He’ll gather the elect—not one will be lost.
So we need to embrace the weakness of suffering, as hard as that is, and have confidence that He will accomplish His purpose, and He will be glorified in it.
FERGUSON: The man who was my minister when I was a student said, “I’m not quite sure what I’m doing here, but I think what I’m trying to do is to be a minister of the gospel to build a church that will either be prepared and ready for revival or able to withstand persecution.” And reflecting on what Steve was saying earlier about Luther, this was a big thing for Luther: the theology of glory or the theology of the cross.
My observation is that we always have this tendency towards the theology of glory. We want to be bigger, we want to be stronger, we want to be dominant; but we don’t want the cross, which is what Bob was saying. I think we just need to keep reminding ourselves of this: that all the way home we are under the theology of the cross. We will have all eternity for the theology of glory, but now is the time for the theology of the cross.
And it must always be in our minds that whatever we do in the life of the church we must always be cautious about this issue: “Is this helping to build a church that will be able to withstand persecution?” Because that’s what it means to live life under the cross. Whether that means incidental persecution, or whole church persecution, or the persecution of the church in a nation, it is life under the cross.
Remember how Paul says at the end of 2 Corinthians 13, in distinction from the kind of thing he seems to say in Philippians 4:13 (“I’m weak, but I can do all things in Christ”), he says, “I’m weak in Christ. I’m weak in Christ because of my union with Christ. I live this life in this world always with weakness.”
And I think until we grasp that, we are always going to be reaching out for what we think is the real Christian life: when Christians are dominant in politics, when Christians are dominant in science, and when we don’t need to live under the cross. But we are under the cross, and we will be there all the way home. The Heidelberg Catechism puts that almost perfectly.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of Sinclair Ferguson’s and W. Robert Godfrey’s answers given at our 2017 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.