If you have stayed at all current with world affairs in recent times, you’ll know that there is a lot of pessimism concerning the fate of the church. Doomsayers in the United States were predicting the virtual collapse of Christianity in the wake of Donald Trump’s loss in the recent election. Anticipating today’s (20 January) inauguration of Joe Biden as the forty-sixth President of the United States, one witty individual tweeted on Sunday, “Happy last Sunday of Christians being able to freely meet together.” The idea that Christian gatherings will be immediately outlawed under Joe Biden’s presidency is laughable, but it is a scare tactic that many promoted in the run-up to the election to secure Republican votes.
American political watchdogs are not the only ones who have predicted the demise of Christianity. From militant atheists to overwhelmed Christians, the narrative that the Christian church is on the verge of collapse is widespread. Certain schools of theology suggest that this is a sure sign of the end. They suggest that we can only expect things to go from bad to worse so that the true church will be a mere remnant by the time Christ returns. Defeat, not victory, is the narrative of such ecclesiological pessimism.
Standing diametrically opposed to these doomsayers is the writer of the briefest of the psalms: Psalm 117. This two-verse psalm is packed with encouragement for those who are tempted to give into the notion that the church is on the verge of collapse. The writer begins by calling “all nations” and “all peoples” to “praise” and “extol” the Lord. But notice the reason that he offers: “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.” In light of his loyalty to his people, the “peoples” and “nations” are again called to “praise the LORD!”
The word translated “great” in v. 2 refers to the might of a military conqueror. In this case, however, Yahweh’s “steadfast love”—his covenant loyalty—is the mighty military conqueror. It is the language of warfare, with “steadfast love” emerging the victor. It is precisely because victory is certain for divine “steadfast love” that nations should bow in loyalty to Yahweh.
Here, then, is the principle: God will not lose. Christ’s church will not crumble. Political despots, godless philosophies, and contagious viruses are impotent to bring down the church of Jesus Christ. He will conquer. His church will move forward. His covenant love is “great” and nothing will withstand it.
It is easy to get pessimistic about the state of the Western church today. It is easy to focus so intently on the negatives that we fail to recognise the power of the gospel at work in the church and in the world. We can too easily become like Elijah, persuaded that we are the last remnant of Christian faithfulness, when all the while the Spirit wants us to praise God for his mighty covenant faithfulness, which guarantees Christian victory. When we are tempted in that regard, we need a good dose of Psalm 117. We need a reminder of God’s unassailable covenant loyalty to his church.
As you head into a world in which you are certain to face all manner of opposition to your faith, and as you are exposed to events that tempt you to believe the church is crumbling, encourage yourself in divine faithful love, which is mighty to bring victory to God’s faithful ones. Rather than battening down the hatches in anticipation of the end, look to God’s “great … steadfast love” and call the nations—those who oppose the gospel on every hand—to praise the Lord, whose victory is sure.