“Built on the Rock, the Church shall stand Even when steeples are falling. Crumbled have spires in every land; Bells still are chiming and calling, Calling the young and old to rest, But above all the souls distressed, Longing for rest everlasting.” Built on the Rock, LSB 645, verse 1
This beloved hymn is based on Matthew 16:15-19,
15 (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Here, Jesus encourages His church: no matter how bad things get, no matter how fervently Satan attacks the church, no matter what persecutions come – hell shall not triumph over the church, the people of God and the work of God’s hand.
Christ’s church will exist until our Lord returns; her doors will never close. Yet this is different than what we are used to experiencing in the United States (and, we could include, Europe): in 2018, roughly 31 LC-MS congregations closed or merged with other congregations. Many more congregations are dwindling as population in traditionally Lutheran areas wane - and congregations outside the LC-MS are experiencing similar things. This fulfills what our Lord prophesied concerning the last days, “Many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-12). The Holy Spirit also speaks, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
The Word of the Lord will endure forever. His beloved Church will continue onward, yet we have no specific promise that our specific congregation will continue to operate in the world, or will continue to proclaim the Gospel to our beloved community, friends, and neighbors. For example: when we look at the seven churches in the book of Revelation (chapter 2), not one of them remains to this day.
If you, your spouse, your children or their children are not actively attending or (dare I say) financially supporting your local congregation (according to your means) out of joyful response to the Gospel, or if you are tempted to withhold those offerings of joyful response because things don’t go the way you desire within the congregation, don’t be surprised if that particular congregation closes within a generation or two. Lord, have mercy upon us!
It is my immense joy to serve you here at St. Peter, proclaiming the gospel to you and the people of Huntington, and I pray that this congregation remains until the Day of Judgment. However, the number of closed congregations (across denominational lines) indicates that something is going on in our area and nation, and it’s not good.
To those who do not actively attend their congregation where you personally claim membership, including those at St. Peter: Come home! It brings us great joy to see you on Sunday morning (or Saturday evening). Be active in the life of your congregation. You are missed. You are welcomed back; be fed Christ’s Gospel regularly once again.