top of page

Hope not Despair in the Face of Decline and Death

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

This is not a cry of naïve optimism, but hope founded on the reality of Christ’s resurrection. A new life is possible out of death, as Paul writes, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:4). However, there must be dying before new life.

It is easy to predict decline—look around: the post-WWII international order has disintegrated as Russia resorts to imperial wars for land and power. The social contract is broken as voters seem to tolerate the most outrageous lies from leaders seeking their votes. The Christian church that Jesus said would stand even against the gates of hell seems dying and impotent as congregations shrink and close. A Sept 2022 study by Pew Research describe 4 scenarios for the next 50 years—and 3 of the 4 predicts that Christians will be a minority and that “no affiliation” will be the majority (ir)religious identity. Looking at even the rosiest scenario is pretty depressing.

Where do Christians find hope in this midst of dying? The Risen Christ, of course! Because he lives, “we too may live a new life.” Tim Keller, retired pastor from the Presbyterian Redeemer Church in New York City, points us to the resurrection of Jesus so we will not despair. (Read the full article).

While many observers of Christianity wring their hands about the forces that are beyond our control, Keller is helpful in pointing out the things we can do, that historically have been things Christians have been good at doing. I would add that Lutheran Christians have experience in balancing the both/and’s, and so each of his points fits the ways we juxtapose both Law and Gospel as God’s Word.

  • speak compellingly to non-Christians by both affirming their best longings and challenging the inadequate ways of achieving those hopes

  • unite both justice and righteousness, which means standing against all forms of oppression while emphasizing the Lordship of Jesus Christ over our lives

  • embrace both global and multi-ethnic character of the church

  • balance both innovation and conservation; and

  • offer both grace and covenant, the no-strings-attached love of God in Christ and humbly sacrificing self-interest for the sake of the other.

Each of these is worth discussion—I hope you will take some time to talk with others what that may look like at St. John’s and in the Phoenix-area.

Yet these alone will not trigger renewal, Keller argues. Before that can happen, he suggests that three things must happen:

  1. Churches must escape from political captivity. Congregations that identify with one political party or ideology will “not be relevant,” he writes.

  2. A union of “extraordinary prayer.” Renewal movements of the past began with the movement of the Holy Spirit in people who waited on the Lord in prayer, people across denominational, theological, and ideological boundaries. I heard from a member of St. John’s recently who said she wasn’t sure she knew how to pray. We will need to (re-)learn to pray so that we are open to the renewal of the Spirit.

  3. Distinguishing the Gospel from moral absolutes. The “Gospel” is that “we are saved by Christ alone through faith, not by our works.” By definition, we are not saved by having or hewing to some moral standard but by Christ, his death and resurrection. This cuts off legalism on one side and “anything goes” on the other side to reveal a middle road for Christians (see Romans 6).

St. John’s may not feel like it is declining, but it is cold comfort when we recognize that the Christian Church around the world is going through a epic, era-defining, historic dying. What we and every Christian can trust is that there is new life in Christ in this age and forever.

Trusting in Christ and his resurrection,

Pastor Peter


bottom of page