The Church and its institutions are under the most serious attack leveled against them in many generations. That attacks should be launched is nothing new; that they should have proved so successful today is what is new. Giving is declining; programs are being cut back; seminaries are being closed down; recruitment for the ministry is lagging; ecumenical agencies are in distress; subscriptions to denominational magazines are hurting; church attendance is shrinking.
There are benefits that flow from the turn of events. The Church is being purified by the departure of some who were never converted and who if they wish to return can then be checked more carefully. True believers are being challenged to demonstrate whether the faith they have professed will stand up under the onslaught. The long held but erroneous notion that the Western democracies are Christian nations is being cut to ribbons. Most important of all, the plight of the Church now causes some of us to examine our own priorities—to ask ourselves how much of what we held to and acted upon is excess baggage and how much is of the essence of Christianity. It is driving more of us to our knees with fresh awareness of our own weaknesses and limitations. It is forcing us to claim again the power of a sovereign God to work renewal and spiritual awakening in our midst. And it makes us lift our eyes toward Christ, who is our hope and whose Church will prevail. This is his promise to us.1
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