Disappointment follows false expectations.
Early in my marriage I learned that my wife shuns spontaneity. If I walked in the door today with tickets to a tropical paradise and said, “You have two hours to pack, and then we’re off to the airport,” she’d probably yell at me. My wife likes to plan and to orchestrate the particulars. She would not enjoy the tropical paradise if details at home dangled in the breeze unattended.
Knowing this, how foolish would I be—after 20 years of experience to the contrary—to continue to expect her to enjoy spontaneity? If my expectations reflect reality, then contentment follows. If, however, I harbor false expectations, then disappointment will visit often.
I have come to believe that the Church in America harbors false expectations about the Church in America. An old Scottish divine, William Cunningham, understood that Christ has promised His presence and the Spirit’s power to the Church for “establishing and preserving a church upon earth.” Christ will certainly secure that end, but Cunningham correctly notes that Scripture does not specify the outlines, size, or design of that Church, or the periods and places in which it will flourish or decline.
If Scripture teaches that Christ’s Church on earth should always be widespread, growing, faithful, and prosperous, without any admixture of sin or error, without any regress after progress, and without any diminution or suffering, then the Church in America holds true expectations. But Scripture offers no such promises. To the contrary, the Bible cautions that corruption and false teaching will hazard the Church, that weeds will grow among the wheat, and that in dire times only 7000 will refuse to bow the knee to Baal.
Yet the American Church seems to expect constant growth, internal and external harmony, and continuing cultural influence.
Our expectations must disappoint.
Christ has indeed promised to build His Church, and to send His Spirit to empower its work. But He has not revealed His Father’s providential design in guiding and growing the Church. “The wind blows where it wills,” and the Holy Spirit’s movement in fulfilling God’s design is mysterious. Why does the Church grow in some places while diminishing in others? Why does revival touch here and not there? Scripture does not answer.
The Church in America should expect the Church worldwide to prosper. It should expect the Kingdom to expand, and to envelop every tribe, tongue, and people group. Jesus will have His Bride. But to expect that every generation of American Christianity will grow more robust than the last is to harbor expectations that the Scripture simply does not sustain.
Instead, Cunningham notes that the Scripture seems “fitted and intended to lead men to expect” not only “deviations from the scriptural standard,” but also “heresy, idolatry, and tyranny,” resulting in “gross darkness.” It has happened before. It is happening now. It will happen again.
Put simply, if the American Church expects that the battle will not be a battle, not only will she be disappointed, but she’ll also enter the fray unarmed and unprepared.
And that will produce more than disappointment. It will breed disaster.