With that title, you’d think I’m about to address government bureaucracy, geriatric yoga classes, or land wars in Asia. But really I’m talking about the Church. The progress of the Church on earth is slow, all-too-human, and inefficient. But it’s also supernaturally-empowered, relentless, and miraculously effective.
Recently I watched a video of lava. No, not the bright red, fast-flowing kind that you always imagined when, as a child, you jumped from couch to chair to couch across your living room, but the slow moving, crumbling, inexorably consuming everything in its path kind of lava. This particular video featured a time-lapse record of a sloth-like but unstoppable wall of lava consuming a small car. Inch by inch it advanced, taking ground, while burning and grinding under its heat and weight any and every object in its path. It wasn’t fast, but it was effective.
The Church is often a mess. It moves slowly. Sometimes in the providence of God great winds of revival blow across the land and the Church advances quickly. More often, however, the Church is crumbling lava. Its movement is barely perceptible, and its advances stand nearly invisible to the naked eye. But that type of advance, viewed through the lens of 2000 years, boasts of profound victories. From a small band of disciples, the Christian Church now inhabits the globe. Its missionaries relentlessly seek out unreached people groups. Its pastors continue slowly and methodically to teach men and women to love God and their neighbors, and to share the reason for the hope that girds the heart of every Christian. Nations rise and fall, governments come and go, and cultures ebb and change. But the Church remains. Word, sacraments, and prayer. Repeat.
In America today, Christians seem to have lost sight of this long view. Sometimes, the slow, steady work of gospel ministry gives way to rapid advances. At other times the Church appears to recede. But in the long view, the Kingdom of Christ ever advances, inexorably, inch-by-inch taking ground. Because Jesus himself empowers the work of the Church, his supernatural influence guarantees that his Church never can be, in the long run, unsuccessful. It will accomplish all that he has designed it to accomplish. No obstacle will thwart its advance—not men, nations, ideologies, or cultural changes—not even the abject failures and sins of the Church itself.
When tortoises run they do not excite us in the same way a bounding jackrabbit does. But maybe there’s something to be said for slow and steady. It works for lava. And it works for the Church.