Dear brothers and sisters,
At the beginning of a new year, people wonder what the year will bring and how much happiness or suffering lies ahead. For us, however, there is yet another question. What will the new year bring in terms of our faith? We can trust that God will protect us, yet at the same time we know that there will be storms and dangers ahead. In this connection I would like to draw your attention to an incident in the New Testament with which we are all familiar: the storm on the lake. Jesus had asked His disciples to take Him across to the other shore. A storm swept over the lake, the boat began to rock, the waves broke over the boat, and the boat began to fill with water. The disciples were terrified and awakened Jesus who was asleep. The Lord calmed the storm, but criticised the disciples for their lack of faith: “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” This incident first of all affirms that Jesus, as the Son of God, has authority over the powers of nature. Moreover, the boat mentioned here can be used as an image for the church of Christ.
The boat of the church of Christ will continue to find itself battling storms. In Europe we are facing a decline of the Christian faith and unfavourable demographic developments. In other parts of the world we are confronted with the rising influence of non-Christian religions, growing materialism, and difficult political environments. It would be foolish to deny that these dangers and risks exist. I am convinced that God could solve all these problems with the wave of a hand. But He does not do so. Consequently we must ask ourselves what we can do.
The first thing we can do is to have confidence in the Lord. The disciples could have mustered more trust that the boat would not sink. After all, Jesus was with them. We believe that Jesus will complete the work He has begun. And we believe in the church instituted by the Lord.
Faith in the church of Christ is inseparably linked with faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate. Of course we suffer on account of the troubles and deficiencies which afflict the church of Christ in its historical manifestation, but we do not call into question our faith in the church that was founded by Jesus Christ and is led by Him.
Whether minister or member, let us not feel threatened or discouraged by the storms that we have to weather.
- In a storm it is normal to take the sails down so that they do not rip and plunge the boat into a disaster. The sails will still be needed. The fact that the number of congregations in Europe is decreasing and that we are tailoring our expenditures on a global scale to match our financial capabilities does not mean we are resigning ourselves to the idea that we are sinking! Quite the contrary, we are equipping ourselves with the means to weather the storm.
- The water that has come into the boat has to be bailed out. Let us be untiring in our efforts to battle the damaging influences that seek to harm the Church. To name only a few, these include alleged miracle healings, questioning the Apostle ministry, and the substitution of faith by sheer ethics without belief in God.
- In a storm, all those on board have to work together and support one another. It is indispensable for us to be there for each other in brotherly unity. Let us be sensitive to the cares and concerns of others and, if is possible, let us help them carry their burdens.
There is one requirement that applies to all of us—always and everywhere: Jesus has to be in the boat, in our Church. It is not enough to maintain that Jesus is on board: this must be demonstrated! We should all think about ways in which we can manifest the presence of Jesus even more visibly in our Church.