The Kingdom is not about progress or numerical growth, or any of the other logical standards of achievement. The Kingdom is about purity and fidelity.
The Calvinists have at least one thing correct, because it’s bluntly stated by Apostle Paul in Romans: We do not save ourselves. We have zero input, no part in it except as passive recipients. Eternity makes its own choices as to whom it admits. Nothing any human can do has any effect on the choice. It is utterly and relentlessly the initiative of God alone. We aren’t supposed to understand it, and this is where the Calvinists and the Reformed get it all wrong. Any attempt to make it logical and reasonable only corrupts the truth. Any attempt to draw logical conclusions is at best not very useful.
We who understand ourselves as being spiritually alive, born from above, are not passive in the sense of having no input once we are on the other side of that eternal boundary. It’s a paradox. When we most need input, we have none. Once we belong, our input is required. From then on, a significant element in our human suffering is our failure to perform our eternal duties. This implies our suffering as Christians is greater than the suffering of those who are not Christian. It’s true, and you have no choice in the matter, as far as that goes. Your only choice is to embrace it in whatever measure you can and will.
It’s all very fuzzy and illogical, loaded with paradox from beginning to end.
You would think numerical growth was a sign of God’s favor, but so is persecution. Growth in the face of oppression and opposition is the key, not growth alone. Simple numerical growth means nothing, especially when opposition is limited. Indeed, it implies a failure to understand. It’s not so much we need to raise our institutional/organizational barriers so high, as we need to recognize numerical growth is not in itself meaningful. The proper barriers are in the nature of the demands of following Christ, and we should be loathe to raise any barriers artificially in how we build our fellowships and associations.
We should never pretend anything we can grasp with our minds is settled and eternal, because this entire universe is unsettled and transitory. We cannot design a human process capable of discerning whether someone is “in” or “out” of the Kingdom. We should stop pretending we could know for anyone except that person in the mirror. We should realize before we ever start our membership list means nothing in the Kingdom. This is why I discourage every element in modern church organizational structure, because it all misses the point.
First, you don’t decide in your mind who is in our out, except in terms of the current context. It’s always rightly perceived as fleeting and ephemeral. For this moment, you and I share something eternal, so far as either of us can tell, and later it may not be so. Nor should we allow our feelings of warmth and acceptance to depend on that sense of communion. Rather, we hold forth the warmth as an on-going offering to any who will take it. We make no evaluation beyond the very human acknowledgment it’s easier to deal with people who keep grabbing hold of our offer consistently. These we call “friends.” It’s a reference to track record, not some deeper reality which evades our intellectual grasp.
As a side note, this can be applied in the virtual realm. I don’t return hostility to trolls who post comments here. That doesn’t keep them from claiming a hostility, and certainly won’t turn down the heat of their rhetoric, but the whole thing is a result of what’s inside of them. For my part, the reception here is always tentative, always subject to reversal if they simply ask. Yeah, banning from commenting is reversible, but it requires some effort to send a private email. And if you decide you regret some heated comment, you can get me to delete it for you. Anyone, anywhere, can always try again. I do this because I’m hardly any better than folks who comment.
But I do have an obligation to God, best I can perceive, to limit interferences in what this blog is all about. That’s part of that Covenant of Noah, the demand from God we execute a death warrant, death that is warranted, based on certain factors in our effort to engage obedience on this broken reality here. On the ground of reality, it’s not a matter of might makes right, and I could well fail to win any physical battles, but I am obliged to obey His Laws by trying to protect certain things He burns into my convictions. If you attack my family without first convincing me it’s justified, I’ll do my best to stop you, for example.
The results of all this is hardly in my feeble hands, symbolically or literally. While I might hope to convince you of better things, it’s not a case of aiming to change your mind. I can’t; I don’t have the power. You may well be doing the best you know, and I can’t fault you for that. I’m simply doing the best I know, too. In my human weakness, the desire for obedience is all I have. Any successful obedience means I don’t attempt to make you over in my own interests, but simply tend to those interests myself. I can’t presume to saddle you with them.
The only progress I can rightly measure is my own, and that’s iffy. I’m burdened with a heavy responsibility to defeat my own damned nature, baffling and weakening it’s authority to vote on my actions and thoughts. To the degree you want a share of that action, we can cooperate.