Monday, July 11, 2011

Few There Be That Find It

I wouldn’t dare estimate how many times I heard, as a child, in “revival meetings,” that the gate is small and the path narrow that leads to eternal life . . . and few there be that find it. That is a quotation taken from Jesus’ own teaching in the Sermon on the Mount so it must be taken seriously. But there is a danger that, in taking it seriously, we will discount the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in the world today.

Much of what is touted as part of a world-wide revival strikes me as shallow and sensationalized. The focus is on the size and character of the gatherings, the charisma of the leaders, and the prominence the meetings can achieve. Stimulation of the senses, through sound and visual effects, seems, too often, to be paramount. The message preached, promising a life of prosperity and health, can only be fulfilled by a blind denial of the real circumstances in the lives of those attending the meetings, and in the particular culture where the message is delivered. Such “revival” is destined to be short-lived and leaves behind a residue of cynicism and, far to often, an army of religious practitioners guided (or driven) by bad theology.  That kind of “revival” draws huge crowds and gives the appearance of a rapidly expanding and triumphant Christian Church, almost denying the statement of Jesus that, small is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leads to eternal life . . . and few there be that find it.

But what is the definition of “few” on a planet soon to be inhabited by 7 billion souls; a planet that, over the course of human existence, has hosted 100 billion individual human beings? If only one percent of all the souls who have occupied, and now do occupy, this globe were to find their way into God’s eternity it would amount to nearly 1.1 billion eternal souls. Granted, that is one thousand times more than the “ten thousand, times ten thousand” that the Apostle John saw in his heavenly vision recorded for us in the Revelation of John. But neither Jesus, nor John, I believe, was speaking statistically. In Jesus statement he was emphasizing the relative unpopularity of the Gospel message among sinful men. The Father is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. He will deny no one who puts his or her trust in Christ. But Jesus knew that would be a relatively small number. John, in his vision of “ten thousand times ten thousand”, was exalting over the expansive scene of glory in his heavenly vision. It seems likely that the “few” who inherit everlasting life by placing their trust in Jesus, will, nonetheless, be a vast host. Sadly, the “many” whom Jesus said were on the way to destruction, will be vastly larger.

The New Testament writers seem more concerned about the quality of faith among believers than their numeric quantity. I believe that needs to be the focus of the church today. Reports I read today, of the spread of Christianity among the lowest castes of India are indicative of the kind of “revival” the Holy Spirit is seeking to effect in the world. To people who have no status in their culture, and whose lives are bereft of the barest of comforts, the message of Jesus love for them and acceptance of them strikes a note of hope. Those bringing the good news to them make no promises of either wealth or health (although they pray for their sick and some are healed); only a promise of life everlasting. Some estimates indicate that as many as seventy million have come to faith in that Hindu/Muslim land. That is only a tiny fraction of their population, which is approaching 1.3 billion, but the “few” that find the narrow way, leading to the small gate, are finding the way to everlasting life.

A similar story can be told about China and, to a lesser degree, many Muslin countries. And in all those cases, the glitzy, loud, sense-based, health and prosperity message of Western Christianity is banned. Mass meetings of Christians are not permitted. They would make little sense in those cultures anyway. They don’t represent the Gospel. So, humble and practical indigenous believers are reaching out in real-life ways, through charity, medical care, education, and above all, love. The life of Christ in his disciples becomes the power of God unto salvation for thousands every year who are beginning their trek on the narrow way that leads to everlasting life. Pray for them.

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