Many didn’t not recognize Jesus as the Son of God during His first advent. So before Jesus’ earthly life was over, He took extreme measures to prevent anyone else from failing to acknowledge His Lordship in the period between His ascension and His 2nd coming. Jesus equipped disciples, established His Church and gave us the Holy Spirit. But those initial 12 weren’t the only disciples we would ever need, so His final words to the Church before going to be with the Father was to go and make more disciples (Matthew 28:19). Jesus even left those of us living between the two advents with a model, the example He set for how to go about making disciples, reaching the lost, demonstrating His love and running His Church.
Yet today billions miss the opportunity for salvation because they don’t see Christ as Savior. That horrifying reality isn’t due to any shortcomings on the part of the Holy Spirit. The blame lies with those not following Jesus’ commands to disciple and to imitate His model for compassion, then evangelism. People aren’t recognizing Jesus for who He is because they don’t recognize Jesus in us. Most churches have replaced personalized, intensive discipleship with weekly sermons and small groups, which don’t make disciples. They’ve replaced year-round, relational acts of service in their communities with occasional, transactional outreach events, which do more harm than good.
The second advent is forthcoming, but despite explicit instructions and the Holy Spirit’s power the Church isn’t doing its job well today in this critical time between the two advents. In America, recent surveys show that the “None’s” (those not identifying with any religion) have increased from 16% in 2007 to 35% in 2018 – including 44% of Americans aged 18 to 29 (American Family Survey). Over that same period, the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped from 78% in 2007 to 65% in 2018 (Pew Research Center). People are rejecting Christ because they’re rejecting Church. Secular media and non-believers are unfairly attributing our lack of compassion and discipleship to Jesus – when we don’t look or live much like Him. The Church in America has been decreasing in growth, impact, influence, and public perception because it has reflected poorly on (and been a poor reflection of) the God we worship…
- Most people missed the first advent, not recognizing Jesus as Lord, because HE lived quite differently than they expected. They misunderstood who Jesus is and His mission because they didn’t realize that the Father is a God of love, mercy and grace – not just rules and religion.
- Since we now live after the first advent, we have the benefit of knowing exactly who God truly is – not only by what Christ said, but by what He did. The vast majority of Americans have a clear picture of how Jesus lived.
- However, they don’t recognize Christ as Savior because WE live quite differently than they expected. Most don’t know any Christians and a church who acts like Jesus. Many churches and a few bold believers may say what Jesus said, but few actually do what He did. Therefore, far too few Americans are ready for the second advent.
The road to church reform and revitalization, which we will lay out in this post, lies in taking full advantage of the assets and taking into account the liabilities of existence between the two advents…
Living Between the Two Advents: Pros and Cons
What a privilege to be alive during this season of “Already, but Not Yet.” The promise to end that long period in world history of sin and death was fulfilled on Christmas Day. The resurrection of Jesus Christ ushered in the new age of grace and life. Jesus defeated death and now offers us eternity with Him through His sacrifice. “For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:17). We are born self-centered and lost, but those who “see and hear” Christ (thanks to the first advent) are reborn – Spirit-filled and safe in the arms of our loving Father. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galations 2:20) Now that’s cause for celebration!
The full realization of God’s Kingdom awaits Christ’s second advent, but compared to those who lived before Jesus first came, we are blessed beyond measure to be alive between the two advents because we have…
- The Holy Spirit
- Knowledge of who God truly is, not subject to man-made distortions of His character
- Confirmation of the resurrection, something Peter didn’t have when he denied Christ
- Direct access to the Father in Jesus’ name because the veil has been torn (Mark 15:38)
- An intermediary who will testify on our behalf before the Father (Hebrews 7:25)
- Scripture providing a detailed account of Jesus’ life, the perfect example for us to follow
- Jesus’ bride, His Church
But since the second advent has not yet occurred, we also must confront the realities of life during this interim period before this sin-stained world is replaced with a new heaven and new earth. Every day, we witness or experience…
- Pain, suffering and poverty
- People who refuse to confess that Jesus is Lord and surrender to Him
At the second advent every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). There will be no more pain or suffering for Christ-followers when Jesus comes back (Revelation 21:4). However, in the meantime God established His Church to deal head-on with those harsh realities…
The Church’s Mission Between Advents
In the current flawed yet hope-filled age, Jesus expects churches to:
- Follow His example of showing compassion to alleviate suffering in His name
- Equip disciples to lead as many as possible to recognize Jesus as Lord before it’s too late
It’s beautiful how the Lord provides solutions to life’s challenges. The Church is to be the vehicle for administering the remedy God formulated during the first advent for the illnesses endured until the second advent. The flaws are opportunities for the church to do wonderful work. And the Church has all of the post-ascension assets listed above at its disposal. Unfortunately, churches aren’t taking full advantage of those opportunities for compassion and disciple-making utilizing those assets…
- Churches are no longer the first line of defense for the widow, orphan, homeless or depressed. Churches were the food bank and shelter – and started the hospitals and schools – for 1900 years, but now outsource those functions to external ministries and government agencies. For centuries, churches poured nearly half of their budgets into alleviating suffering, but now invest less than 1% in seasonal events that double as advertising.
- Intensive, personalized discipleship is highly uncommon today in America’s churches. It’s far too disruptive to ask of the average American in this busy day and age, particularly when the livelihood of a church depends on attracting and retaining faithful churchgoers. So rather than gaining the leverage inherent in equipping members to act like “employees” pursuing “customers” (those who don’t know Jesus), we treat members like “customers”, reluctant to ask for more than inviting a friend to hear from the “professional” evangelist next Sunday.
Abdicating those critical roles, taking the wrong approach to addressing the “evils” of suffering and unbelief, explain why no church leaders or evangelicals appeared in TIME magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people. That’s a direct result of churches not doing their intended job between advents – diminishing their influence, growth, impact and perception.
Religious leaders in Jesus’ day misconstrued the message God had been trying to convey for centuries through His actions and words recounted in the Old Testament. Religious leaders today have misconstrued the message Jesus tried to convey through His action and words recounted in the New Testament. Therefore, society is once again (as they did during the first advent) failing to recognize Jesus because they don’t see Him in His Church.
It’s Your Turn
Review the action plan below for pastors, staff and lay leaders. It’s the biblical formula for reclaiming the roles Jesus commissioned the Church to fill, knowing no one was more qualified to carry out those responsibilities…
- Define “church” biblically as the people in the pews, not the pews on which they sit
- Define the “customer” of the church as those who have no intention of ever setting foot inside a church building
- Equip members to be the embodiment of church through intensive, personalized disciple-making and evangelism training
- Deploy every disciple into ministry inside and outside the church (to pursue the real “customer”)
- Instruct disciples to follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion, year-round, and then telling them who He is (Luke 10:8-9, TLB)
The early church understood Jesus’ model and was faithful to His example. They knew the church was Jesus’ answer to carrying forward His life and ministry, so they committed themselves both to discipleship and to serving one another, the community and even their enemies who were persecuting them. They had the benefit of the Holy Spirit and Scripture to lead the way forward until His next advent. We must carry the ball now but will continue to fumble without radical church reform…