The Rapture has proven to be a controversial subject. Christians vary in their views of its timing. Some, even if there IS a rapture. I owe you to state that I believe the Rapture of the Church takes place before the Tribulation. But that doesn’t mean I expect things to be all unicorns and rainbows before the Rapture.
On the contrary, I believe we ought to expect things to heat up and for life to become more difficult before the Tribulation. If we are approaching the end times, as current events indicate, things will get worse, not better. We should pray for revival, but we know what the Bible says about the end times. They are bad. It is difficult to read either Matthew chapter 24 or the Book of Revelation and see a scenario for world history where things get better and better, then Jesus returns to give The Church a hearty pat on the back for redeeming the institutions of man. No, the Bible’s picture is that Jesus returns to keep the human race from wiping itself out.
One of the earliest images used for the Church was a ship. Ship and anchor icons are found on the walls of the catacombs in Rome, marking Christian graves. First and Second Century believers regarded the Church as a spiritual ship. It was in the world, but the world was not to be in it. It was on a journey to the Port of Heaven, and all those inside worked together toward that end.
That is an image we would do well to resurrect. The Church Ship is sailing into stormy seas. Good leadership is crucial to its safety and success, just as it was in the early years.
For the first three centuries, the Christian Church was generally opposed and sporadically persecuted in the Roman world. Because being a leader in the Church was a risky business, the quality of leadership was, for the most part, stellar. Bishops (lead pastors) were men of learning, maturity, and holiness. That carried over into the Fourth century when Constantine removed the ban on The Faith. The spiritual inertia that carried the Church through its first four centuries carried on well into the Fifth as the Church, now free of persecution, grew rapidly.
When the Western Roman Empire fell at the end of the Fifth century, a leadership vacuum in the civil sphere developed across Europe and North Africa. People in urban centers looked to one of the few institutions left possessing good leaders—The Church. More than any other factor, the demise of the Roman Empire’s hegemony over the civil life of Europe propelled the Church to the fore of social life there. With bishops now being looked to provide social guidance, Western civilization began to turn toward what we now call the Judeo-Christian Worldview.
Maybe you can see where this is going. Power corrupts. It did not take long for Church leaders to confuse their calling as shepherds with earthly rule, wealth, power, and position. But let’s back up and focus on what happened before corruption set in. The rise of Church leaders in society during the Sixth and Seventh centuries as Europe sailed into the stormy seas of the so-called dark Middle Ages can be instructive for us as we head into the rough seas of the End Times.
Many lament the dearth of quality leadership in the world. This may be an opportunity for the Church to serve as salt and light in a new way if its leaders are more Kingdom-oriented than seeking to build their own little kingdom of worldly success.
This points up a major difference between our day and the Sixth century. There was usually just one local church in a city. It might meet in many places, but believers saw themselves as all part of one group called “the church.” Today, there are dozens, even hundreds, of churches in a city. They often compete with each other for a shrinking portion of the Christian pie. Competition is fine when you are selling tacos, widgets, or furniture. When your mandate is the Gospel, the only one we are in competition with is the devil.
I urge my fellow pastors to recognize the emerging opportunity to provide leadership beyond the walls of the church. As civil leadership disintegrates, we can step into the vacuum with wisdom from above. Look for opportunities to bring a Gospel influence to your community.
The light never seems more bright than when it shines in the darkness.
Lance is the founding and lead pastor of Calvary Chapel Oxnard where he has served since 1982. Lance & David Guzik co-pastored the church for six years before David planted a church in a nearby community.
Lance & his wife Lynn were married in 1980 and have three adult children and five grandchildren. Lance loves teaching the Bible, History, and Leadership. He holds Masters-of-Arts in Biblical Studies and Ministry.
Lance serves as a chaplain for both the Oxnard and Port Hueneme Police Departments and enjoys backpacking, wood-working, working out, gardening, home improvement projects, reading, and graphic design.
The popular Communio Sanctorum: History of the Christian Church podcast can be found in both audio and video at the Into His Image website along with a growing inventory of Lances teaching.