To have a proper understanding and appreciation of the role of the church in the 21st century, we must begin by defining the church and the 21st century.
What is the Church?
1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that ‘for by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit’. From this verse of scripture, we can say that the Church is the gathering of people from DIFFERENT TRIBES (Jews or Greeks), people with DIFFERENT BACKGROUND (slave or free) who BELIEVE IN CHRIST (Jesus is the person that binds us and brings us together). As a result of our union and relationship with Christ, we RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT (one Spirit) who dwells in us and works through us.
The Message version of Ephesians 1:20-23 states that ‘All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.’
From these verses, the church is the body of Christ. It is through His body; through the Church that Jesus acts and speaks. The church is not just one of the many segments or sectors of society, the church is not on the same level with government, entertainment, education, media etc., the church is above and supreme to every other sector of society because the church has Christ as its head and Christ our head is not on the same level with any President, Political Leader, Chancellor, Principal, Head Teacher or any top CEO or business guru. The church is over all these sectors by virtue of the fact that our head is above all these sectors.
What is the 21st century?
The 21st century is the current century we are in not the one Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist or Paul and Silas were in. It is present day reality. It is the century that more than half of the world’s population has access to the internet. According to Our World Data, we have 7.7 Billion people in the world today with 3.5 Billion people today as internet users. This means that 1 in every 3 people in the world today uses social media platforms.
The Role of the Church
We are all familiar with the account of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Behind the popular story of a young lad who threw a stone on a huge giant and killed the giant, are some fundamental truths about the church especially in the 21st century.
To help us better understand the lessons we want to bring out from the story of David and Goliath that relate to the 21st Century Church, let us take a look at the key players or characters in this story.
- David – he represents the present day church.
- David’s father and brothers – they represent our families.
- Saul – he represents the once churched people who are now unchurched. Before now, Saul had been anointed by God. He had been used by God to win battles for the Israelites, he had even prophesied at a time. Saul started off as a man in the plan and agenda of God. But at this point in his life, we can say that Saul had dropped out of church; Saul had disobeyed God, drifted from God’s plan for his life and was now consulting with a witch when he had a problem or needed guidance. Saul was in a backslidden state. Such people exist today. People who have drifted from God. They also include those who do not have a personal relationship with God but were brought up in Christian homes and used to attend church either because their parents took them there or they felt it was the ‘right’ thing to do every Sunday. Now, they are at point in their lives were they don’t see the need at all to be in church or any Christian gathering or church setting. This group of people are increasing each day.
- Goliath and Philistines – they represent the extreme unchurched people. In 1 Samuel 17, we see Goliath challenging, insulting and mocking the people of God. This group, represents those who don’t believe in Jesus, don’t know Jesus. They practice other religions, have beliefs contrary to the Word of God. We have here the Muslims, the atheists, Hindus, Buddhist etc. This group is also on the increase.
- The war between the Philistines and the Israelites – represents a current National issue.
The story starts with 1 Samuel 16:13 which we can be likened to a church setting. The prophet Samuel is sent by God to anoint David with oil. This he does in the presence of David’s father and brothers. Samuel must have prayed for him, prophesied into his life and released him to function in the plan of God for his life. Matthew 18:20 tells us where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them. In our own day, this gathering, this time of anointing is what some people call anointing service, some impartation service, some prophetic service and some ordination. So the question is what happened next in David’s life after this time of anointing? What happens to us after an impartation, prophetic, or ordination service? What impact did this gathering with Prophet Samuel, his father, brothers and himself have on David’s immediate surrounding? What impact does our attending church services, gathering together for fellowship have on our immediate surrounding?
We see that the grace and anointing that was released on David that day affected all these groups of people earlier highlighted – it had a positive effect on his family, on Saul the once churched man who had dropped out of church, on the Philistines – those so far away from God, and on the National issue at that time.
Let’s highlight 4 key roles of the Church today from the life of David:
- TO FUNCTION AND OPERATE OUTSIDE THE PHYSICAL CHURCH SETTING
As soon as David was anointed or we can say as soon as David left the anointing service, left ‘church’, something happened in Saul’s life. The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord started troubling him. When David played his harp, Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him (1 Samuel 16: 14-23). David was able to minister to a pressing problem in Saul’s life. What was happening to Saul at that time was peculiar to him. It wasn’t a problem everybody in his family or in the palace or his country was going through. It was his own personal challenge. What are some of the personal challenges people are facing today. Think of them. Marital problems, financial issues, health challenges, relational or friendship issues, issues that stem from low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Not to mention those that are tormented and oppressed by demons and forces of darkness like we see happening to Saul. It is the work and place of the church to bring down the Spirit of God and power of God on those issues so first and foremost, people know that God is interested in them as a person; God is concerned about what individuals are going through in their personal lives. Then they get to see that the church is still very relevant today, the church is still the channel through which God brings comfort, deliverance, healing, restoration and salvation to people. We are not talking here about community service or corporate social responsibility such as building hospitals, giving food and financial aid to help people. Don’t get me wrong. Community service or welfare activities are all very good and the church should be involved in them, but if we limit the work of God to just that then what’s the difference between the church and charitable and philanthropic organisations that are not Christian based but are involved in such good works. Yes, God wants us to visit the sick, give clothes, money, food and shelter to the needy, but what the church has which many institutions don’t have is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is only the church that can bring down and release the Spirit of God and power of God into the personal lives and challenges of people, like God used David to do in the life of Paul.
The church must continue to remain the channel through which God demonstrates His power to a lost and hurting world. Our anointing services, worship services and all church services can’t start and end in a physical building or room, it must go outside a building to affect and touch the extremely religious people who don’t even realise that they don’t have a personal relationship with God. It must set free and lift up the sick, the demon oppressed, the wife batterer, the depressed single lady, the man weighed down with large sums of debts. The church must be able to release the power of God into the personal issues and challenges people are going through today.
- TO DISPEL THE CURRENT FEARS IN THE LAND
In David’s time, the battle between the armies of Israel and Goliath had put a lot of fear in people’s mind because of all the threats and rantings of Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17:8-11, Goliath stood and cried out to the armies of Israel, and said to them, ‘why have you come out to line up in battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of all Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together. When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.’ Can you picture what it is like for a king, for the president and all his men, all his soldiers, all those in the state house or the Presidential House to be dismayed and greatly afraid; to be terrified, with no hope for their lives and the country they are leading?
The fear didn’t just end there. 1 Samuel 17:22-24 informs us that David’s brothers as well as all the men of Israel fled from Goliath because they were dreadfully afraid. Everyone was in a state of fear and panic because of Goliath. Fear had taken over the land. This was the current national issue at that time.
In our own time what are some of the current fears in our land? The question to us, the question to the church is are we aggravating, promoting, encouraging those fears like the Israelites did or are we like David stepping out to dispel those fears and let people have hope and confidence in God (1 Samuel 17:32,37). Are we magnifying the Goliath’s in our land; Covid-19, terrorists groups, economic sets backs and so on and making God so small in our eyes and the eyes of people?
Let’s bring what happened in this passage to our present time. In that time they didn’t have access to the internet this was why David’s father had to send David to go to the battle front to find out how his brothers were doing. In our day, there would be no need for that as through the media –newspaper, TV, internet, social media we would have a fairly good idea of what is happening. Think of it, aren’t there many wars that have taken place in parts of the world in the last couple of years that though we are neither soldiers nor spouses or children of soldiers, we know what is happening because it is reported on the news?
The battle between Goliath and the armies of Israel took place in an area that other people apart from soldiers had access to. It wasn’t a military exclusion zone or a place restricted for soldiers only or David wouldn’t have been able to go there. So in our own time, the soldiers would have had smart phones, David and others like him who though not part of the army but had something to do within that area, would also have their smart phones. What do you think some of these people would do? Of course in this social media, internet age they would video – Goliath as he was ranting and raving. One person would forward the video of Goliath on WhatsApp, another tweet about him on tweeter, someone else share a post about him on Facebook or post his picture on Instagram. As the picture and video of Goliath, a giant about ten feet tall boasting of making nonsense of the army of Israel is shared and forwarded from one person to the other, fear and panic is released into the atmosphere.
We can’t be a people who God has called to dispel fear, give people hope and we are the ones saying and posting things that build up and aggravate fear in the land.
The best platform for the devil to operate is one of fear and panic. Fear leads to rash decisions. Fear destroys hope. What we say and post as believers, as the church of Christ does it feed and strengthen people’s faith or are we daily bombarding and overloading people’s mind with fear inducing news and messages?
Let’s not forget that our primary goal and role is to use everything at our disposable including social media, to reconcile people to Christ not drive people away from Christ. If we present our God as someone who is completely powerless to handle the national issues on ground, then who would want to identify with a God who is too weak and limited to handle Covid-19, terrorists groups or any national or global issue threatening people’s peace and joy.
David challenged, addressed and dispelled the fears in the land by boldly and confidently declaring ‘let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine’ (1 Samuel 17:32). In trying and uncertain times, people need the church to step forward and say let no man’s heart fail because of this virus, this war, this terrorist group, this insecurity and uncertainty in the land. Is the church today encouraging and assuring people of the power, greatness and majesty of God to intervene and turn situations around so their hearts don’t fail, or are we getting people around us worked up, worried, anxious and terrified by what we say and do?
- TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX WITHOUT DISTORTING THE MESSAGE OF CHRIST
The 21st Century Church has a responsibility to think outside the box without twisting or misrepresenting the message of Christ. In other words, we are to be creative and strategic in our approach even as we seek to fulfil the same mandate handed over centuries ago – ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and lo I am with you always even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
In 1 Samuel 17:38-40 when Saul wore his soldier’s uniform on David, what in essence he was doing was telling David that when we go to battle, this is the normal, usual, accepted thing we do – we wear this soldier’s outfit. But David disagrees and opposes this age old belief. David tries to get Saul to understand that he is not used to the outfit; he doesn’t believe in copying what everyone is doing, he doesn’t believe in blindly doing the same thing over and over again just because it is the norm. What he is after is results – results that will show people that there is a God who can not only deliver people from the paw of the lion, from the paw of the bear; from their personal challenges, but also deliver them from the hand of this Philistine; from this national issue and problem (1 Samuel 17:37). David thinks outside the box by allowing God unlock his creativity and give him a strategy to tackle Goliath.
Without distorting the message of God, David is able to think outside the box. He goes to battle quite alright but in a way different from what the Israelites have been used to. He goes to battle without a soldier’s outfit and a sword. 1 Samuel 17:50 says ‘So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. But there was no sword in in the hand of David’. David comes up with something new, something creative, and something strategic. He comes up with something borne out from inspiration and guidance from God. The one stone he threw brought down Goliath. It hit the target, it addressed the problem that had brought great fear to his brothers; to his family and also to his nation.
Today, we have all kinds of Goliath’s. Christians are being persecuted and killed for their faith in Christ Jesus. Apart from the loss of lives, destruction of church buildings and equipment, the church is being seriously persecuted on social media. All kinds of things are being said on social media to destroy the credibility of the church. Today a concept, a philosophy and ideology of the family different from the one the Bible teaches and the church upholds is being presented to our youths. Two men or two women are now seen as a normal family made up of a husband and wife even though both spouses are of the same sex.
With all the changes taking place in our world today, if the church is to make any real and lasting impact, it can’t be business as usual. If we are to make the ‘Goliath’s and Philistines’ know of a truth that there is no One like our God who is awesome in power and can save with or without a soldier’s outfit and sword, if we are to go into a world where there’s so much godlessness and lawlessness and evangelise, preach and teach God’s truth, then individually and collectively, it is a time to go to God to find out – what would you have me do at this time and how am I to go about it? How can I carry out the great commission today without distorting the message of Christ? God is not a novice when it comes to issues of homosexuality or any kind of sexual immoral behaviour. As far back as the time of Sodom and Gomorrah and Judges 19:22-24, God was dealing with homosexuality. God knows everything that is happening in our world and He is still saying to us I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). When we allow God do the building of His church; when we allow Him to be the one in charge, the one dictating and directing how things are done not a norm, not an age old belief that has no scriptural basis, not a tradition practised for years which we are afraid to let go off, not a person, not an organisation, then no gate of hell; no gate of persecution, controversy, ungodliness and satanic opposition can prevail against the church.
- TO RAISE, TRAIN, DEVELOP PEOPLE WHO HAVE A PERSONAL REVELATION OF GOD AND RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
The reason why David wasn’t moved by Goliath’s empty fuming was that David had a personal revelation of God. He had experienced God personally. He said in 1 Samuel 17:37, THE LORD WHO DELIVERED ME. In other words, the Lord he knew personally in his life, not the one he heard people talk about, not the one he hears about only when he goes to church. David spoke with so much conviction and assurance of the Lord He knew. Based on his personal relationship and experience with God, David had no doubts or question in his mind that God could save and deliver from any problem or situation.
This is similar to the statement of John in 1 John 1: 1-2. John made it clear that the Christ he was talking about, he has heard His voice, seen Him with his own eyes, looked upon Him, touched Him with his hands. John had a personal experience and relationship with Christ. People who have this kind of deep, true and living relationship with Christ, can’t be easily swayed and intimidated by the Goliath’s of our time.
The product of Cocoa Cola Bottling Company is coke. The product of a University are graduates. The product of a soap manufacturing company is their soap. The main thing the church is to produce – our products, irrespective of whether we are in the jet age, internet age or even end times, should be disciples; should be people who have a strong knowledge of God, a strong relationship with God, people who against all odds remain committed to God.
A personal encounter with God like the kind David had when the paw of the lion, the paw of the bear came against him and God gave him victory is the kind we need today. The church has been established by God to be made up of people who have a deep not surface relationship with Christ, people who know their God and do exploits for their God even when there is a Goliath threatening and mocking their faith in God. Today people of different ages are being deceived and swept away by all kinds of false teachings. The need for church gatherings are being questioned. What was once considered as strange and unusual has been accepted as a normal way of life. Sin is celebrated, righteousness is mocked. How can the 21st Century Church make a difference in the midst of unexpected changes, confusion and uncertainty? By placing a high value on and giving so much time to building strong personal relationships with God. The more people who can confidently say the Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine; the more people who know God intimately and have personally tasted of the power of God, the more personal, family, national and global Goliath’s the 21st Century Church will bring down.
PHOTO CREDIT: John Mark Arnold on Unsplash