The story is told of Thomas Aquinas walking with a prelate through one of the grand cathedrals of his day. Referring to a coffer filled with precious coins, the prelate remarked, “Behold, Master Thomas, the church can no longer say, as St. Peter, ‘Silver and gold have I none!’” St. Thomas was apparently quick with his retort, “Alas, neither can we say, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk.’”
When did the amazing church we read about in the Book of Acts lose its power? Church historians have debated this for two centuries, but a good argument can be made that the power of the church began to decline when Constantine made Christianity the “official” religion of Rome (313 AD). No longer were pastors thrown in jail or martyred for preaching the gospel, their social status was elevated. No longer were Christians losing their jobs for adherance to the gospel, they too moved up the social ladder.
The Apostle Paul made this profound statement: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… (Philippians 3:10, NIV)
We all want the power of the resurrection at work in our lives. But suffering necessarily precedes it. Jesus himself would not have known resurrection power without the cross.
The first church had power because they suffered for the gospel – they laid their lives down for it. When the suffering ended, when life became easy, when they turned their focus on getting ahead, gaining political clout, making a name for themselves…that’s when the power of God faded from the church.
Let’s face it, the American church is powerless. It gives me no joy to say this as one of its so-called leaders. Oh we’ve got marketing and name recognition, bazillions of followers, billions in assets…but no power of the resurrection. Time will tell if this is the beginning of the end of the ease of the American church. If, as it seems, persecution is on the way and the we begin to learn a little about sharing in Jesus’ sufferings, will we grow in spiritual power?
I don’t want to face persecution any more than the next guy. But if I know that suffering will make me more like Jesus, the idea is a lot more palatable.