Taking the Mustard Seed View

Some pastors and writers I respect most often recommend taking a wider, bigger picture view of things. Of the past, the present, the future, of the church, of Scripture, etc. It’s always helpful to look past our own little worlds, whether they be our immediate individual sphere or national sphere. I’ve found this especially helpful when thinking about eschatology and missions; if we let our theology be shaped by our own little spheres, by social media headlines, by the headlines, by sensationalist media (where negativity and exaggeration sell), we would be, first, like most Christians in America, but more importantly, impoverishing our spiritual outlook and betraying our weak faith and trust in the amazingly big promises of God in Scripture.

In Sunday School we discussed the reality of the Christian’s life mimicking a graph of the stock market with its ups and downs rather than a straight line upward. That is, by only looking at a specific microcosm of the Christian’s life, it could be said to be on the decline or stuck in a downward trend. But taking the view of one’s entire life shows it to be ultimately one of progressive sanctification.

Later, we applied this to the history, present reality, and future trajectory of God’s church, namely in light of an article he recently read. If we take a micro view of history, things might look bleak. But consider the article, “Cracks in the Atheist Edifice,” published in The Economist in November. It discusses the exponential growth of Christianity in China. Namely, there were an estimated 67 million Christians in China in 2010, and many experts (foreign and Chinese) “now accept that there are probably more Christians than there are members of the 87m-strong Communist Party. Most are evangelical Protestants.”

Further, one expert says that with the current growth of the Christian church in China, there will be 250 million Christians there by 2030, making China’s Christian population the largest in the world. This rapid rate of growth is akin to that “seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire. Even further, there are more than 2,000 illegal Christian schools in China, and half of the 50 most senior civil rights attorneys in China are Christian. Even more stunning: “missionaries have begun to go out from China to the developing world.”

Of course, the exponential growth of Christianity brings with it possible future issues related to the probable establishment of religious freedom, as the article insightfully explains:

“The paradox, as they all know, is that religious freedom, if it ever takes hold, might harm the Christian church in two ways. The church might become institutionalised, wealthy and hence corrupt, as happened in Rome in the high Middle Ages, and is already happening a little in the businessmen’s churches of Wenzhou. Alternatively the church, long strengthened by repression, may become a feebler part of society in a climate of toleration. As one Beijing house-church elder declared, with a nod to the erosion of Christian faith in western Europe: “If we get full religious freedom, then the church is finished.”

Ultimately, let’s not get caught up in headline reading chronological snobbery, geographical or political self-centeredness, or woe-is-the-American church cries. Just because things don’t look so good in the American church doesn’t mean God’s worldwide gospel plan isn’t ongoing. Let’s be encouraged and take the perspective the Bible takes on history and the trajectory of the world: the long view, the mustard seed view, the leaven view. After all, the church started with only 12 men.

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