Glory in the Church

Was the Church of the first century a failure? None of us would even imagine it was so. There were, however, a number of things that did not go as many thought they should. Jesus told many that His mission was to the Jews and not the Gentiles (Matt 10:6, 15:24). Yet, it spread among the Gentiles more than the Jews. We know that Jesus was not surprised by this, but is this what the Apostles foresaw? It does not appear to be so. Most of them viewed their mission to be to the Jews for quite a while after the Day of Pentecost (cf. Gal 2:7-8) and apparently assumed that they would eventually come around. At the same time, the Apostle Paul was planting new Churches among the Gentile communities throughout the Roman Empire. One might surmise that the first Jewish converts thought of Paul's mission as something of a "side project" but not the real hope of the future.

Jesus gave the leadership of His Church to the Apostles, and they proceeded to spread it throughout the Roman Empire within a generation (and we know very little of what they did in the far East). Yet, by A.D. 67 an enormous persecution had come against the Church by the hands of both the Jews who rejected Christ as well as from the Roman authorities under the leadership of Nero Caesar. The combination of these two attacks led to a terrific apostasy that we often do not think about. Large numbers of Christians fell away and many Churches were stretched thin (cf. Heb 6:4-6). Jesus predicted this (cf. Matt 24:11) around A.D. 30 so no one was surprised by it. The Apostle Paul repeated this prediction about twenty years later (cf. 2 Thess 2:3) calling it a "falling away". The Apostle John (ten years after Paul wrote his prediction) said that it had begun to happen in his day (cf. 1 John 2:19).

The Church of the first decade after the resurrection of Christ saw itself as a small faithful group of Jews who were still attached to the Judaism of their youth and acted something like a revival movement within Israel. They continued to go to the temple for many of its ceremonies, and did not yet see themselves as anything like the international organization they were soon to become (cf. Acts 8:1). By the time Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, the Churches outside of Judea had become smaller, but stronger. There were apparently still a number of Jews in them, but they had become predominantly Gentile. The numbers continued to head in that direction until those who descended from Jewish bloodlines became a vast minority in the Church.

The Apostles eventually accepted the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles. He reached out his hands to pagans and told them of the One True God. The ramifications of his little act were not seen for many years to come. The Apostle knew that Jesus would be victorious over all (1 Cor 15:25), yet he did not know how that would look, or how it would come about. It is often the case that we do not see the consequences of our actions. We are called to be faithful to Christ and not to see the future. He knows where things will lead and usually does not tell us. Even the blessed Apostles may not have understood the full ramifications of the growth of the Church into the Gentile world, but Jesus brought fruit from their works.

What will be the fruit of the Holy Father reaching out his hands to us? It may not be something that any of us can foresee at this time. There may not be large numbers of people coming into the Ordinariates at first. Some may change their minds at the last minute and choose not to move forward. There may even be some who join, but then after a time they fall away. Does that mean that Anglicanorum Coetibus failed (as some nay-sayers have been barking lately)? Never. Even if only one baptized child of God is reconciled to Mother Church then this is worth it (and there is already more than just one). Reconciliation is what the Church is all about. Days of "small beginnings" (Zech 4:10) are usually what leads to grand conclusions. Like He did with Gideon, God prefers to do great things with small numbers.

So people ask me about numbers, "how many parishes in the USA?" "how many priests have been approved?" "are other countries applying for Ordinariates?" We want to hear big numbers, and that is not bad. Yet, small numbers are not bad either. The offer of Ordinariates is an open ended offer. It is so open that we do not know just how it will develop. It was offered to Anglicans, but that does not mean that God is necessarily going to use it in the way that any of us intended (who are we to bind His hands?). Just as the gospel went first to the Jews and it was the Gentiles who made the greater response, the ways that God can use these developments are beyond any of us to fathom. It may even be many generations before the fullness of this work is seen.

I prayed many years ago that something like this would happen. Even as a Protestant pastor, I knew that division was wrong, and I pleaded with God for unity, asking Him to let me be a part of it. Our prayers, however, are usually far too small. We pray only what our imagination can come up with, but the mind of God is far beyond our limitations. Though the Apostle Paul may not have grasped the full extent of what God was doing through him, he did grasp that God was not limited by our hopes. He knew that God always did greater work in the Church than we expect Him to. This is why he said:

"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Eph 3:20-21).

2 thoughts on “Glory in the Church”

  1. Dom Gregory Dix described this process well, in a book fragment that was barely begun at the time of his death in May 1952, and which was subsequently published under the title *Jew and Greek.* It is well worth reading, even if he might have overdrawn in it the contrast between "the Semitic" and "the Hellenistic" mind-sets. Cheap copies of the book are readily available through or

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