The pre-tribulation rapture is a Calvary Chapel distinctive. But that doesn’t mean we expect things to be all roses before the Rapture. On the contrary, we can expect things to heat up and become more difficult in this life, even before the Tribulation. If we are approaching the end times, as current events seem to indicate, things are going to get worse, not better. We ought to pray for revival, but we know what the Bible says about the end times; they’re bad. One of the earliest images used for the Church was a ship.
Ship and anchor icons are found repeatedly on the walls of the catacombs in Rome over Christian graves. First and second century believers regarded the Church as a kind of 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’s an image we’d do well to resurrect. The Church-Ship is sailing into stormy seas.
Crucial to its safety and success is good leadership, 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 risky business, the quality of leadership was for the most part stellar. Bishops (think, ‘lead-pastor’) were men of learning, maturity and holiness. That carried over into the fourth century when Constantine removed the ban on Christianity. 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.
Then, with the dissolving of the Roman Empire 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, it was the demise of the Roman Empire’s hegemony over the civil life of Europe that propelled the Church to the forefront of social life there. With bishops (pastors) now being looked to provide social guidance, Western civilization began to turn toward what we now call the Judeo-Christian Worldview.
But you can see where this is going, can’t you? Power corrupts. It didn’t 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 “dark” Middle Ages, can be instructive for us as we head into the stormy seas of the end times.
Many lament the death of quality leadership in the world.
This might be an opportunity for the Church to serve as salt and light in a new way if its leaders will be more Kingdom-oriented than seeking to build their own little kingdom. That points up a major difference between today 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 simply called “the Church.” Today, there are dozens, even hundreds, of churches in a city. They often see themselves in competition with each other for a shrinking portion of the Christian pie. Competition is fine when you’re selling tacos and burgers. When your mandate is the Gospel, the only one we’re 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.
The light never seems more bright than when it shines in the darkness.