Is Christianity Dying?
IS Christianity dying, or is it perhaps completely dead, as some have concluded? If we knew Christendom’s churches as representing true Christianity, a look at them would seem to confirm the idea. Samuel Calian, author and professor of theology at the University of Dubuque, Iowa, recently said of the ministers of Christendom’s churches:
“Who is it in our society that makes significant and prophetic statements about the epic events of our times? . . . for the most part certainly not ministers. . . . Harried, tired, and ill-prepared, they have become an inarticulate voice in a world seeking purpose and hope.”
And William L. Edelen, Jr., minister at the First Congregational Church in Tacoma, Washington, admitted:
“The church today is . . . almost indistinguishable from an average business corporation or political machine.”
But this gives rise to a very good question: Do Christendom’s churches really represent Christianity, or is it a false label? If you look at Christendom’s history, has it ever promoted real Christianity among its adherents?
So, then, if the churches do not represent real Christianity, perhaps we should look for it to be alive elsewhere. A judge who was not himself a Christian once counseled the rulers of a nation regarding the apostles of Christ and their preaching activity: “(If this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them;) otherwise, you may perhaps be found fighters actually against God.”—Acts 5:38, 39.
The Founder of Christianity gave a prophetic illustration in which he showed that real Christianity is indeed from God and that it would not die out, but, rather, would flourish, in the first century, as it actually did, and again in the time of our generation, which the Bible refers to as the “conclusion of the system of things.”—Matt. 24:3, 34; 13:40.
CHRISTIANITY FLOURISHES IN FIRST CENTURY
This illustration is the parable of the “talents,” found in the Bible at Matthew 25:14-30. Jesus spoke figuratively of himself as a man who, before leaving on a long trip, committed his money to his slaves. Concerning their activity after his departure, the parable continues: “Immediately the one that received the five talents [a large amount of money] went his way and did business with them and gained five more. In the same way the one that received the two gained two more.”—Mt 25 Vss. 16, 17.
This was true of the first-century disciples, the apostles and their associates, who immediately went to work on Pentecost day of 33 C.E., only ten days after Christ’s ascension to heaven. Their work was not to make money, but to increase the number of disciples by diligent work in the cultivated field that their Master left them, thus promoting true Christianity. Thousands were added to the Christian congregation in a very short time and the Christian message ‘bore fruit and increased in all the world,’ and was “preached in all creation that is under heaven.”—Acts 2:41; 4:4; Col. 1:6, 23.
FORETOLD TO PROSPER IN OUR TIME
How did the parable show that Christianity would also flourish in this present time, in our day? Well, the parable showed that after a long journey the man would return and make an inspection and would find that two of his three slaves increased by 100 percent the “belongings” entrusted to them. Other Bible texts support the view that this part of the parable applies to Christ’s return after a long period, “to settle accounts” with those anointed to serve him.—1 Pet. 4:17, 18; Col. 3:24.
There are also other reasons to expect true Christianity to flourish and to increase today. One of these reasons is that this is the time of Christ’s invisible presence in power as King. The “appointed times of the nations,” or the “times of the Gentiles,” have ended. These “times” began when God’s representative kingdom on earth was overthrown in 607 B.C.E. by Babylon. How long were these “times” to run? They were to be “seven times” or seven prophetic years of 360 days each, in which a day was to count for a year. This would be 7 × 360, or 2,520 years. This brings us to the year 1914 C.E., when the Kingdom would be restored in the hands of the one “who has the legal right.”—Luke 21:24; Dan. 4:17; Ezek. 4:6; 21:27.
Additionally, conditions on earth since 1914 match what Jesus foretold would be taking place at the time of his taking power at “the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matthew chap. 24; Mark chap. 13; Luke chaps. 17, 21.
Now, this return of Christ in Kingdom power, in heavenly glory, is a time of judgment; first, of those anointed to represent Christ, and next, of the world. The people need to know about this. Hence, it is essential that the message of the Kingdom, outlining God’s purposes for mankind, be widely proclaimed again on a wide scale, “in all the inhabited earth.” God has always used his servants to give warning before acting in execution of judgment upon people. Witness Noah’s warning before the flood, the prophets’ warning to Jerusalem before its destruction in 607 B.C.E. and the intense warning given by Jesus and his disciples before that city’s destruction by the Roman armies in 70 C.E.
CHRISTIANITY VIGOROUS NOW
So, even though Christendom’s churches are decaying, true Christianity is not dying. It is a perilous time for all, however, because it is the consummation of this world’s system. It is therefore to be expected that Christ would raise up more “slaves” and entrust them with his “belongings.” However, in 1914, when Christ took Kingdom power, a world war was ravaging the earth. This war was fought mainly by the armies of so-called Christian nations.
On the other hand, those few who at that time were trying to increase their Master’s “belongings” by the practice of real Christianity came under heavy persecution, due to the war propaganda and war fever. They were jailed, beaten and driven out of some towns because of the distorted, prejudiced viewpoint that even Christendom’s clergy had caused the people to have regarding the work to be done by the “slaves” of Jesus Christ. It appeared that their work was crushed.
Nevertheless, after the war, by 1919, there was still a faithful group that saw the need to proclaim the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ for the purpose of inspection and judgment. These the Lord raised up and infused with zeal and energy never to be stifled again by their enemies! By 1922 they had made preparations to announce that the King Jesus Christ had taken his power in the heavens and would soon free mankind of all oppressors. It was to be a worldwide work! Because of their zealous proclamation of the truth there were 90,434 persons who attended the annual Memorial of the death of Jesus Christ in 1925. This showed that the “slaves” had indeed done as the parable stated, namely, they had gained more “talents” or had increased the Master’s “belongings.”
Today, less than fifty years later, practically the whole creation has had the Kingdom message preached to them “for a witness.” (Matt. 24:14) In 208 countries of the earth, now more than a million and a half have heard and believed the message of Christ’s “slaves” and have taken up the same work, aiding others to hear. Since there are but 144,000 persons who will make up the entire body of faithful “slaves,” eventually to reign with Christ in the heavens, most of those taking up the message now have hope of surviving the destruction of this system of things and of living on earth under the Kingdom government.—Rev. 14:1, 4.
We note that in the parable each class of the faithful slaves, the five-talent class and the two-talent class, worked equally hard, and both classes gained a 100-percent increase. So each one did up to the extent possible for him, and no one was better than anyone else. Of course, they could not boast over the increases gained, for it is Jehovah, through Christ, to whom the accomplishments belong, as the apostle Paul said: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow; so that neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes it grow.” (1 Cor. 3:6, 7) Christ’s “slaves” are merely the instruments that God is pleased to use in effecting the increase. How are these faithful “slaves” rewarded during the time of the Lord’s inspection and judgment?
In the fulfillment, note that the slaves represent, not individuals, but classes of persons. Modernly, therefore, we cannot point to individuals as being of the five-talent class or the two-talent class. Both work equally hard with the responsibilities, greater or less, assigned to them.
THE MASTER’S REWARD TO FAITHFUL “SLAVES”
The apostle Paul speaks about their reward at 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17:
“If our faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so, too, those who have fallen asleep in death through Jesus God will bring with him. For this is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
That this reward is a real, living hope the apostle Paul demonstrated when, shortly before his death, he wrote to his co-worker Timothy: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith. From this time on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me as a reward in that day, yet not only to me, but also to all those who have loved his manifestation.”—2 Tim. 4:7, 8.
At the time of the Lord’s presence, when he comes to inspect and judge, he gives first attention to those “slaves” of his who have died from the time of Pentecost of 33 C.E. until the time of his arrival. These he resurrects to heavenly life. They join him as his collective “bride.” (Rev. 19:7; 21:9) This, being a heavenly resurrection to spirit life, is, of course, not observed by those living on earth. The “slaves” remaining on earth during his presence, as they die, will, “together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” That is, during Christ’s invisible presence, represented by clouds, they will join those already resurrected. From then on they will always be with the Lord.
These faithful ones, at their death, are instantaneously resurrected. There they “rest from their labors, for the things they did go right with them.” (Rev. 14:13) They have labored hard with the Lord’s “belongings,” the “talents” entrusted to them. After their resurrection they are relieved from their hard circumstances on earth, yet go right on with work in their place of heavenly reward. Their instantaneous change at the moment of death is described at 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.
But what about the faithful “slaves” while they remain on earth for a time during the King’s presence? They enjoy a reward now by entering into the “joy” of their Master. (Matt. 25:19-23) Who is the source of this “joy”? Jehovah God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Jesus endured his sufferings because of “the joy that was set before him.” (Heb. 12:2) When he took his long journey he went to his Father, the Source of that “joy,” and he received from the Father greater responsibilities, including kingly power. The faithful “slaves” find great joy in announcing the established Kingdom. Also, as “a people for his name,” they are having the name of Jehovah the great Universal Sovereign called upon them. They are known world wide by the name ‘Jehovah’s witnesses.’ (Isa. 43:10-12) And, since they are “slaves” of Christ, they are Jehovah’s Christian witnesses.
YOU CAN PRACTICE REAL CHRISTIANITY
It is Jehovah’s purpose, during this time of inspection, to gather to the remaining faithful “slaves” of Christ a “great crowd” of other people. Since the terminating of the conclusion of this system of things is very near, these persons will be survivors of this world’s destruction and be the foundation for a ‘new earth, wherein righteousness is to dwell.’—Rev. 7:9-17; 2 Pet. 3:13.
These members of the “great crowd” are coming in to associate with Jehovah’s witnesses so rapidly that hundreds of new meeting places, called “Kingdom Halls,” are being built every year. While Christendom’s churches are groaning about shrinking memberships and lack of support, the halls of Jehovah’s witnesses are figuratively “bulging.” Tens of thousands are baptized each year. And these new ones are not passive members, but are active proclaimers of the same Kingdom message that the “slave” class bears.
So, Christianity, real Christianity, is not dying, but is alive, flourishing, increasing in numbers and extent of activity. If you want it you can now find and practice it. Approach the matter with an open mind, and see for yourself what God is doing to support and to cause Christianity to grow mightily today. The Kingdom Halls of this happy group are open to you and you may attend free of charge, without having to suffer embarrassment by a request for contributions or the passing of a collection plate. Examine what these people believe and what they are doing, then do what you see is right alongside those you see doing it. This is the only way to joy now and to life in the righteous system of things near at hand.