Photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:20-26 ESV)
John 17, Jesus’ high priestly prayer, is one of my favorite chapters in scripture and, in my estimation, is the greatest prayer ever prayed. And vv.20-26, in particular, is my favorite section within the chapter. It is always amazing to me and extremely comforting that my Lord and Savior prayed, specifically for me, 2,000 years ago on the eve of his betrayal and crucifixion. With all that he was about to experience, he takes the time to pray for me and all future believers. In v.20 he prays, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…" Thus, he is not only praying for the eleven disciples who are there with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he is also praying for all those who will come to believe in him through their ministry. And he prays for four specific items.
Photo by Soff Garavano Puw on Unsplash
As we look out at the landscape of the American religious culture, there is nearly a church on every corner. According to a National Congregational Study conducted in 2020, there are approximately 380,000 churches in the United States. With a U.S. population of about 331.9 million people, that means there is approximately one church for every 870 people or roughly 7,600 churches in each state. Yet, according to a report by NPR news (2023), the average size of the American congregation is roughly 65 members. This is probably surprising to many as we drive by so many churches that all seem medium-to-huge or the pastors we follow on the internet or through podcasts all seem to shepherd medium-to-large churches. What this means is that most of the 380,000 churches are hidden and out of sight, tucked away in a small neighborhood or they are meeting inside a gymnasium or a school auditorium.
In this postmodern, humanist, and theologically liberal western culture, there is a great misunderstanding regarding the gospel. It’s a word we have become all too familiar with, to the extent that we toss it around, use it in everyday lingo, hear it in songs on the radio, in Christian movies, Sunday messages, and mid-week studies. We hear people talk about having “gospel conversations” with their friends and neighbors, and yet, as we listen to the content of these gospel conversations, we begin to realize that what is meant is that they talked about God and religion on a high level. They mentioned Jesus, church, and the Bible—the core elements of the gospel (not).
All of this is indicative that many Christians fail to accurately understand the gospel. Even more so, many Christians struggle to explain the gospel in any meaningful and intelligible sense. This has led to churches being filled with people who say they are Christian, who profess to believe the gospel, but are no more saved than Cain or Judas. Over the years, this has become painfully evident to me as I have had the opportunity to interview individuals for church membership and ask them the question: “Please explain the gospel in your own words?” Over the years, I have had several people sit before me, who grew up in church or at least have been in church for many years prior, struggle with that question. At worst, a few entirely missed the mark. At best, most presented a truncated view of the gospel.
In Reformed churches there has been a longstanding tradition of learning and reciting historic confessions of the Christian faith within the liturgy. Reading confessions together within the context of corporate worship has value for the church for several reasons.
First, it reminds us that we are not alone. We stand in a long line of Christians and churches which stretch back over two millennia. We stand on the shoulders of the saints who have gone before us, risking their lives to faithfully preserve the orthodox Christian faith.
Secondly, learning and reciting historic confessions of faith remind us that the faith we confess is not unique to ourselves nor did it originate with us, but is a faith that has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). At this point in Church history, two-thousand years post-resurrection and ascension of Christ, there is nothing new under the sun. Not only is this true of orthodox Christianity, but even of heterodoxy. Heresies which present themselves as new teachings are always forms of false doctrines which were condemned by the church hundreds of years ago and are simply being repackaged today.
Many of you, along with myself, have been watching the war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas unfold on our TV and computer screens. We witnessed with horror as Hamas terrorists launched hundreds of rockets into Israel on October 7th, and then engaged in a Nazi style blitzkrieg across the border where they kidnapped hundreds of Israelis and murdered hundreds more. And the fact that we live in a time when people struggle to believe what they are hearing and seeing from the news outlets has created a great amount of confusion within the United States. There was once a time, not long ago, when the overwhelming majority of Americans would be in support of Israel. But, alas, that is no longer the case.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies