Martin Luther was not only a student of the Scriptures but also a keen observer of history. He was well aware of how the Christian church spread and grew from its birthplace in the Middle East. He knew how, over the centuries, the gospel crossed borders and oceans. The church spread westward to Europe, where God caused the seed of the gospel to grow and flourish. With the rediscovery of the true gospel brought about by the Reformation, Luther’s homeland of Germany was experiencing the blessings that only the gospel could bring. Luther wrote, “Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s Word as it is hearing today.”
But Luther also knew that as the gospel moved to new places and people, it often would leave behind those who had turned cold toward it. He continues, “If we let [the preaching of the true gospel] just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there. For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been” (Luther’s Works 15:32,37).
Because Luther knew history, he was able to learn from it. He warned that the gospel would move on if not preserved, protected, and appreciated. That’s exactly what happened in Luther’s Germany and throughout Europe, which was once the center of all Christianity. At one point, every country in Europe was Christian to its very core, and the message of the gospel was the beating heart of European life and culture. Today, only a shell of the Christian religion remains, with magnificent cathedrals and church buildings now only serving as museums and reminders of what Christianity once was.
For the last few hundred years, the United States has been a place richly blessed by the life-giving rain shower of the gospel. But just as it happened in Europe, that now seems to be changing. For the first time in US history, a majority of US citizens claim no religious affiliation. In the United States, about 270 million people identify as Christians, with that number decreasing each year.
But the Christian church is growing in other places in the world. In Asia, there are 388 million Christians; in Latin America, 612 million. And in Africa, where the Christian church is growing faster than anywhere else, 692 million people are Christians.
Could it be that the gospel shower is moving to new places and new people? It seems so. We mourn the decline of Christianity in our own land, but we also thank God for the new people who are eagerly embracing the gospel in new lands.
When it comes to the United States, we certainly don’t want to throw up our hands and give up. While we can’t reverse what is happening, God can. By the power of his saving Word, God will continue to bring people into his family as the Holy Spirit works—and as he uses us, his people, to hold on to his Word, defend his truth, and serve as his witnesses whenever he gives us the opportunity. The gospel shower may be moving on from the United States, but it has not stopped raining here yet.
So, savor the rain! While we still have the gospel, we will do all we can to seize the opportunities God gives us to share it at home and abroad.
Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 110, Number 2
Issue: February 2023
- The Lord takes care of his church - 2023/02/27
- Savor the rain - 2023/01/30
- Up close and personal - 2022/12/27