". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Celebrating the American Body of Christ

August 14, 2023

These days, it is not uncommon for Christian commentators to bemoan the state of the believing American church. There’s much to bemoan, from the moral failures of some of our leaders and the pain in many of our families to the polarization created by bitter politics and the horrible witness it is to the watching world.

Yet even as we consider these and other troubling signs that all is not well in the American body of Christ, if we concentrate on them to the exclusion of the powerful work God is doing both in and through the church, we do great harm. We diminish the sacrificial ministries of so many and also fail to give an honest and complete picture of who we are to the millions who observe our lives and work. And we fail to celebrate the multitude of wonderful things our brothers and sisters are doing, through the strength and direction of the Holy Spirit, for so many people in so many ways. Here are a few examples:

The Pregnancy Care Center of Tidewater (southeast Virginia) is composed of three medical clinics and two pregnancy centers, all known as The Keim Centers. Medical clinics offer ultrasound services, prenatal vitamins, and medical consults. All locations offer pregnancy testing, options counseling, community referrals, practical help, parenting and post abortive classes, both with Bible study, and discipleship classes for new believers. Since beginning in 1985, the centers have served more than 18,000 women. Cindy Johnson, the Centers’ communications director, says of their work, “We seek to save the lives of babies, to spare the hearts of mothers and families, and — when the time is appropriate — to bring the gospel as often as we can.”

Hundreds of miles away, the Alleghany mountains of western Pennsylvania are home to Miracle Mountain Ranch, “a Christ-focused summer camp that provides programs for kids, teens, and even families.” MMR features a Wild West town, horseback riding, adventure camping, and a host of other activities. The Ranch also conducts a college-level school of discipleship where, over a year-long program, young people come to know God deeply and discover more of His plan for their lives.

Just as MMR emphasizes spiritual needs, many ministries home-in on physical needs. For example, there are few diseases more devastating than leprosy. That’s why His Feet International, a Christian relief agency, has begun providing “medical care, supplies, and hygiene facilities to improve the lives of those affected by this cruel disease. Our ministry extends love, acceptance, and the message of Jesus to leprosy sufferers who face rejection and isolation from society.”

I chose these three ministries because they are having a profound effect on thousands of lives, but also because they are largely unknown, accept no federal monies, and labor in relative anonymity because they love the Lord Jesus Christ. They work to demonstrate that love in practical ways, and share it through presentations of the gospel.

Of course, too, there are innumerable churches with food pantries, free counseling services, English as a Second Language (ESOL) programs, sports camps, outreaches to the indigent, seniors, and vulnerable youth, and much more. Many churches have “adopted” local schools and spend time painting buildings, giving children supplies and educational materials, and providing other vital assistance.

Then there are those who serve in explicitly evangelistic and discipleship ministries. They go to obscure regions of the world, often placing their lives at risk, and to communities of all sizes and types throughout our own country. They are unsung, frequently underfunded, and sacrificially dedicated to fulfilling Jesus’s Great Commission.

We must never ignore glaring problems. The Bible is full of stories about unfaithfulness among God’s people and exhortations for us to live holy lives. With that said, the doleful accounts of Christian immaturity and worse that occupy so much space in today’s evangelical media forget that the Lord of the church will accomplish His purposes through us, earthen vessels cracked and weak as we are. These commentators also seem, at times, to write out of their own disappointed expectations and personal traumas instead of offering wise considerations of the whole panoply of Christian belief, action, and work.

Candor can be hard, and it’s needed in the American church. We have idolized political success, material prosperity, and social capital. We have been inattentive to the cultural forces around us and complacent about the imperative to share the good news about Jesus. Some of us have wrestled with racism, been unconcerned with poverty, and been smugly self-satisfied with our prosperity.

These things are not new, nor will they completely vanish even if weekly sermons warn against them. They must be fought, as must all sin, continuously and generationally.

Yet these problems should not overshadow the efforts of millions of American Christians who seek to live faithfully, day in and day out. Predictions of the demise of the believing church are premature, as generous and compassionate followers of the Lord of glory seek to know and serve Him honorably and consistently. In the good work of so many believers, we can hear the quiet echo of a longed-for “well done, faithful servants.” Let’s remember that.

Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.