In 2 Kings 20 and Isaiah 39 we read the curious story of Hezekiah's illness and recovery and then his receiving the envoys from Babylon. When the envoys arrive Hezekiah decides to show off and reveals to the envoys all of the treasures of the kingdom. This boasting prompts the Lord to speak through the prophet Isaiah "that the kingdom will be taken from your ancestors, your descendants will be taken in captivity and will serve as eunuchs in the court of the king of Babylon." What follows is the most human and astonishing thing I have read in some time. Isaiah and 2 Kings record Hezekiah's response: "The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good." (GOOD? The nation is going down! How can this be good?) For he thought "There will be peace and security in my days." (Isaiah 39:8) In other words, Hezekiah rejoices because the bad stuff won't happen until after he dies.
In declining churches and declining "Old Line" denominations I have long suspected that there a lot of people who have fallen into the sin of Hezekiah. They can see that the demise of their church is inevitable (or at least likely without significant change) but rather than make the drastic changes and refocus necessary to reclaim our vision and purpose they choose to just hang on hoping that the doors will be open long enough to give them a good funeral and to take care of them before they die. Thus, denominations effect mergers which prolong the institution but do little if anything to reclaim the mission. Thus, congregational leaders hold tightly to the reigns of control, slowly spend down capital resources, and rejoice that the church was around long enough to take care of them.
The Christian Church in the west is going out with a whimper rather than a bang. Much like the church in Europe we have stayed in our enclaves and our bless me clubs until we have reached a time where the church is an anachronism, or has become so marginalized as to be irrelevant in the thoughts and hearts of people or has moved to the place of nostalgia where the church is remembered (if at all) for its place in the halcyon days of yore -- much like holly and ivy and mistletoe.
When Hezekiah was ill he repented and God healed him. When he is told of the demise of his kingdom he rejoices because he will die before it happens. What if Hezekiah, when he heard this word from the Lord, responded as he did when he was ill and plead with the Lord while repenting in sack cloth and ashes? I believe the merciful Lord would have worked out a different future.
I believe the merciful Lord has a very different future in mind for churches in decline. But we need to repent of our indifference, or lack of vision, our boasting in what we have, and our pride. We need to put on the sack cloth and ashes and seek the face of God and ask: how do we become what you called us to be.
What say you?