The other day, a fellow pastor called me an optimist who believes he can change the world because I was fighting for a situation in a neighboring parish to be handled properly. Those who know me will laugh, as none of them would ever call me an optimist. I am commonly the most pessimistic person in any group of people.
The reality is that fighting for what is right does not necessarily presuppose optimism. It indicates hope and desire for a good outcome, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is expected. Fighting for what is right is done because it is the good and faithful thing to do, not because a positive outcome is expected.
Consider any case of calling a sinner to repentance. It is right to speak God’s Law to a person so that he would recognize his sin to be sin, and repent. For those who have done this, they know that the result of repentance is not often achieved. Is it hoped for and desired? Certainly. However, one need not be optimistic about the chances of repentance in order to do what is right and call the sinner to repentance.
So, is Steadfast Lutherans optimistic about the future of the LCMS and her sister churches? Is Steadfast Lutherans trying to change the world through teaching and calling sinners to repentance? Some might think so.
Why fight against those who reject the Scriptural account of creation? Why call Concordia University Portland to repentance for their rejection of God’s design for marriage? Why point out Concordia St Paul’s yoking to a heterodox church body? The hope and desire is repentance in all instances. Where this happens, we know even the angels in heaven rejoice (Luke 15:10).
This, however, does not require optimism, even though it does require faithfulness. We know the church on earth will never be perfect because it consists of sinful pastors serving sinful congregations. We know the devil sows his evil sons in the midst of the sons of the kingdom (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), and so they will be, side-by-side, until Judgment Day. We know and recognize that there is a great amount of evil that has infiltrated our congregations and synods. All of these things would suggest that we should be anything but optimistic.
When we recognize the reality of what goes on our congregations, colleges, seminaries, circuits, districts, and synods it is hard not to be pessimistic. We see little hope to stem the tide. The world has infiltrated and we can’t see it being undone.
Working to restore Scriptural doctrine and practice in our church body is done because it is what God has called us to do. Faithfulness to God means being faithful to His doctrine and the practice that follows from it. Faithfulness means working to restore Scriptural doctrine and practice wherever it is lacking. It does not necessarily presume an optimistic result or an expectation of changing the world.
However, we cannot be pessimistic about the Church of Christ. Christ has promised that not even the gates of hell will prevail against His Church (Matt. 16:18). Steeples may be falling and spires crumbling (LSB 645 st. 1). We may be oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, and by heresies distressed (LSB 644 st. 3). Yet the Church of Christ will remain until He returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Christ has promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” (Rev. 22:20) While we wait for His glorious return, the truth is that despite all the reasons we might have to be pessimistic, we should not be. If we can be optimistic about the Church of Christ in general because of Christ’s promise, then we can be optimistic about the Church of Christ wherever it is. Where is the Church of Christ? Wherever Christ’s Word is heard. Wherever Baptism snatches souls from Satan. Wherever faith is nourished with the body and blood of Jesus. Wherever God is working through His Word and Sacraments, there is cause for optimism.
Despite false teachers, the Church of Christ remains. There have always been false teachers harassing the Church. Despite the attacks and insults of the world, the Church remains. The world has always been attacking and insulting the Church. Despite Satan’s assaults on the Church, the Church remains. Satan has always assaulted the Church. He has not won, and he will not win. Christ has defeated him and his demons, and they have hell awaiting them.
God promises that His Word will not return to Him empty or void but that He will accomplish His purpose through His Word (Is. 55:11). This remains true everywhere God’s Word is heard, even if it is where Satan dwells (Rev. 2:13). Even amidst persecution, the lips of the martyrs have confessed the Gospel with their dying breath, and hearts have been turned.
It is ridiculous to be pessimistic about the Church. Being pessimistic about the Church is being pessimistic about what God can do, and what He does do. He saves sinners even within heretical church bodies. He saves the weak and the confused wherever they are. Yes, He even saves those who struggle with pessimism over what they see going on in the church.