Genesis 6:9-11 ESV These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. (10) And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (11) Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.
We have been taught all our lives (or at least all the time we were in the sphere of visible Christianity) that most everyone who claims to be a Christian, who declares that they have been born again, who is a church member…is a Christian. We are not to doubt this, and in fact we were told that it is a sin to doubt it.
And so, here you are coming to church on Sunday, walking into the place, and seeing all these people…75, 100, 200, 300, or maybe even a thousand or more. There is the singing and the instruments. The prayers. The communion table. The sermon which surely is declaring God’s truth. And there are the baptisms of people who have just been saved. You were taught that a real church is a growing church, and that if the numbers were not increasing, you weren’t faithfully doing God’s work. And oh, how busy it all was. Busy, busy, busy for the Lord. Programs. Committees. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night. What a great church!
Well, let me shatter this artificial and unbiblical world.
The Bible does not assume that even the majority of people who claim to be Christians…are. In fact, the Bible presents the real church as the remnant. The leftovers. The remains. Even as far back as Noah, there were only very few people in the whole world who truly knew the Lord. And you can follow that theme right on through the entire Bible. Yes, in the new creation there will be innumerable redeemed souls – but if you take a snapshot of the church in any point of time in this world, what you will see (if you are wise) is a remnant. A few. Sometimes a VERY few.
Jeremiah 5:1-2 ESV Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. (2) Though they say, “As the LORD lives,” yet they swear falsely.
Micah 7:1-2 ESV Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires. (2) The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net.
Philippians 3:18 ESV For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Probably one of the clearest places in the New Testament that shows us that the real church is a remnant, a few in the midst of many who claim, is the letters to the churches in Revelation. For instance:
Revelation 2:24 ESV But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden.
Revelation 3:4 ESV Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.
And then here it is, summed up by the Apostle Paul, showing us that from Genesis to Revelation the true people of God have always been a remnant:
Romans 11:3-5 ESV “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” (4) But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (5) So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
So too at the present time. This isn’t just an Old Testament doctrine. It carries right on through the New Testament. The true church is a remnant, and if we cling to some idea that most everyone who claims to be a Christian is, or that it is to be assumed that a local church is surely filled with people who, with a few rare exceptions, really know Christ…then we are going to be in big, big trouble.
I have quoted the following words from G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation before, but I read them again this week and I want to repeat them here for all of us as a reminder AND as an encouragement. This doctrine of the remnant is a HUGE encouragement to the real believer. It opens our eyes. It explains to us why abusers are given refuge in churches and why their victims are cast out. Listen to what Beale says: [The New International Greek Testament Commentary, Eerdman’s publishing] –
…the church in any generation is typically not a healthy, witnessing church. Nevertheless, there is always a small part of the church which faithfully maintains its witness like Smyran and Philadelphia. This sober assessment of the church’s overall condition matches what is said in 2 Tim 1:15…-
2 Timothy 1:15-16 ESV You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. (16) May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains,
Ministers of the gospel must be aware of such realistic evaluations of the church, so that their calling is not destroyed when the triumphalist expectations of modern Christendom are not fulfilled.
And I will add to that – real believers must be aware…so that their calling is not destroyed and they fall into a pit of despair when they find themselves treated wickedly by “Christians.”
With rare, rare exception, you were never taught these things. I can tell you that they were NEVER taught or even mentioned in my years in seminary. Never. In fact, they were squelched and suppressed.
Beale concludes this section with this:
Therefore, the focus of the book [of Revelation] is exhortation to the church community to witness for Christ in the midst of a compromising, idolatrous church and world.
I want to tell you plainly – now listen carefully – you were not treated wickedly and oppressed by the real people of God – the remnant. The people who sided with your abuser and remain his allies today, the people who pushed and pushed you to “forgive and forget,” or to “keep on suffering for Jesus,” or who put you out of the church either formally or informally, overtly or covertly, are not the people of Christ. That is not His church.
And the fact that so many of you have looked and looked and searched and searched for the real body of Christ…with little or no success…underscores the truth of the doctrine of the remnant.
Hebrews 11:37-40 ESV They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— (38) of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (39) And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (40) since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
All of this is the reason we started our online church outreach, and why we continue to invite the real people of Christ to be members of it with us. It is a tool whereby we can find each other! And it works. Every week I talk to many of you via email or texting. We work to include you in our church announcements and to include you on our prayer request list and to keep you informed about what is happening in our lives. It is why we livestream the Wednesday Bible study, the Sunday morning class, and the Sunday worship service (though we battle glitches of technology sometimes). It isn’t just some gimmick to be edgy. It is a practical application of the Bible truth that the people of God desire to fellowship with one another, encourage one another, and seek out one another.
And there you have it. The doctrine of the remnant. Be encouraged by it, and be wise.