“The Church at the Turn of the Year”

The church has a relationship to time quite different from that of the world. The world hastens toward its end. It has some inkling of this but yet will not admit it. The world sees death ahead as an inescapable fate and seeks to overcome it, though it well knows that it is the world that shall be overcome….

The world cannot wait. It is in a hurry because its time is nearing its end. It must always immediately have it all, otherwise it is too late. The church can wait. She has learned to do so in the course of nineteen centuries. She has a different relationship to time. For she belongs to one form whom a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day [2 Peter 3:8]. She is not anxious in the face of unstoppable, inescapable, unrepeatable time. She knows she is the possession of him who is the Lord of time, because he is the Lord of eternity….

Many of us are lonely and forsaken: pastors who at lonely posts in areas of the church where today the very things which had been the church’s salvation through the times of the worst apostasy, the Word of the Holy Scriptures and the Sacraments of the Lord, are perishing.  Young theologians face impossible tasks and are thrown into terrible conflicts of conscience.  Instantly, at the very start of their life in the office, they learn to know the depths of the forsakenness into which God has always led his servants and which is the only way an entirely firm faith and a completely mature character is produced–faithful Christians who have proved true in life and in the service of the congregation and who must today experience how the judgment which passes over entire churches and their work also affects their own work…. [The true doctrine of the church, for which Paul Gerhardt and his contemporaries fought] is as true today as it was in the seventeenth century, and if it no longer rings true today, it could not have been correct then….

This is the test of faith which the present crisis of the church means for us all: Do we or do we not believe that Jesus Christ is Savior of his body?  Do we still know what it means that he as the eternal, merciful High Priest is interceding with his heavenly Father for his church?  Do we or do we not believe that he, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, is with us always, even to the end of the age [Matthew 28:18, 20], in his Gospel and in his Sacraments, really present and therefore as near to our time as any other time in history?  Do we believe in the power of his Word?  Do we believe the hidden acts of the Savior which he also performs in our time through his Sacraments?  If we have this firm, joyous faith, then we may proceed confidently into the new year, even in the midst of all the difficulties of the ecclesiastical situation….For the future of the church is indeed not our future, but the future of Christ…. (Hermann Sasse, “The Church at the Turn of the Year,” The Lonely Way [St. Louis: CPH, 2001]1:431, 432, 433)