Last month I talked about how the church can never die because it is Christ's body and Christ both lives and is life itself. So no matter how few people belong to any one congregation that congregation is always alive. a congregation only dies when it gives up on the faith.
This week while preparing for the Sunday Bible study on Romans, I stumbled across a document written by Johann Gerhardt in 1617. In it Gerhardt asked the question "is a large size or a multitude of members a characteristic of the church?" He answered with a resounding "No!" for three reasons. The Bible describes the number of believers as few. The Bible says the church is small and the church fathers reject size as a characteristic of the church.
First, the Bible describes the church as beginning with only two members (Adam and Eve). Before the flood the "Church of Cain" had great numbers while the true church had only eight members (Noah and his family). During the time of Elijah, the church numbered only 7,000 people in a nation of millions. In Babylon only three men refused to bow to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. During Jesus' ministry the church numbered perhaps a few dozen. At the beginning of Acts the church had only about 150 members in Jerusalem.
Second, the Bible describes the church as small. "What remains...is like a cottage in a vineyard, like a little hut in which they spend the night in cucumber fields" (Isaiah 6). "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12). "Enter the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way if=s hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7). "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 2). "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" (2 Peter 2).
Third, the church fathers escribed the true church as small. "Where are those who define the church by size and despise the little flock?" (Gregory of Nanzianzus). "Who, having a sound mind, would not prefer to be in the number of those few entering through the narrow gate to salvation than to be associated with the many who are rushing to destruction through the broad gate?" (Atahnasius). "Please tell me what is more valuable, heaps of straw or few precious stones?" (Chrysostom). " I can tell you are a heretic by the large number of your followers" (Jerome to the heretic Pelagius). "Great numbers are no blessing where wickedness abounds. do not boast then in great numbers because faith, not numbers, brings salvation" (Nicholas I). "The true church of Christ can at times be reduced to a few people...At times one must look for Christ's church in prisons and caves" (Gregory of Valencia). Finally, " The truth of God's church does not consist in multitude...rather, it consists in the Word of God and in the truth of the doctrine that is received from Christ and in His legitimate ministers who succeed each other in turn, whether they are many or few, rich or poor" (Alphonso Salmeron).
Pastor David Mohr
St. Matthew Lutheran Church-LCMS