Our Fragility and the Church’s Antifragility

In recent days there has been more conversations about “the greatest threat to the Church.” From people concerned about loss of religious liberty to those bemoaning a philosophical or theological position, the statement is seemingly used with ever-increasing frequency. While there could always be threats to how churches currently gather or to even what a group of people believe about God, the statement can unknowingly grant too much power to a threat and too little power to the promise God has made to His Church. While we are fragile, the Church is not.

We are fragile.

We are fragile. Our lives are a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. We cannot put confidence in ourselves because we know ourselves – our hearts are prone to wander. Throughout history we (humanity) tends to disregard the goodness of God towards us, go our own way, and make a royal mess of what He entrusts to us. While we cannot put confidence in ourselves, we can put our confidence in the message and promises He has given us. One of those is that His Church will prevail.

The Church is antifragile.

Christians believe that we are fragile and yet the message we carry is powerful, so powerful it will not and cannot be stopped. The apostle Paul compared us to jars of clay where valuable possessions were stored. “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). The power of the gospel is extraordinary and the Church that Jesus began will not be thwarted. According to Jesus, the gates of Hades will not be able to overcome His Church (Matthew 16:18).

Nassim Taleb coined the term “antifragile” to describe things that get stronger and more resilient with pressure. As opposed to fragility (things that break) and robust (things that withstand pressure and stay the same), something that is antifragile becomes stronger under pressure. Throughout history this has been true of the Church. For example, she is thriving in places where it is illegal to be Christian. Even persecution has made Her stronger and multiplied Her. Tertullian even said “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Which is why we should be cautious to declare something as “the “biggest threat to the Church.” While statements about “the biggest threat to the Church” can galvanize a group to stand against something, the statement can give too little respect for the Church. The statement can cause us to hold to a lesser view of the Church and God’s promise to keep Her and advance Her.

In a series of tweets last week, church history professor John Mark Yeats posted:

“__________ is the greatest threat to the Gospel!’ No it isn’t. Note how we do this in evangelical circles …70s This trope ignores the clear teaching of Jesus that He will build his church and not even the gates of hell will prevail against it.”

Yeat’s insightful post reminded me of my experience as a pastor and also the powerful promise of Jesus.  Since being a pastor for the last 25 years I have heard a lot of issues presented as “the biggest threats” postmodernity’s view of truth, culture’s shifting view on a myriad of issues, loss of religious liberty, etc. As much as I enjoy our religious liberty and will stand for it, Jesus will advance His Church with or without it. As much as I hold to the faith delivered once and for all for the saints, Jesus and His Truth will keep His people in the midst of confusion. While some issues have concerned me, and while I may address some that come our way, none of today’s cultural issues will be the gate that slows or stops Jesus’ Church because there is no such gate.