The Church & A Toothache
Nothing is worse than the pulsating, all-consuming, throbbing sensation of a toothache. You can try to ignore it, but you won’t be successful. You will be reminded of its presence wherever you go. You can’t run from the reality of a toothache.
What does the church have in common with a toothache? In the fifth chapter of the book of Acts we see that a prominent Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel who made a powerful claim about Jesus’ followers. While all the other spiritual leaders were in an uproar over the new movement, which centered on the claims of a resurrected Christ, Gamaliel demonstrated a calm spirit. He simply said, “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39).
His words may have been much more prophetic than he intended.
Now two thousand years later the church is alive and doing well. In fact, it is growing the fastest in areas of the world where it is illegal. Gamaliel’s words have been validated. “If it is from God,” he said, “you will not be able to stop it.” He was right. They couldn’t stop it. And every government and every ruler who has tried to stop it has failed. Unlike other religions which have grown through establishing theocracies and forcing conversions, Christianity has thrived when forced underground.
However, it must be noted, success does not prove truth. Sometimes things that are successful are fundamentally false. Still, the church is much like a toothache. No matter how much anyone tries to ignore it, no matter how many problems others make for the church or the church makes for herself, it just won’t go away. At some point you might have to recognize, “It seems like there might be something valid and real behind this whole thing.” In a similar way that C.S. Lewis’ colleague at Oxford quipped about the resurrection, in spite of his own atheism, “Rum thing, it really must have happened once.” There seems to be something here, in the church, that cannot be easily dismissed.
Maybe Gamaliel was right. Maybe this movement could only survive if it truly was the work of God. Maybe its success can only be attributed to the reality of God and the truthfulness of the resurrection. Like the historical evidence of the person and work of Jesus, like the myriads of manuscript evidence for the Gospels, like the countless numbers of changed lives – like a toothache – you’re kind of forced to deal with it.
It is throbbing and pulsating and pressing for your attention. Maybe the words of Gamaliel were more prophetic than he ever intended. Maybe today he would recognize that the church really is the work of God, centered on the historical resurrection of Christ, which no one has ever successfully opposed or eradicated.
Like a toothache, it might go away on its on.
But it hasn’t.
And according to the Bible, it won’t.