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Modern Reformation: Thinking Theologically

Wildflowers: How the Church is Preserved in Dark Times

Published Monday, March 1, 2021 By Matthew Everhard

The Humble Dandelion

Like the gospel itself, the humble dandelion was brought to the shores of America on the decks on ships ferrying pilgrims to the New World. A non-native species, they spread rapidly through New England, across the plains states, and now can be seen inhabiting nearly every suburban lawn and rural landscape. Originally, dandelions were highly valued as a food staple, not at all considered a nuisance, as they are today. Their rich, jagged, green leaves can be harvested and eaten practically all year around. Dandelions are among the first, vitamin-rich plants to emerge from the cold earth after the bitter winter, making them an invaluable source of nutrition in the early months, long before any of the other vegetable sprouts show.

Once they take root in any domain, dandelions are almost impossible to remove, especially given that the God of all nature has equipped them with an incredible ability to disperse their seed-globes into the wind and replicate themselves in many conditions. Dandelions do not need broad spaces and lush fields to grow. They can thrive between cracks in the sidewalk, and emerge in the slightest crevices between buildings and parking lots. The one thing they need however, is light. Lots of light. Even their golden faces appear in the fields as so many brilliant, miniature suns.

A Coming Darkness

Darkness on the other hand terrifies the dandelions; the only natural enemy that can possibly stunt their multiplication. In our own context, there are a number of reasons why Christians might view the coming days as very dark times. Included among these reasons are the rise in advocacy for socialism and marxism; the continued disintegration of the family structure; the aggressive advance of deviant morality; the uncritical adoption of so-called “critical race theory” (which turns a Biblical understanding of racial harmony on its head); and now a sudden and concerning upshot in speech censorship. With the exponential growth of media disinformation in the past several years, and the growing polarity and distrust for one another among the people of our nation, it is no wonder that these tensions have poured out into violence in the streets and major cities. Indeed, the times seem very dark.

And what is the Church to make of all of this?

Well, for American churches in particular, much of this feels new. We haven’t been challenged like this in some time. Speaking broadly, the American church has been blessed with nearly two-hundred and fifty years of benevolent protection in a nation that gave our Christian faith—brought here on the same ships that brought the dandelions—tremendous freedom and support. The Church here has experienced the extraordinary blessings of God, and has been used for great ends in this world; founding schools, hospitals, and missionaries societies, while planting churches from sea to sea. Now, we are watching the culture turn quickly against us. Once sunny, the skies are darkening. Throughout, we should keep in mind that what we inherited is virtually unique in the history of the Church. Throughout the ages, the Church has had to trudge uphill, against both rain and wind. For many centuries, the Church has had to contend with wicked leaders, authoritarianism, violent suppression, banishment, and even martyrdom. These aggressive measures — ecclesiastical herbicides — though savage, have been unsuccessful.

The Church has endured. It continues to grow practically everywhere.

Remarkably, the irrepressible hope of the Church throughout the world has withstood a multiplicity of factors that would seem to mitigate against its success. It has grown and thrived in various cultures, both Eastern and Western. It has survived harsh geography, from deserts to rain forests. The Church has been sustained in times of both poverty and provision. And all of this is due to God’s sunny grace and compassion. When uprooted, the Church has grown again in another place. We tend to spring up in the cracks. The Church is the “dandelion” of the spiritual world; bright and hopeful, impossible to fully pluck out when despised and rejected. When assailed, our seed scatters in the wind in another direction and takes root elsewhere.

Parachute Seedlings

When God designed the dandelion, He equipped it with an incomparable mechanism for replication, the parachute seedling. Each mature, fuzzy gray globe, when assailed by a violent wind, disperses its hope to distant places. When plucked from the ground by the hand of a curious child or jerked forcefully from its lodging by a malevolent gardener, the seeds release and are carried purposefully by a mysterious breezy providence, seeking safer soil. We, the American Church, have come to expect perpetually clear skies and gentle winds, carrying our Christian message easily and freely, as we wish. Sadly, we have at times misused this anomalous and benevolent period in history—a reprieve from hostile resistance against the church—to produce an inferior yield. We bequeathed to the world the seeker-sensitive megachurch, the celebrity pastor, and the prosperity gospel; all of which we regrettably exported to the nations like an invasive species.

The sun has shown so steadily upon the American Church for two-hundred and fifty years, that we hardly believed that times could ever grow dark. Ironically, now that we see the dark shadows lengthening, we hardly believe it will ever be light again. But it will. Sun follows darkness just as surely as Spring follows Winter. The prophet Isaiah, like most of the Old Testament preachers, warned his people of the coming darkness, but simultaneously promised the dawning of joyful light (Isaiah 9:2; 42:6; 50:10; 58:8 etc.) This should be an encouragement for us, as we remember that there is nothing that Satan or a pagan culture can sling at us that has not been weathered by the Spirit-empowered Church before. Plucked from the lawns, we will grow again in the cracks; pulled from the fields, we will take root anew in the crevices. By grace, the church always finds another way, guided by the providential and benevolent winds of the Lord’s jealous favor for His elect people.

The Dandelions of Spring

Strangely, I feel vivified by the challenges that lay before us.

Maybe I am naive or foolish. Maybe I just don’t fully appreciate the dangers yet to come. But oddly, this challenge excites me. The Lord did not call me to be the event coordinator at a community center, or the social director at the country club, but rather to be a local church pastor. A daring preacher of His Word for any to whom He gives “ears to hear.” In my immaturity, I used to wish that God had placed me in a more important time in history or strategic location of the world. I used to wish that I had lived among the Reformers or in the times of the Puritans. But now I am convinced that small, Bible-believing churches are going to be among the most important voices remaining in this historical moment. We are planted in history on the hedge line between bright sunlight and dark shade. By God’s mercy, I hope to lead my church forward in grace and truth, as the Holy Spirit helps and preserves us. This is not a moment to compromise, shrink back, or fear, but a moment to shine with golden faces, and then distribute seeds of Gospel hope.

In some ways, the whole of the Western World is waiting to see what happens next; that is, whether local Gospel-preaching churches will be yanked by the roots from our once verdant pastures or hold fast the faith and multiply. I believe we will do the latter. Pull off our petals through mockery and scorn, and we simply regrow our golden crowns. Tear out our roots, and we scatter our seed. Chased off the lawn, we remove to the meadows. Like wildflowers, the Church of Jesus Christ is very difficult to eradicate.

True enough, the unbelieving world considers the Church a weed to be plucked out or a nuisance to be ignored. But we are the golden faces of the field. The Winter is coming, but we are the dandelions of Spring.

Dr. Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Gospel Fellowship PCA, just north of Pittsburgh. He is the author of several books, including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession, Unknown: The Extraordinary Influence of Ordinary Christians and  A Theology of Joy: Jonathan Edwards and Eternal Happiness in the Holy Trinity. He is currently writing a book on Edwards’s seventy Resolutions for Hendrickson Publications.

  • Matthew Everhard

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