Tadamichi Kuribayashi commanded the Japanese army at Iwo Jima. He was a brilliant strategist, and his fortification of the island was so well conceived it was only matched by the grit of the US Marines who took it. The Samurai mindset had given the Japanese a feeling of superiority in battle. As Fred Hayes wrote in The Lions of Iwo Jima, “the mystical Japanese “fighting spirit” — the mantra of the militarist who ran the Imperial General Staff in Tokyo, would compensate for Japan’s deficiencies in logistics, its limited industrial production capacity, and its inferior armor and artillery.” The Japanese believed they couldn’t be defeated and the Samurai fighting spirit would overcome any obstacle. We know, of course, that wasn’t the case. The US Marine Corps knew a thing or two about fighting spirit themselves.
Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the church. I have great confidence in the truth of this promise. For nearly 2,000 years, Satan has opposed the church of Christ from the inside and from without. Even in the Apostle’s own day, men tried to infiltrate the church and corrupt its doctrine. But they did not prevail. Governments tried to outlaw or banish the preaching of Christ and His church, but they did not prevail. The kings of the earth raged and counseled together against the Lord to put an end to the body of Christ, but they did not prevail. I’m confident that the church will not fall because of the character of the one who promised. Jesus has never failed. He has always kept His word, and there isn’t anything surer or worthy of believing than the promise of the King of kings.
Unlike Imperial Japan, my confidence is not the spirit of the Christian to overcome but the Spirit in the Christian who preserves. Christ will keep His church, but not every local church will overcome. Many local bodies have fallen and will still yet fall. Some hold to a mystical promise of perpetuity while ignoring the imperative to persevere. Indeed, the church is the “pillar and ground of the truth,” but the man of God is to “preach the word” and is to “study to show himself approved.” Through the preaching of sound doctrine, the church is built up, and that’s our defense against every wind of false doctrine. Christ calls us to stand for the truth and earnestly contend for the faith once delivered.
This promise gives the church of Jesus Christ the confidence in the battle and the strength to fight, but not overconfidence in ourselves. It encourages pastors to preach the word and rightly divide the Scriptures, knowing this is how God’s people grow, the truth is passed on to the next generation, and the church is built up and edified. Don’t presume on the Lord’s mercies. Any local church is only one generation away from apostasy or shutting the doors for good, if we think we cannot fail simply because we believe we cannot fall.
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