I cannot begin to imagine what it must feel like to become the leader of a church of 1.1 billion members. Of course, Pope Benedict XVI is the first to acknowledge that the Roman Catholic Church may be on the verge of a radical downsizing. In an interview published in 1996, then Cardinal Ratzinger said, “We might have to part with the notion of a popular Church. It is possible that we are on the verge of a new era in the history of the Church, perhaps very different from those we have faced in the past, when Christianity will resemble the mustard seed [Matthew 13:31], that is, will continue only in the form of small and seemingly insignificant groups, which yet will oppose evil with all their strength and bring Good into this world.” Indeed, he added, “Christianity might diminish into a barely discernible presence.”
Newsweek reports, “Benedict XVI...is convinced that the power of the church lies in the strength of its ideas, not necessarily in its numbers: what he calls ‘the firmly believed truth’ of its central tenets about the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
I am sure that there is much that I and the new pope would disagree about, but I agree heartily with this sentiment. Indeed, the devotion that I gave on that morning in Costa Rica was on those words of Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to the mustard seed. The power of the Kingdom of God does not lie in numbers or size. The Kingdom of God began with Jesus and a small band of disciples, about the size of our mission team in Costa Rica. As long as we remain true to the central message of the Gospel, size will take care of itself. The mustard seed will ultimately grow until “it becomes a tree, so that birds come and make their nests in its branches.” This may be 1.1 billion birds or whatever number God wills.
©2005 C. David Hess