For the Church as a Means to the End at the End

Originally published in the Midwestern Magazine, Issue 39

“I am glad that you are here with me,” said Frodo. “Here at the end of all things.”

I never expected to get a theology lesson from the concluding chapters of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but I did.

The hero and his faithful companion, comprising the remnant of a Fellowship that set out on a journey to destroy evil and see the return of their King, lay exhausted and helpless, surrounded by an erupting mountain of volcanic proportions with no cause for hope of rescue. Yet in that moment, they had the peace and security that only victorious soldiers must know when they, though dying, have saved countrymen or even countries.

What was their source of hope? The knowledge that evil was ultimately defeated, though the world self-destructed around them, and hope in the truth for which they persevered. That and their remaining fellowship led them to express gladness and joy there “at the end of all things.” Of course, as the story goes, they fell asleep before they were swept up on eagles’ wings and awoke to find restored fellowship and the return of the King.

I never expected to see the connection between the joy found in fellowship giving hope at the end of the world—but there it was, even in The Lord of the Rings.

In Tolkien’s story, there is great hope and joy for those of us laboring as Christians in a self-destructing world—and thankfully that is a mere reflection of the shining light of truth of these themes found in the Bible.

In 1 Peter 4:7, the apostle Peter explains that “the end of all things is at hand.” By that he means that he and his readers were living in the last days before the return of Jesus. Since that time until our very own, humanity has been living on the verge of the end of the world, but that is not a cause for despair or handwringing.

Peter’s point was focused, rather, on how one is to live at the end of all things, and he spends the next few verses underscoring this for believers. Peter explains that while a Christian should have his eyes fixed and his hope set on the soon and certain return of Jesus, he should be using his spiritual gifts, whether they be serving or speaking, all for the glory of God.

What, then, is the source of our hope, and on what task are we to have our minds and hearts set?

Until the end, whether one eats, drinks, preaches, trains, waters, reaps, types, writes, shares, or disciples, he should be doing these things in fellowships of local churches as the biblically prescribed means for carrying out the Great Commission to the glory of God.

Such it is, too, to a degree, with the work of seminaries like Midwestern. The focus of Midwestern Seminary should always be “For the Church,” not as the end goal, but as the biblical means to the end.

As churches strive and seek to carry out their biblical mandate of fulfilling the Great Commission for the glory of God as their ultimate work, the seminary should serve and support them in this task. As the seminary trains future leaders and helps churches think through a healthy understanding of church doctrine, the seminary does this as a means to the end of these churches’ larger work.

When Baptist theologian J.L. Dagg said, “Church order and the ceremonials of religion, are less important than a new heart,” he was right, but he also did not mean that recovering doctrines of the church has no value. Indeed, the establishment of healthy churches only serves to ensure the potential of the regeneration of many more new hearts around the globe.

In short, Midwestern’s desire to be “For the Church” is a desire to see churches strengthened and then to seek increased cooperative ministry with other churches for the sake of global evangelism, to see the knowledge of the glory of God among all peoples as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14).

I did not expect to find a theology lesson when reading The Lord of the Rings, but I am glad I did.

For we are living at the end of all things (1 Peter 4:7) and yet have every reason for hopefulness and joy as we look forward to the return of the King. In the meantime, the Bible admonishes us to stay busy in the task of Great Commission gospel advancement for the glory of God, and the means by which this is to occur is through local churches.

Until that work is finished and we are all swept up on eagles’ wings, may Midwestern Seminary have a legacy of faithfulness “For the Church” as a means to the end at the end.

Dr. Jason G. Duesing | Academic Provost and Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Midwestern Seminary

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