There is a growing awareness of a powerful, deceptive influence affecting our world order.  It is being carefully named by some as “spiritual” in nature.  This should not be surprising to followers of Christ.  Jesus gave us fair warning: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible” (Mark 13:22).  John warned of the appearing of the “antichrist.” “This is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” ( I John 2:18).  Are we beginning to see the outlines of a great spiritual confrontation?  

I certainly am not suggesting a timeline for the end of history.  But it’s interesting to note what’s being said about the end – or at least a major shift in human history.  Interestly, I find key spiritual figures in the Catholic church articulating dramatic changes coming for followers of Christ.  

Shortly before he became Pope John Paul IV, Cardinal Wojtyla said the following during a trip to America for the United States Bicentennial:  “We are now facing the final confrontation between the church and the anti-church, between the Gospel and the anti-Gospel, between Christ and the antichrist.  The confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence: it is a trial which the whole Church … must take up and face courageously.”  I wonder – are we entering that confrontation in America?  

Ralph Martin, a lay theologian in the Catholic church warns about the end times: “The picture that the Scriptures give us of the ‘end times’ is not of the world becoming progressively more ‘advanced’ in what matters, but increasingly more depraved, believing lies that lead to destruction.”  He reminds us that “apostasy is not something that pagans do but something that those who were once Christians do.” Martin is willing to name “apostate” in speaking to the Church.

In a recent newsletter, Martin observed, “It’s a time of humiliation and chastisement for the Church, but also a time when seeds of renewal are germinating … and good yeast is being put into the dough of the remnant … We are becoming a remnant, but it is a blessing to be part of the remnant, and a remnant has a special responsibility to carry on with confidence, joy, and courage amid the growing darkness.” Are we in a time of humiliation and chastisement?

Joseph Ratzinger, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI said this back in 1969: “The church is facing very hard times.  The real crisis has scarcely begun.  We will have to count on terrific upheavals … From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge – a Church that has lost much.  She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.  She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in proposerity.  As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges.”  Are we being reduced so we might rise again?

The future Pope then ends with this hopeful sign:  “But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.  Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely.  If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty.  Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new.  They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”  Are we ready for this new day in the church?