We have every good reason to be optimistic about the church — which is the bride of Christ. When we look at the New Testament, perhaps we could lament; but despite the immorality in the Corinthian church, the antichrists described to the church at Ephesus in the letter of 1 John, the necessary and firm correction issued by Paul to the Galatians, and the Jerusalem business meeting about the degree to which prejudice against the nations should be exercised (Acts 16); God loved the church — as he still does, he used the church — as he still does, and he used flawed people in it — as he still does.
Think about the meaning of hope in the Bible. Biblical hope is not chancy like a long range weather report. In the Bible it is always a promise that comes with a guarantee. The one who secures that future is God.
Martin Seligman in Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, shows how easily pessimism can be learned and compares this with learning optimism. Perhaps the most often used practice among counselors today, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is built on the idea that negative thoughts can be disputed resulting in a healthier outlook. Can you dream of a more secure, more positive, more victorious outlook than the one God has promised the church? Paul challenges the Corinthians “to take ever though captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NASB) “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” We can adjust our speculations.
Frank Laubach, early 20th century missionary to the Philippians and literacy advocate, while concerned about poverty and illiteracy, went about each day committed to devoting at least one second to thinking about God out of every waking minute (Letters by a Modern Mystic). You cannot help but to be optimistic if you are thinking about what God can do every minute you are awake. That state of mind would be an example of optimistic. Enough so — to keep you ministering to the weak and wayward.
Now we cannot just fly in the face of current reality when it is less than good! But even when the immediate outcome looks shaky, how are we encouraged to think in Scripture? That when a difficult episode is over, yes, even through the low point, we will still be on tract for an amazing future. Along the way, if we are determined to see the best in church people, we will see it if we are looking at them the way God does.
Sometimes we act as if God cannot do it with the people and churches we know; but there is every good reason for optimism. Sometimes we think the called-out leadership are too flawed for God to use them; but God still calls flawed ministers that sometimes act in ways that are less than inspiring. Apparently Paul himself suffered from that criticism.
It is true that sometimes the way going down is just part of the pathway back up; but the way will go back up toward the promised future.