Pastor’s Perspective: Radical or Ludicrous Twaddle?
John Henry Jowett said, “ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing!” That statement may be one of the most pertinent comments on the modern evangelical church today. We have heard our Lord’s commission. We have committed ourselves to carrying it out, in obedience to His command. It seems that all we do accomplishes so little. Why so little impact? I was recently introduced to a book that made me very uncomfortable, but I must admit it is a God-intended uncomfortableness! The book is “Radical” by a Southern Baptist Pastor named David Platt. David graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. After Katrina, he started a Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It has grown into a mega-church with over 4,000 attending. But…it did not do so by being a “user-friendly” Church. It did not copy what other mega churches were doing as the latest trend. Actually the focus of their ministry was to accentuate the “radical” nature of Christ’s call to discipleship! Platt testifies to an experience he had on a mission trip to visit underground Asian Churches. He said, “They walked or biked for miles, each arriving at a non-descript house, separately, at different times, so as not to draw attention to themselves. All the blinds on the windows were closed tight. The room was dimly lit. Twenty leaders from different churches sat in a circle on the floor with their Bibles open…They had gathered in secret. News and problems were shared. One woman church leader told of a confrontation with the government officials who threatened and intimidated her people; another told of a cult kidnapping and torturing of members from his church. We need to pray. Immediately they went to their knees, faces on the ground, they began calling out to God. They praised and thanked God for his love, and prayed for their needs. They audibly wept before God…when they arose from their prayers to depart, Platt said the only thing remaining, to his astonishment was PUDDLES OF TEARS WHERE THEY HAD PRAYED!”
Wow! How convicting is that? These people live “radical” lives in Asian countries which declare following Jesus to be illegal! They live with the knowledge that discovery is always a possibility and risk their lives and families for Jesus Christ and their faith. Their passion is for their faith and love for Jesus Christ, and God. Platt could not help but contrast what he witnessed on that mission trip with the American Church as we know it. “We arrive in comfortable vehicles; we gather in air conditioned and heated buildings; we sit on padded or cushioned pews or chairs; we are greeted by choirs and bands; we worship in an orderly pre-planned fashion for ONE hour, and hardly ever stray from our normal routine. Most church goers never exhibit any passion for being there. Neither do they open their Bibles or take notes during teaching-sermon; they go home and resume their other lives from Monday through Saturday. There is no risk, no danger, in attending American Churches-take it or leave it–and many are leaving. There is nothing RADICAL about American Christianity!” Platt’s Church tried something different. He challenged his leaders to have Church services where they “stripped away all the cool, all the cushioned chairs, no power point screens, no decorations, turn off all air conditioning, removing all the comforts”. They did just that. They removed all the activities that smacked of entertainment. They invited people to come and study God’s word for hours! They kept the seats and the restrooms, but planned to study the Word from 6:00 P.M. to Midnight. The result? No one showed? Actually over 1,000 did the first night! They now have to take reservations due to “not enough seating capacity!” I am not suggesting any of this, necessarily! But he makes a very clear point-we need a wakeup call from our lukewarm American Christianity. He says, “We have become homogenized and pasteurized, and we have lost the flavor of God, and the FAVOR OF GOD!”
The only thing radical about Christianity is the radical change from New Testament times, and I don’t mean radical change for the better! Soren Kierkegaard, the great Theologian from Denmark, wrote about how weak and enemic Christianity was becoming, even in his day. He wrote in his book Attack on Christendom,”The most dreadful sort of blasphemy is that of which Christendom is guilty: transforming the God of the Spirit…into lucicrous twaddle”. He was a Lutheran Pastor writing four centuries after Luther. Luther nailed 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door protesting the condition of the Church in his day. Kierkegaard had only a single thesis in protest-He wrote, “Oh Luther, thou hadst 95 theses-terrible! And yet in a deeper sense, the more theses, the less terrible. This case if far more terrible: there is only one thesis. The Christianity of the New Testament simply does not exist. Here there is nothing to reform; what has to be done now is to throw light upon a criminal offense against Christianity, prolonged through the centuries, perpetrated by millions, whereby they have cunningly, under the guise of perfecting Christianity, sought to cheat God out of Christianity, and have succeeded in making Christianity the exact opposite of what it was in the New Testament.” In more recent days, another prophetic voice has pointed out our great departure from the true Christianity intended by our Lord when He established His Church. A. W. Tozer, in his book Of God and Men wrote, “Evangelicalism as we know it today…does produce some real Christians…But the spiritual climate which many modern Christians are born does not make for vigorous spiritual growth. Indeed, the whole evangelical world is to a large extent unfavorable to healthy Christianity. And I am not thinking of modernism either. I mean rather the Bible-believing crowd that bears the name of orthodoxy. We are making converts to an effete type of Christianity that bears little resemblance to the New Testament. The average so called Bible Christian in our times is but a wretched parody of true sainthood!”
One of the great Scottish preachers of yester-year was Thomas Chalmers. In the early days of his ministry, Thomas Chalmers had entered the ministry as an occupation. He had not even experienced genuine conversion to Jesus Christ. He spent only a day or two in ministry preparation, and found himself loving and teaching mathematics during the rest of the week. He even wrote a pamphlet justifying a life of divided interest and devotion. But one day he had an encounter with the living Christ. His whole perspective of Christ, his mission field, and the ministry changed. He later explained to someone who asked him why he changed by saying, “I love mathematics. It is all about calculations and numbers. I still do. But two calculations changed my life and ministry forever-how short our time is, and how long eternity will be!” When you and I come to grips with that reality we too will change our perspective of witnessing and ministry.
Several years ago one of the wealthiest men in the world was a man named Cecil Rhodes. He had gone to Africa to develop a cotton business for the British government. He found that to be a dead end street. But he did discover the diamond industry, and began to develop the De Beers Mining Company. In a few years he became the wealthiest man in the world at the time! He is the one who started the Rhodes scholarships at Oxford University in England. He was good friends with William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army in England. One day they were traveling on a train together. William Booth turned to his friend and said, “Tell me Rhodes, are you a happy man?” Cecil Rhodes responded to his friend, “Me happy? No! No! I am not a happy man!” Incredible. As Jesus said, “A man can gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul!” That is not only a “vanity of vanities” it is a “tragedy of tragedies”. People all around us are searching for that “eternity” God has placed in their hearts. God is counting on us to be “Radical” enough; concerned enough; prayed-up enough; endued with his power enough to impact them for Him. That may never happen until when we get up from our prayer circle we leave behind “puddles of tears!” Jesus did. When we share His compassion…we might share in his commission!