PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Can Christians be Indubitably real ever again?”
By: Ron Woodrum
The Wesleyan revival of the eighteenth century was one of the great outpourings of the Spirit, and the secret to retaining the fruits of revival was the class meetings that were held by the Wesley’s. They emphasized Bible reading, prayer, holiness and dedication to be practiced by the converts. The classes provided fellowship and accountability. After many years Wesley decided to write a guide-a manual for the class in an effort to carry on with the movement. But the power and vitality of the movement seemed to diminish from that point on. This troubled Wesley so much, he wrote: “It was a common saying among Christians that ‘the soul and the body make the man’ but ‘the spirit and discipline make the Christian’: implying that none could be a real Christian without the help of Christian discipline. But if this be so, is it any wonder that we now find so few Christians, for where is the Christian Discipline?” (Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity-a sermon by John Wesley). Wesley put his finger on an ongoing problem confronting Christians of all eras-how do you sustain real Christian living on an everyday level? Thomas A Kempis, author of the Imitation of Christ, warned “Know well that the enemy labors to hinder the desire, (of the Church), for holiness and make you fail to attain all good spiritual exercise.” Thomas Aquinas, seeing this loss of power, did his best to communicate it. On one occasion he was confronted by Pope Innocent II, who showed him all the property of the Church, all her magnificent buildings, and large sums of money. Innocent said, “You see the Church is no longer in the age which she has to say, ‘silver and gold have I none’-she can no longer say that!” Aquinas acknowledged that is true, then said, “Neither can she say, In the name of Jesus Christ-rise up and walk!” For entirely different reasons, the Church today finds herself with the same inability to impact our world for Christ. We profess to know Christ. We have committed to be His followers. But there is a veritable “Grand Canyon” of difference between Who He is, and who we are! It seems the Church has “fallen and we cannot get up!” Henry David Thoreau used to say, “men, (Christians), lie on their backs talking about the fall of man, but never make an effort to get up!” It sure seems like it! Leo Tolstoy, in his book The Kingdom of God is Within You, “All men, (Christians included), of the modern world exist in a continual and flagrant antagonism between their consciences and their way of life”. How have we drifted so far from the real Christianity we witness in the New Testament? Richard Halverson, Presbyterian pastor, and past Chaplain of U.S. Congress, wrote years ago, “In the beginning the Church was a Fellowship of men and women centering on the Living Christ; The Church moved to Greece and became a Philosophy; The Church moved to Rome and became an Institution; The Church moved to Europe a Culture; The Church moved to America and became an Enterprise!” That history is very revealing about how we got to where we are at today. Donald Miller says “the inner reserves of Christianity have been largely depleted!” Richard Foster says “most conservatives by the early seventies generally accepted that being a Christian had nothing essentially to do with actually following Jesus. Most Christians are NOT like Him. The main popular bumper sticker became ‘Christians are not perfect, just forgiven’. The only absolute requirement for being a Christian is to believe proper things about Jesus”. (Discipleship: For Super Christians Only). That explains the modern impotent Church. The salt has lost its savor!
William Iverson identified that very thing. He wrote “one quarter of the population of the United States professes an evangelical conversion experience. Jesus said that those who claim that are to be the salt of the earth. He deduces-a pound of meat would surely be affected by a quarter pound of salt-wouldn’t you think? Where is the effect of which Jesus spoke?” (William Iverson-Christianity Today– 1980 p.33). Henry Churchill King, long time President of Oberlin College, and well-known theologian raises a very pertinent question for our generation-“What happened to Christians being indubitably real?” (Indubitably is a word hardly used anymore that means “something so real it cannot be doubted”). What has happened to “that kind” of Christianity? When Christianity, in the past, slipped away from being the real deal kind of Christianity there usually came a revival to bring them back to their real identity. Revival was the means of restoring a life of spirit, genuineness, and power to the fallen Church. But how about today? Richard Foster, in his book The Spirit of Disciplines, says “that doesn’t work any longer. The mainstay-revival is no longer what it used to be. Revival in the classic sense is the overwhelming infusion of spiritual life coming into the Church, and into the whole community. But that kind of revival has been replaced with meetings, still called by the old name. But people who make decisions remain substantially unchanged from what they were before. Revivals are no longer an influx of Word and Spirit. Now one can have an ‘unsuccessful revival’ and still have revival-which if you think about it that makes as much sense of having a raising from the dead without having a raising at all!” Paul Scherer says the number one problem of the Church today is that it has become “too trivial to be true…empty and powerless…and this is accepted as the norm these days!”
What do we do? We need to take the attitude of Darrell Royal. He was a very successful coach of the University of Texas for many years. When he first started his career at Texas he got a call from the President of the Alumni, after the first game. The president said to the coach-“Darrell when can I come over to give you some constructive criticism?” Coach Royal replied, “Never!” The President of the Alumni insisted-“We have a group that meets to do just that after every game!” Coach said, “Not anymore! I work best when people affirm me, and tell me what I am doing right, not what I am doing wrong! I need supporters to cheer me on!” His supporters became just that and for years the University of Texas had a very successful football program. We need that kind of support for the Church. Not that we are to stick our head in the sand concerning diagnosing where we are at. But we need to be cheered on to return to the Church that walks with the Lord…in the Light of His word…filled and empowered by His Spirit again. John Mackay, past president of Princeton University, and Scottish missionary for many years, used to speak to Churches all across America. He always started his messages with “Let the Church Be the Church!” Theologian Helmut Thielicke always said, “The Church cannot permit its authority to be defined by people who have no idea of its mission!” We need to stop trying to Follow in His Steps-in the power of the flesh. That is why we are failing. We do not need an Imitation of Christ…but an Incarnation of Christ. Paul was right. “Christ In You-The Hope of Glory”. That is our only hope! That is possible only by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. We must be yielded to Him again. We need to pray the poem of Amy Carmichael-Oh Flame of God.
From the prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from the winds that beat on thee
From fearing, when I should aspire
From faltering when I should climb higher
From silken self, O Captain free
Thy soldier who would follow thee
From subtle things of softening
From easy choices-weakening’s
(not thus are spirits fortified)
Not went that way the Crucified
From all that dims Thy Calvary
Oh Lamb of God deliver me
Give me a LOVE that leads the way
A FAITH that nothing can dismay
A HOPE no disappointment can tire
A PASSION that will burn like fire
Let me not sink like a clod
MAKE ME THY FUEL OH FLAME OF GOD!
The entire population of a small town gathered to watch the Baptist Church burn to the ground. In the crowd, with their parents, watching the disaster were two young children. The little girl said to her brother, “I’ve never seen so many people at Church”. There was silence for a minute. Then the brother replied, “The Church has never been on fire before!” THAT JUST MAY BE THE ANSWER TO OUR PROBLEM! Indubitably real Christians must catch fire again to be Indubitable!