My Vision

There is a great difference of opinion in Christianity as to what, exactly, it is to be. There are those who see it as an evolving thing, adapting itself in each generation and in each culture to the felt needs of the times, organizing and re-organizing itself in response to those ‘needs.’ Then, there are those who see it as a static thing whose mission is to reproduce an acceptable (to God and good reason) duplicate of First Century Christianity in each century and in each culture.

To those who see it as an evolving organism, the Christianity of our day is doing perfectly fine, even thriving and growing. After all, we have some of the largest church buildings that have ever been built, some of the largest congregations that have ever been assembled, preachers who speak to more people via mass communications each week than some of the most prolific Christian speakers of history addressed in a lifetime. Money is flowing into religion at an amazing clip and is being spent just as amazingly. Church and para-church organizations have presences in almost every country on the planet and are organizing congregations of ‘Christians’ everywhere. Yes, if the modern view is the correct view Christianity is prospering and doing quite well.

If, however, the ‘static’ view is correct, if Christianity is to reproduce an acceptable replica of First Century Christianity in every place and every time in which it finds itself, there is a problem. The organism (or should I say ‘organization’?) that we see calling itself ‘Christianity’ today is far different than the model we find in the New Testament. In fact, the two are so dissimilar that some find it strange that they even are called by the same name.

Those early congregations busied themselves concerning the truths of God, the reformation of their lives according to His Word, and the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to their culture: ‘repent or perish.’ Their budgets were tiny. Their preachers were not seminary graduates. There was no television nor internet. The cultures in which they existed so hated their message that they were often persecuted or put to death because of it. And, still, they not only radically reformed their own lives but changed the world with their godly example and their message. God’s Spirit attended what they did and made their impact infinitely more powerful than it could ever have been apart from Him. They believed the Word of God, surrendered themselves without reservation to obedience to it, adored the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and the Lord drew thousands to them to be discipled into the Kingdom of God.

Now here is the thing that history teaches us. As the church ‘matured’ it changed. Men began to change and re-organize it according to their ‘felt needs.’ As they did, the Spirit of God backed away from blessing in the way He had at the beginning. Oh, the churches still grew but it was now more because of the methodologies and organizational skills of men than the moving of the Holy Spirit. Continuing down this path, the church began to grow corrupt, more centered upon men than upon God. Power struggles, infighting, and the consolidation of power produced an ever more centralized organization which grew steadily more perverse and moved radically away from the early model.

Some people recognized the error that had befallen the church and worked to reform it to a more biblical model but they were seen as enemies, as ‘heretics,’ and as dangerous criminals. To the degree that it influenced civil power the ‘Church’ persecuted, hounded, and at times even executed those dangerous souls. But where such small congregations could be founded and to the degree that they reformed themselves to the model of the First Century, the Holy Ghost came and blessed in power those faithful people, giving them many blessings, converting many in their communities, and conforming them to the teachings of Christ.

As we look back across history, regardless of what century into which we drop ourselves, we find this same struggle going on. Some are working at ‘evolving’ the church into a better organizational scheme and fighting to maintain what they have, continuing on a march toward an ever-larger everything. Others are working at building on the New Testament model and finding the assistance of the Power of God to do so. At times, the Holy Spirit would seem to move on an entire region, awakening and calling to repentance (and to the biblical model) hosts of people at nearly the same time. ‘Revivals’ (as we have now learned to call them) would break out and thousands would be converted. But the ‘Church Proper’ would frequently move to suppress, co-opt, or otherwise put to an end such things. Nevertheless, the old ‘static’ model of the New Testament church continued to live and, at times (under the blessing of God) prosper.

Each ‘Revival’ or ‘Awakening’ had something in common. Some individual or group of dear souls became burdened concerning the state of religion in their time. They began to pray that God would move and help them... and God would visit. The lives of common people would fall powerfully under the influence of God’s word, often connected with the powerful preaching of a man or group of men raised up by God. The people became convinced that life contrary to the Revealed Will of God was wicked and doomed to be rewarded with horrible and eternal punishment. They heeded the admonition of Jesus Christ to ‘repent’ and cast off their wicked behaviors, attitudes and dispositions. They grouped together in congregations to hear the Word of God taught in simplicity and in truth. And they lived their lives according to what they were being taught. It was obvious that something was happening to them that only the Power of God could do.

Fast forward now to the early nineteenth century. The previous century had seen a powerful move of the Spirit of God like those described above. Some undertook to reproduce that movement and, indeed, some powerful things happened and, undoubtedly, many were converted. But new and bizarre things began to occur as well which led to the upstart of several unorthodox denominations and the introduction of corruptions into some of the mainstream denominations. This movement is generally called The Second Great Awakening. "New Methods" of preaching, evangelizing, even conducting church services themselves were powerfully and permanently introduced to what we now know as Evangelical Christianity. Along with these "New Methods" was also introduced the concept that men might freely innovate on biblical models in order to discover what "worked" in gaining ever greater numbers of converts. The process of ‘evolution’ had now been adopted by those who had previously worked for ‘restoration.’ And a process was begun that has given us this wonderful New Christianity that we see all around us today. The biblical and ‘static’ model had been replaced in almost all corners of Christianity with the ‘evolutionary’ model.

I will not launch into a tirade here against what I am seeing as the modern results of this influence. If you have enough interest in the things of God to have studied the matter of Revival at all, you know what we are facing.

If you believe in and seek for Awakening and Revival in our time, then you must understand that we must ‘turn back the clock’ in our minds, seeking a much older model than the one that has been held up to us as the ideal. We must divest ourselves of the corruptions that we absorbed by having been brought into Christianity downstream of Charles G. Finney, those like him, and those who have taken him as their model.

We must seek the restoration of the church to the ‘static’ model that has always been blessed by God and forsake completely the idea that Christianity ‘evolves.’

We must seek the restoration of Biblical Christianity in our souls, learning to believe, pray, worship and preach according to the examples and instructions of scriptures, forgetting and rejecting the ‘new methods’ that have been devised by men and taught to us as the ideal. We must lock ourselves to the Word of God and take up in our souls the admonition of Isaiah, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." 8:20, KJV

We must, as the writer of Hebrews admonishes us, "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," 12:1, KJV

We must seek and find the Face of God for ourselves through prayer, the study of His Word, and the complete giving of ourselves over to Him. The Face of God is revealed to us in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, "who loved us and gave Himself for us." We must completely surrender ourselves to Him as servants "bought with a price," seeking in every way to live out His instructions and the examples His apostles left behind.

2 Thess 3:6
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. KJV (‘disorderly’ means ‘out of step’ or ‘out of rank’)

We have every reason to expect and believe that the Spirit of God might enable us to do such a thing, that He might visit and bless our efforts, and that He might use us in yet another Awakening.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Reflections, 03/13/2010

Well, it has now been three weeks since our Convocation of Prayer (Feb. 23-25, 2010) and I have spent much time reflecting on it.

I hope that it demonstrated to all the great need for such gatherings for prayer. I was much blessed by the time and the opportunity to join with my brethren in the endeavor.

I have tried to learn from the time so that the next opportunity will, hopefully, be more fruitful.

There are two major areas that I believed that I learned something about.

1. We are further from being in that place of revival than I had thought.

I was struck by the great sense of need that was present in all and I am grateful to God that He has given some this burden.

But I was also struck by the lack of a common vision as to what Awakening and Revival is. Some see it as a great resurgence in evangelism. Some believe that this will be accomplished by God raising up a man who has wide acceptance to proclaim the gospel with power. Such an event would add many souls to existing churches and revitalize Evangelical Christianity in our day. There was the thought that maybe another 'Billy Graham' would come along and be the answer to our current malaise.

Here are the questions that comes to my mind when I envision such a 'raising up' of a man.

A. If I were God, would I entrust a large number of my elect to the churches as they currently exist?

Honestly, I must tell you that I would not. Even so-called 'good churches' in our day are in serious violation of some of the most fundamental elements that identified the churches of the past upon whom God sent Revival. There is little in the way of proclamation of the need of repentance from sin. The 'gospel' as currently preached has much more to do with believing than repenting. The gospel always has and those who were used in Revival in the past led with the issue of sin, judgment, righteousness and the repentance which these issues demand.

Churches are almost void of any kind of discipline. As a result there is much careless living, lack of prayer and devotion, and even immorality involved in them. In many there is the notion that so long as our doctrines are correct and our preachers preach well all is OK, we are a sound church. But this is not the case in many places. Sound doctrinal churches with good preachers in many cases have serious fundamental problems with the understanding of holiness. All of the
doctrines proclaimed skirt the issues of heartfelt anguish over sin and genuine, Spirit-convicted reformation of life. Quite often the doctrines only bolster a sense of complacency and self-satisfaction (might I even say self-righteousness?).

And...I am sure that God Himself is aware of many more problems at which I can only guess.

B. Do we make an 'idol' out of such a man when we place our hope of Revival and Awakening in him?

Our hope must be in God Himself Who is able of stones to raise up sons of Abraham. Many so-called 'Revivals' have indeed centered on a particular individual but I have always been struck by the story of how the First Great Awakening seemed to have been born by a 'groundswell' of spiritual concern, beginning almost simulataneously in various locations without the influence of a dramatice personality.

This is the kind of Revival and Awakening for which I am praying. I have learned to have far too little trust in men to hope that a single man is going to be the answer for our situation. There is much work to do in the churches themselves to prepare for the moving of God's Spirit. I recall that Jesus told Ephesus to 'repent and to the first works' lest He come upon them in judgment. And, I suspect that Ephesus in trouble was a far better church than most of us (any of us?) have ever known.

2. Our secret hope than an 'experience' will save us may be misplaced.

I have also noticed in my reflections on our Convocation that there seems to be among us (and I am not exempt!) the notion that we will have an experience which will solve our personal problems and bring us to the place of Awakening. As I have thought upon this, I have wondered if this notion puts us in the place of making an 'idol' of this experience for which we are hoping.

I wonder if the records of revivals do us a disservice by making much of the experiences of those involved. Our thinking seems to go something like this. (1) there was a great revival, and (2) the people had wonderful experiences, therefore, (3) if we could have experiences like them we could have Revival as well. This sends us in search of the experience with the danger that our hope is in this elusive, life-shattering event rather in in our Lord.

There are two categories, I believe, of religious experience. The most common is an intense emotional and ecstatic event brought on by an environment of religion or maybe created by our own minds. I have had some of those. Their track record in my life is that they do not permanently profit. They produced no lasting change. And, as I have observed them in others, the same can be said.

The less common, but far more profitable, experience is that which begins in the soul through the contemplation of truth and the help of the Holy Spirit to reveal it. When, for example, the sinner becomes convinced by the Spirit of God that he is the kind of sinner that God says he is and destined for an eternal judgment, he is humbled, shattered and broken by this awful fact. The experience is powerful, no doubt, sometimes with physical reactions of one kind or another. Some weep uncontrollably, others tremble, some mourn aloud with groans and cries to God, and others may have different experiences. But these 'experiences' are not the event nor the reason that change is produces. The change is produced because the enlightened mind has grasped enormous spiritual realities and is convinced that they are true. The experience is only the symptom of the event, a collateral occurrence with it, and not the core of the matter.

Likewise, when the child of God sees his own failures, his lack of conformity to Christ, the inexcusable nature of it, and the damage that he has caused to others, a sickening sadness takes hold of him that can crush him under the weight of it unless God interevenes and shows him mercy. Witness the concern that Paul had in 2 Cor. for the repentant adulterer seeking restoration to the church. When this same saint sees the true 'hope of his calling,' the holiness to which he has both been called and enabled, he is powerfully smitten with a longing for it and a walk with God that is consistent with the call of God. He goes burdened, saddened and sorrowful until God, in His Own Good Pleasure, gives him something of what he is seeking, the Visit of the Spirit of God upon his soul to enalbe him to move out of failure into something that approaches 'the fullness of the Spirit.' His heart is overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, rejoicing and profound relief. He hav weep, shout, cast himself about in rapture or simply set to the taks of casting away from him every token of the wicked and shameful life he has led as a child of God up to this point. But, again, it is not the details of the experience that make the matter a real thing. Someone else duplicating the 'experience' without grasping the truths revealed by the Spirit of God may have a wonderful time but he will be left as empty afterward as before (and possibly spiritually damaged). It is the TRUTH grasped and held in a real way in the soul that produces lasting change.

John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Truth revealed to the soul by the Son (through His Spirit) changes the life, makes the person free, not experience. This certainly is a life-changing experience, but it is the Truth, Divinely Revealed, that is the essence of it.

Let us not make an idol of experience and let us not make an idol of man.

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