Preaching is Indispensable to Christianity

Preaching is indispensable to Christianity. To set aside preaching would be to close the mouth and sever the legs of the Christian religion. Preaching has been central to the ministry of the Church historically, and especially so to those in the holiness tradition. The holiness movement has produced and profited from some of the greatest expositors and pulpiteers of this century. So why has the standard of preaching in the contemporary holiness church become so deplorable? Why are our finest preacher boys finding their heroes among popular Calvinistic communicators? Why are our parishioners turning to self-help counselors and psychologists rather than to faithful men of God for answers to life’s perplexing problems?

Much of the current uncertainty about preaching is due to a generation of preachers who have lost confidence in the Word of God. Too often the contemporary preacher uses the Bible as a curiosity shop. He peruses through it until some palatable proof text emerges as a snappy sound bite on which to tack his latest self-help lecture. These pulpit vagabonds fail to see that Scripture is the omnipotence of God unleashed through the spoken word, and that it holds the answers to life’s most desperate needs. When preached and responded to, it will radically change lives.

The art of preaching is further brought into scorn by preachers who have caved in to today’s culture. Ours is a culture that demeans the personal disciplines necessary to become an effective preacher. The ability to build bridges from the Word of God to contemporary life takes an unbelievable amount of hard work and study. A man who snubs through study will be doomed to mediocrity and ambiguity. Too many holiness pulpits lack a clear, definite, certain sound that is forged only on the anvil of study. So many church-goers are like the small girl wearied by empty utterances. She appealed, “Mother, pay the man, and let us go home.”

However, study alone isn’t the answer. Scholarship that isn’t steeped in prayer will yield barrenness. The preacher who allows day after day of prayerlessness to prevail in his heart need expect no grapes of Eschol to hang over the wall of his preaching on Sunday morning.

I have a major concern that today’s holiness pulpit suffers from a “lack of history.” Eugene Sterner, in his book Vital Christianity, wisely comments, “Clocks are corrected by astronomy. What good is a clock if it is not set by the stars? Without a sense of eternity [and history] you don’t even know what time it is.” The preacher who fails to understand his roots and properly appreciate his heritage is usually condemned to repeat its mistakes. Some view their heritage as a bothersome bundle of historical baggage burdening them down. They exaggerate the mistakes and eccentricities of yesterday’s pulpiteers in order to nullify the claims of their legacy, much like the adolescent craving freedom from restraint seeks to repudiate his father.

The effective preacher, without making the past a hitching post, does own his heritage, embraces it with gratitude, incorporates it into his identity, and utilizes it to the fullest in communicating eternal truth that rings with clarity.

Preaching is here to stay! Men who join hands with God and preach with certainty will find that through their labors God will advance His kingdom.

A Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement

by the President and Faculty of the Division of Ministerial Education,

God’s Bible School and College, Cincinnati, Ohio

INTRODUCTION. Deeply concerned for the future of the Holiness Movement, and especially of the Conservative Holiness Movement of which we are a part, we issue this call for the full and vigorous recovery of our heritage as Christians of Wesleyan conviction. We share the distress of those who warn of “historical drift,” spiritual apathy, and surrender to the depraved secular culture that surrounds us. We submit that a renewed commitment to the essential principles of scriptural Christianity which we have received in classical Methodist belief, piety, and mission will prepare and strengthen us for the challenges that confront us. We appeal, therefore, to our entire movement to unite with us joyfully in this commitment, pledging uncompromising faithfulness to God’s Word and to creative relevance in our ministry. Upon the original foundations of our movement, therefore, we must build determined, effective, and contemporary witness to God’s unchanging summons to holy hearts and holy lives.

Implicit in this recovery are the following specific themes:

A CALL TO BIBLICAL FIDELITY

As Wesleyans we affirm that the Holy Scriptures, as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, are the basis of authority in the Church, normative for all our faith and practice. We declare with the English Reformers, “Holy Scripture contains everything that is necessary for salvation, so that whatever is not stated in it, or cannot be proved by it, must not be required of any man as an article of belief or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

Yet we have often focused on issues and made demands which we cannot legitimately establish from the Scriptures. As a result, trivial notions and speculations at times have marred our witness. We call, therefore, for renewed submission to the absolute authority of the Bible, not as a revered icon, but as the touchstone for both our personal lives and our public proclamation. For in every age, the Church must submit itself unconditionally to the Word of God, interpreting it in harmony with itself, in keeping with the best insights of historical and literary study, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with respect for the historic understanding of devout Christian scholarship.

A CALL TO HISTORIC ROOTS AND CONTINUITY

 We gladly affirm our allegiance to the classical Christianity of the centuries, confessing its faith, sharing its historic witness, living out its godly discipline, and claiming all of its treasures as our own. We give God praise for our legacy of evangelical Christianity magnificently set forth in the heroic lives of ancient Christians, the faithful witnesses of the Middle Ages, the stalwart testimony of the Reformers, the biblical proclamation of the Wesleys, and the earnest piety of the early Holiness Movement. We rejoice in the lives and ministry of earnest followers of Our Lord from every branch of orthodox Christianity.

But too often we have smugly disconnected ourselves from our Christian past; and in so doing we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, and blind to the work of God in the lives of others. We have withdrawn ourselves into protected enclaves, congratulating ourselves on our superiority over other Christians, sometimes refusing fellowship with them because of our disagreement in doctrine or in practice, and ignoring the continuing work of the Holy Spirit throughout all the universal Church. At best, this is lamentable ignorance, and at worst, sectarian bigotry. We call therefore, with John Wesley, for a “league offensive and defensive with every soldier of Christ,” reclaiming the richness of our Christian heritage and our essential unity with all who truly confess Him as Lord.

III. A CALL TO CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

Union with Christ establishes membership in His Church, the community of the faithful, in all times and places. It is founded by Our Lord and established upon Himself, and we claim His infallible promise that the gates of hell shall never withstand it. As we live out our faithfulness to Him, we must also live in faithfulness to the Church, which is His body and bride, living and dying in its communion. We affirm the traditional Protestant insistence that the visible Church is the congregation of the faithful in which the “pure Word of God is preached and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance.”

Too often, however, we have adopted a narrow and individualistic approach to our Christian Faith. Sometimes we have so emphasized personal spiritual relationship that we have forgotten that relationship must be realized, strengthened, and advanced within the company of God’s people. At other times, we have imagined that we were the Church, or at least that the Holiness Movement was its most significant component rather than only a tiny segment of its fellowship. We call, therefore, for renewed understanding of the biblical doctrine of the Church as “the pillar and ground of the truth,” reverence for its orthodox confessions, submission to its holy discipline, and faithfulness to its common life. As a coalition of holiness believers within its communion, we gladly but humbly offer our gifts to the universal Church—gifts which center in our historic focus on holiness of heart and life.

A CALL TO CHRISTIAN HOLINESS

Holiness of heart and life flowing out of love for God, as we believe, is the “central idea of Christianity,” for this is God’s redemptive purpose for our fallen humanity. Holiness is both His gift and our pursuit, and as the writer to Hebrews reminds us, without it none of us shall ever see the Lord. Negatively, holiness is separation from all that is sinful and unlike Chris; and positively, separation unto godliness, righteousness, and full Christlikeness. It begins in regeneration by the Spirit, flourishes in the work of entire sanctification, and advances throughout our lives. As Wesleyans, we reassert the biblical passion of our forebears “to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands.”

We confess, however, that our passion for holiness of heart and life has sometimes been reduced merely to external codes and prohibitions, and “holier-than-thou” attitudes toward those who differ from us. As such we have become shell without substance, and betrayed the Scriptural mandate to be holy, because the Lord our God is holy. We therefore call our movement to a renewed love for God from which will blossom consistent and winsome lives of holiness, first in motivating purpose, and second, in outward conduct. This means that we must continue to accentuate both of the definitive moments we identify as works of divine grace, conversion and entire sanctification, all the while giving proper attention to the progressive growth in grace by the Spirit and the increasing separation from the world which our Methodist forebears so firmly stressed.

A CALL TO METHODIST PIETY

Our Methodist heritage has underscored the necessity of devout personal piety grounded in sincere love and profound reverence for God. This implies binding and lifelong covenant with Him, living faith in Christ our great sin-bearer, allegiance to the inner principle of “jealous godly fear,” commitment to disciplined discipleship, faithful obedience to His holy Law, dynamic growth in grace, and faithful use of the means of grace. All holiness of heart and life must be grounded in sober and steadfast love for God.

Sometimes, however, our emphasis on external regulation and dutiful performance has ignored the principles of authentic piety. Our appeals to holy conduct, which are both legitimate and necessary, have often been based more in the impulse to preserve the taboos of our religious subculture than in allegiance to the Word of God and its demands. The heart of all Christian obligation is loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and then “to fear Him and keep His commandments.” Not only are we called to do what is right but also to love what is right, for this reason abstaining from all that He condemns and embracing all that He enjoins. We will never stop the “historical drift” among us merely by enforcing traditional legislation but by vigorous and renewed insistence upon authentic relationship with God and passionate pursuit of Him. Gladly we reaffirm our traditional emphasis upon simplicity, modesty, stewardship, separation from the world, and conscientious lifestyle, but all this must be within this warm and gracious context of loving what God loves and hating what God hates.

As Methodists, therefore, we call our movement to return to our originating commitment to principled covenant with God, which, according to the General Rules of 1743, demanded these commitments: (1) the renunciation of all known sin; (2) the embracing of all positive virtue, and (3) the faithful practice of the means of grace, especially “the instituted means of grace,” defined as the Word, prayer, fasting, Christian fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper. This demands disciplined life within the community of the Church, a renewing of our historic pattern of spiritual formation through small accountability groups, such as the class meeting, and faithful submission to healthy and holy discipline, while at the same time we are altogether dependent upon the gracious work of the Spirit who changes us “from glory to glory” into the likeness of Our Lord.

A CALL TO AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCH

Christ Our Lord has delegated the powers of government to duly-appointed officers in the Church, and we are mandated to obey them faithfully. All Christians are to be in practical submission to one another and to these designated officials in the Church. The edifying and equipping of God’s people and the administration of church discipline are committed especially to faithful pastors who are called not as “lords over God’s heritage,” but as examples and as shepherds of His flock.

We therefore deplore the spirit of autonomy and even anarchy which so often has marked our movement. Too often in our congregations and denominational life we have exhibited rebellion against the authority structures which God Himself has established, boasting our independence of them, and refusing to submit to their godly discipline. This has been evidenced by continuing divisions among us, often over matters unconnected with allegiance to Scriptural truth. As the heirs of classical Christianity, we have not so learned Christ. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable to you” (Heb. 13:17).

We call therefore for renewed exposition of the Scriptural qualifications for leadership within the Church, corporate exhortation to beware the deceitfulness of sin, and biblical obedience and submission to those whom God has made under-shepherds over us. God grants no Christian autonomy from mutual submission and accountability within the Body of Christ. We must therefore repent of our oft refusals to exercise the Scriptural means of restorative discipline within the Church and commit ourselves to loving one another even as our Father loves us in chastening and scourging every son whom He receives.

VII. A CALL TO CORPORATE WORSHIP

Corporate worship is the exalted glory and central pulse of every Christian congregation. At its core, worship is the adoration of God, Holy, Blessed, and Undivided Trinity, and by apostolic mandate, it is to be conducted with decency and order. In the public worship of the Church, as the old Methodist communion service reminds us, we join “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven [to] laud and magnify” the Lord of hosts, joining in their eternal hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.”

As Wesleyans we have a two-fold heritage in Christian worship. On the one hand is the warmth and earnestness of fervent and joyful devotion. On the other is the sober restraint of form, dignity, and tradition. Both are essential. Too often, however, we have emphasized the first and neglected the second. We need not neglect the subjective emphasis so characteristic of our services, but we must ground our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving in the great objective acts and truths of God Himself.

We call therefore for the renewal of our corporate worship, based in the mandates of Scripture and in the tradition of evangelical orthodoxy, centered in the faithful ministry of Word and Sacrament. Our preaching must be based in conscientious interpretation and earnest proclamation of the Holy Scriptures, and our administration of the sacred ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper must be meaningful and faithful. We lament our neglect of baptism and the Lord’s Table, for this is to slight the Saviour who so kindly has established them to fortify our faith, calm our fears, and nourish us with grace.

VIII. A CALL TO CONSISTENT DISCIPLESHIP

Christ commissioned His followers to make disciples through Trinitarian baptism and instruction in all His commands. The early church responded to Our Lord’s call to aggressive evangelism by taking the gospel to every corner of their world. Yet they realized that the central thrust of the Great Commission was discipleship accomplished through baptism and teaching, so they largely invested their time and energy in systematically teaching new converts the whole counsel of God and equipping them for ministry. This same emphasis elevated Wesleyan Methodism to towering stature in the kingdom of God, while without it Whitefieldian Methodism proved “a rope of sand.” We confess that, despite our heritage, evangelism has languished among us. We have largely abandoned our Methodist system of spiritual formation and forgotten how to fulfill our Lord’s command to make disciples. We have sought revival without preparing to preserve its fruits. We have emphasized spectacular conversions and neglected the biblical necessity of disciplined growth in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. We further acknowledge that where evangelism is taking place among us, a systematic plan for incorporating new converts into the visible Body of Christ through baptism and instruction is largely non-existent.

We call, therefore, not merely for a reaffirmation of the importance of evangelism and discipleship, but for a commitment to equip our laity for the work of the ministry, for the establishment of solidly Wesleyan curricula for systematic discipleship, and for the implementation of these training methods in all our churches. This will necessitate a concerted effort on the part of our leaders to reclaim the skills of discipleship, reinstitute regular systems of accountability and affirmation, and to resume obedience to Scripture’s mandate to teach faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. We shall begin again to bear much fruit when our disciples themselves become disciple-makers.

A CALL TO CHRISTIAN SOCIAL WITNESS

Our Lord’s call to take up the cross and follow Him is a call to Christian social witness, for everywhere the Master went He ministered to both the spiritual and physical needs of people. We have been created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10), indeed, saving faith works through love (Gal. 5:6), first in meeting the needs of fellow believers, and second in doing good to all men. Love for Our Lord and passion for holiness should impel us to minister compassionately to the sick, the suffering, and the forsaken, and to resist courageously societal structures that oppose divine purpose and degrade human dignity. “Whenever the Christian lives an authentic life, the world around is permeated with God’s presence…,” as Dr. Leon Hynson has written. “[He] raises the quality of life, makes social justice, equity, and integrity work. The pure in heart not only ‘see’ God, but become the letters through which society sees Him.”

Unfortunately, we have sometimes withdrawn from that society into the cloistered walls of a narrow and narcissistic piety. But this was not the pattern of our spiritual forebears who raised Christian consciousness in all the forums of public life and who filled their land with works of grace and mercy. Their stated mission, “to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands,” asserted God’s sanctifying purpose to transform lives and in consequence to transform culture.

We call therefore for renewed commitment to Christian social witness. This means that we will lovingly and forcefully proclaim Christ’s power to liberate from sin, both public and private, asserting the claims of His Kingdom against all that militates against it. This commitment will also lead us to minister compassionately in His name to the imprisoned, the needy, and the oppressed.

A CALL TO RESURGENT HOPE

All Christian life is centered in the resplendent hope that we have through Christ’s victory accomplished in His incarnation, atoning death, and resurrection. The sure and certain anchor of the soul, this hope has given gladness and assurance to faithful believers all throughout the centuries of the Church’s struggle with the forces of entrenched evil. It assures us of present victory in our personal lives and corporate ministry, but it also points to the final triumph when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Never have we so needed a renewed sense of the hope that we have in Him. We know the power and devastation of sin, and we acknowledge the increasing degradation of our culture. We are Wesleyans, however; and as our theologians have said, the keynote of our theology is not the “pessimism of [fallen] nature” but the “optimism of grace.” We therefore call our movement to the joyous expectation of victory which so motivated our spiritual forebears to claim the American frontier for Jesus Christ. We cannot cower before the darkness, paralyzed by “the encircling gloom” which continually we must confront. “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” The same power which brought the Roman Empire to bow before the cross, renewed the Church in the days of the Protestant Reformation, and reshaped the culture in the Wesleyan Revival is also ours as we encounter the moral depravity and sneering secularism of our times. Let us be joyfully faithful, then, creatively relevant, and utterly confident that Jesus’ victory is our own. With gladness we do the work which He has given us, even as we await the consummation when all the earth shall echo with the song of conquest, “Alleluia! The Lord God Omnipotent reigns!”

 

God Wants His Job Back

I once heard a former missionary speak passionately about the importance of relying completely on God’s Spirit to accomplish the work He has called us to do. He gave numerous personal illustrations demonstrating the futility of trying to do spiritual work through mere human ingenuity. He closed with this lamentation, “God wants His job back.”

 

No one would ever admit to wanting God’s job, much less taking it! But every time we make decisions that marginalize His involvement; every time we allow political considerations to silence the voice of biblical principle; every time we let self-interest edge out kingdom priorities; every time we turn to secular institutions to change what can only be changed by Divine intervention, we are in effect telling God that we can run things more effectively than He. We are assuming a role that is His and His alone!

 

This is not to say that human involvement is not im­portant to God’s work. On the contrary, God has chosen to save the world through the foolishness of preaching—man’s involvement is not only crucial but also central to the spread of the gospel. Yet the proper balance between human energy and divine grace is sometimes difficult to find. One of the reasons for having the book of Acts in Holy Scripture is to provide a vivid illustration of what this tension looks like. It actually gives a front row seat to witness how this cooperation between the human and the divine plays out. The opening verses of the book tell the reader that what unfolds in the following pages is the continued work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. However, what one witnesses is an amazing group of very human yet remarkable characters whose personality strengths, human gifts and personal intelligence are utilized completely by the Holy Spirit for the advancement of God’s Church. Peter, the one time denier, holds the Church together by his unshakable testimony and leadership. An unlearned, unlettered deacon named Stephen mystifies the doctors of the law in a spellbinding sermon that precipitates his being stoned to death. The remainder of the book highlights the ministry of the Apostle Paul—a ministry that entails the most amazing missionary journeys the world has ever witnessed. On every page it is evident that God is using human hands and feet to accomplish His work. But it is also equally clear that those same hands and feet are filled and directed by the Holy Spirit.

 

How is this Balance lost?

 

I believe this loss of balance happens when in our zeal to see God’s work advance we become willing to rely on human wisdom, secular institutions, religious denominations, or political activism as the catalyst for change or advancement. These are shortcuts that may give the appearance of success, but, in the long run, they will fail to bring about lasting change. Christians and churches alike often turn to everything from marketing strategies to politics for the cultural and spiritual changes that actually can only come by grace. How often have you heard a pastor or a politician make the statement that the only way to effect cultural change is to send the right man to Washington? This is the false notion that change comes from the top down. The truth is that there must be a change in the spiritual culture at the grassroots level before anything can happen on the national level. The Wesleyan Revival plowed the ground and planted the seed for social reform in England at the grassroots level long before William Wilberforce (who was transformed by that same revival) was able to pass legislation changing the slavery laws of the nation. Churches that have an effect on lasting change are churches that are joining hands with God’s Spirit to effect spiritual and cultural change at the grassroots level of life—one man, one woman, one family at a time!

 

How does God get His job back?

 

God gets His job back when the Church recognizes that it is God alone who can effect deep and lasting change in both the hearts of men and the moral fabric of a culture. His divine management is re-established when we surrender to His full control and learn how to faithfully walk under the direction of His Spirit; when we honor His Word through prompt and careful obedience; when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and really mean it. God has His job back when we finally grasp that spiritual success is finding out what He is doing and then linking our hands with His to make it happen!

 

God Prefers Straight Back Chairs to Padded Pews

Occasionally I am privileged to speak to an audience that is composed of primarily older Christians. Recently, in one such gathering, a retired minister, who was asked to lead in prayer, recalled how God use to move back when all they had was “straight-backed” chairs and not the nice padded pews of today. I smiled inwardly as he momentarily reflected on “the good ole days.”   In his mind he could see the old shoe-boxed shaped, wood-framed tabernacle filled to capacity with “straight-backed” chairs and every chair filled with someone hungry for a divine visitation. The scene in his memory was quite different to the one before him – one of a large sprawling sanctuary filled with an abundant supply of richly cushioned pews. As I continued to mull his statement over in my mind, it seemed that God said to me, “I do prefer straight-backed chairs.” Now what took a nanosecond for me to see will take a page full of words to explain! That being the case let me quickly make it clear that God was not voicing His preference in seating options nor is that the point of this article. The point is far deeper than the foam on a padded pew and much more uncomfortable than the hardness of a straight-back chair.

The Straight-back Chair Years

When ministries are born, they often have small staffs, limited funds, inadequate facilities and very little prestige (these are the straight-back chair years). However, these deficiencies can serve as the soil out which some very wonderful organizational attributes can spring to life.

  • They create a humble dependence on God – the kind of dependence that builds faith and encourages prayer.
  • They breed a determination to do the very best one can with what one has. God is pleased when we offer Him our very best.
  • They open a door of opportunity for people to offer themselves in sacrificial service – the kind of service that develops saints, attracts other followers and builds loyalty to the mission.
  • They tend to make the exciting part of ministry the “outward focus” rather than the “inward focus.”
  • They make for a strong sense of unity.

 

All of these are characteristics that attract God’s attention, elicit His blessing and provoke Him to give mighty outpourings of His Spirit.

 

The Padded Pew Years

As a ministry organization matures, some of the natural processes of organizational development can actually undermine some of the benefits of the “straight-back chair” years.  As the organization grows in financial strength, facilities are improved, volunteers are replaced by salaried professionals, a higher level of sophistication is expected (weeding out deeply committed but less talented people) and respectability is strongly desired and generally obtained from peer organizations (these are the padded pew years). None of these things are wrong in themselves and can actually be a sign of health. However, all of them hold the potential for undermining a culture of radical reliance on God. This development process is called institutionalization and is a process that is unavoidable for any developing organization.

Institutionalization

The good side of institutionalization is the forms and processes it puts into place that aid in making the ministry efficient and effective. The downside of institutionalization is the tendency to make the organization an end in itself – a thing to be performed, perfected and promoted. Instead of the institutionalization providing a helpful skeleton to support the heart and flesh of ministry, maintaining the skeleton becomes the only point, and soon all that’s left is the skeleton, the form. Then the ossified ministry can descend into an era marked by blandness, uniformity, mission drift and preservation thinking. Rather than making an organization more useful, institutionalization has then actually taken away what made it unique, attractive and effective. Gone are some of the very things God delights in blessing.

When has Institutionalization adversely impacted a Ministry?

  1. When preaching and teaching are used primarily to advocate our priorities rather than God’s.
  2. When the focus on institutional preservation blinds us to ministry deterioration.
  3. When institutional traditions are more highly valued than Biblical truth.
  4. When institutional image is more important than institutional character.
  5. When the institution is driven by fear.

Can Dynamic Relationship and Radical Reliance be restored?

            The churches at Ephesus and Laodicea stand as eternal witnesses at how quickly institutionalization can rob a ministry of their “first love”. They also stand as perpetual guidepost for the way back to a relationship of radical reliance. The key is repentance – a sincere turning away, in both the mind and heart, from self-reliance to God! Most organizations do not turn around, but yours can.   And you don’t even have to sell your padded pews!

High Places

Mention the name “High Place” and God reaches into His vocabulary and uses a word that expresses His most severe moral disgust – “abomination.” Mentioned over a 100 times in the Bible, the high places were originally centers for Canaanite idol worship. Located on mountain tops or elevated pieces of ground (hence the name high place), some of the most detestable things imaginable took place in the worship of false gods. Even before the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into Canaan, Moses commanded them to demolish all the Canaanite high places … “or they shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell” (Numbers 33:52, 55). Yet despite Joshua’s passionate destruction of such places, these pagan worship centers continued to plague the nation of Israel (Judges 2:12-13, 17; 1 Kings 14:22-24).
Tragically, it was Israel’s leaders who allowed worship on the high places to continue. King Solomon actually built high places for gods such as Ashtoreth, Milcom, and Chemosh (1 Kings 11:6-7). King Jeroboam established high places in Bethel and Dan so the northern tribes would not travel to Jerusalem to worship the true God (1 Kings 12:25-33). In their time each leader in Israel and Judah had to decide what he would do with the high places. When a good King would come to power, he would rid the land of idols and demolish the high places (II Kings 18:4; 23:4-20). Evil Kings, like Ahaz and Manasseh, would give full support to the high places and even offer sacrifices on them (II Kings 16:4; 21:1-3).
Over time the scriptural record notes that even among the good Kings “the high places were not taken away” (I Kings 15:14; 22:43; II Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4; 35). The surrounding cultural pressure to be like the other nations was so strong that most of Israel just “winked” at the remaining high places. Eventually, these high places became so entrenched in Israel’s culture that they seemed normal. They were so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things were, that even the best of Kings did not think to remove them. So the old high places that were an abomination to God became the “new norm” for the nation Israel.
Is there a lesson here for today’s Church? Have we accepted things into our lives (the way we behave and think) and into our culture (the values that we embrace) that at one time were considered an abomination to God? Are there issues we have grown so weary of opposing that we have simply yielded to the surrounding culture and subtly accepted them as the “new norm”? I believe the answer is yes and I believe these things are our “high places”.

“Sensuality” is one of our High Places
If we could transport Christians from the past into our present day, I think the thing that would surprise them most is how much at home we are and how tolerant we have become with the pervasive sensuality of our culture. Sexual perversion is not new to the Church. To be certain the church has always had to fight against sexual sin. It is on every list of vices in the Bible. It heads the list of things the Apostle Paul says are not fitting for a Christian. Yet today, mainline denominations are on the fast-track of accepting, even celebrating, homosexuality, same sex marriage and all other manner of sexual perversion. Even though most evangelical Christians still oppose these more blatant sins, they are far too accepting and tolerant of the sexual crudeness, vulgarity and carelessness of today’s world. Even worse, many entertain themselves with movies, television programing and novels that celebrate homosexuality, marital infidelity, fornication and nudity while often mocking purity and abstinence. This has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to cry against it. This has become the new norm!
One of the most visible indicators of the churches acceptance of this “new norm” is the immodest dress of America’s Christians. Actually the two are tied closely together. Whenever a sense of modesty is lacking, human sexually becomes fatally trivialized. And when human sexuality is reduced to consumer merchandise, the display of the body becomes the main billboard to advertise its sexual value. Even though the problem of immodest attire is widely acknowledged, few church leaders (men or women) offer guidance and biblical instruction. Their fear of becoming legalistic or offensive keeps them silent while the voice of a fallen world has no such inhibitions. This is one of our high places.

“Spiritual Mediocrity” is another High Place
With the proliferation of electronic media the average Christian has available to him more preaching and teaching – more information about the Bible and Christian living than ever before in the history of the world. We are clearly the most informed Christians that have ever lived! Yet one leading American pastor was forced to ask himself, “Why is today’s church so weak? Why can we claim more people with more conversions but have less and less impact on the surrounding culture? Why are our Christians indistinguishable from the world?” Dallas Willard’s response to this dilemma is interesting. He claims that it is not in spite of what the church is teaching but precisely because of it! He goes on to say that the church has pitched its message too low! It has offered a form of “miserable sinner” Christianity that tells believers we are but miserable sinners and that moral failure is expected. Hence we offer a gospel of “sin management” where the essence of the gospel is simply the forgiveness of sins – a message that neither offers nor expects any real transformation of life and character. As a management expert would say, “This system is designed to yield the results it is getting.”
This low level of spiritual living has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to expect anything else. This has become the new norm! But you can be assured of one thing; this is not the true gospel! The gospel not only offers the forgiveness of my sin but the real transformation of the heart! It clearly teaches that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the abundances of God’s grace we can live in full obedience to the commands of Jesus – “not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10).

“Worldliness” is a High Place
I am using the term “worldliness” in the Biblical sense as to how people “think” and subsequently “behave” (Rom. 8:5-7; 12:2) The word for world (kosmos) means an order or an arrangement of things. Hence we can define the world as “Human ability organized historically and socially into a system where humans use natural ability (their own resources) to achieve what they want and to promote what they value, a great deal of which is in active hostility to God.” The Bible defines “living in the flesh” in much the same way. When the New Testament speaks of those who live in the flesh it speaks of those whose lives are oriented around themselves and who know only their own resources. A “man of the world” or someone who “lives in the flesh” is someone who thinks and acts from a point of view that leaves God out of the equation. To them the only reality is the temporal – what they see, touch and know.
True Christian living is the antithesis of this. Christians place the eternal over the temporal. They live from an alternate reality. Their life is drawn from divine resources. This way of living is in significant contrast to the world and has two major implications for the Christian. First, he thinks differently than the world thinks! His thinking is not limited to the confines of mere human understanding. He doesn’t determine his course of action by what Godless men say, no matter how brilliant it sounds (Psa.1:1). Second, he behaves differently than those who are of this world. He doesn’t seek after the “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes” nor is he controlled by the “pride of life.” To him the world is “passing away” and lacks permanence. Hence he “sets his affection on things above” and “stores up treasure in heaven.” This makes his life recognizably different; distinctly unique from everybody who is not a Christian (Matt. 5:47). He is in the world but not of the world.
The only problem here is that the description I just wrote of the Biblical Christian is not recognizable, much less acceptable, to the average Christian today! Our obsession with the material, our addiction to more, our love of the good life and our captivation with this modern day Sodom hardly receives a slap on the hand by even the most radical of prophets. Worldliness has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to it see as a problem. This has become the new norm!
The high places of our lives may be varied and unique but they are all equally despised by God. We may have changed the words we use for them but God still uses that same old word from long ago – abomination!

A Tribute to Wingrove Taylor

This past May, the Board of Trustees of God’s Bible School and College gave a sad farewell to its longest serving member Dr. A. Wingrove Taylor. At age 92, Dr. Taylor felt that he did not have the physical strength necessary to continue his role as a Trustee – a role that he filled with distinction for 44 years.   His interaction with the board was always professional, his contributions profound and his influence powerful. No man alive, who has not actually been an employee of the school, has had more impact on the life of this institution than Wingrove Taylor.

The Taylor connection to GBS began in 1905 with the arrival to campus of Irene Blyden (Dr. Taylor’s mother).   She was from the Caribbean Island of Sabba. It was at GBS that she met another student from the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts, Richard Taylor, who came to GBS to prepare for the ministry. Some years later they married and gave a lifetime of service to the development and expansion of the Pilgrim Holiness Church on the Caribbean Island of Nevis.

Wingrove came to GBS in 1948. He enrolled in the Christian Workers Course but eventually moved to the college where he completed two diplomas in music, a ThB degree and a BA degree. He graduated with honors in 1953. He returned to the Caribbean where he gave 41 years of service as a pastor, District Superintendent, College President, Field Superintendent and finally as the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Holiness Church of the Caribbean. Dr. Taylor served as an annual camp evangelist for the GBS Camp meeting for almost 40 years.

Dr. Taylor had a remarkable influence on thousands of GBS Alumni and friends through his pulpit ministry and personal counsel. His influence on me personally was profound. Immediately after I became President Elect in December of 1994, he asked me to accompany him to the “old” men’s prayer room. We sat down in a couple of chairs and he talked to me about the value of prayer in the life of a leader and then prayed for me. In the following 20 years, I have turned to him again and again for wisdom and advice.

Dr. Taylor was gifted in so many ways. He was a musician, singer, scholar, author, preacher and administrator. He was peerless; he was fearless; he was orderly (he once told me that next to his Bible Roberts Rules or Order was his most treasured book); he was saintly; he was professional; he was careful; he was logical; he was Biblical; he was sensitive; he was sensible; he was authentic. However, the greatest gift he has given to me and to all who know him, is not what he has done in ministry, but what he has become while doing ministry.

The people I have put on a pedestal and felt they were worthy of emulation have been very few indeed, but Wingrove Taylor is one of them!

Children Obey

Having children may be doing what comes naturally, but raising children is another matter altogether.   Parenting doesn’t really come with a set of instructions. For most parents, it’s like trying to put together a complex jigsaw puzzle without having a picture on the front of the box at which to look. For Christian parents, the bar is set even higher because of their desire to raise children that love and follow Jesus. At least, for these parents, there is the wisdom and guidance that comes from the Bible. As a matter of fact, the Bible is the first place I looked as I began to prepare for this article. I wanted to refresh my mind on the major Biblical passages that spoke to the subject of parenting, but what I discovered was remarkable – something I had not seen before in all my years of study.

My discovery was two-fold. First, I was surprised at how little the Bible had to say specifically on the subject of parenting! Some claim there are 17 passages that address the subject; my findings were closer to 10. That is not to say that the Bible is void of wisdom and instruction on child rearing. Transforming babes in Christ to spiritually mature saints and raising children into responsible adults is very similar with many parallels.   The Bible, of course, is filled with instruction for growing new Christians and the carry over application to child rearing is clear, relevant and extremely valuable.   Many of the articles I have read by experts on parenting used these passages to make their points.

My second discovery was that the passages that do speak directly to parenting were divided equally among the subjects of discipline and instruction. But what I saw for the first time was that all of these passages pointed to one thing: obedience! The reason for discipline and instruction is that the child might learn to obey!   The New Testament reinforces this with the single command “children obey your parents” that is given in Eph. 6:1 and Col. 3:20. This is the only command to children in the New Testament.

My studies in spiritual formation have convinced me that all formation in Christlikeness is oriented toward explicit easy obedience. The transformation of the heart, by grace, into a state of obedience allows the disciple to willingly obey the “all things” commanded by our Lord. Furthermore, a yielded heart is the inner condition that allows the Holy Spirit to enable the outer life of the individual to naturally express the character and teachings of Jesus.

The same is true in raising children! The formation of character through discipline and instruction is for the purpose of obedience. Once a child understands that he must obey and that he must do so with a willing attitude, then you scarcely have to teach him anything else! Once he knows he must obey, you can simply “ask” him to do whatever it is that you need or want him to do and he will do it. When a child has learned to obey willingly, then your discipline will be cut to a minimum and you can spend the vast majority of your time teaching, nurturing and forming that little one into the kind of man or woman you want them to be! So children, “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right!”