Holiness and Social Concern

Today over a billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day.  That means over a billion men and women face a daily struggle to find food, water and shelter with less money than you would spend for an order of fries or your favorite donut.  More than 24,000 children die every day from preventable causes like diarrhea (contracted from unclean water); while more than 16,000 die from starvation.

The average American finds it hard to grasp this kind of poverty.  Especially since the hardest struggle many face in their daily routine is to fasten their pants.  Yet not all Americans are blessed by being average.  More than 16 million children live in households that struggle to put food on the table.  There are almost 14 million single parents (84% single moms) endeavoring to raise 26% of America’s children and half of them live in poverty.  Over one-third of America’s elderly live below the poverty line. Thousands of panhandlers and homeless people beg on the street corners and sleep over the warm grates of every major city.  Multiplied thousands of the working poor have homes in need of repair or cars in need of maintenance that can’t and won’t be fixed because there is neither the money to have it done nor  the skill to do it themselves.  Many of these folks sit in a pew next to you.

Should this really bother me?

Bob Pierce often prayed,   “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”   Every serious Christian prays this prayer. They also go further.  They strive to learn what breaks the heart of God and then act on what they learn.   Fortunately for us, God’s view on the subject is not hidden.  In the laws given to the developing nation of Israel, He addresses every segment of society that needs a voice of compassion spoken for them: the widows, orphans, strangers (aliens), the injured, the hungry, women, those who have been enslaved by debt, the marginalized, the disenfranchised and others who are oppressed or disadvantaged in some way (Leviticus and Deuteronomy).    He makes it clear to the Jewish nation that honoring these laws is so close to His heart that their peaceful existence and continued ownership of the land is conditioned on their obedience to these laws  (Jeremiah 7:5-7).  The prophet Amos gives us a glimpse into both God’s attitude toward and judgment upon those who ignore justice for the distressed and exploit the poor.

The New Testament speaks loudly on behalf of this same group of people. Jesus communicated his concerns powerfully through such parables as:  the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22), the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the sheep and goats (Matt. 25: 31-46). The newly formed Church appointed a group of deacons just to care for the widows (Acts 6).  When the Jerusalem Council gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship and commissioned them to go to the Gentiles, it was with the admonition to, “ remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10).  The Apostle John, who may have known the heart of Jesus better than any, spoke these words, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”(I John 3:17).  James tells us that pure religion and true faith are validated by how we respond to those in need (James 1:27, 2:15-17).

“There is no Holiness but Social Holiness”

            The above quote is not from John Wesley but from Mike Avery!  Yes, Wesley made that statement but he was talking about “Lone Ranger – separated-from-the-body religion” not social action.  But I am referring to social concern and action.  Why?  Because social concern is where the central issue of holiness – love – meets the road!  If the heart of holiness is centered in lovingthe Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” then holiness is inextricably linked to the way one treats his neighbor. It seems to me to be quite impossible to claim a heart full of love for God yet offer a hand empty of compassion toward my neighbor.  Dag Hammarskjold was correct to say that the road to holiness passes through the world of action (I John 3:17).

Calling the CHM to Social Concern!

            The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement Article IX states that the CHM has to a great degree turned its gaze away from society’s neediest people toward the “cloistered walls of a narrow and narcissistic piety.”   It further states that by doing so the CHM has forsaken the pattern of her spiritual forefathers who not only declared the gospel verbally but demonstrated it visibly by building orphanages, establishing homes for unwed mothers and planting Gospel Missions on every skid row in every large city of America.  To them taking the gospel to the “least of these my brethren” was the only way to both fulfill the command to “preach the gospel to every creature” and to “love my neighbor as myself.”

Has the CHM failed?

            It is not as easy as it might seem to evaluate the extent in which the present day conservative holiness churches are engaged in social action ministries in their local communities.  There are many cases where individuals (who attend a CHM church) are involved in volunteer work, or give significantly to fund these types of ministries, or are directly assisting individuals who are needy while the church itself has no formal participation in any social ministry.  For example I found a situation where two men are supporting a single mom and her two children – housing, Christian school tuition, a vehicle to get her to work, etc. . . . Since it is not a structured ministry it would not show up in a list of ministries operated by a church.  Nevertheless it is the very kind of social action that the Bible addresses and clearly reflects a passion for social concern.  I am hopeful that this example is a norm rather than an exception.

I found a few cases where a church chose to give a small amount of financial support to organizations that specialize in some particular area of ministry to the needy rather than directly engage in these ministries themselves. Organizations like LAHIA, The Salvation Army, Regional Food Banks, Habitat for Humanity, City Missions, and Christian Clearing Houses.  These and a host of others like them specialize in social outreach and do a good job on the local level.

The question remains as to the movement at large.  Is the CHM failing in the area of social concern as a whole?  The only way I had to find an answer to this question was a less than perfect method of just looking at the number of actual ministries operated and funded by conservative holiness churches.  I did not include ministries that were federally or state funded with the exception of food banks. Out of approximately 3,000 churches identified as conservative holiness churches I was able to locate: 5 prison/jail ministries, 3 rescue missions, 6 food distribution ministries, 2 free clothing ministries and 1 home for unwed mothers.  I am quite sure there are other churches with ministries that I did not discover.  Nevertheless, even if the numbers above were doubled or tripled the ratio of ministries to churches would still be quite small.  I will let the reader draw their own conclusions.

I also contacted World Mission organizations that identify with the CHM to see what they were doing to: provide care for orphans, clean water for villages, medical care for the destitute, and food the hungry. According to the Rope Holders Newsletter there are approximately 31 organizations that serve the CHM as Foreign Mission agencies.  We were able to get responses from 29.  With the one exception of work among Native Americans, all responses involved work outside the US. The Table below gives the question and the percentage that answered in the affirmative:

Care for orphans                                              17%

Food provided daily                                        27%

Education for the poor                                  48%

Clean Water                                                       20%

Medical Clinic                                                     20%

Medicine for preventable causes             34%

What is being done by individuals within the CHM is being done, as it should be, without knowledge to others so there is no way to draw any valid conclusions. If you look at what the CHM is doing organizationally in America and overseas one can draw their own conclusions.   However, there is one conclusion that can be drawn that may not be as obvious as others but needs to be pointed out nonetheless. The CHM has clearly lost the full measure of the social conscience that gripped our forefathers.  Our Methodist holiness forefathers filled their cities and towns with acts of mercy.  John Wesley, it is estimated, gave over 30,000 pounds (Over $4,000,000 in today’s value) to other people during his life.  He opened the first free dispensary in England for medical aid to the poor.  He organized a society to aid strangers in need.  He supported education for the poor, opposed the slave trade, and encouraged prison reform.  Succeeding Methodist battled slavery, alcohol, ignorance, poverty, gambling, racism, political corruption, abortion and sexual degradation. Phoebe Palmer, known for the Tuesday Meeting for the promotion of holiness, may have done some of her best work through her Five Points Mission. Many of the churches among the Nazarenes and the Pilgrim Holiness had their origins as rescue missions. Many, if not most, of the early Bible Schools located in large cities so they would be near those who needed help in both soul and body.  Martin Wells Knapp pushed God’s Bible School to the forefront of the “soup, soap and salvation” work in Cincinnati.   Lela McConnell saw the need outside the cities and carried the same passion for acts of mercy to the Appalachian poor in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.  As Larry Smith would say in reference to our history, “we Wesleyans have punched our holes in the darkness.”

Reasons or Excuses?

            It would be simplistic and irresponsible not to acknowledge the many problems associated with undertaking many of these ministries.  For example, the regulatory role of government through federal and state agencies has made it next to impossible for small denominations or churches to operate any type of facility for those who need both Christian compassion and professional care.  Furthermore, government’s involvement in the whole arena of care for the needy has created such a “welfare culture” that it has taken the heart out of many who might otherwise be involved in helping the less fortunate.  They are turned off by a generation of poor who not only expect help but demand it.  However, this is not sufficient reason to face our communities with a closed fist.

There is also a very real danger that we allow social concern to become an end in itself.  Our attempts to help society will not make a society with better men.  It is the power of the gospel that changes hearts thereby making better men who will in turn make better societies. On the occasion of William Booth’s 80th birthday he wrote to his officers these words, “but while you strive to deliver them from their temporal distresses, and endeavor to rescue them from the causes that have led to their unfortunate condition, you must seek, above all, to turn their miseries to good account by making them help the salvation of their souls and their deliverance from the wrath to come. It will be a very small reward for all your toils if, after bringing them into condition of well-being here, they perish hereafter”.

Many have sought to alleviate the sufferings of someone in need only to find they had been duped by a professional con artist. I truly understand this dilemma. Since I travel a lot I am often asked for help with fuel when I stop at a service station.  Of course I am skeptical, but since I have no way of knowing if the need is real or not I often help (I do so by putting fuel in their tank and never money in their pocket). I do not believe we should foolishly give money away or subsidize laziness, addictions or sin.  But I believe it is better to help a hundred fakes than to close my heart to humanity and end up failing to help the one truly in need.

You may excuse yourself from helping others by claiming you can’t find any real needs or that you are too poor yourself to help someone else. You may not feel wealthy or think you are but if you have running water, a shelter over your head, clothes to wear, food to eat, and some means of transportation (public or private) you are in the top 15 percent of the world’s people of wealth.  It has been my experience that those with less means are generally more willing to help than those with great means.  The same is true with churches. Generosity is not controlled by ones bank account but by ones heart! Rich churches who neglect the poor are not the communities of God just as rich people who neglect the poor are not the people of God!

What can we do?

First, start with becoming a Christian who takes the Bible seriously!  Our lives should be a living witness against a worldly church that has become self-satisfied with its affluence and privileged position.  We should be a living reproach to the nominal Christian who cares more about the number of shopping days left until Christmas than he does about the poor.  We should simplify our lives so that we can share with those who truly need our help both in our own community and around the world!

          Second, care enough to be informed.  Educate yourself about global issues such as preventable disease, clean water, hunger, sex trafficking, the plight of the unborn and education. Find out what is happening in your own sphere of influence and do something about it.  Commit to practicing the law of love. Develop a systematic approach to helping others that follows the Biblical admonition to: care first for one’s own family (1 Tim 5:8), then fellow believers (Gal. 6:10), and then to every human being possible (Gal 6:10; James 1:27-2:26; cf. Rom. 13:1-10).

Third, give your financial support systematically and thoughtfully not just emotionally. It should be noted that the early church used great care in discerning who should receive their support. For example, a widow was to be put on a list for permanent, life-time support only if she met certain criteria. Paul sets these down clearly in I Timothy 5:3-6: she must be at least 60 years old, “left alone” without family or presumably any other means of support, a woman of prayer, married only once, and a reputation for good works, among other things. In contrast, Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to withhold their social care to those unwilling but able to work: “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (II Thess. 3:6-15).  Giving should always be done in a way that doesn’t support bad behavior or subsidize addictive habits or close the door for the gospel.  Give wisely but give. This also includes being wise in your giving to mission organizations and agencies that care for orphans and feed the hungry. Do some investigation into any organization that you plan to support.  Ask for a public audit or go online and read the audit.  Ask how much of your money actually goes to the need and how much stays in the local office for administrative overhead.  If no answer is forthcoming, find another organization that will give answers.  Legitimate ministries are more than willing to share any information that will help you give confidently and generously.

Fourth, pray.  The giving of your time and treasure may be small but the offering up of your prayers can be large! We cannot take up every kind of injustice or concern in the world – to even try to do so would do us in.  But we can enter the arena of social concern on the wings of prayer.  Prayer is necessary if the forces of darkness and the demonic principalities that are behind the institutional structures that are responsible for so much poverty and suffering are to be defeated.

Everett Hale said, “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do”.  I cannot cut the ropes that bind the little girls of Thailand as they wait to be sold to some vile monster but I can pressure my government to get involved, support the organizations that do and be faithful in my prayers to defeat the demonic forces that hold this corrupt system in place.  I can’t save every child that dies in the Sudan but I can support a missionary who braves the risk of working there. I can’t alleviate all the suffering in Cincinnati or even all that is found on the street where I live, but there are some things I can and must do!  I will probably never feel that what I did was quite enough even though it was my best. I may always feel a little skeptical as to whether they really needed my help or truly appreciated my efforts.  But I am always comforted and motivated by these words, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).

Developing Deep Christians

If you had the opportunity to attend a public event at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY you would see an impressive group of young men and women who are being prepared to go anywhere in the world, under any circumstances and swing into action the minute their boots hit the ground.   They are military officers in the making. Upon their graduation they will be commissioned as “leaders of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, and Country . . . prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army”.

Is there any similarity between what happens at West Point and what happens at your local church?  Does your local church have a systematic process that produces mature Christian disciples who can pray, share their faith, explain the Bible, defend their doctrine, put the wellbeing of others ahead of their own, stand up under persecution or  do whatever they need to do for Christ’ Kingdom wherever their feet hit the ground?

You don’t have to answer that question because we already know the answer.  The church is struggling to produce men and women who fit the biblical standard of spiritual maturity. We are failing to produce people of depth – deep in spiritual character, deep in faith, deep in prayer, deep in love for God and others!  This process is actually called discipleship and it is not happening in the average church.

The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement speaks to this in Article VIII.  It decries the fact that 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”.  The end result is that the CHM suffers from too many shallow Christians.

I felt the “push back” and irritation from a lot of conservatives as soon as that last sentence formed on the page in front of me! But alas it must stand!  Conservatives face the normal fallout of failing to disciple their people.  However they also face another subtle danger – that of appearing to be deep rather than actually being deep! It is very easy for us to look spiritual while actually being as shallow as the carnal Corinthians.  Being deep is more than just knowing and honoring the Bible in visible ways (especially those that make us look spiritual in our setting).  That can happen while failing to demonstrate the character it commands. One can be meticulous, even legalistic, about his tithe and yet fail ever to develop the spirit of generosity. One can dress modestly and still have a sensual spirit. Sheer knowledge of the Bible doesn’t make one godly. The mere application of a few visible commands doesn’t mean we have cultivated holy character. One can read the Bible daily, acquire significant amounts of Biblical knowledge, adopt standards of dress and behavior, yet have no straight-line correspondence between that and real Christlikeness.  One can embrace the conservative creed, adopt its life-style principles, and learn the language of the “old fashion way” and still be shallow.

Many conservative leaders readily admit that the CHM is not getting the job done when it comes to the discipleship of new believers.  Some recognize that we also are not taking the second step and engaging in the lifelong mentoring process that creates deep Christians.  However, few if any are talking about the problems that result from not discipling – a problem that Thomas Bergler calls the “Juvenilization of Christianity.”   When converts are not placed on a deliberate trajectory toward spiritual maturity, the character traits of duty, discipline, scriptural living, holy habit, holy affections, denying oneself, sacrificial loving and giving – all traits of mature Christians – are decoupled from normal adulthood and moved down the road to some future time that may or may not arrive. The shallowness that is left is a self-centered, emotionally driven and intellectually empty faith that is focused more on “being fulfilled” than on “being faithful.”

Discipleship the only Cure!

            New believers do not develop into deep Christians on their own any more than a little boy playing soldier becomes a great general on his own. We know this from church history and from personal experience. More importantly, we know this because the Bible gives us examples of how God Himself develops deep people.  Jesus chose to spend the majority of His time discipling His twelve disciples.  With only a three year public ministry, I think it remarkable that He made a limited number of public appearances and preached relatively few sermons while investing the vast majority of His time in the men who followed Him.   Watching this process unfold in the Gospels, it looks like just three years of walking, talking and eating with them.  But in reality Jesus was building character, teaching them how to think as He thought and reshaping the spiritual parts of their lives in such a way that would prepare them to live, suffer and die for His Kingdom.  This three year investment had such exponential results that we still feel its effect today!

Christians who are spiritually deep people have gone through God’s discipleship program.  Whether it is Moses, Paul, John Wesley or John Doe, all deep people have three things in common.  Each has been cultivated by God through direct encounters, experienced the character development made possible by difficult circumstances, and has been exposed to deliberate mentoring by resourceful people.

Divine Encounters

            The journey to becoming a deep person begins with a direct encounter with God.  This is what the church has called a person’s conversion.  No man can or even wants to become a deeply spiritual person who has not had a heart change wrought by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was such an encounter. He was not only converted to Christ but given his life’s calling. But there are other encounters with God.  Some are very personal like Jacob’s encounter with God at Peniel.  That was an encounter that gave Jacob a painful insight into his own carnal self and left him with a changed nature, a new name and a life marked forever by an amazing touch from God. Other encounters give us insight into the character and nature of God. Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 34 is an example of this.  Moses had asked to see God’s “face” (glory) and was told he would be permitted to see God’s “goodness.”  What he asked for and what he received was quite different – a difference that is important.  Dennis Kinlaw clarifies this difference with this comment, “you can have a spiritual experience that is very exciting and yet is contentless or you gain an insight into the character of the Eternal that will change you forever.”  These encounters with God along the path of life are crucial to our development into deep people.

Difficult Circumstances

            A.W. Tozer reminds us that, “It is doubtful whether God can use a man greatly, until first He wounds him deeply.”  In my almost forty years of walking with the Lord, I have been blessed to receive numerous words of appreciation and kindness.  They have encouraged me and strengthened me in my work and walk. However, it has been the difficult circumstances of life; the harsh winds of trial and adversity; the unjust words of a foe; and the dark night of the soul that has done more to shape my character in Christlikeness than almost anything else.  Deep people have been discipled by the character shaping experience of difficult circumstances.

Deliberate Mentoring

            Deep people are not self-formulating.  Their lives are enriched by the counsel and wisdom of others.  All of us need Godly men and women who have experienced life and know God intimately to speak into our lives.  Most often this comes in a person to person encounter. However, it may take the form of books or other spiritual resources. Moses had his father-in-law   Jethro.  Paul had his traveling partner Barnabas.  Timothy had his spiritual father Paul. Wesley had his books, his brother and his Moravian friends.  The early Methodists had the class meeting – a system that produced a steady stream of deep people. Tozer had the writings of the Early Church Fathers and the Mystics.  Deep people will always have someone in their life that affirms, instructs, corrects, and holds them accountable.

The Implications of Failing to Disciple

            The CHM has got to stop using the altar as the primary place of spiritual formation.  The altar can certainly be a place of spiritual transformation and decision.  But spiritual formation and growth takes place in the discipleship phase of Christian living. The work of discipling believers and mentoring deep people can no longer be a point of mere discussion.  It must begin in earnest. Our failure to disciple deep people has already created a scarcity of spiritual leaders who have that blend of maturity, wisdom and balance that is needed to lead effectively.  If we do not reverse the trend, the CHM could well be headed into irrelevance.

Alan Redpath wisely noted that the conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, but the maturing of a great saint is the task of a lifetime. Our Methodist fathers understood this and modeled for us the art of making disciples like no one else in the last 200 years. It’s our heritage—it should be our practice—it may be the key to our survival!

Worship

I love the Church!  I love the branch of the church called the holiness movement where God has placed me!   However, neither my love for the church nor that part which I serve has made me blind to the spots and wrinkles of either. The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement is an attempt to restate the strengths of that tradition, to recognize weaknesses that have developed over time and to dialogue on how to restore what is vital to its future.  Article seven is a call to the CHM to honestly evaluate its present practices of corporate worship. The importance of such an evaluation is underscored by the importance of the act of worship itself.  The Westminster confession reminds us that man’s chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”.  Scripture teaches us that worship is vital to our “creaturehood” and central to our faith.  If things are not healthy in our worship experience then things are not healthy in our church no matter how well we do other things.

Warren Weirsbe defined worship as the believers’ response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, and body – to what God is and says and does.  In the best Methodist holiness tradition worship engages the whole person in a well-balanced blend of joyful celebration and reverential awe that is often reciprocated by the manifest presence of God.  When worship succeeds in this fashion, I know of no other worship tradition that enables men to worship God any better.

 CHM Worship Strengths

           Conservative holiness people are singing people.   Praise is central to worship.  Music, in the present day church, is the primary form of praise. So music and worship are inextricably connected. Music marks the worship found in both the Old and New Testaments. It has marked the Church across the centuries and around the world.     Step inside the average CHM church and you will hear warm-hearted, enthusiastic, highly-engaged singing that is often reinforced with expressions of praise like, “Glory to God”, “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord.”  Holiness people know how to worship in song!

Conservative holiness people deeply desire God’s presence. All Christians claim the promise, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).  Holiness people, however, truly expect the presence of God to be evident.  Their zeal and longing for His presence is often rewarded with a gracious visitation of His manifest presence.

Conservative holiness people have a keen sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit. In the best Wesleyan holiness tradition order and structure are always present.  But there is also present a willingness to let the Spirit of God set aside the planned program if need be to accomplish His own sovereign purposes.

Conservative holiness people have a strong love for good preaching. The preaching event still takes a very high place in holiness movement worship.  Holiness people read their Bibles and carry them to church.  They want good preaching, respond to good preaching and show sincere respect for the preacher who gives them the unadulterated Word of God.

 CHM Worship Weaknesses*

            Too many services lack thoughtful planning.  Growing up in the CHM  I was taught to be suspicious of liturgy, only to discover that every church follows a liturgy, either a good one or a bad one, written or unwritten.  This fear or neglect of careful planning produces a worship experience that lacks continuity (is very disjointed and broken apart by things that could be avoided with minimal planning) and is random in its forward movement. It will fail to lead the congregant in a meaningful worship experience.  Churches who have consistently good worship experiences or those where the worship service is thoughtfully planned, intentionally structured, steeped in prayer and executed under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  Careful planning does not hinder the freedom of God’s Spirit to work.  Actually, it gives Him a reliable framework through which He can inspire worship and minister grace to His people.

Too many holiness churches have stressed feeling and experiencing God to the neglect of worshiping and glorifying God.  Jesus taught us to worship in spirit and in truth.  Worship must have both heart and head.  Worship must engage emotions and thought.  Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy. On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought.  Many in a sincere attempt to feel God near have lost this balance and have opened the door to fleshly emotionalism and called it worship.

We have allowed worship to become something we do for our benefit rather than something we offer to God.  Worship has an end – and it is not us! This twist in focus has turned church into a performance event where we are the recipients.  We want the songs to bless us, the prayers to comfort us, and the sermon to help us feel better about our condition.  True worship is not self-centered, but God-centered. In true worship God is the audience and we are the performers!  Robert Coleman said it well, “Worship is the adoring response of the creature to the infinite majesty of God.  While it presupposes submission to Him, to worship, in the highest sense, is not supplication for needs, or even thanksgiving for blessings, but the occupation of the soul with God Himself.”

Prayer is generally fervent but often lacks substance. The offering of prayers has always been a vital part of Christian worship and certainly an important part of worship within the CHM tradition.   Prayer is so intimate and personal that we have been hesitant to critique it.  But as a central part of worship, public prayer should be evaluated.  Public prayer or the pastoral prayer is different from our private time with God.  It should evidence thought and preparation.  I know a pastor who spends a considerable amount of time writing out his Sunday morning prayer. He takes the responsibility of leading his congregation to God seriously. His prayers contain a wonderful balance of adoration, petition and confession.  They are steeped in Biblical language. They have forward movement that is orderly and thoughtful.  But more importantly, they are deep and powerful. On the other hand, unless one has trained himself in the art of public prayer, the average extemporaneous prayer tends to be shallow, directionless and often repetitious.  Careful thought and preparation will not rob us of authentic sincere prayer. On the contrary it will help us truly attain it!

There is a noticeable lack of scripture. We have left scripture out of our present day worship services.  Rarely do you find a CHM church that gives attention to scripture readings, calls to worship, and responsive readings.  Quite often, you do not even need your Bible for the sermon!  Often scripture reading is ignored in the name of “saving time”.  However, I believe we fail here for two reasons: First, we think what we have to say in more important and effective than the public reading of Scripture.  Second, we are poor readers.  One only has to hear a good reader lift up the scripture to know the power of the read word!

 Too Important to Ignore

            There may be something optional about how one worships, but worship itself is not optional. Corporate worship is the exalted purpose and central pulse of every Christian congregation.  If you are not worshiping you are not having church – you are just holding a shabby religious sideshow and calling it worship.  What will it take to motivate you and your church to rebuild the altar of true worship?  Think about it.  There is too much at stake not to!

*I asked a group of Pastors and Church Leaders within the CHM to give me a list of what they believed were the worship weakness of the CHM.  Their lists were remarkably similar and were used to develop the list in this article.

Lighting a Candle in Europe

(My trip to Switzerland to speak in a pastor’s conference this past April has generated a great deal of interest from the GBS and Revivalist families. Enough that I decided to share the experience with you.  Rev. Timothy Keep, who traveled with me, and was also a speaker at the conference, assisted me in writing this article.)

            When I placed the Kwasizabantu Pastor’s Conference  in Switzerland on my web page speaking schedule, I had a number of people ask, “What kind of Christian Minster’s Conference is there in Europe?”  For those who understand the spiritual condition of Europe, the question makes perfect sense. There are many conferences that take place in Europe but not many that are made up of local pastors from Europe.  In today’s Europe less than 8% of the population attends church with only 3% attending regularly.  It is predicted that by 2050 there will be no significant church presence in Europe at all!  To make matters worse, the Muslim population has tripled in the last 30 years. This has given rise to the belief that parts of Europe are beyond being Post-Christian and are quickly becoming Pre-Islamic. So it was natural for people to wonder where you could find enough conservative evangelical ministers in Europe to have a pastor’s conference.  The answer lies in the conference’s sponsor.

The conference was sponsored by the Kwasizabantu Mission that is based in the Republic of South Africa.  The mission was born out of a revival among the Zulu people that began in the 1960’s.  The Rev. Erlo Stegen, who is the Director of the Mission, tells the story of that revival in his book, Revival Among the Zulu’s. A brief recounting of that story is important to understand the conference in Europe.  Rev. Stegen explains that the roots of this revival began with a crisis he faced early in his missionary service. He had been called upon to pray for the deliverance of a young demon possessed Zulu girl but after three weeks of intense intercession her condition remained unchanged.  He writes,

“We prayed day and night for three weeks, but the girl wasn’t healed.  Instead, I was at the end of my strength and close to a nervous breakdown.  The girl sang her satanic hymns incessantly.   Someone advised me to plead the blood of Jesus, which the devil would fear and flee, but to no avail.  On the contrary, the girl began to blaspheme the blood…

“I couldn’t understand it.  We had done what the Bible taught us, but it didn’t work… What was I to do?  Go back to the mother and tell her that her daughter had not been healed?  Everyone in the area knew that we Christians were praying for the girl.  They had heard me preach, ‘Don’t go to the witch doctors, don’t sacrifice oxen and goats to the spirits.  Jesus is the answer to every problem, come to Him.” They were all waiting to see what would happen, and now we Christians had failed.”

In his humiliation Stegen begged God to send him to another place of ministry but the Lord would not.  For six long years he preached while suffering intense spiritual darkness, even doubting the truthfulness of Scripture.  “I deemed it possible that some parts were true and other parts weren’t.”  He struggled to believe the words of Jesus in John 4:13-14, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.”  Through his years of ministry hundreds had come forward to accept Jesus Christ but he knew that most of them still craved the things of this world.  “Perhaps Jesus had made a mistake. Or maybe the authors of the New Testament did – for what I was experiencing was different than what was recorded in scripture.   I had preached the gospel for twelve years and there weren’t even twelve true Christians to show for it.”

Stegen grieved that most of the young people who claimed they had become Christians under his ministry still craved the things of this world and were conformed to its ways.  Something was missing – so he and his little congregation arranged to meet twice a day to search the scriptures, confess their sins and pray earnestly for the kind of revival Isaiah prayed for in Isaiah 64:1-4.  They asked themselves what the life of a person who believes in Jesus should be like.  In John 7:38 Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”  Stegen said that when we asked ourselves, “Are there such rivers of living water flowing out of our lives?” we had to answer, No!  This only made Stegen and his Zulu people yearn for these rivers as never before.

Christmas Sunday came but Stegen’s hunger was so intense and his brokenness so profound that he forgot to celebrate!  As they continued to meet day after day for Bible study and prayer the Holy Spirit began to make them very aware of their sin.  While God was dealing with him in very specific ways he was also dealing with the Zulu congregation.  Church members confessed the sins of bitterness, hatred and gossip.  As their hunger for holiness increased so did their expectation of revival.

One day, when a handful of his most faithful believers were with him for a time of prayer and confession, there was suddenly the noise of great wind.  “Everyone was conscious of the presence of God without anyone saying a word,” Stegen says.  Sinners began to be drawn to the meeting place as if drawn by unseen hands.  People couldn’t sleep as they could only think of their sins. Hundreds came!  Even thousands!  Witches were converted.  Hardened sinners wept like children.  Unbelieving husbands were so amazed by the change in their wives that they too believed. Children were converted and led their parents to the Savior.  Stegen said that, “God had kindled a fire, and it spread through the valleys and mountains, so that thousands were saved in one week, yes, even in one day.”

There were countless accompanying signs and miracles as well.  The blind received their sight, the lame walked, the dumb were given a voice and demoniacs were delivered.  The young girl who six years earlier, in spite of prayer and struggle, had not been healed was brought to a meeting and taken home completely whole!  The work of God among them now resembled what they had read in their Bibles!

Fifty years later the flame of revival still burns in South Africa with people being convicted of sin and converted to Christ every day.  At the same time the spiritual influence of this revival has spread around the world – particularly to Europe.   Rev. Stegen felt he owed something to the continent of Europe.  It was from a revival in Germany in the early 1800’s that missionaries were sent to South Africa.  It was from these missionaries that Stegen’s ancestors heard the gospel and were saved.  Stegen felt that he must give back to those who first brought the gospel to his family by returning the light of revival to what is now a very dark Europe.  Kwasizabantu Mission has established eleven missions in some of the most spiritually barren countries in Europe.

The conference, in which Tim and I spoke, was held at their mission in Switzerland.  It was attended by 550 pastors from 14 different countries.  The majority of these pastors have had very little training in the Bible and almost no contact with the conservative evangelical churches of the West.  I was awed by their hunger for the Word, moved to tears by their pleas for discipleship training and encouraged by their zeal to see a revival spread across Europe.

I was there to share, but more importantly, I was there to witness what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through the Body of Christ around the world.  It is vital to my well-being and to that of GBSC and to the movement it serves to witness what God is doing through His Body.  Isolationism is the tourniquet that brings suffocation and death to both individuals and churches.  In the “Plain Account of the People called Methodists,” John Wesley said,

“The thing with I was greatly afraid of all this time, and which I resolved to use every possible method of preventing, was a narrowness of spirit, a party zeal… that miserable bigotry which makes many so unready to believe that there is any work of God but among themselves.  I thought it might be a help against this, frequently to read, to all who were willing hear, the accounts I received from time to time of the work which God was carrying out in the earth, both in our own and in other countries, not among us alone, but among those of various opinions and denominations.”

I rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit in these days of both peril and opportunity. I want to humble myself continually before God that the power of the Holy Spirit might rest on my life, this school and this generation as He has rested on others.  Would you join with me in praying the prayer of Isaiah? , “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence . . . For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” Isaiah 64:1,4

Authority in the Church

– May 2012

Authority in the Church

            The issue of authority in the Church has come down to us through the centuries on a sea of blood and fire. The pages of church history tell the story.  You can read of men slain by the sword or burned at the stake for questioning or acting contrary to the authority of the church. At the heart of the Protestant Reformation was the issue of church authority.  The reformers declared that Christ alone was the head of the Church and the Bible was the ultimate authority.  Many of our ancestors left their native lands to escape the heavy hand of a state church whose authority exploited rather than liberated the souls of men.  Even today, there is still a vigorous discussion by churchmen, scholars, politicians and laymen as to the church’s authority on everything from birth control to baptism.

This discussion over authority in the Church may sound somewhat benign and empty to most of the people who will read this article.  Their religious world does not include popes, archbishops, bishops or councils!  Churches within the holiness tradition function as self-governing communities or are affiliated with denominations that have a very limited form of top-down government.  Neither approach, however, has allowed the holiness church to escape the discussion or the problem of authority.  The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement Article VI states that the CHM has been marked by “the spirit of autonomy and even anarchy. . . . Too often . . . 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.”

This is a part of the Call with which I am not completely comfortable.  The movement obviously faces issues with authority, but I think the Call paints the CHM with too broad of a brush.  I do not question the fact that there are those within the movement who have exhibited a spirit of autonomy and rebellion.  There are those whose self-serving ways and arrogant love for their own opinion has indeed spawned unnecessary division and bred much confusion.   I have watched with sadness as people have violated their word, ignored standards of ethical behavior, and broken membership vows while barely masking their obstinacy.  We have all met an Absalom, an Adonijah or a Diotrephes who would not heed any counsel but their own or follow any path but one of their own making.  But honestly, this has been the exception rather than the rule. On the contrary, most of the conservatives I know are more than willing to be led and are actually looking for leadership.  They are quite willing to take very unpopular stands and live out countercultural lifestyles in obedience to their church and conscience.  I see very little evidence that would indict them as rebels against Biblical authority or Biblically ordained authorities.  This of course is my perception, but I believe it to be a fair one.

Rather than seeing them as rebels, I see something that may be construed as rebellion.  I see confused, frustrated, and at times angry souls who are weary with leaders more willing to bow to church politics and fear than to lead with Biblical conviction and common sense. This weakness in leadership can and does produce reluctant and sometimes resistant followers, but none that should be called rebels.  I see church attendees, both young and old, who lack a proper understanding of Biblical authority.   I also see something else.  I see a generational difference in how authority is viewed and understood.   A failure to understand this generational difference may lead to labeling sincere, sanctified  people  as “rebels” who are only following their conscience and understanding as best as they can.

 A Biblical Understanding of Authority in the Church

            The concept of authority has fallen on bad times over the last few decades.  In some places if you just say the word people react negatively.  This should not surprise anyone since we have had a sad parade of politicians, policemen, professors, pastors and priests who have abused their authority and betrayed those who served under them. This abuse of authority has bred a culture of cynicism and suspicion.  It has created an environment where good authority, God’s authority, is regularly questioned.  The cure is not to abandon the important role of authority in our culture but to carefully proclaim what God says in His Word about authority.  My comments in this article are limited to authority in the church.

The classic passage quoted in the Call and in most other discussions on church authority is Hebrews 13:17a – “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account. . . .”   This is a powerful principle that serious Christians seek to follow. It is also one that has been so terribly abused that it needs clarification.  First, no preacher, teacher or leader by virtue of their calling has been granted an inherent right to rule over other people.  When I was ordained, I was given the authority “to preach the Word and administer the sacraments.”  The only authority that any pastor, teacher or church leader has is the delegated authority that comes through the Word of God and relates to the “spiritual guidance and soul safety” of those under his responsibility.  (Read Wesley’s Sermon On Obedience to Pastors.)

Secondly, the application of Hebrews 13:17 applies only to those leaders who are faithful.  All through Scripture we are warned to beware of false teachers and false shepherds. How do you judge the false from the true? You judge them by their fidelity to the Word of God, both in what they say and how they live.  Those who teach the Word faithfully and live it faithfully deserve our respect and obedience.  The pastor or leader who claims authority based on his position, or seeks to make his opinion equivalent to scripture, or tries to use religion and false guilt to make one conform to his will is completely out of line with his Biblical authority.

Thirdly, the NT does not describe the kind of church organizations we have today.  This does not mean it opposes today’s denominational structures, it just means that it primarily sees the visible church as a local community of believers led by a body of elders and deacons.  However, it does speak quite forcefully to the issues of order, authority, submission, discipline and accountability.   A person who has willingly joined a church or denomination and has given their pledge to obey the rules of membership ought to do so. They should honor and obey those in leadership and submit to the accountability and discipline of the church as outlined in the Scripture and the covenant of membership.  If they fail to do so or at some point decide not to do so, they should willingly and quietly withdraw from membership.

Church Authority and Generational Differences

The Greatest and Silent Generations  

            Christians born in the first half of the 20th century are referred to as the Greatest (1902-1924) and Silent (1925-1945) generations.  They were born into what is called the “modern era.” Their way of thinking and subsequently their worldview primarily reflects “modernity.”  They have an innate trust for the institutions of government, education and religion.  They highly value rules for morality, decency and conformity.  Issues of right and wrong fall easily and distinctly into black and white categories. They understand the way the traditional church works, see membership as important and think nothing of just doing whatever the church or church manual says.  They do not need exhaustive exegesis or detailed explanations for demands placed upon them. This is not to say that they do not think, it is only to say that these generations accept the rules without the need for “proof” or “explanation” because they believe in and trust the church and its leadership!  Even in areas they personally do not understand or do not fully agree, they are willing to go along and do what the church or pastor says because they trust the authority structures and believe it is important to obey and conform to what they are told.

As this way of thinking worked its way out in the more conservative churches, there developed a subtle emphasis on conforming to “group cultural rules of conduct.”  Conformity became more of a priority than the development of vital piety based on scriptural reflection.  Living the rules with no grasp of the principle behind them became far too common.  This resulted in at least two things worthy of observation: (1) Externals became the focus or “proof” of real heart change; (2) It became far too easy to “look right” and thus “be right” without any internalization of character or sound Biblical understanding of why they did what they did. I hope this will not be misunderstood as an indictment of insincerity or an accusation of hypocrisy – it is not!  It is an attempt to explain how this generation tended to think and act.  I do not question their earnest desire to please God!

This is the generation that pulled out of the Mainline Holiness Denominations and formed what is now called the Conservative Holiness Movement.  This is the generation that embraced without question and lived without fear what their leaders and churches had taught them.  When the Mother Church started changing values that had been held for decades, this generation voted with their feet and left the church.  I believe their actions were rooted in two things: their convictions and their culture.  Neither root is necessarily connected to rebellion.  Were there rebels who opposed the authority of the church and who were involved in the “come out”?  Of course!  But the vast majority of come outers were men and women of godly character who were simply standing by the things they had been taught.

The Boomer, Buster and Millennial Generations

By the late 1960s and early ‘70s America had fully made a dramatic shift from the “modern era” to the “post-modern” era.    The second generation of conservative holiness people (Boomers) was influenced by both modern and post-modern thought.  You can see the influence of both in the way they think and act.  The third and fourth generations of conservatives were primarily influenced by post-modernism.  Post-modern Christians think quite differently from those in the modern generation.  The post-modern generation does not have a natural trust of the institutions of government, education and church.  On the contrary, they have a deep suspicion of these institutions and the power they wield.  They reject “blind acceptance” of anything to the point of being cynical.  They grew up in the “advertising age” and learned quickly you could not believe what you read on the cereal box or heard from the media.  They look at all unsupported assertions with suspicion — especially those given in church.  They do not simply swallow what is taught or preached. They ask questions and want answers. Just because the preacher says it is wrong doesn’t make it wrong for them.  They want a clear, intellectually defensible, Biblical answer.  If answers are not forthcoming, they reject the assertions.  A large number of the early post-moderns were lost to the church because some leaders tragically confused “questions about Biblical truth” with “questioning the truth of the Bible” and classified them as compromisers or rebels.

The post-modern Christian rejects the carefully “air-brushed, compartmentalized, and rote cookie-cutter religious expressions of the previous generations.”   They prefer religious spontaneity and authenticity over mere appearances.  This has caused a post-modern generation to be slow in accepting all the traditional life-style values and standards of the conservative holiness movement.  It’s not that they reject Biblical values, but rather they reject “cookie-cutter” conformity for the sake of just “looking the part” or fitting in to the culture.  They want to know the reason and see the value of the thing they are being asked to do.  I don’t believe they have rejected the traditional values because those values lack veracity but because they have been given without explanation and applied without flexible common sense.  Parents whose post-modern kids grew up in complete conformity to these values while at home are shocked when those same kids jettison those standards after leaving home.  It some cases the rejection flows from a rebellious worldly heart, but in many cases it does not.  It flows from a heart that is seeking spiritual authenticity and from a mind that wants intellectual “buy in.”

Addressing the Problem

            Rebellion is a strong word and should be used wisely.  True rebellion against proper authority reveals a deeper rejection of God’s authority and should be treated as such. That’s why the Bible compares it to the sin of witchcraft and idolatry.  Only the Holy Spirit can root out rebellion and replace it with submission by a radical change of one’s heart.  However, if we are dealing with generational ways of thinking, then we need to understand and respond accordingly.  Christians of all generations desire authenticity.  Authenticity begins with honesty.  We must be honest with who we are, honest about our biases and prejudices, and honest in our interpretation and application of scripture.  Authenticity continues with a willingness to differentiate between what is scripture and what is tradition, what is principle and what is preference – clarifying the role of both.  However, authenticity also means that we refuse to conform to any cultural thought that is wrong but that we confront “unbiblical thinking” in every generation with the Word of God.

Romans 12:1-2 offers some remarkable insight:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”   We can only replace bad thinking with biblical thinking by the faithful application of the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit can enlighten the mind with Biblical truth and change any way of thinking that does not align itself with God’s point of view. The Holy Spirit can also discern between resistance to generational thinking and acting and rebellion to Biblically ordained authority.  If real rebellion is present, then repentance and the relinquishment of self to God in holy surrender is the only cure for the rebel within.   We must have both, the radical change of hearts and the renewing of the mind, if we are to effectively deal with the problem of authority in this generation and in the ones to come.