The Resurrection

William Sangster, the venerable British preacher of yesteryear, was stricken late in life by incurable muscular atrophy. As the merciless disease advanced, rendering his muscles useless and robbing him of his voice, Sangster was eventually forced to surrender his pulpit and retire his anointed pen. However, he did manage to find the strength one Easter Sunday to feebly scrawl these words in a letter to his daughter, “It is terrible,” he wrote, “to wake up on Easter Sunday and have no voice to shout, ‘He is risen!’”

With these words Sangster underscored the dynamic of the Christian message, the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is the fulcrum upon which turns every other Christian doctrine. Without resurrection, the divinity of Jesus is in jeopardy. Without divinity, Christ sinlessness is debatable. If He is sinful, Calvary loses its atoning merit. Robbed of its atoning merit, the cross—indeed the entire gospel story—is a sham. Or, as Paul expressed it centuries ago, “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17).

In his book, Reality of the Resurrection, Merrill Tyney notes that many aspects of the Christian faith are echoed (if only vaguely) in non-Christian religions. For instance, some religions claim, as does Christianity, to have divinely inspired writings. Muslims boast of the Koran; the Mormons of their “Golden Tablets.” Similarly, many pagan religions offer their followers the promise of life after death. Like Christianity, philosophers and religionists of all eras have proposed various systems of ethics for the governing of the human race. However, Tyney rightly declares that the distinctive attribute of the Christian faith is its belief that “the supernatural power of the living God was manifested historically by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.”

The resurrection marks Christianity off from all other religions, past, present and future. No other faith underpins its belief system with the doctrine of a risen Saviour. It is the cardinal doctrine among cardinal doctrines. It was central to the preaching of the early church. It sustained the hopes of first-century martyrs, and it is a message that has been faithfully transmitted across the centuries and entrusted to those of us who number ourselves among the followers of Jesus today. The resurrection message is non-negotiable. It must never be surrendered or compromised.

However, the greatest danger in the Christian community may not be the temptation to erase the doctrine of the resurrection from the time-honored creeds of Christendom. In fact, any suggestion to alter this tenet would immediately be voted down in most of our conference meetings or our academic forums. Rather, the greatest danger in our circles is that of relegating this basic doctrine to the dusty archives of church history. Having been hammered out on the anvil of controversy by our forefathers, the resurrection story tends to become so commonplace that it is by sheer neglect demoted to second place in our thinking. The resurrection and its manifold implications have become supplemental themes that we take off the shelf once a year. Sadly, they seldom maintain a central place in the perennial preaching and teaching of the Church.

Sangster lamented to his daughter that he had no voice with which to shout the resurrection message. But he then added these searching words, “It would be more terrible still,” he concluded, “to have a voice and not want to shout.” Reader, have you a voice? Use it to proclaim anew the blessed anthem, “He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!”

Leadership

The rise and fall of societies and institutions has depended almost exclusively upon the quality of their leadership. George Barna, who has spent years researching the church in America, claims that the most serious weakness he has found within the church in the last fifteen years is the lack of leadership. Few would disagree that strong, bold, innovative, and godly leadership is in short supply.

During the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee said, “I believe our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. These men will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. There is the difficulty of proper commanders.” Lee knew that ultimate victory rested on the quality of leaders who led the troops. He wanted men with administrative skills, diligence, imagination, initiative, resourcefulness, and the ability to elicit the best in other men. Like Lee, people everywhere are looking for leaders. So, what does one look for in a leader?

Don’t put too much stock in outward appearance. Externally leaders often appear very different. Hitler, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and General George Patton would all be excellent subjects for a study in contrasts, except for the one thing they had in common—they were all leaders. God has used uncultured farmers, crude fishermen, and simple shepherds, as well as gifted scholars, astute politicians, and military tacticians to lead His causes. While most of us look at the outward appearance, God looks at the core of the person’s character. He looks for certain inner traits that will turn a lad into a leader. As a matter of fact, research shows that internally leaders have certain characteristics in common. Let me list them for you:

Leaders have clear-cut objectives. Leaders know what they want to achieve, why they want to achieve it, and how they are going to achieve it. They know that you will only achieve what you aim for, and so they keep focused on their goals and objectives.

  1. Leaders know themselves. Leaders know their strengths and weaknesses. They lead from their strengths and bring the right people around them to help where they know they have weaknesses.
  2. Leaders are persistent. They have staying power. They will sometimes give a lifetime of dedicated service just to see their objectives fulfilled.
  3. Leaders are learners. They never stop learning and growing. They have an insatiable appetite to expand their knowledge and learn how to lead more effectively.
  4. Leaders have the ability to attract and energize people. Leadership is influence. Leaders have the ability to influence others to accomplish a common goal.
  5. Leaders are risk takers. They don’t fear failure. They are willing to fail if they can learn something from it. They aren’t afraid to take risks with resources, ideas, and change if they believe good can come from it.
  6. Leaders are followers. No true Christian leader is a law unto himself. He asks others to follow him only as he follows Christ. He lives in obedience to the Word and those to whom he is accountable.

Some who are reading this right now are looking for a leader for your church or organization. Look for these core traits. Don’t be too caught up in outward appearance, or you may miss a David, Israel’s greatest king. Don’t be deceived by a hesitant speaker, or you may miss a Moses, Israel’s greatest leader. Don’t be turned off by a “thorn in the flesh,” or you may miss a Paul, the church’s greatest missionary. But look inside. Look for the right kind of heart. That’s where you will find a true leader.

Parents, Listen Up!!

According to a major consulting firm, there are approximately 370,000 Christian high school seniors in America; but only 16 percent (60,000) of them will attend a Christian/Bible college this fall! Of those who do attend, however, 98 percent will maintain their faith and stay in church. The remaining 84 percent will attend a secular university or junior college near home. It is tragic that 52 percent of these will lose their faith and drop out of church. In light of these facts, why wouldn’t Christian high school seniors—supported firmly by their parents—overwhelmingly want to attend a Christian college?

Another recent study shows that there are approximately 3000 churches that identify with the conservative values of a college like GBS or its peer colleges and institutes. (Remember, too, that there are still others who would not fully identify with GBS but who would still want the values-based education which it offers.) An observation was made in this study that denominations tend to send at least one student for every two churches to its denominational college.

There is some parallel also between church groups and the colleges they identify with. This means that there is a potential student pool for GBS and its peer colleges of approximately 1800 students. Yet enrollment records show that less than 50% of that number actually attends. Why is this true?

Our own survey shows that the key influence in students coming to GBS is their parents, as indeed it should be. However, our recruitment feedback also shows that the one reason college-bound seniors go to secular schools is also because of parents. What are the reasons parents give for this?

The most consistent reason is money. Community colleges are close to home and cheap. Secular universities are also close and reasonably priced for in state students who live at home. Scholarships abound in these state-funded schools for students who are high academic achievers. Moreover, the money which their children will earn after college graduation is also a major factor to parents. “I want my kids to have it better than I did,” they reason, “and, frankly, ministry doesn’t pay enough!” A parent pushing their kids for upward mobility is the number-one reason why Christian young people pursue secular training and jobs.

On the other hand, many parents send their sons and daughters hundreds of miles away from home to our campus because their core values place “learning how to live a life” much higher up the list of priorities than “how to make a living.” They want their children established spiritually and grounded Biblically. They know that this can happen here without sacrificing academic excellence or missing out on a solid classical education. They also know that the ministry opportunities that their children experience here impact them for life. They see the value of student residence life, discipleship groups and mentoring moments in the maturing process. They understand how important it is to have their sons and daughters around other kids who share their values and faith so that they will have appropriate choices for a life partner. GBS also provides a forum for these students to hear the most challenging preachers and missionaries from all around the world in an atmosphere where they can make themselves available for full-time Christian ministry and respond to whatever God’s will is for their life.

All this is true even for many parents who know that their children will only be here for a couple of years and then move on to a college that offers training for a career field we do not and could not offer. Such parents do not see coming to GBS as wasted time. Rather they see it as one of the best investments they can make in the future of their children.

Nothing is more important to parents than their children. Nothing is more important to Christian parents than the spiritual welfare of their children. All of us here at GBS understand that and work incredibly hard to respond to that sacred trust with the highest standards of spiritual and academic excellence. God has honored that hard work and placed our graduates in positions of ministry, influence and responsibility all over the world.

It is natural for every parent to want their children to succeed. But for them to succeed without being in the center of God’s will – will be the most miserable failure of all!

It’s A Wonderful Life

The Greatest Gift, written by Philip Van Doren Stern, is a story about a man who wants to accomplish something in his own life but is so busy helping others that life seems to pass him by. Despondent over what appears to be a very ordinary—if not a wasted—life, he wishes he had never been born. He gets his wish, and through the help of a guardian angel he sees the world as it would have been had he never lived. After viewing life from such a unique perspective, he concludes that life is indeed a wonderful gift. Though Stern never found anyone willing to publish the story, it finally found its way into the hands of filmmaker Frank Capra, who turned it into the all-time Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

I have not had any life-changing visits from a guardian angel, but I have had my perspective on this life altered in recent months. I am one of those Christians who truly believes the best is yet to come! It has not been tempting for me to spend any time or money collecting the trinkets and toys of this present world. I have not craved houses and lands. I have had a good life, a happy marriage, and wonderful children, who are now grown and established; and so any time God is ready for me to go, I am ready. There are no sad stories, no regrets about leaving, and no struggle to grasp a few more fleeting moments of time here on earth. It’s been a great journey! (For those who are shocked by this, no, I am not depressed; and, yes, I would like to know my grandchildren.) After all, earnest Christians live with a very loose grip on this present world. Right? Right!

We are only pilgrims passing through the temporal headed for the eternal. Right? Right! This life is inferior at best, and the sooner we slip the bonds of mortal existence and are clothed with the eternal, the better. Right? Not quite! Some months ago God began to speak to me about the wonderful gift He has given us in our earthly physical life. It should not be minimized or demeaned because it is not as blissful a state as the life to come, nor should one just endure it until liberated by heaven. Rather, it should be lived with deep gratitude and respect as a wonderful gift from God. It is good, not because I make it so, but because He has made it so.

God created life and declared it good. God gave Adam and Eve each other and the created world around them to enjoy richly. He considers this physical life sacred and reserves the severest penalties for those who destroy it. The first promise attached to a commandment was the promise of a long life. God often promised length of days as a way of honoring His faithful servants in the Old Testament. All of this is still true, despite the fall of man and the curse of sin.

Obviously, God sees the life He gives us as very good! Don’t confuse God’s gift of life that is good with what the world calls the “good life.” The two are polar opposites.  The citizens of this present world chase after the “good life,” grabbing all they can get and holding it as tightly-fisted as possible. They generally succeed in keeping it long enough to make themselves thoroughly miserable before losing it all. Christians, however, have given up the “good life” so that they may enjoy a life that is truly good.

They do not grab for what they can get but rather hold everything they possess in an open palm. They clutch nothing to themselves but God. Thereby they can enjoy all things without those things affecting their joy.

If God views our earthly life as good, then His perspective ought to become our perspective. We should see every moment of our life here as a blessed gift to be richly enjoyed, life as a glorious journey marked by His grace. I don’t need health or wealth or popularity or beauty or anything else to make my life good. All I need is to walk with Him and remain in Him moment by moment. Such a view of life is neither a shallow optimism nor a refusal to acknowledge the deep darkness that life can bring. It isn’t ignoring the curse of sin and its awful physical consequences. But it is refusing to let those things blind us to the ultimate goodness of this life. It is acknowledging that every day is a gift from God—a gift that when received gratefully can transform the most common and ordinary moment into joyful living. It is a statement of faith that says pain, sorrow and trouble do not define my existence, determine my happiness or have the last word!

If God sees life as good, then His perspective should be reflected in the way we live it. God has given me some real-life object lessons to illustrate this point. Oscar Johnson, a dear friend, died recently after battling cancer for several years. Oscar’s life taught me so much about how one should truly enjoy each and every day. Oscar knew for over two years that he was dying. The joy and optimism with which he lived those years was a powerful witness to hundreds of people. During his last hospitalization, I was alone with him and took the opportunity to tell him how much he meant to my family and me and to say goodbye. That opened the door to talk about dying. He said to me, “Brother Avery, I have never walked this way before. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do when you’re dying.” And then with a big smile he said, “So I’m just going to enjoy my family, witness to my doctor, and take a nap.” Oscar was holding life in an open palm. He was rejoicing in every moment he had, and others were incredibly impacted by that joy.

A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of alumnus John Case, Jr. John died suddenly from a rare form of cancer at the age of forty-two. Hundreds came to the viewing and the funeral. His life had impacted so many people for what appears to be one primary reason—he loved life, and it showed! From the twinkle in his eye, to the lilt in his voice, to the humor in his words, John left those around him with the feeling that life is good and that he was enjoying it! A simple phone call from John could be the bright spot in a person’s day. What a great way to live!

It is doubtful that anyone was ever influenced toward the life to come by someone who despised the one he or she was living now. Life is good, and as Christians we should demonstrate that goodness to those with whom we interact.

As we celebrate God’s unspeakable gift in Christ this Christmas season, it would be good also to celebrate another of His wonderful gifts—the gift of life. Important celebrations require planning and thought. Last year on Christmas morning, before my family and I opened our gifts, we read the Christmas story, prayed together, and then I read some prepared remarks about how good God had been to our family and how grateful I was for each of them. I then mentioned some specific things about each one that I deeply appreciated. After I finished, each family member did the same. At times we were so overcome with emotion we couldn’t speak. When it was over, we embraced each other and realized anew how wonderful life really is! If you’re alone, read a prepared letter to God and thank Him for the life He has given you. You will not be alone for long! Whatever your circumstance, don’t miss an opportunity this year to celebrate all of life. Because it really is wonderful!

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!”

 

The Incarnation

Famous radio and television personality, Larry King, was known for his ability to ask the one question that would not only define the interview but the one being interviewed as well. On one occasion King said that if he could land an interview with God he would ask Him just one simple question, “Did you have a son?” King, who is Jewish, understands that the answer to that question carries with it profound even eternal ramifications. It has to be one of the most significant questions any seeker of truth could ask. If the answer is yes (and of course it is), then all history, all reality and all true faith come to focus in the incarnation of Jesus Christ – the eternal Son of God!

The word incarnation means in-flesh” and denotes the act whereby the eternal Son of God took to Himself an additional nature, humanity, through the virgin birth. The result is that Christ remains forever unblemished deity, which He has had from eternity past; but He also possesses true, sinless humanity in one person forever. The purpose of the incarnation can be expressed in three key ideas:

Explanation – John 1:18

he hath declared him” (KJV); “He has explained him” (NASB) “he has made him known” (ESV)

The Greek word (translated by the words declare, explain and made known) is the word in which we get our word “exegesis”. It means that Jesus came in human flesh to explain God or make Him known. Though God has revealed Himself in various ways, only the Incarnation of Jesus Christ clearly revealed the essence of God. So now when we “see” and “know” Jesus (read the divine revelation about the Son in scripture) we can “see” and “know” the Father.

Redemption – John 1:29

“behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”

Without the Incarnation we could have no redemption. Sin requires death for its payment. But the one dying had to satisfy the demands of God’s holiness and justice and that required a sinless sacrifice – one which only God Himself could provide. Since God does not die, the Savior must be human in order to be able to die. However, the death of an ordinary man would not pay for sin eternally, so the Savior must also be God. We needed a God-Man Savior, one without sin, who could die for our sins. That is exactly what we have in the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:1-10).

Identification – John 1:14

“became flesh and dwelt among us”

Dr. H.C. Morrison spoke about this aspect of the incarnation like this,   “God created man but had never been a man. He had seen men suffer but he had never felt pain. He had seen men bleed but he had never bled. He had seen men toil but he had never blistered his hands with carpenter tools. He had seen men die but he had never spread his omnipotent shoulders on the bottom of a cold sepulcher”. So He became one of us! From the womb of His mother to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, he identified with every aspect of our lives. He was hungry, weary, needy and fearful. He has faced every battle and felt every temptation that you and I face …yet without sin. This means that we have a God who fully identifies with us and can help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

A father put his four-year-old son to bed. Having finished prayers, stories, and all the little bedtime things, he kissed his son and turned off the light. The boy started sobbing, “Don’t leave me. I’m scared and don’t want to stay here alone.” The father tried to encourage the little boy by reminding him of God’s presence that was always near. The little boy said, “I know that but I want somebody with skin on.” What God could not accomplish through any other method, He was able to accomplish through sending His Son as the God-Man. This is the great message of the Incarnation!

 

Are Christians Really Different?

Believe it or not, the question posed in my title has been challenging for the church to answer in practical concrete ways! It has struggled to find balanced answers that keep it from falling into the ditch on either side of the question. When it over emphasizes uniqueness and separation, it falls into the ditch of reclusion and isolation. When it over emphasizes relevance and contextualization, it succeeds in filling up churches with people who have not experienced real gospel transformation. Both extremes produce the same result – no real transforming impact of the surrounding culture.

However, the Bible makes it quite clear that true Christians are not only distinct from non-Christians but also from those who are merely religious (Matt. 6:1-8).  The most definitive statement Jesus ever gave on how truly different an authentic Christian is and how that difference is lived out in concrete terms is found in the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon is filled with illustrations that compare and or contrast authentic Christians with non-Christians.   In doing this, Jesus contrast: two sets of values, two kinds of disciples, two kinds of righteousness, two kinds of spiritual exercises, two motives for obedience, two masters, two paths, two trees and two foundations. When He uses comparisons, He primarily compares the Christian view with the worlds view (someone who doesn’t know God) or the Christian view with the view of someone who is merely religious (rule and tradition keepers that have no real relationship with God).

Being Different is Essential

The New Testament makes the case that authentic Christians are indeed different and that difference is fundamental. The greatest eras in the life of the church have been when the line between the church and the world was the most distinct. I fear today’s church has forgotten this principle.   Christians certainly live in the world but they are not of the world. When the church becomes the same as the world, the church loses its unique ability to be a change agent.

How are Christians distinct from the world?

They are different in what they value (Matt. 5:3-12). One example of this is that the Christian values true humility while the world despises such a person. To the world, he lacks self-confidence, self-expression and the mastery of life.

They are different in what they seek (Matt. 5:6; 6:33) The Christians seeks after God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. The world seeks, fashion, longevity, wealth, status, power and publicity.

They are different in what they store up (Matt. 6:19-21, 25-33) The Christian stores up the kinds of things that have permanent value. The world stores up treasure that is passing away and has only temporal value.

They are different in whom they serve (Matt. 6:24) Jesus makes it clear that when it comes to material and spiritual things either your material things become your god or God is God of your material things. You can’t serve both! The world serves the god of the material while the Christian lays all his material things at the feet of his God.

How are Christians distinct from people who are merely religious?

True Christians are utterly distinct from those who are merely religious. In the gospels you see anger by Jesus toward the institutionalized religion of the Pharisees. However, when Jesus gets around sinners, He is patient and kind. When he gets around merely religious people, He is severely direct and critical. The reason for this lies in the difference between the two. Even though the Christian and the merely religious person may look much the same on the surface, there is a significant difference in the two.

They are different in the way they impact people (Matt. 13-16). Christians are attractive to and attracted to the kind of people that live in the darkness of sin. They run to bring the light of Jesus to the dark places of society. Christians are willing to engage the decay of the world with the salt of the gospel as well as their personal involvement. However, merely religious people are turned off by and alienated from these same people of darkness and decay. They put their light “under a bowl” while pulling their righteous robes about them lest they actually interact with these kinds of people.

They are different in the way they position themselves to other people (Matt. 7:1-5). Merely religious people see their sins as speck of dust and others sins as a huge plank. Christians see their sins as a plank and others as a speck of dust. In other words, the merely religious feel superior to others while Christians understand their need of constant grace.

They are different in their concerns for holiness (Matt. 5:17-6:6). The merely religious are concerned about externals while Christians are concerned about the heart. They seek conformity to letter of the law while Christians seek to obey not just the legal aspect of the law put the ethical side or the “spirit” of the law. The reason for this is that the motive for obedience is different. Merely religious people are motivated by the need for rule keeping and the fear of others while Christians are motivated by a love for God and His Word. Merely religious people let what others think become more important to them than what God thinks and in the end become a performer for the audience (others) rather than living a life solely for the glory of God. It is no wonder that Jesus charged the religious for having such a distorted view of scripture. The Christian, however, runs everything through the law of love.

They are different in their relationship to God (7:13-29). A Christian and a merely religious person may look much the same on the surface. They both may be orthodox in doctrine, passionate in service, moral in behavior and socially useful. Each builds on a foundation, bears fruit and claims to be on the path to heaven. But one’s foundation is firm while the other is faulty. One’s fruit is pure while the other is poison. One is on a path toward life while the other is on a path toward death and destruction. The key to the difference is found in Matt. 7:21-23, “ Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

The questions we must ask ourselves if we want to know for certain that we truly are Christian are these:

  • As I examine the actions and attitudes in my life, and look at my life in detail, can I claim for it something that is essentially distinct and never found in a non-Christian?
  • Is the difference more than just “not being like non-Christians” but rather a positive conformity to the image of Christ?
  •  Is this difference something that can only be explained in terms of a life-changing relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ?

The fundamental issue that Jesus points out so clearly in the Sermon on the Mount is that if Christians are going to make a difference they must be different. We can’t transform our culture by simply adding more of the same. It is not a difference just for the sake of being different, but a difference that comes from knowing and being known by Jesus!