Saving Our Kids

Too many parents think in terms of “getting their kids saved” rather than “saving their kids”. One carries the idea of evangelism and happens in the miracle of a moment, while the other involves an extended period of character formation (instruction, discipline, etc. . .) and lays the foundation for the kind of person and Christian it is possible for them to become. The former is obviously crucial to the well-being of their eternal soul, but so is the latter! As Wesleyans, we believe that prevenient grace covers the hearts of our children until they reach an age of accountability. So when it came to children, John Wesley strongly advocated that an emphasis be placed on Christian instruction, discipline and training rather than childhood conversion experiences. He was not implying that we should not give our children an opportunity to appropriate and experience the love of God for themselves, but rather he was stressing the importance of the kind of childhood character formation that makes for great saints and responsible citizens.

I have watched this play out in real life. Parents, who by willful negligence or by ignorance, fail in their role of parenting and then pray desperately for a miraculous conversion are in for a bittersweet moment. Even if “bad boy Brad” does finally get converted, he will so badly lack the necessary character needed to be a real man of God and a productive citizen that he will have to face life with a certain level of dysfunction.  In the last 30 years I have preached to and counseled with thousands of teens and young adults in camps, conferences and schools. I have yet to meet any that had Solomonic wisdom or angelic perfection, but I have been privileged to meet many wonderful kids. The kind of young person that made me say, “Your parents did something right!”   I have also met some kids along the way that lacked the basic character training necessary to be responsible, respectful, truthful, and productive. In comparing the two groups, and all the individuals that fall in between, I have searched for the single most significant reason that has made the difference. I am convinced that a large part of the answer is parenting.

It is not my intention to put parents on a guilt trip, or to blame them for behavior that is clearly the result of the exercise of free will. But I do want to remind parents of the responsibility that belongs solely to them in the child rearing process. There is a period of time in the growing up process that a parent can shape the character, attitude and behavior of a child. If that formative work is missed, it is next to impossible to “insert” it later on! I am keenly aware that not all children are endowed equally with the same temperament, learning ability, and giftedness. But the ground is level when it comes to building character. Character and subsequent behavior is a personal responsibility that begins with Mom and Dad in the very early years of a child’s life. Character is molded and developed in the home and cemented by the choices one makes every day. One’s peers do not mold one’s character. They may well influence one’s decisions, but they do not form one’s character; they can only test and reveal what is there. Character is not really an environmental issue. I have watched as quality parenting has raised quality kids in situations that were far from ideal. I have also watched as poor parenting has produced problem kids in environments that offered every advantage.

If in fact this period of character formation is so important, shouldn’t there be certain well-defined traits that a parent should focus on? I think so! The list will no doubt vary from person to person but I believe that list must have the following “Big Four.”

Obedience

In a recent search for Biblical passages on parenting, I discovered that the passages that do speak directly to parenting were divided equally among the subjects of discipline and instruction. What I also found was that all of these passages pointed to one thing: obedience! The formation of character through discipline and instruction is for the purpose of obedience. Once a child understands that he must obey and that he must do so with a willing attitude, then you scarcely have to teach him anything else! Once he knows he must obey, you can simply “ask” him to do whatever it is that you need or want him to do and he will do it. When a child has learned to obey willingly, then your discipline will be cut to a minimum and you can spend the vast majority of your time teaching, nurturing and forming that little one into the kind of man or woman you want them to be!

Personal Responsibility

Responsibility slides off children like water slides off a duck’s back. There is no real mystery to this since the idea that you are responsible for things is not native to children. The realization of responsibility comes only with much training as children develop. Furthermore, children like to engage in fun things. Responsibility is tedious and boring to a child. The parental commands to, “clean your room, make your bed, put your things away and do your homework” are certainly not exciting or fun. It takes a lot of discipline and maturity to learn how to manage doing what is not fun and staying on task until the job is completed – this is where good parenting comes in.

Most parents tell their children the things they ought to be doing on a daily basis. However, the most important part is not just about giving the commands; it’s about how the parent responds when the child doesn’t do what they are told to do. In other words, the parent has to make sure the child does what he is told. This promotes accountability. You have to hold kids accountable for not meeting their responsibilities. Being held accountable requires that the parent make the consequence for not meeting the responsibility less pleasant than if the child had completed the task in the first place. And that act of being held accountable promotes a willingness to meet the responsibilities next time. Failure to hold the child accountable teaches the child that his complaining, whining, blaming others, excuse making and even lying works for him in his effort not to take responsibility for himself or his behavior.

Work Ethic

Dr. Ruth Peters, psychologist and author of Overcoming Underachieving says: “Daily in my practice I see parents who have made the mistake of not taking the time and attention to teach their children to be workers and achievers. These kids have learned to settle for less rather than to face and challenge adversity, to become whiners rather than creative problem solvers, and to blame others for perceived slights and lack of success”.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the intentional investment of our time in teaching them how to have a healthy work ethic. As someone has said, “the job fairy isn’t going to come in the middle of the night and sprinkle work ethic dust on your child”. A love for work must be taught as well as caught! This means we set the example of showing them what a love for work looks like but it also means we let them learn by trial and error. The old adage that says, “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” will have to be permanently banned from your thinking if you are serious about teaching your children how to work. Every mother knows that it takes less time to clean the bathroom herself than it does with her “helpers” working alongside. But little helpers can only learn by watching and doing!

Developing a healthy work ethic by the time our kids are adults, means that we must start at an early age. One way to do that is to assign our kids age appropriate regular chores. Young children can put away laundry, make a bed and pick up toys. Older kids can vacuum, rake leaves, take out the trash, wash the car, cut the grass, etc. . . . When kids see work as a normal part of life, they spend less time grumbling and more time learning to enjoy the jobs assigned to them. Holding our kids accountable to complete their assigned task and to do those task well, is extremely important. It lays the groundwork for the kind of person that not only does good work but exceeds the expectations of a teacher or an employer.

Parents should be generous with praise for a job well done but should never give false praise for a job poorly done. If the job is done well, praise them for the job done. If it is done poorly, but with great effort, praise them for the effort. If it is done poorly and little effort was made to do it right, no praise should be forthcoming. Furthermore, parents should never say to their kids, “Johnny you can do anything.”   Why? For the simple reason they can’t. Be real with your kids. Let them know that it takes time and experience to accomplish some things well.

Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” By offering our kids a healthy perspective on work, and teaching them how not to fear it, we free them to succeed in almost anything they do.

 Respect

Respect is an attitude of admiration or esteem towards others, oneself and one’s possessions. In today’s world, where disrespect is so pervasive, we cannot expect our children to learn how to respect others through normal social interaction at school and play. Nevertheless, we can teach our kids this critical value. One of the most effective ways to do so is to model it. But beyond walking the walk, there are plenty of simple strategies you can use to instill in your kids crucial lessons in kindness, consideration, honesty, open-mindedness, and gratitude – all of which grow out of respect!

One of the most fundamental ways to show respect for someone, and to let them know you value them, is to give them your time and full attention. This is easy to model and teach. Setting boundaries is another way to teach our kids how to respect authority and to let them know the world doesn’t revolve around them. Making sure their actions have consequences is a way to teach our children to consider how their deeds and words impact others. Teach your child basic social interaction skills. It may sound old fashioned, but it’s very important to teach your child basic manners like saying “please” and “thank you.”

Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but it can also be one of the greatest joys a man and woman can experience. To willfully not do our best, is to commit a terrible wrong that can cripple a child for the rest of their life. There is a story in American literature that tells of a little girl whose mother had died. Her father would come home from work and just sit down, read his paper, and ignore the child. The little girl would come in and ask him to play with her for a little while because she was lonely. He told her he was tired, to let him be at peace. He told her to go out into the street and play if she wanted to play. So, she played on the streets. The inevitable happened. She took to the streets. The years passed on and she died. Her soul arrived in heaven. Peter saw her and said to Jesus, “Master, here’s a girl who was a bad lot. I suppose we send her straight to hell?”   “No,” said Jesus gently, “let her in.” And then His eyes grew stern as He said, “But look for a man who refused to play with his little girl and sent her out to the streets and send him to hell.”

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!

 

God Wants His Job Back

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

 

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

 

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

 

How is this Balance lost?

 

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

 

How does God get His job back?

 

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

 

High Places

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

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

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

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

Celebrating 125 Years of the God’s Revivalist

No history of the Holiness Movement is complete without mention of Martin Wells Knapp and his “pulpit” the God’s Revivalist and Bible Advocate. With a circulation of 20,000 at the turn of the last century, it has played a significant role in the promotion and spread of scriptural holiness. When Knapp launched the paper (then named The Revivalist) in 1888 his purpose was “to proclaim the good news of salvation, to stir up a revival spirit among Christians, [and] to stimulate Christian growth and responsible Christian living.” For 125 years the editors and staff of God’s Revivalist have sought to carry out his initial vision of a paper in which the good done would not be through “human might, nor power” but only through “the Holy Spirit.” Knapp realized, and we affirm, that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.

Knapp boldly proclaimed that he and the writers of this paper were only agents of God, committed to carrying out His work of promoting full salvation. He insisted that, should the paper die because of loyalty to these convictions it would be a “willing martyr.” Knapp’s belief in the power and providence of God’s provision for the Revivalist was sound. Only 12 years after Knapp launched God’s Revivalist, more than 50 holiness periodicals were in circulation across the United States. Today only one of those original publications remains in print. You are reading it.

As grateful as we are for 125 years of unbroken publication, we know that Knapp would have resisted the urge to engage in self-congratulation. All praise and honor belongs to the God who rules over all! Knapp frequently referred to the readers of his paper as “family” and this is a view we still share. So it is only right that we share with you, our family, some of what you can expect to see from the Revivalist in the coming years:

  1. A digital version of the magazine.
  2. Supplemental audio and video content.
  3. More special issues devoted to contemporary Christian living.
  4. An increased web and social media presence.

The Revivalist will, for years to come, be available in print. In the near future, however, we intend to offer the magazine in a format suitable to tablets, e-readers and smart phones. Already, the Revivalist Press has begun to issue, and re-issue, e-book versions of our most popular publications. We are firmly committed to upholding scriptural holiness to the coming generation of digital natives. We also intend to provide supplemental audio and video content via the web. In the immediate future you will begin to see a number of special issues devoted to single topics. These will, we pray, as Knapp promised “stimulate Christian growth and responsible Christian living.” All of these changes will mean an enlarged web and social media presence; changes we hope will increase the global impact and reach of this publication and its founding message, “Holiness Unto The Lord.”

Renewing the Vision

Charles C. McCabe was the Director of Church Extension for the Methodist Episcopal Church as well as a brilliant strategist.  In the spring of 1881, he was riding a train in the Pacific Northwest when he saw an article about the National Convention of the Free Thinkers of America.  The newspaper included the text of a speech delivered by prominent atheist Robert Ingersol.  As McCabe read the speech he became quite angry.  Ingersol had said, “The churches are dying out all across America. They are struck with death! By the dawn of the 20th century, churches will be but relics of a bygone day”.  McCabe got off the train and fired off a telegram to Mr. Ingersol in Chicago.  It read,” Dear Bob, We are building more than one church a day for every day of the year and propose to make it two a day!”  The story got out and someone composed the following chorus:

The infidels, a motley band, in council met and said,
“The churches die throughout the land the last will soon be dead.”

When suddenly a message came that filled them with dismay,
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name, we’re building two a day”.

We’re building two a day, dear Bob; we’re building two a day!
All hail the power of Jesus’ name, we’re building two a day!

Charles McCabe clearly shared the vision of Methodism’s Founder, “to reform a continent and to spread scriptural holiness across these lands.”  Methodism envisioned itself as a reform movement.  A vision that propelled the Methodist church to the forefront of outreach and pioneer evangelism in America until it could be said   that the Methodists owned the 19th century!

Despite the multitude of stories telling of the Church’s transformative impact on cities, countries and civilizations, there has been no shortage of hostile voices predicting her demise.  Yet even while the scoffers scoff  the Church of Jesus Christ steadily penetrates a darken world like yeast penetrates a loaf of bread “until the whole be leavened”  and will continue to do so until that day when “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. The future of the Church does not hang in the balance!  Victory for the Church of Jesus Christ is inevitable!

The truth in the paragraph above stands without equivocation.  However, any thinking person who reads the above statement and then simply looks at what is happening in the vast majority of churches in North America and Europe today would have cause to question the veracity of what I wrote. It is true that the Invisible Church of Jesus Christ is and will be triumphant.  It is not true that every part of the visible church on earth experiences that same conquering spirit.  While the Church is harvesting a bumper crop in Asia, Latin American and Africa the harvest seems to be rotting in the field in Europe and North America. The problem is certainly not with the Lord of the Church or with His power to prevail.  The problem lies with a Laodicean spirit that has gripped the visible church of North America and Europe.  The problem is not new!  Read Paul’s words to a church that was not yet twenty-five years old! Take a moment to read again the first three chapters of the book of The Revelation.  Take a literary walk down the pages of church history reading the stories of the Reformers and the Revivalist and you will see what I mean!

A willingness to acknowledge historical fact and present reality about certain parts of the church should not turn us into pessimist. One does not have to join the “church is dead” movement to be able to admit that the visible church has at times lost her way, backslidden, become unfruitful and needed major reformation and revival.  As a matter of fact, I believe the church in America is in such a time right now.  James MacDonald says the evangelical church is experiencing a time of “epic failure.” He further says that, “Until we acknowledge that the church in North America is failing, we won’t take the steps necessary to see that trend reversed.”  MacDonald’s word to the evangelical church should be taken to heart by the Conservative Holiness Movement as well.

The Call to Resurgent Hope

                I along with the faculty of God’s Bible School and College have the greatest appreciation for and the deepest commitment to that part of God’s Church identified as the Conservative Holiness Movement.  This is the tradition that GBS has lived and worked within long before there was such a name designation or a movement identified as such.  The “Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement” was written by our faculty as an attempt to restate the strengths of that tradition, to acknowledge its weaknesses and to dialogue on how to restore what is vital to its future.  By the very nature of such a call we are acknowledging problems, struggling to find answers and humbly offering solutions. The last section, Article X, in the Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement is a call for Resurgent Hope.  The CHM needs a renewed vision for its future.  It lacks a “grand idea” to marshal its youth and to propel it forward. The absence of such of vision has caused the movement to become disoriented and allowed it to drift away from its historical landmarks – the things that made it special in the first place.  However, the key to a renewed vision or a new vision altogether begins with a willingness to acknowledge apparent problems with an eye to corrective measures.

There is an Elephant is the room!

            It has been obvious, for a long time, to many of the leaders within the CHM that the movement is in a state of serious decline.  It has failed to grow numerically by means of new conversions while membership roles in some of the largest and oldest denominations have decreased as much a 60%.   Unfortunately too many key leaders have simply ignored the obvious.  You could say it is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about!  To reinforce my own observations with facts, I had a third party survey conducted.  The survey was conducted among the eighteen  denominations that identify with the CHM. The leadership of each denomination was asked to identify their top two churches so that the pastor of these churches could be interviewed. (It should be pointed out that using the top churches in each group heavily weighted the survey towards a more favorable outcome).  Fifteen of the groups cooperated with the survey which allowed us to question the pastors of 30 of the top churches in these denominational groups. I then surveyed four of the largest independent churches in the CHM and added the results to this survey.  The pastors were asked three questions. (1) How many conversions of unchurched people have you had in the last five years that have been discipled to the level of membership? (Not yet a member but ready to be)   (2) How many conversions of unchurched people have you had in the last five years that have been discipled to the level of maturity that allows them to be involved in ministry?  (3)  How many third generation Christians do you have in your church?

Here is what we found:

  1. 80 % of the top churches in the CHM have had no unchurched person converted and discipled to the level of membership within the last five years.
  2. In the six largest churches surveyed only one had unchurched people converted and discipled to the level of membership in the last five years.  Only two had converts discipled to the point of ministry involvement.
  3. The churches with the most third generation Christians tended to have the least number of unchurched converts, while churches with the least number of third generation Christians tended to have the most unchurched converts.
  4. The majority of the churches surveyed had at least one convert that had been discipled enough to use in ministry but was still unable to be considered for membership.
  5. There were three churches that I considered “outliers” and set them apart in the survey results.  Together these three churches had 180 converts of unchurched people in the last five years.  60 of these converts were discipled to the level of membership.  120 of these converts were discipled to the level of ministry.  All three churches had a combined total of only 24 third generation Christians (that is an average of only 8 each).  These churches are exceptional and have something to teach us!

The survey highlights a number of problems. First, most CHM churches are not reaching the unchurched. Second, when a CHM church does see unchurched people converted it rarely retains these converts.  This problem of attrition has several contributing causes but it is primarily because the average CHM church has failed to address the process necessary to grow these converts and to assimilate them into the core fellowship of the church (the process of becoming and belonging).  Hence most of them backslide or go to another church.   Third, the survey revealed something else that I had only surmised.  It revealed that churches with high numbers of third generation Christians do the poorest job of reaching the unchurched.  This is true despite the fact that many of these operate impressive ministries to that very population.  It is alarming to see that these large churches, that are resource rich, can operate impressive outreach ministries and never truly “reach out.”  This is the elephant in the room!

How do you eat an Elephant?

            Occasionally one of my colleagues or students will share with me what seems to them to be an insurmountable problem. I will listen carefully then ask them this question, “How do you eat an elephant?”  While they are looking at me in absolute bewilderment I will answer for them, “One bite at a time!”   All of our problems, no matter how large, can and must be addressed “one bite at a time.”  For the CHM the process of addressing the serious problem of decline will be a long-term deliberate strategy that must be implemented “one bit at a time.”

Success in eating the elephant means that the CHM must avoid the danger of two extremes.  The first extreme is to do nothing.  Since the elephant is so big and the challenge is so overwhelming the danger is that we just ignore it and do nothing at all. On the other hand, we must avoid the other extreme of trying to eat the elephant in just a few bites.  Massive and sudden change can divide, demoralize and possibly destroy a church or movement.

Doing nothing is not acceptable!

            However insurmountable the problem may appear to be doing nothing is not an option. Like a man paddling across the Atlantic with a hole in his boat, we can neglect the problems of our movement for a while, but if not eventually addressed we will certainly sink.  Complacency can be one of our biggest enemies. It is sometimes hard to spot complacency because it can hide its failure to act behind impressive rationalization.  Complacent leaders and pastors will pose the argument that true success cannot be measured or quantified.  They say that such measurements are the world’s way of evaluating a successful ministry and that simply counting conversions, members, offerings, buildings, etc . . . is not the way God measures success.   They contend that the only true criterion for ministry is faithfulness.  There is so much truth in this argument that it is difficult to debate.  There is much to be said from the Word and from practical ministry about faithfulness.  It is extremely important in both the eyes of God and men.  However, holding up faithfulness as the final measure of true success can be a “cop out” for failing to do the hard work of reaching people.  Even if that isn’t the case, it is certainly an oversimplification. I agree with Timothy Keller when he says that there is a more Biblical gauge to evaluate ministry than either success or faithfulness – it is fruitfulness (John 15:8).

If complacent leaders and layman can comfort themselves with an appeal to their faithfulness (one that has certainly been uncoupled from the concept of fruitfulness) then that may prove to be a strong enough “sleeping potion” to keep them from addressing the true barrenness of their particular denominations and churches.  I am afraid that as long as the various groups that make up the CHM can afford to hold the annual IHC, operate their own annual campmeeting and give respectable offerings to a foreign missions program they will remain complacent – even accepting of the failure of the local church to be fruitful and reach its surrounding community.

The importance of Vision Renewal for the CHM

            If you have ever driven a car with misaligned wheels you know that it is difficult to keep the car in the middle of your lane – it constantly wants to pull to one side.  That is what it is like to be in a movement, church or organization that lacks vision.  Everyone may be very busy doing something but they are continuously pulled off center – away from the main thing.  Without a compelling vision to motivate, energize and direct, people will wear themselves out with meaningless activity. Any church or movement that is engaged in such activity becomes the breeding ground for skepticism, criticism and a host of “rabbit trials” that take it away from its main objective.

In greyhound racing there is a little mechanical rabbit covered in fur that    sits on the end of a long metal rod that circles the track ahead of the dogs.  The operator of this mechanical rabbit always keeps the rabbit ahead of the dogs so as to keep them running but never allowing them to catch it.  In one race, while the dogs were hotly pursuing the rabbit, there was a short in the electrical system that caused the rabbit to explode.  With no rabbit to chase the dogs didn’t know what to do.  Some of them went crazy jumping through the fence. Others just wandered aimlessly around the track.  Still others laid down on the track and howled at the spectators.  Not one dog finished the race.  Without a vision to pursue: dreams fade, people drift and once-vibrant movements slowly die.

Vision Obstacles

            The CHM is resource rich!  It has a wealth of talented people who are deeply committed to their faith.  It possesses what it takes to move forward with the work of vision discovery, renewal and implementation.  Yet it does have some major “vision obstacles” that it will have to be overcome.  Things like:

 Reluctant Leadership – So much rises and falls around leadership.  The CHM struggles to be open to the kind of visionary leader that has the capacity to lead it from where it is to where it needs to go.  Even where that kind of leadership exists, it has too often bowed to the politics of fear or lacked the resolve to push beyond the obstacles.

 Pietistic Pride – The CHM battles with a strange paradox.  On the one hand it struggles with an inferiority complex while on the other hand it struggles with pietistic pride.  There are times when our opinion of ourselves is too exalted. So much so, that we tend to look down on the rest of Christ’s body as “not quite where we are.”    This sanctimonious arrogance needs to be replaced with a little sanctified humility.  After all pride made the Devil the Devil!

Pre-occupation with the Past – When CHM folks get together you will hear far more talk about our “holiness heritage” than you ever will about our “holiness future.”   Our Methodist Holiness history is fascinating!  But it is still history!  The past must serve as a guide post not a hitching post – it should be the rudder on the ship not the anchor.  God consistently reveals Himself as One who is forward looking.  He is primarily interested in where we are going not where we have been.  It is the Devil who wants us pre-occupied with the past!   Movements and churches that have been mightily used of God in the past, and for one reason or the other get stuck there,  will be set aside and someone else or something else will be raised up to take their place.

Resistance to Change – Continual change is the reality of our time. The church is not an isolated island from the rest of society and by its very nature it cannot be. It too is changing. As a matter of fact, change is not new to the church.   For those of us within the holiness tradition, John Wesley and the early Methodists serve as an example of innovative and creative change to meet the ministry needs of their time. The CHM has proven quite resistant to change in methodology, technology and organizational structure even when it is apparent that change could advance the kingdom without any compromise to the message.

An Unhealthy focus on Single Issues – Churches were never meant to have a single focus like Pizza Hut or Jiffy Lube.  The church must be fully Biblical and properly balanced in all its priorities and emphasis!  To be a healthy body it must be a whole body.  Too many CHM churches are known for one thing – the lifestyle positions they embrace.  When this single focus prevails it can hurt the church both internally and externally.  Biblical holiness does in fact have behavioral consequences that impact my lifestyle.  But it also cast them as a part of discipleship and growth where they are lived out in an atmosphere of relaxed self-discipline and humble dependence on God – never as the main thing.

Fear Driven Decision Making – Movements, churches and pastors who constantly test the winds of “what others might think” end up neurotic, paranoid and pathetically immobile. Fear has been the catalyst for many needless rules and regulations.  The fear of what others “might think” has killed many positive outreach initiatives.  A man fearing spirit and the general fear of change has hindered churches from needed adjustments that would have positioned them to better serve their own people as well as those they might reach.

Vision begins with God!

            God is more than willing to help a struggling or failing church or movement to regain its footing, but He will not climb over the impediments of no vision, poor planning, weak execution, horizontal thinking and a lack of faith.  Leadership must take seriously the work of vision casting.  For me to propose a vision or even attempt to restate a vision for the churches, the denominations and the organizations that make up the 21st century CHM would push the boundaries of arrogance or ignorance (I will let you decide).  The work of vision casting and mission development is not a “cut and paste” moment achieved by a few hours of “goggling” all the good web sites.  Vision comes from the Lord!  It comes when leaders and laymen seek God, find a divine burden, and mold it to their situation!  Vision is not some mystical dream detached from reality.  Whatever vision God gives a church it will have some parallel to the mission and vision laid out for us in the book of Acts and duplicated throughout the centuries by the church.  Vision is anchored in one’s core values, grows out of one’s main reason for existence and fits perfectly within the context of one’s ministry situation (gifts and resources).  Vision is birthed when someone has a heart that aches so badly to know how to advance God’s Kingdom that they are willing to get alone with God long enough to say, “speak Lord for your servant heareth” and then stay still long enough for God to speak to their situation. Vision is not solely owned or produced by one person but I do believe that God normally puts the vision for a church, an organization or a movement into the heart of a one person and not a group of people.  I also believe that He confirms and refines that vision as the leader shares it with a small group of elders or spiritual leaders to whom he is accountable or with whom he shares oversight of the ministry.

Vision Components

            A vision statement explains where a church or denomination is headed and helps to formulate a picture of what it will “look like” as it accomplishes its mission.  I can’t author a vision statement for the CHM or the individual churches that compose its membership but if I could the following components would be a central part:

UpReach – I believe prayer and worship are two core elements that are struggling to survive in ways that truly impact the CHM. We live in a post-Christian culture where not only do men sin with no sense of remorse but where anti-Biblical values and anti-Christ views are entrenched at the highest levels of the institutions that undergird and govern our society. Only prayer can break such a stronghold.  We must once again become a praying church.

The culture we are called to win is one that is lonely, empty and materialistic.  They are desperately seeking for something they do not have – something transcendent.  They are crushed by the disappointment that they cannot create happiness for themselves beyond the momentary.  They have a deep longing in their soul to know, to experience and to worship God.  The church that provides an experience of unashamed worship, marked by the presence of God, is the church that will never lack for people. We must return to the kind of worship that is marked by God’s presence.  This may be our greatest need!

OutReach – Many holiness churches began as store front missions. They located where the sinners were because they believed it was their main job to see sinners saved, sanctified and established in the family of God. It seems that the CHM no longer believes that this is their main mission and unfortunately the statistics support such a conclusion. The CHM has become primarily a preservation movement. However, that can change!  A renewed vision for the CHM should make the Great Commission a vital part of its main mission so that we might “reform a nation and spread scriptural holiness across this land.”

InReach –  According to Dr. Brian Black, there are approximately 3000 churches in the USA that in some way  identify with the CHM (compare that to the  North American church numbers for the: Nazarenes – 4800, Wesleyans – 1710, and the Free Methodist – 957).  With all these churches and all the individual talent within the CHM one would think the movement could and should be doing something significant for the Kingdom of God.  However, we are resource rich and cooperation poor.   We have miserably failed to reach within – join hands – and unite for the greater good of advancing the work of God in church planting, education, printing, missions and compassionate care. Instead of one or two strong mission organizations there are thirty-one struggling ones. Instead of one or two strong colleges there are eight struggling ones.  Instead of one strong holiness church in town there are four “family controlled” struggling ones. Cooperation for stewardship reasons alone would free up millions of dollars to further the Kingdom and the message of scriptural holiness!  No movement on earth could gain more from just simply working together than could the CHM.

DownReach – The CHM has a wealth of Biblical, theological, doctrinal and practical teaching that is not being passed down to new Christians or to younger generations. The CHM needs a renewed commitment to discipleship, mentoring and preaching. Discipleship is the perfect arena to “teach” many things that should not and cannot be adequately “preached.”  Mentoring is the key to helping our immature converts and young people maneuver the choppy waters of life successfully.  Just keeping the few converts we do have coupled with saving our own would double our population numbers within a few years.  Preaching as it is being done in many CHM churches is passionate exhortation with the goals of inspiration, motivation and evaluation. Preaching in today’s world needs to be passionate explanation with the goal of transformation and application.  The post-modern mind today doesn’t want someone “yelling” at them.  It wants someone explaining the Bible and giving them ways to apply to their life right now!

Someone has got to see it!

          Francis Asbury saw an American frontier evangelized for Christ and the Circuit Rider was born. William Booth saw the poor of England sinking in despair and the Salvation Army was born!  Martin Wells Knapp saw a school to train a new generation of Christian soldiers and God’s Bible School was born.  Rev. Eber Teter saw the state of Alabama without the message of heart holiness and the Friendship Wesleyan Methodist Church was born – at whose altar I found saving grace.  Someone must see what can be before it can or will come to pass!

The founder of Disney World, Walt Disney, died five years before Disney World was completed.  On opening day in 1971 someone said to director Mike Vance, “Isn’t it too bad Walt Disney didn’t live to see this?”  To which Vance replied, “Oh, Walt did see it!  That’s why its here.”

Somebody has got to dream and envision a renewed holiness movement. I long for a movement unified in purpose – linking arms in mission and message!  Martin Luther King saw an America where racial inequality was abolished – “He (God) has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”            I too have been to the mountain top and I’ve seen on the other side!  The CHM just needs more mountain climbers who will get above the fog at ground level and see what “can be” in our tomorrows!

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).