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).

Worship

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

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

 CHM Worship Strengths

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

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

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

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

 CHM Worship Weaknesses*

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

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

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

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

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

 Too Important to Ignore

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

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

Lighting a Candle in Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authority in the Church

– May 2012

Authority in the Church

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

This discussion over authority in the Church may sound somewhat benign and empty to most of the people who will read this article.  Their religious world does not include popes, archbishops, bishops or councils!  Churches within the holiness tradition function as self-governing communities or are affiliated with denominations that have a very limited form of top-down government.  Neither approach, however, has allowed the holiness church to escape the discussion or the problem of authority.  The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement Article VI states that the CHM has been marked by “the spirit of autonomy and even anarchy. . . . Too often . . . we have exhibited rebellion against the authority structures which God Himself has established, boasting our independence of them, and refusing to submit to their godly discipline. This has been evidenced by continuing divisions among us, often over matters unconnected with allegiance to Scriptural truth.”

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

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

 A Biblical Understanding of Authority in the Church

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

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

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

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

Church Authority and Generational Differences

The Greatest and Silent Generations  

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

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

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

The Boomer, Buster and Millennial Generations

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

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

Addressing the Problem

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

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