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!

 

The Light of the World

Light is one of the great Johannine words that occurs no fewer that twenty-one times in the fourth gospel. It is one of the two key words upon which John builds his testimony of Jesus. John describes Jesus as a light that has come into the world to light the life of every man (John1:9). Another one of John’s key words is darkness. John saw a darkness in the world that was very real and very hostile to the light. This darkness represents evil. Sinning man loves the darkness and hates the light, because the light exposes their wickedness. John takes these two themes and shows their natural opposition. He portrays a universal battleground where the forces of dark and light are arrayed in an eternal conflict. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it (John1:5). The darkness seeks to eliminate the light of Christ—to banish it from life, but the light will not go out!

This conflict is played out in the pages of sacred history. The Old Testament lets us witness everything from individual struggles with evil for the soul of a man to heavenly warfare for the soul of a Nation. In the New Testament this conflict emerges with intensity around the cradle of the incarnate Christ as the forces of darkness unleash Herod’s sword in a futile attempt to eliminate the light. The ultimate battle, however, would unfold at Calvary. The rulers of this age and the powers of darkness thought if they could only nail Christ to the cross that darkness would win once and for all. They thought the crucifixion of Christ would be the ultimate defeat and their final triumph. In fact, it proved to be just the reverse. Out of the darkness of his death came the blinding light of His resurrection victory. The light of this good news exploded out of the confines of Palestine and across the known world like a quickly spreading flame until, in a few decades, the gospel had impacted every major population center of the Roman world.

The powers of darkness responded with persecution and torture. But wild beasts and boiling oil couldn’t put out the light and the blood of the martyrs only fueled the flame. When persecution from without did not succeed, the forces of darkness turned inward and awful darkness settled down over the church. But out of the heart of that darkness, reformation fires began to burn and the light prevailed. Every counter move by the forces of darkness to extinguish the light only brought revival fires that would break out and save lives, transform nations, and change the course of history.

The darkness has used all sorts of political ideologies, human philosophies, and false religions to advance its cause. But the light always breaks through to enlighten the mind and liberate the hearts of men. As you gather with friends this Christmas season, light a candle and lift your voice in praise for light has come into the world and the darkness has not and will not overcome it!

It’s Been Great!

In this issue of the God’s Revivalist you will read about my decision to step down as president when my term ends in 2017. This information is not completely new for a lot of people since I have freely shared it with the campus family, alumni groups and some friends of the school. Almost invariably when I talk about it there are three responses: First, why are you leaving? Second, who will ever take your place? Three, what do you plan to do next?
Why are you leaving?
For twenty years I have always asked myself a group of questions before making any administrative decision of consequence, “Is it in harmony with God’s will and Word and is it good for GBS?” Those are the same questions I have asked about this decision and the answer that I have come to is YES. It is time to step aside and allow fresh leadership at the top. No one is asking or even wanting me to leave – not the Board, not the faculty, not the students. I don’t really want to leave! But I am leaving because I know it is the right thing to do. The average tenure for a college president is 8.5 years. There is a reason why the tenure is relatively short in comparison to other positions of equal significance. To succeed as the president of a small Bible college like GBS, you must be willing to invest large amounts of time in both the people and the processes that make a school great. You must willingly give huge amounts of physical, emotional and spiritual energy – this is doubly true if you are concerned about the spiritual development of your students. Your creativity and vision must be fresh, relevant and forward looking. You must be willing to live with a constant eye toward friend making and donor development. We have made wonderful progress on all fronts in the last 20 years and I do not want the pace to slacken so I know it is time for a fresh set of hands on the wheel.
Who will take your place?
When people ask me this question I smile both outwardly and inwardly. I know it is a way of passing on a subtle compliment to me and I really appreciate their kindness. However, I know that God already has His hand upon the next person that will follow me. God is forward looking. He is not contemplating the last twenty years but rather is looking toward the development of the next twenty and He already has someone in mind to do the job! And in my opinion, it will be someone who can lead GBS in the fulfillment of its mission in ways that I never could! As a matter of fact, I am quite excited about the future of our school!
The school has an outstanding Board that is well equipped and well prepared for the task of selecting the next president. The entire Board has been praying and fasting and will continue to do so over the next two years. I am anticipating a smooth transition and a great future for GBS!
What do you plan to do next?
Great question! I just don’t know the answer to it yet! But I do know that the God who has led me in every major decision of my life will lead me as to what I am to do next. I do know that I am not retiring (I will only be a young 60 when I leave). I want to give the remaining years of my life to Kingdom work of some sort. I love preaching, teaching, solving problems, helping people with strategic thinking and planning and mentoring. I hope that God will allow me a chance to influence another generation of Christian workers and leaders. The Kingdom needs leaders desperately and those developing leaders need a mentor and a life coach like no other time in the history of the church.
As the clock ticks down to 2017, I will be sharing things with the Revivalist family that I hope we can accomplish together before my departure. I will also be sharing articles that reflect my thoughts and burdens for the church and the holiness movement of which we are all a part. The days head are exciting and filled with promise. I can hardly wait to see what He has in store for GBS!

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!

Developing Deep Christians

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

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

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

The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement speaks to this in Article VIII.  It decries the fact that we have, “largely abandoned our Methodist system of spiritual formation and forgotten how to fulfill our Lord’s command to make disciples. We have sought revival without preparing to preserve its fruits. We have emphasized spectacular conversions and neglected the biblical necessity of disciplined growth in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love”.  The end result is that the CHM suffers from too many shallow Christians.

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

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

Discipleship the only Cure!

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

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

Divine Encounters

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

Difficult Circumstances

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

Deliberate Mentoring

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

The Implications of Failing to Disciple

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

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

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

Holiness

– March 2012

Holiness

I was sitting in the barber’s chair when my barber, Tony, asked me what I was working on that day.  I told him I was writing.  He asked me what I was writing about.  I told him I was writing on the subject of “holiness.”   He grew very quiet and finally said, “That’s a subject nobody talks about.  Of all the things that get talked about in here I have never heard anybody talk about holiness”.

Tony is right. Purity and moral excellence is certainly not in the top ten lists of today’s societal values.  The media will only talk about it when they have the opportunity to mock a morally decent person as a hypocrite– otherwise the subject is just too boring.  Movies typically cast the morally upright as some “out of touch simpleton” whose attempts to do the right thing are valued only for a few laughs.  Sadly, most people have never heard a sound, scriptural discussion on holy living – not even in church.

The subject of holiness desperately needs to be re-discovered and re-introduced into the culture and values of America.  That process should begin in the church.  The practical presentation of holiness has long since been cast out of the pulpits and publishing houses of the people that made it a household word in America – the Methodists.  Actually, many of the twentieth century holiness groups (descendants of Methodism) have also de-emphasized the message or abandoned it altogether in their quest for respectability and acceptance at the table with mainstream evangelicals.  It is true that Evangelicalism has become the dominant expression of Christianity in America.  But it is also true that the moral and spiritual life of the nation has collapsed while embracing its flimsy offers of cheap grace, the promise of heaven no matter how you live and the disgusting doctrinal conclusions that Christians are just “saved sinners” who are far from “perfect” but are “forgiven” nonetheless. It shouldn’t surprise any of us when surveys show that there is almost no difference at all in the core values between the churched and the unchurched in America!  What is missing?  Holiness!

The Biblical call to holiness leaves no room for Christians who want to coddle sin and live in a state of perpetual immaturity and worldliness.  Not only does scriptural holiness teach that Christians can be liberated from willful sin and empowered to live lives of obedience to Christ; it also teaches that the Christian can be cleansed from the inner propensity to rebellion, selfishness and pride through the work of the Holy Spirit.  A holy life is a life where spiritual and moral character is taking root and being lived out in a sensible, upright and godly way.

This is the message that birthed the Wesleyan Revival, took 19th century America by storm and raised the level of social and moral concern on two continents!  The post-Civil War holiness revival impacted numerous denominations in America and influenced many Christian Leaders outside the Methodist holiness tradition.  Oswald Chambers, a Scottish Baptist, was significantly affected both spiritually and theologically by his association with the American holiness movement.  In his popular devotional My Utmost for His Highest he wrote, “Continually restate to yourself what the purpose of your life is. The destined end of man is not happiness, nor health, but holiness….God has one destined end for mankind, viz., holiness. Never tolerate through sympathy with yourself or with others any practice that is not in keeping with a holy God. Holiness means unsullied walking with the feet, unsullied talking with the tongue, unsullied thinking with the mind – every detail of the life under the scrutiny of God.”

Many in the broader holiness movement today would be embarrassed by Chambers words.  They would see them as extreme, maybe even hypocritical.  However, there is still a clear witness to the historic message of scriptural holiness!  The Francis Asbury Society is a strong voice among Methodists. The mainline holiness groups still have a few scholars, pastors and laity who aren’t ashamed to lift the torch for scriptural holiness. The most welcoming home for the holiness message is among the Conservative Holiness Movement.  They write it in their church disciplines, teach it in their Bible Colleges, preach it in their pulpits, editorialize it in their periodicals, celebrate it in their testimonies, and emphasize it in their conventions.  For the most part, the CHM is strongly committed to the message of holiness.

However, providing the message of scriptural holiness a home and keeping it healthy are not one and the same.   The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement addresses this in Article V.  The Call points out certain weaknesses that can and will undermine the message.  Let me enumerate some of my own concerns with the CHM’s stewardship of the holiness message.

I am concerned about legalism.  That scriptural holiness has behavioral and lifestyle ramifications cannot be argued: external matters are not unimportant. But when we turn our primary focus away from the heart and onto externals (usually particular standards of dress or modes of behavior) we are in danger of reducing holy virtue to custom and thereby trivializing both.

I am concerned about “works righteousness.”  Holiness people take the formation of moral and spiritual character seriously. However, the balance between God’s work in us and our work in forming holy habits can get out of balance more easily than one might think.  God graciously invites us to work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit through a variety of spiritual disciplines appropriate to our need, but it is always God at work in us. We have nothing that has not been given to us by the Holy Spirit.  All holiness is God’s holiness in us! The temptation to believe that any progress forward is somehow our own doing can be a very real problem.  The tendency to believe that careful obedience to Biblical principles or personal adherence to codes or cultures of lifestyle somehow earns merit or standing with God is a subtle form of pride that must be rooted out. Andrew Murray reminds us that, “There is no pride so dangerous, none so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness.”  Deep devotion to Christ and careful attention to righteous living must be motivated by loving obedience or we will fall into the ditch of works righteousness.

I am concerned about perfectionism.  Holy people have not attained a state of “sinless perfection” that renders them incapable of any wrong action. Holiness involves both purity and maturity.  There is still much room for growth in the sanctified life.  Holy habits deepen into fixed patterns of living as we learn to walk in the Spirit.  We can and do make many mistakes.  There may be times when our attitudes or actions are simply wrong. When that happens we should, in good old honest humility, exercise repentance, make amends and learn from our failures. We never learn from failures denied. Only by seeing them, admitting them, and mending them in total meekness will we follow Peter’s admonition to “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  This is how holy people respond to failure.  However, perfectionism cuts us off from our essential humanity, forcing us to deny who and what we really are, or to downplay or outright deny what we have done.  When this happens we are simply pretending we are something we are not, and such duplicitous behavior is destructive.   True holiness is not the breeding ground for pretentious behavior or self-righteousness.  Rather it is the womb in which honesty and humility are nurtured.

I am concerned about message drift.  There is a certain amount of tension and balance in which every Biblical truth must be held.  The same is certainly true of the call to holiness.  The balance wheel for holiness is unadulterated love for God and others.  If holiness loses that balance, it will become a crotchety, sterile, loveless way of rules and regulations that values law over love.  One ends up behaving like the Priest who valued unsullied hands for temple service more than helping the wounded Samaritan out of the ditch.  It can also go the other direction and become nothing more than a mental ascent to a positional sanctification that is void of any real sanctity.  The theological concept of being “in Christ” is reduced to nothing more than a convenient semantic cover-up for a life of sin and failure.   I fear both extremes.  Scriptural holiness will not take you down either path.

I am concerned about isolation. The CHM has made valiant attempts to honor the Biblical call to separation from the world but has simply become isolated from the world thereby hiding its candle under a bushel.  The message of holiness needs to be lived out loudly in the market place of life and we are the people to do it!  It needs to be broadcast over the Web, printed in books and argued as the path to true happiness for individuals and families.

My barber is right.  You don’t hear talk about holiness in the barber shops, bakeries or board rooms of America.   But the day will come when “Holiness unto the Lord” will resound throughout the earth and be part of an eternal conversation by those who have “pursued that holiness without which no man will see the Lord.”  I want to be one who promotes the conversation now – don’t you?