Our nation is desperately in need of spiritual awakening. But our emphasis on evangelism apart from doctrine will certainly not do it. The Great Awakening was the result of solid doctrinal preaching that addressed both the heart and the mind. It was preaching that dared to expose sin in the church. And God used it to sweep thousands into his family. Perhaps it is time that we dug again these old wells and learned why their waters flowed with life so fruitfully and bountifully.
- Warren Wiersbe
I recently read about a preacher who lost his church and local ministry. He had pastored there for twenty-one years, but due to some changes he asked for there rose a conflict. For two years debate raged inside the walls of his parish, and in the end he was asked to leave.
His faults? Well, he used imagination in his preaching and was devoted to his congregation. He also loved theology, but recognized that he had to first address the matters of the heart before the mind was changed.
But the real nitty gritty happened when he started to address sin openly. He started to ask for accountability and a Christian lifestyle that bore fruit. He started to examine customs and traditions, such as the partaking of Holy Communion by non-believers. He had a deep desire to see people have a personal relationship with God rather than a "country club" of tradition and ritual. . .
and that's what did him in.
He refused to accomodate his theology just to get results, and it cost him so many friends and his position. He cared too much about siding with truth for the good of his congregation, and even though he was deeply wounded by their rejection, he stayed true to his doctrine and continued to write and preach about the possibility for each of us to have our own spiritual awakening.
Our own personal relationship with God.
Our own sins forgiven.
Our own passions awakened for the Divine.
Our own ability to hear the call to ministry and to follow.
And when I read that story, it chilled me. We are in such a dangerous place in today's world. Our society has come such a long way from the good ole' days it seems.
Or has it?
See, that pastor I just described is none other than Jonathan Edwards. THE Jonathan Edwards. One of the most influential Christian minds in American History. An instigator in our nation's own historical Great Awakening.
And the year he was thrown out of his church?
259 years ago . . .
He took over the church in 1729, and immediately found a society that treated church as a perfunctory pastime. It was so bad, that they had what were called Halfway Covenants. This was for people who had been baptized as a child, but made no current profession of faith. They were considered to be baptized into the family of God, but couldn't vote. They sinned openly, but were part of a covenant with the church.
Many of the local preachers were persons who attended schools of religious study, but they themselves had no idea or concern for a personal relationship with God or abstaining from sin. George Whitefield, a friend of Edwards', said of the current situation, "the reason why congregations have been so dead is because dead men preach to them". (I see this happening today, in current economic conditions, where the Masters of Divinity program is currently at the top of the list for people who are going back to graduate school.)
So these churches were filled with people who spoke the lingo but had no idea about what it meant to be saved and to actually LIVE the life and abundance Christ offers.
I'm amazed at how little has changed. I'm both encouraged by what Edwards later became and a little disheartened by what he had to go through. Sometimes we think that these champions of the faith were untouchable, but in reality they were you and I. They simply did their best to believe, follow, and disciple. And it was rarely easy like we want to think that it was.
The perfunctory pastime approach is still alive and well. Some of us still play church. We show up on Sunday. We smile. We hide our true emotions. We do our best to keep the preacher from speaking to our hearts. We sin without guilt. We try to keep Christianity an intellectual idea only, so we can rationalize a million other things to prioritize before it.
And then we wonder why we can't breathe.
God never asked to be one of our priorities. He is our LIFE. Our AIR that we breathe, in a spiritual sense.
The funny thing is that all of this is for our own good. The mind of Christ, the wonder of baptism, the personal relationship, and the accountability is for our own good. Jonathan Edwards never spent a day asking himself, "what can I do today that will bring irreparable damage to my congregation?". Neither does your pastor. They are simply living the doctrine. Living the evident Truth. Shining a light into darkness.
All of it is for our own good, and for us to reject it is like a child throwing a temper-tantrum. We hold our breath, and kick until we pass out. Only to wake again to the same questions, the same principles, and the same Gospel staring us in the face.
It's time to breathe again. Be an instrument of change in your church. Live your faith! Present evangelism based on sound, biblical doctrine. You may get thrown out, but you can also change the world!
© Copyright Derek Hickman 2009