Once again my good friend John Armstrong at ACT3 has put his finger on a major weakness in our American churches. It comes on the day before we Americans go to the polls to choose our national leaders. What he has to say about the absence of prophetic preaching in the pulpits of America and spiritual leadership by vision, has much to do with the challenges our larger society is facing at this moment. In “What  happened to Prophetic preaching”? He writes,

John H. Armstrong, Director ACT3

“The vast majority of pastors, as revealed in a number of surveys, declare that leadership is their greatest weakness. They admit to having become managers of ecclesial organizations and speakers in churches on Sunday. But less than 10% (in one survey) said that they believed they were leaders. A leader exercises influence, casts vision and helps people to follow that vision. Modern ideology and modern ways of training men and women for pastoral ministry have impacted the church profoundly in this area. We need to understand how and why and what we can do about this problem.

Our schools have prepared future ministers to be students who can exegete a text, clinicians who can listen and help people in personal crisis and managers who can direct programs and serve the social structures of the church. But they have not conveyed clearly how to be a godly, praying, spiritually-formed leaders who can inspire and build up people in their daily lives. And they have not been taught how to prophesy the Word of the Lord.

In my lifetime I have seen the role of the pastor change dramatically. I remember my childhood pastors being shepherds of people and leaders who gave a vision to our collective witness. I held my pastors in high esteem. Today this has changed. Pastors are much less accessible to people, far less able to cast clear vision, and churches collectively languish in spirit. This has created a tragic gulf between leaders and people. People now demand managers for the church. They do not want prophets who will challenge them to think and become truly different in faith and virtue.”

I personally believe this is one of John’s better messages to the churches and the way forward in the future.

The entire article available as   Prophetic Preaching Pastors (pdf).

Recommended reading: The Work of Preaching Christ (1864)

The Lausanne Conference of 1974 went unnoticed by most of the world and in fact by many of the world churches. But it ignited the fires of world evangelization for a new generation. Listen to Samuel Escobar, one of Latin America’s outstanding evangelists and church leaders discuss the movement that followed.

As Lausanne III comes to a close in Cape Town, South Africa, a much larger part of the global church is prepared to face the challenges of the task in the new century. As one young participant from Japan said,

“this is no longer seen as a western-led movement where leaders from the western churches are seen as the teachers, but it is now a dialogue among the whole global Body of Christ,  united around the person of Jesus Christ and his mission to the world.”

Related essay on a basic motivation for every Christian.

A warning about over-dependence on the western churches: to-catch-the-wind– Alex Araujo (2008)

October 16-25

CAPE TOWN LAUSANNE CONFERENCE – OCT. 16-25 – The final world gathering in the spirit of the 1910-2010 World Conference on Evangelism this year will mark much more than the beginning of a global movement. In reality it will signal the movement’s advance into the future with renewed determination to obey the mandate of the Church of Jesus Christ given to her by the King of Kings Himself. My friend John Armstrong has remarked about new generation that is taking the torch from those that led the advance in the last half of the twentieth century.

One of the unique things about the Third Lausanne Congress will be the diversity of participants. A large percentage of those in Cape Town will be young and ethnically diverse. The generation of Billy Graham and John Stott, who were the key leaders in the formation of the First Lausanne, is now retired or with the Lord. Leaders my age now realize that young leaders must be equipped and supported for a new age. To this end 4,000 church leaders from 200 nations will gather in October.

Lausanne will address things like the rise of rapid people movements, the advance of other faiths, political violence, techno-driven ethics and lifestyles, increasing preference for visual images and the spoken word and a parallel virtual universe. Twenty years ago none of these would have been high on an agenda regarding world evangelization. Make no mistake about this fact, we are living through a time of rapid change.

LAUSANNE movement  website – read and listen to the beginning by Billy Graham and other world leaders.

Best time to see with the eyes of faith and understand the “Church Letter”-Ephesians; which happens to be the Scripture passage chosen for the main addresses. Those attending the conference in Cape Town have been studying and praying through this letter for the last year.

EPHESIANS STUDY GUIDE pdf

Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ –J. I. Packer
It is hoped that this reprint will find itself readers of a different spirit. There are signs today of a new upsurge of interest in the theology of the Bible: a new readiness to test traditions, to search the Scriptures and to think through the faith. It is to those who share this readiness that Owen’s treatise is offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing Evangelical Christendom today—the recovery of the gospel.

There is no doubt that Christianity today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical Gospel.
Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty.

 

The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God.

The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.)

 

However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe.

But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that John Owen’s treatise on redemption can give us help.

( from J.I.Packer’s Introductory Essay to The Death of Death, 1959)

( continue reading the essay here )

Related Essay: The Old Cross and the New Cross – A.W.Tozer (print version)

 

 

The difference between “ what would Jesus do” and “what IS Jesus doing”! You may be familiar with the popular fad that was revived in recent years that sought guidance for Christians in daily decisions by answering with WWJD. Like so many fads in Christianity, I always felt that though the intent was a sincere attempt to influence life’s decisions by reference to the historical Jesus, this version of what it means to be a disciple of Christ completely missed the heart of the Biblical Gospel.

In the last few days, I have been reading a book which confronts this misunderstanding in the American churches with a fresh exposition of the doctrine of the Ascension of Jesus. The book which was published in 2004 by Gerrit Scott Dawson, is entitled –

Jesus Ascended: the meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation“.

I read a lot and have considered myself a full-time student for over 50 years. It has been a long time since I have been as profoundly moved as I have in reading this book about the present life of Jesus of Nazareth now in His heavenly session as our King-Priest. The fact that I have been celebrating the Festival of the Ascension for over a week now was the preparation needed to be able to profit so much from this author and the mature understanding he has of this neglected part of the Biblical narrative. I would love to recommend this book to everyone but I won’t because of one principle that is a priority here at E4Unity and that is the recognition that each individual is unique and in no way would the many be able to profit in the same way I have from reading any book. In the area of what is called “spiritual formation” that means that real progress is made only when we are able to see these things for ourself, through the “eyes of faith”, and that means we must be patiently brought in life’s experiences to desiring such things as this present world can never give or satisfy our inner spirit with.

I want to leave you with some quotes from Dawson. He is an excellent writer and this book is very “reader friendly” in the sense that he tells you what his topic is, tells you how he is going to approach it, and even gives you upfront a short direction on “how to use this book”. I will tell you that he is a Presbyterian pastor and so he is thoroughly pastoral- that is he concerns himself in the end with the purpose of this doctrine in living here on planet earth, the life of Christ in heaven transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to live, not in the flesh, but by faith in God’s abundant provision in His beloved Son Jesus.

He has included some of the rich comments from past teachers in the churches, both from the Patristic fathers as well as men like John Calvin,  Andrew Murray, and Lesslie Newbigin. He has a robust exposition of what the the Ascension of Christ has meant to the Church in the past as well as how it can be instrumental in reviving us in the challenge we are now facing in our own generation.

“We have such difficulty conceiving how, or even believing that, the body of Jesus went to heaven that we may want the doctrine to remain in obscurity” (p.3)

“In no way, then, did the ascension signal simply a return to business as usual between God and humanity. Rather, the ascension of Christ is a vital hinge on which turns the work of the Mediator, the incarnate Son, our Redeemer in all his offices.” (p.8)

“My premise is that the church- our local church and the churches of the west-needs to recover the meta-narrative of the gospel as a counter-story, indeed a better story to the one the world tells. . .one of those episodes, the ascension, has been sorely neglected in the church’s telling of the story. The silence. . .cuts us off from the present work of Christ in heaven and from the conclusion of the story. . .recovering a proper and robust doctrine of the ascension can reconnect us to a sense of our true citizenship in heaven and the implications of that identity for life in the world.”(p.25)

Dawson’s book is divided into three parts, and we haven’t even reached the second one yet. But I don’t want to impose on you so I will close for now with one more, this time, a quote from Andrew Murray. Murray has also been one of my favorite devotional writers for a long time. Dawson may be the first Presbyterian writer that I can think of among contemporary ones that utilizes the treasures in Murray so often and so freely. He says here, that ” the church can reclaim the fullness of its story, with spectacular results.” And then quotes Murray-

” Faith has in its foundation four great cornerstones on which the building rests- the Divinity of Christ, The Incarnation, the Atonement on the Cross, the Ascension to the Throne. The last is the most wonderful, the crown of all the rest, the perfect revelation of what God has made Christ (to be)for us. And so in the Christian life it is the most important, the glorious fruit of all that goes before.” (p.26)

In part two, one of the highlights for me was his discussion of Calvin’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper as one of the means of grace directly connected with the ascension. We will have a great deal to come back to on another occasion. For now, we must get ready to celebrate once again another Festival: The Day of Pentecost.

The link to the book is the on-line edition where you can read most of it at Google.books.

Most of our American calendars do not even have this very special day in the Christian Faith marked. Too many Christians don’t celebrate the significance of what that historical day means.

” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.  Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

John’s Gospel, 16:6,7

But the Ascension, just like the birth, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has a vital part of the Biblical narrative to contribute. The ancient Christian Faith cannot do without it. And if we want to understand our role in that faith tradition, we must search out what was happening on this historic occasion. So I urge you to search the Scriptures with the help of  some of the excellent resources available to inform yourself of how this part of the Jesus story expresses God’s wisdom for His creatures. I found this excellent meditation from Robert Hart. He provides us the kind of resources that makes the journey a little easier and enjoyable.

“When we consider the Ascension, we must pay attention to the emphasis given by these scriptures to the coming of the Holy Spirit, so that the Apostolic Church would continue the ministry of Christ as an extension of his incarnation in the fallen world.
(To Continue reading)

There is a lot to discuss these next ten days before Pentecost. That event is also full of significance in the Biblical story as we tried to speak to last year. Keep your Bibles open and keep reading together with the Church.

A great read for Saint Patrick’s Day.

Thomas Cahill’s, “How The Irish Saved Civilization” (1995) 

When I picked up this little book a few years ago, I had no idea what I was in for. I only picked it up to give it a glance because I had previously read Thomas Cahill and found him to be an exciting writer who had a very unique style with historic themes. He always does his homework and makes historic events and themes come alive much like a historic novel. I have sinse read my third Cahill book, “Pope John XXIII“, which I also highly recommend.

The title also captured my interest. It is rather a bold claim, isn’t it. How could such a small country and their people have been responsible for saving civilization?  Well, that’s what Cahill set out to find out- the untold story of Ireland’s role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. Fascinating stuff.

Of course Cahill is talking about only one part of the world’s civilization- western civilization. Actually this is part of a series Cahill calls, “The Hinges of History” in which he means to retell the story of the Western world, “as the story of the great gift-givers, those who entrusted to our keeping one or another of the singular treasures that make up the patrimony of the West”.

This is exactly the kind of focus we love here at E4Unity blog. I call these heroes, brave-hearts, and like to pay tribute to a few representative examples as often as I can- those living as well as those in past generations. I’ll let Cahill’s words describe them-

” We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage- almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required.”

Thank God for the Apostle to the Irish and may God bless the Irish heritage. Have a great Saint Patrick’s Day, whether you’re Irish or not.

Confessions of A Liberal Christian Churchman.

I really didn’t have to listen to our President’s State of The Union address to get that it was about the “ECONOMY”. So what’s new in 80 years of progress- from 1930 to 2010?

In trying to live up to the “prophetic” part of the E4Unity blog, I went in search of a prophetic voice from the 20th century and found this tasty morsel from Paul S.Minear. As I started reading this essay which was written in 1980, I was blown away by what he said about his experience and convictions about the hard times of the 1930’s.

Paul S. Minear 1980

“In 1930 I was at Yale, beginning my graduate study of the Bible. The Great Depression was in its early stages; it would be ended only by World War II with its employment of millions of the unemployed, and with its armaments’ explosion and the subsequent development of the military- industrial-technological empire.
 But in 1930, millions were unemployed and hungry. There was immeasurable destitution, disillusionment, despair. The American dream had turned overnight into the American nightmare. Political anarchy and economic civil war were daily possibilities. There were explosive demands for economic justice; each of these demands touched off reactionary forces that were in a position to use the powers of government to fend off any substantive change in the social structure.
In New Haven, I was in constant contact with workers’ families whose only protection from extinction was to stand in endless breadlines or to work the streets peddling apples or pencils. I was kept from sharing their plight by the fact that I was a student, and my wife was in the employ of the university.
 The Depression signalled a cold war between economic royalists and radicals, both seeking to use the powers of government to fulfill self-interests. No one can tell how near the country came to revolution, but it was near enough to create an anti-Communist hysteria from which the nation has never since been free. To a great degree the cold war between America and Russia has been one of a pair of identical twins: the other twin being the internal cold war within America, between left and right.
What role in this struggle was played by Christian congregations? Two answers can be given. (1) The life of congregations appeared to be totally irrelevant to the solution of the critical issues. Nothing they did, or could do, had the slightest effect. (2) When congregations did take up positions, they lined up solidly on the side of economic and political reaction. Right-wing forces could count on their fears of radical change. The acronym WASP was an accurate symbol of actual collusion between religious and political establishments. Or so it seemed to me. This collusion was nowhere more obvious than in those sections of the country where Protestantism was, in effect, the state religion.

And the Bible? In many ways, the Bible appeared to be wholly irrelevant to finding ways of dealing with the successive crises. But where it did become relevant, it was in support of the collusion between religious and political establishments. The more reactionary the congregation, the more it gave recognition to the authority of the Bible. Loyalty to the Bible contributed directly to loyalty to Mammon, to Mars, to Caesar. “Bible-Belt” became a term referring to a region simultaneously super- patriotic, economically reactionary, militaristic, anti-union, and racially exclusive. All these were solidly identified with Christianity, and this Christianity was solidly identified with the Bible.

In 1930, I was convinced that before Christian congregations could be emancipated from such idolatries, their dependence on the Bible must be dynamited. I held the authority of the Bible at least partly responsible for the stance of the churches; therefore that authority must be undermined.”

 

Excerpt from “The Bible’s Authority in The Churches”.

Full text available as Authority-in-the-Churches

 

“The ultimate outcome will depend upon the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there.”

                 – President Lyndon Johnson

 This is a re-issue of the 1974 documentary about Viet Nam and though it is painful, I am thinking it would be a good time for me to watch the full two-hour version; maybe even buy a copy for my dvd library.

I’m sorry that after our President’s announcement last evening, and with all the respect in the world for our troops in the field of battle-including one of my sons on active duty in Bagdad, I must register my extreme disappointment and deep saddness. Ironically, it fits in perfectly with the Advent celebration we have just commenced. For what we celebrate is precisely the entering into this war torn world of the promised Prince of Peace. It is because the People of God have not understood the essence of His coming that peace on earth continues to elude our best efforts.

We still have not learned some very basic lessons from the tragedy of Viet Nam.

HEALING the HUMAN TRAGEDY

I believe that active members of every faith tradition recognize the reality of the “Human Tragedy”, and are trying to do all they can to heal it on behalf of the race. If you will invest eight and one half minutes to view this clip from the Broadway production of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde”, you will understand why I say this.

There are many things included in the script, that as a Christian, I can perfectly relate to and I think that will be true of those from other faith traditions. Here is a sterling example: “The true self is locked inside a facade of hypocrisy”. We cannot seem to extricate ourselves from this human condition, no matter what we do including in modern science and medicine, or with philosophy and religion, all super-charged now with the latest technology. I have come to the conclusion that our only hope has to come from “outside” the human race.

We shall all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye!” Yes, but how? The Biblical narrative has one answer, other faiths have different answers.