Dead Orthodoxy?

Here’s a scary quote from Richard Lovelace. You’ll find it somewhere in his book on spiritual renewal ‘The Dynamics of Spiritual Life’:

‘Where there is dead orthodoxy . . . the ‘ultimate concern’ of most church members is not the worship and service of Christ in evangelistic mission and social compassion, but rather survival and success in their secular vocation. The church is a spoke on the wheel of life . . . but it is not the organizing centre of all other activity.

‘Church members who have been conditioned all their lives to devote themselves to the building of their own kingdom . . . find it hard to invest much energy in the kingdom of God. They go to church once or twice a week and punch the clock . . . sometimes they can be maneuvered into some active role in the church’s program, like a trained seal in a circus act, but their hearts are not fully in it.

‘Since their understanding of justification is marginal or unreal – anchored not to Christ, but to some conversion experience in the past – they know little of the dynamic of justification . . . Their understanding of sin focuses on behavioural externals which they can eliminate from their lives with a little will power and ignores the great submerged continents of pride, covetousness and hostility beneath the surface.

SAMSUNG‘Their religious lives however do not satisfy their consciences at the deepest level, and so there is a powerful underlying insecurity in their lives. Consciously they defend themselves as dedicated Christians . . . but underneath . . . there is deep despair and self-rejection. Above the surface this often manifests itself in a compulsive floating hostility which focuses upon others in critical judgment. Thus a congregation who are insecure in their relationships to Christ can be a thorn bush of criticism, rejection, estrangement and party spirit. Unsure in the depths of their hearts what God thinks of them, church members will fanatically affirm their own gifts and take fierce offence when anyone sleights them, or else they will fuss endlessly with  a self-centred inventory of their own inferiority in an inverted pride.

‘They will also become entrenched in their own enculturation and set up mortars with which to shell those in other cultural moulds. Alienation from other races, political persuasions and kids with their long hair will be badges of honour for them. They will take good principles and sound doctrine and affirm them in a way which attacks and hurts others unnecessarily. Confronted with a change in the church’s program, their response will be a frantic clinging to past precedents . . . their ability to follow Christ into constructive change is severely limited by their bondage to cultural supports.’

‘O LORD, Do it Again’

 

Did you know there has been a prayer meeting for Christian leaders in South Wales, focussed specifically on revival, on a regular basis for the last 44 years? That’s quite a long time.In fact the roots of this meeting go back much further – all the way to 1904.

the story

Back in the 1960’s two pastors in the Swansea area (Luther Rees and I. B. Davies) found counsel and support in the company of an older pastor – George Griffiths from The Mission in Cwm Twrch. Whenever they were ‘down’ they would head up the valley and spend some time with ‘the old man’.George Griffiths, in his 70’s by then, was a man with a story. He had been converted, aged 19, in the 1904 Revival and then, in 1909, called to pastor Cwm Twrch Mission. The Mission at that time had just thirteen members. It was a big step to take.

It was in 1912 that unusual things began to happen. Stephen Jeffreys from Maesteg had been invited to Cwm Twrch to take some special services at Christmas time. Clearly he did not come alone. What started as a long-weekend preaching convention ignited and continued for seven whole weeks without a break. People were converted night after night. The Mission flourished and in the following years many were sent into Christian Ministry across the world. You can then, maybe, understand the attraction that time spent with George Griffiths could have for men who lived in leaner times and had never seen such things as this.

Out of those visits to Cwm Twrch a prayer meeting was born. George Griffiths had grown weary of recounting revival stories to younger Ministers, and with considerable insight he urged them instead to pray for God to do it again. So, stirred by the possibilities held out to them, the younger men sought to initiate a movement of prayer, under the leadership of Pastor Griffiths, with the sole aim of saying to God, ‘O Lord, do it again’.

Beginning in 1968 these prayer meetings ran every Friday morning. They continued weekly until 1982. That’s fourteen years of weekly prayer meetings. Since 1982 this prayer meeting has taken the form of special ‘days of prayer’, and then ‘half-days of prayer’, held quarterly in Bridgend. Initially these were under the leadership of Elwyn Davies, and then, since his retirement in 1990, they have been under the leadership of Luther Rees’ son, Neville.

what they were praying for

For a while now, for whatever reason, ‘revival’ has been out of fashion among us. But elsewhere the subject has gained new prominence. Tim Keller, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, has written, blogged and preached extensively on the subject.Drawing on the writings of Jonathan Edwards, W. B. Sprague and D. M. Lloyd Jones, he defines revival as ‘a work of God in which the church is both beautified and empowered because the normal operations of the Holy Spirit (conviction of sin, enjoyment of grace, access to the presence of God) are intensified.It is’, he writes, ‘an outpouring of the Spirit on and within the congregation, so that the presence of God among his people becomes evident and palpable.’

Picture17

Inevitably, when something as big as that happens, things change and they change wonderfully. Tim Keller again: ‘At such times people who think they know the gospel are brought to see that they really do not know it. Many nominal Christians realize they are not converted and cross over in to living faith, and many sleepy Christians wake up to why they have been living in anxiety, envy, anger, and boredom. The church stops ‘basing its justification on its sanctification’ and there is an enormous release of energy, The non-churched are then attracted and drawn in by the transformed life of the Christian community, which finally becomes a sign of the kingdom, a beautiful alternative to human society without Christ.’

That is quite a list. ‘The church beautified and empowered’. ‘An intensification of conviction of sin, of enjoyment of grace, and of access into the presence of God’. ‘Nominal Christians moving over into living faith’. ‘Sleepy Christians awakened’. ‘An enormous release of energy’. You have to wonder how that ever went out of fashion? I need these things. The church I belong to needs these things. The community I am part of needs these things. I don’t know of anyone, anywhere who doesn’t.

but why a prayer meeting

Keller again: ‘To kindle every revival the Holy Spirit uses what Jonathan Edwards called ‘extraordinary prayer’ – united, kingdom-centred, prevailing prayer.’ That is it. This work is God’s work. It is beyond us. We must pray for it. Specifically. Listen again to Keller: ‘Sometimes it begins with a single person or a small group of people praying for God’s glory in the community. What is important is not the number of people praying but the nature of the praying. [There is] ‘maintenance’ prayer and ‘frontline’ prayer. Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical and focussed on physical needs inside the church . . . frontline prayer [is about asking] for grace to confess sins and to humble ourselves, [for] compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church and the reaching of the lost [and] a yearning to know God, to see his face, to glimpse his glory.’ This ‘frontline’ praying is the sort of prayer this meeting has sought to pursue over the years. And it is still needed. To use a picture from another US Pastor, we will never win the ‘ground war’ until we’ve won the ‘air war’

when and where?

So here is the question: is now the time to bring this prayer meeting to an end? I don’t think so. I do not believe that now is the time to pray less. Surely now is the time for this 44 year old prayer meeting to gain new momentum.

In 2013 these meetings will be held in Bethlehem Evangelical Church, Sandfields, Port Talbot from 9.30am to 12.30pm on the following dates: Thursday 21th February 2013, Thursday 18th April, Thursday 6th June, Thursday 12th September, Thursday 7th November 2013

 

Christian Diagnostics – Questions that Search the Heart

One of the things the Gospel brings into our lives is change. Initially there is a decisive change. This then is followed by a process of change. Uneven perhaps, fitful even, but sure and certain.

That thought can make a secular world nervous. It sounds like a threat to our freedom and uniqueness. It is important therefore to understand this change. It is first of all a ‘restoration’. In the story the Bible tells about us we have all lost something precious. Sin has intruded upon our lives and defaced the image of God in which we were originally made. The change the gospel brings is the restoration and recovery of this image as we discover and root out self-justification, unbelief and self-righteousness. Second this change is ‘fulfilment’. We are all, even at our best, only a shadow of what we could one day be. But grace restores nature. As a seed grows and blossoms into the full grown plant, so the gospel works to make us into everything we could ever be. If you are a Christian, this change and all that flows from it, is your life’s work.

The question then becomes ‘how can we move this forward?’ Our forefathers wrestled with this question more than is typical in our day. One of the main ways they fixed on was to meet together regularly in small groups to discuss where they were at in their Christian lives. It was pretty intense. Now you may or may not be up for that, but in these meetings, to help spark discussion, they would use a fixed set of questions. Tim Keller has updated them (you can find them on page 75 of his book ‘Center Church’) and I thought it would be helpful to make them available here. Maybe you know someone well enough for you to discuss these things together. Maybe you would be happier thinking and praying them through alone. Whatever (as we say nowadays). So here’s the list . . .

1. Do you have spiritual assurance of your standing in Christ? How clear and vivid is it?

2. How does the Holy Spirit bear witness with your spirit that you are his child? Are you conscious of a growing spiritual light within, revealing more of the purity of God’s law, the holiness of God, the evil of sin, and the preciousness of the imputed righteousness of Christ?

3. Is your love for other Christians growing? Do you find yourself having a less censorious, judgemental spirit towards ‘weak’ Christians, those who fall, or those who are self-deceived? Have you been cold to anyone?

4. Is your conscience growing more tender to convict you of the very first motions of sin in the mind, such as the onset of resentment; worry pride or jealousy; an inordinate desire for power, approval and material comfort; an over concern for your reputation? Are you becoming more aware of and more convicted about sins of the tongue, such as cutting remarks, rambling without listening, deception and semi-lying, gossip and slander, inappropriate humour or thoughtless statements?

5. Do you see signs of growth in the fruit of the Spirit? Can you give examples in which you responded in a new way – with love, joy, patience, honesty, humility or self-control – in a situation that a year or two ago you would not have?

6. Are you coming to discern false idolatrous motives for some of the good service you do? Are you seeing that many things you thought you did for God you are actually doing for other reasons? Are you coming to see areas of your life in which you have resisted the Lord’s will?

7. Are you seeing new ways to be better stewards of the talents, gifts, relationships, wealth and other assets that God has given you?

8. Are you having any seasons of the sweet delight that the Spirit brings? Are you finding certain promises extremely precious? Are you getting answers to prayers? Are you getting times of refreshing from reading or listening to the Word?

Double Vision – Your Church and Your Community

The unthinkable had happened. After a thousand years Israel had lost the promised land. Some had been left behind, but the great and the good had all been deported. Now they were in Babylon. They were exiles and captives. The Exodus had been undone.

The prevailing wisdom, however, was encouraging. ‘We will not be here long,’ people said, ‘Just hold your nose. God will visit us soon. Then these pagans will get what is coming to them.’ But then a messenger arrived. He carried a letter from Jeremiah that offered a very different vision for the people of God. ‘You’re not coming home yet’ it said, ‘Settle down among the pagans. Establish yourselves as a community. Increase and do not decrease.’ Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, there was more: ‘Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf’ (Jeremiah 29.7).

Can you feel the force of that? The Babylonians were the enemy. They had besieged and destroyed Jerusalem. But God says ‘Care about them. Pray for them. Seek their good.’ God is saying ‘You need a vision for the people around you too; a vision for Babylon’

There is my point. We do need a vision for our churches; a vision to build and plant, to increase and not to decrease. But that is not enough. We also need a vision for our community. We need double vision. It isn’t a new Idea. God offered Abram a vision of the nations being blessed. The Lord Jesus secured it, sending us out with that same aim. Paul too offers a vision of walls coming down. John’s vision is of a heaven filled with people from every tribe. It has solid theological roots too. God is the creator. Every inch belongs to him. He is also the God of ‘common grace’ ensuring there is much to be admired and nurtured in every person, community and culture. He is also the God of Redemption, committed to rebuilding his world.

So what does it take to have a vision for your community? The answer is simple. It takes love. We need to know our community; the different groups who belong to it; where they are coming from; their hopes and fears; the injustices they suffer; the disappointments they have. We need to find out what they think of the gospel; what parts they already affirm; what parts they find unacceptable; being willing to learn as well as teach. We need to be there for people irrespective of their beliefs or response; and they need to be confident of acceptance among us. We need people to be glad we are there even if they don’t get what we believe. We need real people who are our real friends. Like I said; it takes love.

Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. People like us can find a love like that. It is waiting for us at the cross. The cross is the defrost button of the soul. As we see the Lord Jesus pouring out his life for us our self-righteousness loses its grip; our insecurity, tribalism and defensiveness begin to melt leaving us open to people who are different from us. We realise too the possibilities of redemption and renewal in every person we meet. We become willing and able to pour out our lives for others. Love is what always happens when Jesus is real to us. When he isn’t all you get is religion.

So how is your eyesight?