Liturgy and Evangelism Belong Together
By Ted Griner, Pastor, First Methodist Church, Statesboro, Georgia
The conflict between liturgy and evangelism has been one of disregard and distrust. Seldom have the proponents of each engaged in communication long enough to discover whether the two did or could ever harmonize. While each has been prone to advocate worship forms which are opposite, there is no longer a necessity to insist that they cannot meet. For each has argued that his is the only proper and acceptable manner of doing exactly the same thing!
Liturgists have insisted that nothing in worship should be extemporary. Every prayer, litany, creed and sermon must be written beforehand and read before the congregation. It has been argued that God is offended by the prayers of those who use incorrect grammar; that God does not listen when one prays what is at the moment on his mind. Some people think God will listen only when one has previously prepared himself and brought his thoughts (or those of others) to the place of worship. Liturgists have held that the prayers of the Church ought to be those which have seasoned over the years of use.
Some would deny that this caricature is fair to the liturgists. The fact is, however, that many evangelists do actually look upon the liturgists in this light.
The evangelists tend to believe that God is never real to anyone who just reads prayers. To read prayers written by other people is no better than walking on your knees up the stairs of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, saying “Hail Mary!” Evangelists insist that God does hear the earnest, fervent prayer of his children – even if they are said in incorrect grammar. For the words used are not as important to God as the true feelings in a man’s heart.
Both the liturgist and the evangelist are trying to communicate with God in worship. They are trying to do the same thing, but they cannot agree on how it should be done. Is there room for evangelism and liturgy in the same worship service? To say “No!” will do great harm to the cause of Christ. For if liturgy is divorced from evangelism, the church will be dead soon.
Much is being written today about the development of liturgical worship. There is a strong trend toward the use of more and more liturgical artifacts. Candles, robes, acolytes and such are being used by ministers who never thought of so doing only a few years ago. If there is a battle between liturgy and evangelism for popularity, then liturgy is winning by a tremendous margin, across the whole Church.
This ought to alarm us. Where is the teaching in the New Testament which admonishes us to be liturgists? Where do we find teachings that show us that proper liturgy will win souls to Christ and save from sin? On the other hand, there is an endless admonition in scripture to be evangelists and do the work of evangelism. We are called to preach, not burn candles. We are called to put on the robes of righteousness, not those of a particular season of the church year. (I say this even though I preach in a collar, cassock, surplice, and stoles every Sunday morning.)
Can we discount the evidence that many ministers are using liturgy as a substitute for their inadequacies? Winning souls to Christ is the hardest, most demanding task in which a man can engage. We are all tempted to take the easy way, and liturgy is an excellent way to do something “religious” without getting personally involved in the Gospel’s evangelistic imperative.
There is not a vital, dynamic, soul-winning denomination in all the Christian faith that is strongly liturgical. Liturgy without evangelism is deadening! There is little doubt that theology is directly connected to this. Liturgists are inclined to be liberal in theological thought. Their devotion to Scripture is not absolute and their Christology is usually not based on the New Testament. Evangelists, on the other hand, are more realistic in theology. They adhere to the doctrines of the Church as established by the New Testament.
The future of the effectiveness of the Church depends upon the Church being the Church for Jesus’ sake! This is not a plea for a horse and buggy theology, practice, or liturgy. It is a cry that we remember that Jesus was concerned that sinners be saved, not that preachers wear the right vestments.
One might be a servant of Jesus as an evangelist without being a liturgist, but one cannot faithfully serve Him as a liturgist without also being an evangelist. Evangelism without liturgy may be unattractive, but liturgy with out evangelism is not Christianity.
It is generally agreed that morning worship should be about one hour long. The evangelist argues that to have much liturgy makes it impossible to have time enough for a sermon and a call to discipleship. The sermon is held to be the outstanding evangelical device within public worship, bringing persons to conversion, rededication, and commitment. So, it becomes necessary for the evangelist to dispense with anything which takes away the necessary time for conversion. The use of more and more liturgy is seen as a weak device to shun the evangelizing responsibility. While liturgy may be pleasing to the converted worshipper, it is lifeless and without challenge to the non-Christian. For he cannot truly pray any prayers until he has been saved from sin and established in God’s family of the redeemed.
A properly balanced service can satisfy both liturgists and evangelists. Allowing the first half of the service for liturgy, there is ample opportunity for use of every type litany, creeds, prayers. The liturgy does not have to be monotonous and repetitious: it can be changed often enough to be fresh, alive and spiritually invigorating.
The second half of the service provides ample opportunity for complete freedom of expression and style. It should be truly evangelical, but if the first half of the service is true to the Gospel, the sermon cannot be in opposition to it.
For the sake of Jesus Christ, there needs to be a wedding of liturgy and evangelism. Neither the liturgist nor the evangelist is doing the best job by himself. Evangelism without careful, accurate expression and some cultural refinement is not going to be effective among educated and thoughtful people. And liturgy without personal commitment to Jesus Christ will never win sinners to Christ.
The Fellowship of the Redeemed
By Howard A. Hanke, Professor of Bible, Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky Member, Rocky Mountain Conference of The Methodist Church
During the pastoral period in the Old Testament, a dedicated man of God expressed the delight of fellowship among the redeemed in these words: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm I3 3: I). The same writer associated this redemptive fellow ship with those whose sins are forgiven and covered by the Blood (Psalm 32: 1-2).
By definition, the Church is a group of people who have repented of and confessed their sins, and have become new creatures in Christ Jesus our Lord. St. Paul says that believers are “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle … that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). This is the practical realization of the divine endowment that was promised by God through the annunciating angel: “He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew I:21b).
Thus, at the time of conversion, the believer changes his pattern of life from sin to holiness. By a miraculous birth he becomes a spiritual child of God. And as a newborn babe desires milk, so the spiritually-born desire “the sincere milk of the word” – pure and unadulterated.
The Psalmist puts it this way: “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and them that keep thy precepts” (Psalm 119:63). John the beloved says it still another way: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7; see also Malachi 3:16; Acts 2:42; II Corinthians 5:7). Thus, we see that people with a redemptive experience have things in common and so they have fellowship with each other. This common faith in Christ creates the fellowship of the redeemed.
It is traditional in Methodism, and so expressed in the baptismal and membership ritual, that those who come into the Church will “earnestly endeavor to keep God’s holy will and Commandments.” But this is not all. Conversion and fellowship initiates and motivates the kind of divine love that expresses itself in a passion for the lost. Thus, the Body of Christ (the Church) grows as other converts are added to its ranks.
In the days when The Methodist Church showed respect for Biblical authority and the doctrinal standards outlined in The Methodist Discipline, members in the church found great delight in class meetings, in testimony meetings and in prayer meetings. Bible study and corporate prayer were an integral part of the weekly church program. Giving was a means by which members expressed their love to Jesus Christ and their concern for getting others converted. Our church was near the top of the denominational list in per-capita giving – partly, because giving meant evangelism: the salvation of souls at home and abroad. Even today, in churches where there is great evangelistic and missionary concern, there we have a high ratio of giving per member.
As Methodists, we do not like to admit it, but it is true nevertheless: the standard for membership in many churches is now very low. Shaking the preacher’s hand and a phone call is all that is required for membership in some cases. One Methodist pastor recently made this report:
“In one church I served, most members had attained membership with little or no preparation. A couple of sessions for discussing the stewardship of resources, the institutional life and moral guidelines was the only prerequisite for old and young alike. Three families told me that with a little bluffing, they did not even have to be present on the Sunday their membership was announced, much less subscribe to our covenant” (Together, May 1967, p. 29).
Parallel to this is a laxity in following the doctrinal standards of The Discipline with regards to ministerial admission. In some conferences, psychological tests are more important than a con version experience and a call from God. There are instances where ministerial candidates with a genuine conversion experience and a passion for lost souls were forced to take psychiatric treatment. In one case, the psychiatrist finally advised the committee that the subject was perfectly normal and fit for the Methodist ministry. Imagine their consternation when the psychiatrist suggested to the committee that they should themselves submit for treatment instead!
It is interesting to note that as our church becomes more obsessed with intellectual sophistication and a lack of interest in an infallible Bible, so correspondingly our interest in giving, in missions, and in evangelism decreases. The Methodist Church now has the distinction of being almost at the bottom of the denominational list in per-capita giving – partly because a paralyzing universalism has gripped our church and our raison d’etre is no longer clearly defined. Too frequently now, Christianity is equated with marches and defying the law.
Our lack of concern for converting the lost at home and abroad is evidenced in the large number of missionary drop-outs, and in the difficulty we have in recruiting ministerial candidates for replacement, to say nothing about expansion. On the other hand, the denominational groups to which our spiritually-dedicated members go are the denominations who are at the top of the list in giving, in evangelism and in missionary outreach.
What about the faithful members remaining in our midst, those with a genuine conversion experience … those who hunger for God’s Word and have “set their affections on things above?” They find that they are being starved with a watered-down, adulterated homiletical diet, well-seasoned with Pike, Robinson, Bonhoeffer, Bultmann, Tillich and Altizer. With this existentialism as a steady diet, it is understandable why people by the score are leaving The Methodist Church for communions where there is Biblical integrity and consistency with the traditional standards set forth in the Methodist Discipline. Many faithful believers have been made to feel “tongue lashed” and unwanted in The Methodist Church. lt is common knowledge that the “new theology” crowd is anxious to purge our church of those who have a genuine conversion experience.
It is no wonder that Bishop Gerald Kennedy has sounded the alarm. (May God bless him and others of like persuasion.) In a lead article in “Good News” (Winter, 1967), he condemns efforts to exclude and discriminate against evangelicals. “I believe in the Bible, and I believe in conversion,” Kennedy declares. “Methodism cannot afford to lose the evangelicals. It would be a sad day indeed if they should feel unwelcome and go somewhere else,” so Kennedy concludes.
In today’s church environment, the truly “born again” child of God finds conflict and emptiness. He has experienced a glorious conversion in Christ Jesus. The Bible is precious to him. He is in agreement with our Methodist Articles of Religion in the Methodist Discipline. He is hungry for evangelistic meetings and has a passion for the lost. And yet he is made to feel that he is an “odd ball!” As Methodists, we may well ponder the question raised by St. Paul: “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belia!?” (II Corinthians 6:14-15.)
Our religion journals are full of New Morality, New Ethics, New Evangelism, etc. But we need none of these. The Athenians were constantly looking for something new but they refused to accept “new life” in Jesus Christ-as many “modern Athenians” also refuse. One writer says, “There is only one thing really fresh and novel in all the annals of the human race. That is the new man in Christ Jesus. Once the shackles of sin are broken, man enters the experience of new potentials, new gifts, new capacities, etc. Yes, ‘if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.’ ” (Decision, April 1967, p. 2.)
Modern man has become obsessed with the notion that he is a “new breed” and that “new dimensions of understanding” are required to satisfy his well-being. This is ridiculous and a satanic falsehood. Man is still the sinful, rebellious brat that he always has been. He is neither better nor worse in his natural sinful state than his forefathers. His sins and lusts and vices are not new. This novel notion among the modern sophisticates is indicative of the “Biblical ignorance” that is in our midst.
This writer is a Methodist by choice. He is convinced that the Articles of Religion in the Methodist Discipline express most accurately the basic tenets of the Christian faith. There is nothing wrong with The Methodist Church – it has been and still is a great redemptive force in the world. If all the people who have left our church were still with us to help fight the “good fight of faith” we could expect a great revival through the working of God’s Spirit in the church. We have all the institutional machinery that is necessary: all we need now is for the Holy Spirit to come upon us in great power. We who remain must close the ranks and get on with our redemptive mission. God is not ready yet to write “Ichabod” on our front door. (I Samuel 4: 21).
Books to Help You
Conducted by Associate Editor Michael Walker, Associate Pastor, Walnut Hill Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas
- Evangelicals at the Brink of Crisis, by Carl F. H. Henry (Word Books, Waco, Texas, 1967, 120 pp., $1.75). Reviewed by Frank Bateman Stanger, President, Asbury Theological Semi nary, Wilmore, Kentucky.
This book was written to portray the significance of the World Congress on Evangelism held in Berlin in 1966. Participants from 100 nations, from 76 church bodies, both inside and outside the World Council of Churches, met in a spectacular display of evangelical unity on the basis of Biblical theology and evangelism.
Dr. Henry shows the significance of the World Congress in terms of how evangelical Christianity is meeting the major theological and spiritual crises in our contemporary world. The author warns of a three-fold approaching crisis: (1) the world political crisis (2) Christendom’s multiple crisis in theology, evangelism, socio-politics, and ecumenics (3) dangers threatening evangelical Christianity from within.
In the theological crisis, the issues are clear between evangelical Christianity and liberal neo-Protestantism. Modern theology has one decisive and controlling premise: that man does not and cannot have cognitive knowledge of God. This premise is repudiated by evangelical Christianity which regards it as (1) inexcusably destructive of genuine faith and (2) antithetical to the Scriptural view of revelation. Evangelicals affirm the integrity and authority of the Bible. This leads them to repudiate the attacks which modern scientism makes upon supernaturalism (that is, the miracles of the Bible). Evangelicals also advocate the Biblical, theological basis for evangelism as opposed to the existential distortions of modern theology.
But the theological crisis facing evangelicals is not merely the conflict with non-evangelical views. At its deepest level, the theological crisis is internal to the evangelical movement. If evangelical Christianity is to become a strong intellectual force, it must aspire to theological renewal. It must bring itself effectively under the Word of God, correlating Christian conviction with all the currents of modern learning.
Another crisis is evident in the tragic absence of New Testament evangelism in the contemporary world. Evangelicals complain that the “new evangelism” abridges or deletes the Evangel-the good news of God’s offer of personal salvation and new life in Christ, on the ground of the Redeemer’s meditorial death and bodily resurrection.
Today, there is a tragic departure from Biblical evangelism. Now under attack are both the New Testament form of evangelism and even the basic New Testament principle of evangelism’s unavoidable necessity. The urgency for evangelism is denied and the nature of evangelism is misunderstood.
Today there is a tremendous need for evangelism – among city dwellers, students, the illiterates, and the newly-literates. Therefore, evangelicals must take advantage of every method and recognize that every Christian believer has the inescapable task of evangelism.
There is an immediate conflict between evangelical Christianity and liberal neo-Protestantism in relation to the social order. Liberal neo-Protestantism insists that the conversion of social structures is more important than converting individuals. It also tends to endorse socialism in the name of Christian economics. The more radical liberal is not saying that socio-political engagement by the institutional church is more important than evangelism; instead, he insists that socio-political engagement is evangelism.
Evangelical Christianity holds that the Biblical demand for regeneration strikes deeper than rival demands for social revolution. Evangelical Christianity indicts the social sphere as an arena of rampant injustice and unrighteousness, being fallen from God’s holy intention, and therefore under His condemnation.
Evangelicals do not dispute the fact of God’s requirement of social justice and his condemnation of social injustices … or that his redemptive purpose has sweeping cosmic implications … or that He deals with mankind on a racial as well as individual basis … or that regenerate Christians must give evidence of salvation by lives of good works.
What the evangelical does dispute is the activistic redefinition which transforms evangelism into social reform – which replaces the supernatural with what is secular and sociological. Also, evangelicals refuse to endorse the unscriptural idea of universal salvation and the loss of emphasis on the necessity for each person’s faith in the redemptive work of Christ as the sole means by which sinners are delivered from the wrath of God.
Evangelicals, however, dare not withdraw from the world into a ghetto-Christianity, shunning the social implications of the Gospel. The will of God has implications for the social order as well as for the individual. In the crisis of our times, the truth and duty of evangelical Christians is to proclaim to men everywhere what the God of Justice – and of justification – demands.
Evangelicals also find themselves confronted with the ecumenical crisis. In its beginnings, ecumenism was a cooperative movement of evangelical Protestant bodies seeking to advance the common cause of evangelism and missions. Modern or conciliar ecumenism, in conspicuous contrast, lacks any driving commitment to evangelical theology. Nor has it been able to reach an agreed definition of evangelism and mission, as it seeks to overcome the previous separation of Protestantism from the Roman Catholic Church and from Eastern Orthodoxy.
On the other hand, there is an evangelical ecumenism. Although no formal organization shelters this emerging evangelical spirit of unity, it nonetheless has a conscious identity. The Bible is its formal principle of authority; spiritual regeneration is its indispensable requirement for Christian life and progress; and the evangelization of mankind is its primary role for the Church. Whether evangelical ecumenism will acquire structural and organizational forms now depends largely upon the extent to which consiliar ecumenism continues to repress, retard, and reconstruct evangelical principles and priorities.
- Who Speaks for the Church? by Paul Ramsey (Abingdon Press, 1967, $2.45). Reviewed by Associate Editor Michael Walker.
For those who have often despaired at the frequent socio-political pronouncements made by church bodies, “Who Speaks for the Church?” comes as a breath of fresh air. It is a powerful critique (and a partial one, Ramsey insists) of the present practice of ecumenical bodies making specific policy directives to governments. His purpose is not to criticize the conclusions reached and pronounced, but rather to call into question the right of delegate assemblies to issue such specific policy directives at all. Ramsey’s critique focuses on the 1966 Geneva Conference on Church and Society of the World Council of Churches, which he attended as a non-voting participant. Ramsey notes that such councils do not have the fact gathering machinery necessary to make responsible policy recommendations. “For ecumenical councils on Church and Society responsibly to proffer specific advice would require that the church have the services of an entire state department.”
The author points to the dissension which the present rash of socio-political statements is creating in the church. No matter how careful the council is to state that it is speaking only for itself the impression is given to the world that these statements represent the only really Christian view and are the collective opinion of the whole church.
Ramsey suggests what he calls “directions for action” rather than “directives for policy.” As a model, he points to some of the recent statements of the Roman Catholic Church.
“Who Speaks for the Church?” is not a very readable book. But it needs to be read – especially by those concerned that the church honestly fulfill its prophetic role in our society and world.
The Character of a Methodist
by John Wesley
This concludes the feature which began in the summer [June] issue.
The Methodist knows that every single ability has come from God. So the Methodist gladly dedicates these talents to the Lord. The Methodist with holds nothing from God … nothing. Before he became a Christian, the Methodist allowed evil to take control of his body and his mind. Now, having died to the authority of sin, and having risen with Christ to a new and holy life, the Methodist has given himself over to God’s control.
Not only does the Methodist AIM at complete dedication to God, he achieves this! His business, his recreation, his social life all serve this great purpose: “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” The customs of this world don’t prevent the Methodist from full dedication to God. He runs the race of daily life, knowing that God has ordained this as his calling.
The Methodist knows that wickedness is wrong in the sight of God, even though society may consider it perfectly acceptable. The Methodist never forgets that someday, everybody will have to account to God for every thought and every action.
Therefore, the Methodist cannot follow the crowd when the crowd choses to do evil. He cannot devote himself to selfish indulgence. The Methodist can no more be preoccupied with making money than he could swallow red hot embers! or can the Methodist waste money on fancy clothes, or jewelry, which flatter the senses, but do not glorify God at all.
Another mark of a Methodist: he will not take part in any amusement which has the least possibility of causing harm to others. He cannot speak evil of his neighbor any more than the Methodist can lie for God or any man. Love keeps guard over the Methodist’s lips, so he cannot speak evil of anybody. Nor is God’s precious gift of speech wasted with useless, inane chatter which does not help people in some constructive way.
Whatever things are pure and noble, on these the Methodist fixes attention. Also on things that are lovely, just, and of good reputation. Thus, all that the Methodist says or does somehow furthers the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As time permits, the Methodist does good to all, his neighbors and strangers; his friends and enemies. This includes every kind of good. Naturally, the Methodist provides food for the hungry, clothing to the naked. He visits people who are sick and in prison. But even more important than this, the Methodist labors to do good to the souls of men. According to the ability which God has given him, the Methodist labors to awaken those who have never known God, and therefore sleep the slumber of eternal death. And when men are awakened to God, the Methodist helps them realize that the atoning blood of Jesus has power to cleanse away their sins. The greatest good work a Methodist can do is to help somebody get into right relationship with God. For this is the only way a man can have peace with God.
When the Methodist meets somebody who has not yet found peace with God, the Methodist stirs them up in the hope that he may be set free to do the good works which God intends for every person to do.
The Methodist is willing to spend his time and energies in doing this important work for God. His time and his talents are given as a loving sacrifice to God in order that the people round about him may grow into the fullness of Christ.
These are the principles and practices of Methodism. These are the marks of a true Methodist. By these things alone does the Methodist wish to be distinguished from other men.
Somebody may say, “Why these are only the common, basic principles of Christianity!” This is what Methodism is, nothing more or less. We Methodists refuse to be distinguished from other men, by any other than the common principles of Christianity – the plain, old Christianity that I teach, renouncing and detesting all other marks of distinction. Any person who fits this pattern is a Christian no matter what you call him! It is not a matter of denominational label, but of being inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as this is revealed in the Bible.
The Christian thinks, speaks, and lives according to the pattern set by Jesus. And his soul is renewed in righteousness and holiness, after God’s own image.
By these marks we Methodists labor to distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world; from all whose minds and lives are not ruled according to the Gospel of Christ. But we Methodists do not wish to be distinguished at all from real Christians of any denomination. Like them, we are seeking that perfection of Christ which we have not yet attained. As Jesus said – whoever does the will of the Heavenly Father is our brother, sister, and mother.
And so I beg you, let all true Christians remain united; let us not be divided among ourselves. Is your heart right as my heart is with yours? I ask no further question; give me your hand. For the sake of mere opinions or terms, let us not destroy the work of God.
Do you love God? This is enough. I give you the right hand of fellowship.
If there is any consolation in Christ … any comfort in love … any fellowship in the Spirit … any affection and sympathy, then let us work together in behalf of the Gospel. Let us walk in a way that is worthy of the vocation in which we are called. Let us walk in lowliness and meekness with long-suffering, kindly sparing one another in love, trying always to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For we remember, always, that there is one body, and one Spirit, one hope to our calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. He is above all things, through all things, and in you as well.”
Can the Clergy be Converted?
By C. Philip Hinerman, Pastor, Park Avenue Methodist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Can we expect that the Protestant man of God will live out his professional career free from divine grace, and still fulfill his high office? Or, to phrase this all differently, what about the possibility of the clergy being converted? Is this at all possible? Is it even desirable?
Recently a special committee made a survey on future goals within an annual conference. Here is how one pastor answered the question, “What are the goals of this annual conference, and what achievements should we seek?” He replied, “the deepest spiritual need that I feel in the life of the conference is a sense of genuine loyalty to Jesus Christ, and to His Kingdom. This loyalty should transcend the denominational program of The Methodist Church. I always come back to this wistful longing for a Spirit that is greater than denominational loyalty, and denominational programming that I receive so constantly.”
Is it possible, or practical, to have a stronger emphasis on the work and person of the Holy Spirit (to use a terribly old fashioned phrase)? Can there be a Pentecostal life within the life of the Church? Can Jesus Christ be so glorified that even the clergy would begin to possess a higher fixed loyalty than to the denomination and its program? How long has it really been since we have gone to an annual conference and heard anything about the possibility of ministers being converted? Or anything about the deeper life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within a man? The day may be upon us when we could afford to shift our emphasis. Suppose the conference board of evangelism’s annual report would fail to exhort faithful pastors to renewed effort in recruiting new members (“conversion of the layman”). Instead, suppose the Church began talking about the real priority: conversion of the clergy. Could the walls of the conference stand the shock?
There are some who have said that clergymen are neither male nor female. Turning their collars around, dressing soberly in black, chanting the liturgy, clergymen become a new thing in creation, a kind of Third Sex. Some of us deny this calumny. If we clergy men really are men, then perhaps we clergymen are also sinners, and are lost in our ways. Is it possible that even a clergyman can be saved?
Recently I read an article in a denominational paper. It was written by a famous and successful pastor on the subject, “How I Use Lent.” He spoke out about the limitless possibilities of using Lent to increase attendance at all the services (even at that crippled and malformed child, the midweek service), to increase benevolences, and generally to “increase the spiritual life of the church.”
Now what could be more sublime or pragmatic than that? Nothing. And nothing is wrong with the article – except this terrible and blasphemous using Lent, using prayer, using the Week of Dedication, using God; and all in the name of an expanded denominationalism, and increased offerings into the coffers of the church.
We seem to be flogging the minister constantly to carry out the program of the denomination. It is drive upon drive, campaign upon campaign, and increased askings every year. When shall the minister find time to save his own soul? Or to see that he is properly fed in the deepest areas of his own being?
In referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus spoke of the wells of living water that can spring up and overflow in a man’s life. What a vivid picture of speech! And how altogether necessary for the life of that man who would be God’s man in deed and in truth!
My real concern is that the sacred program of the denomination shall not become the supreme goal of our ministerial living. Is it not possible that the program of the conference shall eventually find itself flogging a starving and dying ministerial servant? Conversion and new life for each person – this was the concern of the primitive church. This is the central message of the apostolic kerygma (the good news of a Savior who offers par don and eternal life to sinners). “What then must I do to be saved” – even if I happen to be a minister of the Gospel?
I am tempted to suggest that once the man of God has been born from Above, once a man has become a new creation in the Spirit, then the ecclesiastical machinery shall be lubricated as never before. I am tempted to suggest that when this happens, the apportionments will be the more easily met, many new members will be taken in, and World Service will take a great leap forward! But I shall resist this subtle temptation. I shall resist because I cannot prove that it is so. I shall also resist it because I need new life in Jesus Christ. I need it even if this is not practical, or pragmatic. Even if it does not guarantee “success” for me in the daily conduct of my parish ministry.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that when Martin Luther went into the monastery, he gave up everything in the world except his own religious pride and hjs own stubborn will. But, Bonhoeffer says, when Martin Luther came out of the monastery and entered into the world, he surrendered even this, even himself to his Lord Jesus Christ!
One day Jesus had been talking about how difficult it is for those who trust in riches to be saved. The listeners were astonished. They said to him, “Who then can be saved?” And our Lord replied, “With men it is impossible.” But Jesus concluded with the great positive, “With God all things are possible.” Even the conversion of the clergy! Perhaps even I.
Methodists in Russia??
An exclusive report by the first American to preach in Russia’s only Methodist church.
By John E. Vanscoy, Pastor, First Methodist Church, Lanark Illinois
“I am thankful to God that I may greet you from Estonia, where you were lately. To our congregation and to our young people – surely to the whole fellowship of believers in Estonia – the meeting with you has left a deep impression. I have the feeling that we have met with the delegates from heaven. I am so grateful to God that He has not forgotten us …”
These words reflect the attitude and appreciation of the Christians in Russia for the undiluted presentation of Jesus Christ as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. They were written by an18 year old girl whose commitment to Jesus Christ continues despite the severe persecution she receives from the atheistic and anti-God forces in the Soviet Union.
I quote them because they reveal something of the hunger for God that is so prevalent among the Methodist people I met in the Soviet Union. [ refer to them also because they demonstrate the true meaning of Christian love which transcends family and national loyalties … a love which centers in and on Jesus Christ.
How did I happen to become the first American to preach in the only Methodist church in Russia? Several years ago I became acquainted with the Full Gospel Business Men, an organization of dedicated laymen and clergy from many denominations. I attended several of their meetings and was greatly impressed with the ease at which these men witnessed to their faith in Jesus Christ. Also I observed the over whelming joy that came to them as they spoke of their relationship with the Master. They made no attempt to impress anyone with their rhetoric, though there were many among them who could have done so had they chosen.
It was my association with the Full Gospel Business Men that led to my visit to the Soviet Union. Together with approximately 150 laymen and ministers we left Chicago on Friday evening, September 23, and arrived in Stockholm, Sweden the next morning. During the afternoon we were assigned to teams that scattered throughout Eastern and Western Europe.
I was one of seven who was permitted to visit Tallin, in Estonia, a republic that was absorbed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Estonia is a very small nation (population of about 800,000). In 1950, 200,000 Russians came to Estonia.
On Sunday afternoon we left Stockholm for Helsinki, Finland. We spent several days there consulting with our Finnish brothers who were to accompany us to Russia. While in Helsinki, I contacted the Methodist Church and was invited to preach there. At that meeting we had a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit; a number testified to having received Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
On Tuesday, September 27, we departed Helsinki by boat for the Soviet Union. Our journey lasted about four hours. For some unexplained reason we Americans were not permitted to leave the boat until all the others had dis embarked. We were kept waiting on board for several hours.
Our Finnish friends had made prior contact with the Estonian Methodists. So a large delegation from the Russian Methodist Church was on hand to greet us when we arrived. Although we had never met before, they greeted us as brothers in Christ. Before long we were engaged in a vital and dynamic fellowship. Our delay on the boat caused a great deal of anxiety to the Russian Methodists. We were cleared only minutes before services were scheduled to begin at the church. l was the only Methodist in our group so I was asked to speak first. The only word of caution expressed by the pastor was, “Please do not speak about your government or ours. Tell us what Christ has done for you and is doing in your midst.” Later I discovered the wisdom of these words. l learned that the pastor had spent five years in Siberia for his refusal to follow the Communist line.
Words cannot describe the warmth of our reception by the Estonian Methodists. The church was built to accommodate 500 people. Yet there were over I I 00 in attendance. I thought the large crowd was the result of our delegation. But when l asked the pastor about this, he said, “We have services like this seven times a week.”
A short recess was held near the middle of the evening. I took the opportunity to greet the people. As I made my way through the congregation, many embraced me and wept. All but two seemed grateful for the opportunity to shake hands and exchange a few words of Christian greeting. Afterwards I learned that the two who refused to extend their hands were members of the dreaded Secret Police, whose presence is a constant reminder to the congregation “not to get out of line.” But this did not prevent the people from singing and praying with great fervency.
There are nine choirs in the Methodist church, several of which are made up of young people. Our ears and hearts were strangely warmed by a choir of 60 young people on the night of our arrival. It was not at all un usual for the young people to leave the choir loft between numbers and weep tears of joy upon our shoulders.
The Russian Methodists love to sing hymns about Jesus: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!”, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”, ” ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”, “How Great Thou Art”, “When We All Get to Heaven.” They also sing hymns native to their own country.
The worship services in the Estonian Methodist Church are extremely long. They begin at 5:00 in the evening and last until about 10 :00. They consist of congregational singing, prayers, Bible reading, choral singing, orchestral numbers and preaching. At least three sermons are given at each service. In addition to the pastor and the district superintendent, there are 26 ordained elders and 26 ordained deacons within this one congregation. When questioned as to the necessity of such a large staff, the district superintendent replied: “We believe that the day will come when we will have our full religious liberty in Russia. Then we will have a ministry fully trained and ready to re-open all our churches throughout the land.”
Where is the evidence for such faith? The Communists harass Christians at every turn. They are not allowed to own their buildings, and must pay a sum of 5,000 rubles a year as rent to the government. The average in come of a Methodist family is 50-60 rubles a month. Allowing an average income of 500-600 dollars a month for the average American family, a comparable cost of rent in America would be $60,000 a year. A pretty steep church rental in any case!
The policy of the government seems to be raising the church rental to such a prohibitive figure that the will of the faithful will be broken. Then the Communists could declare, “We have not closed the church; the Christians are not dedicated enough to continue.”
There are no Bibles or Chris tian periodicals printed in Russia. The few Bibles now in circulation were printed before the Communist take-over or have been smuggled in by Christian tourists. l gave away the two Bibles that l had along and 1 could have distributed several hundred more if it had been possible. One of the recipients remarked, “I must translate this Bible into Russian 500 times before I can have the pleasure of reading it for my own edification.” The man does own a typewriter but he has no access to a mimeograph. Can you imagine yourself attempting to produce 500 copies of the Scriptures with only a typewriter and a few sheets of carbon paper?
After the evening service a group of Methodist Christians invited our delegation to an all night prayer meeting. We declined when we learned that there was a 12 o’clock curfew at our hotel. The next morning I was awakened by a group of enthusiastic Methodists who had ordered a taxi to wait until I was ready to accompany them to a spontaneous prayer meeting. We visited four homes in all.
On one occasion I was taken to a village outside Tallin to pray with one of the brothers who had been ill for several years. When it was announced to him that I was an American, the man began to rejoice and weep. He said, “For four years I have prayed that God would send an American to my home. Wonderful Jesus! Miracle of God! Thank you Lord for answered prayer!” In the privacy of his home we discussed the relevancy of Christ in our daily experience. How happy he was for me to be his guest and to join in prayer. During our conversation he pulled the window shades on his home. When I asked why he had done this, he said, “We must have a license to hold a prayer meeting in our home. We have no license so we must not allow anyone to see us as we pray.”
As we left the Methodist church to board our boat for Helsinki, the brethren gathered at the port to bid us farewell. The occasion was marked with grim ness as well as joy. On both sides of the port two huge destroyers lay in anchor. On their decks stood men from the Russian navy. Surrounding the port were elements of the elite Red Army. Our hearts were filled with sorrow to leave our Christian brothers and sisters behind to face the Red oppression. But our spirits were soon buoyed with joy when they began to sing: “When we all get to heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be.”