Archive: Stand Tall!

Archive: Stand Tall!

Archive: Stand Tall!

“The world pays no attention to the Church.”

Today we hear this criticism like a litany of despair. And we panic. For to be ignored is to fail, humanely speaking. And failure is disgrace in America’s success- slanted culture.

“The world pays no attention to the Church.”

And so we reach for the panic button. Frantically, we try to change the Church and the Gospel so that more people will like us.

“The world pays no attention to the Church.”

Increasingly, our official response is, “OK, then let the world set the agenda for the Church.” Let the world be the dog and let the Church of Jesus Christ be the tail, so to speak.

“Let the world set the agenda” is a slick slogan. But it is also a very sick slogan. It is a siren song of seduction, luring the Church to conform to the world. Actually, the opposite is true: God intends the unbelieving world to conform to the timeless Gospel of which the Church should be the primary custodian.

But the Church seems to forget that it represents a sovereign, all-powerful God. We represent Him who made all things in the beginning … Him who will remake the universe to His liking in the end. This all-wise God will have His way whether or not 99 per cent of humanity chooses to ignore Him, laugh at His Son, poke fun at His Gospel. The only ultimate question is whether humanity will bring itself into conformity with the will of God-or choose, instead, to perish in defiance.

The Church must always remember that God rules, not man. “We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.”

The Church dares not lose Christ’s compassion for bringing a lost world back to God. But neither should the Church of Jesus Christ cower in shame when the unbelieving world mocks us or ignores us because of our faith in the living God.

Let us remember that in eternity, it will be unredeemed “sinners in the hands of an angry God” … not God in the hands of angry sinners. An all-powerful and holy God offers wholeness to sinners. They, not God, are on the spot. And if unbelievers choose to ignore the kindness of God, they multiply their sorrows.

Stand tall, O men of God! You stand on the side of the Eternal. And because you stand with Him, the unbelieving world is sure to reject you. “Unfaithful people! Don’t you know that to be the world’s friend means to be God’s enemy? Whoever wants to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy.” (James 4:4) So stand tall, O men of God. He is with us, Emmanuel.

WHERE DO ALL THOSE $$ GO?

A good steward gives gladly and sacrificially of his or her money to support the Cause of Jesus Christ. But a good steward’s responsibility does not end when a sacrificial gift has been put into the offering plate. A good steward must also use discretion in giving. He or she must be very careful that do11ars given to Jesus Christ are not diverted into questionable causes that may weaken Christ’s Church, or sabotage the Kingdom of God.

We are often lax in this matter of watchful stewardship. For it seems that we have gotten to thinking it is the laymen’s job to write big checks, and then it is the job of church leaders to spend those checks … without question from the givers. Sometimes it has even been suggested that we are not “good Methodists” if we dare to ask questions about where our dollars go.

History teaches that church leaders have not always used church dollars in a way that jibes with the New Testament. A realistic understanding of fallen human nature ought to make us question the habit of blind giving – without knowing where our dollars go.

What might happen if God prodded each Methodist church into making a careful examination of how Christ’s dollars are being spent?

Suppose each official board made its own investigation, and then told each congregation the facts.

And suppose each church adopted a simple standard of stewardship evaluation: “Is the money from our collection plates being used to further the Cause of Jesus Christ as this is made clear in holy Scripture?”

Suppose, as the result of a new spirit of watchful and Christ-exalting stewardship, that each Methodist church began channeling its dollars to those individuals and/or institutions which passed the test.

For example, suppose Methodist churches began supporting those colleges and universities which are unashamedly Christian, by the historic Methodist standard: Scripture. (Suppose Methodist people decided that secular colleges ought to be supported by non-church dollars.)

Suppose Methodist giving power was focused on helping those missionaries at home and overseas who consider personal salvation as the necessary prerequisite to social salvation. (Suppose Methodist people felt that lack of salvation-centeredness meant that missions were no longer Christian and should, therefore, come under jurisdiction of Uncle Sam’s Office of Economic Opportunity or the United Nations?)

Suppose Methodist churches concentrated their seminary support on those seminaries which proudly and prominently teach that Jesus Christ is indispensable to the world, to the Church, and to every individual . . . and that “all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the man who serves God may be fully qualified and e quipped to do every kind of good work” (II Timothy 3:16).

Suppose Methodist churches issued paychecks to all church leaders who enthusiastically teach, write, preach and promulgate the official Methodist doctrines as contained in our Articles of Religion … and our vows of ordination. (Suppose Methodist people decided that those who do not like Methodist doctrine should get their paychecks somewhere else.)

Suppose official boards began directing their “green power” to those social and evangelistic concerns which are not ashamed of the Christian Gospel … which operate on the New Testament principle “Jesus is Lord.”

Suppose every Methodist church woke up to its responsibility for the stewardship of stewardship.

And suppose each official board gave itself over to the direction of the Holy Spirit when it came time to decide which dollars go where.

OUR SECRET WEAPON

Among the scores of letters in response to the July issue came an epistle from the West. Speaking of his new appointment, a jubilant young pastor wrote:

“After my fourth weekend in … it is quite clear that the people here are drooling over the Gospel they’ve not heard for a decade. The church has been steadily and surely dying, losing members right and left to independent Churches of Christ and Baptists. …But the last two Sundays, attendance has shot up – to the amazement of long-time members. As my lay leader said, it’s the preaching and the Spirit with it. …”

This is no freak experience. We are hearing from all over America that Methodists are hungry for the Gospel. The leader of a worldwide Christian organization recently told us that everywhere he meets spiritually-starving Methodists. He thinks that the United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church are the two places where a great revival is most likely in our time.

Which means that those who hold a firm belief in the New Testament Gospel have, by faith, the key to victory in the present chaos. God makes this Gospel freely available to all. Those who choose to believe it, preach it, and live by its marvelous truth – these have a secret weapon that is invincible.

We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!

“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15:57).

Archive: Stand Tall!

Archive: The Evangelism of Jesus

Archive: The Evangelism of Jesus

By Robert E. Coleman
Professor of Evangelism, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky
Reprinted from “The Master Plan of Evangelism” Fleming H. Revell Co.
© 1963, 1964 by Robert E. Coleman

It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow Him. This revealed immediately the direction His evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before He ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men were to be His method of winning the world to God.

The initial objective of Jesus’ plan was to enlist men who could bear witness to His life and carry on His work after He returned to the Father. John and Andrew were the first to be invited as Jesus left the scene of the great revival of the Baptist at Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:35- 40). Andrew in turn brought his brother Jeter (John 1:41, 42). The next day Jesus found Philip on His way to Galilee, and Philip found Nathaniel (John 1:43-51). There is no evidence of haste in the selection of these disciples; just determination. James, the brother of John, is not mentioned as one of the group until the four fishermen are recalled several months later by the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:19; Matt. 4:21). Shortly afterward Matthew is bidden to follow the Master as Jesus passed through Capernaum (Mark 2:13, 14; Matt. 9:9; Luke 5:27,28). The particulars surrounding the call of the other disciples are not recorded in the Gospels, but it is believed that they all occurred in the first year of the Lord’s ministry.

As one might expect, these early efforts at soul winning had little or no immediate effect upon the religious life of His day, but that did not matter greatly. For as it turned out these few early converts of the Lord were destined to become the leaders of His Church that was to go with the Gospel to the whole world, and from the standpoint of His ultimate purpose, the significance of their lives would be felt throughout eternity. That’s the only thing that counts.

What is more revealing about these men is that at first they do not impress us as being key men. None of them occupied prominent places in the Synagogue, nor did any of them belong to the Levitical priesthood. For the most part they were common laboring men, probably having no professional training beyond the rudiments of knowledge necessary for their vocation. Perhaps a few of them came from families of some considerable means, such as the sons of Zebedee, but none of them could have been considered wealthy. They had no academic degrees in the arts and philosophies of their day. Like their Master, their formal education likely consisted only of the Synagogue schools. Most of them were raised in the poor section of the country around Galilee. Apparently the only one of the twelve who came from the more refined region of Judea was Judas Iscariot. By any standard of sophisticated culture then and now they would surely be considered as a rather ragged aggregation of souls. One might wonder how Jesus could ever use them. They were impulsive, temperamental, easily offended, and had all the prejudices of their environment. In short, these men selected by the Lord to be His assistants represented an average cross section of the lot of society in their day. Not the kind of group one would expect to win the world for Christ.

Yet Jesus saw in these simple men the potential of leadership for the Kingdom. They were indeed “unlearned and ignorant” according to the world’s standard (Acts 4: 13), but they were teachable. Though often mistaken in their judgments and slow to comprehend spiritual things, they were honest men, willing to confess their need. Their mannerisms may have been awkward and their abilities limited, but with the exception of the traitor, their hearts were big. What is perhaps most significant about them was their sincere yearning for God and the realities of His life. The superficiality of the religious life about them had not obsessed their hope for the Messiah (John 1:41,45,49; 6:69). They were fed up with the hypocrisy of the ruling aristocracy. Some of them had already joined the revival movement of John the Baptist (John I :35). These men were looking for someone to lead them in the way of salvation. Such men, pliable in the hands of the Master, could be molded into a new image – Jesus can use anyone who wants to be used.

In noting this fact, however, one does not want to miss the practical truth of how Jesus did it. Here is the wisdom of His method, and in observing it, we return again to the fundamental principle of concentration upon those He intended to use. One cannot transform a world except as individuals in the world are transformed, and individuals cannot be changed except as they are molded in the hands of the Master. The necessity is apparent not only to select a few laymen, but to keep the group small enough to be able to work effectively with them.

Hence, as the company of followers around Jesus increased, it became necessary by the middle of His second year of ministry to narrow the select company to a more manageable number. Accordingly, Jesus “called His disciples, and He chose from them twelve, whom also He named apostles” (Luke 6:13-17; cf., Mark 3:13-19). Regardless of the symbolical meaning one prefers to put upon the number twelve, it is clear that Jesus intended these men to have unique privileges and responsibilities in the Kingdom work.

This does not mean that Jesus’ decision to have twelve apostles excluded others from following Him, for as we know, many more were numbered among His associates, and some of these became very effective workers in the Church. The seventy (Luke 10:1); Mark and Luke, the Gospel revelators; James, His own brother (I Cor. 15:7; Gal. 2:9,12; cf., John 2:12 and 7:2-10), are notable examples of this. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that there was a rapidly diminishing priority given to those outside the twelve.

The same rule could be applied in reverse, for within the select apostolic group Peter, James and John seemed to enjoy a more special relationship to the Master than did the other nine. Only these privileged few are invited into the sick room of Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51); they alone go up with the Master and behold His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2; Matt. 17:1; Luke 9:28); and amid the olive trees of Gethsemane casting their ominous shadows in the light of the full Passover moon, these members of the inner circle waited nearest to their Lord while He prayed (Mark 14:33; Matt. 26:37). So noticeable is the preference given to these three that had it not been for the incarnation of selflessness in the Person of Christ, it could well have precipitated feelings of resentment on the part of the other apostles. The fact that there is no record of the disciples complaining about the pre-eminence of the three, though they did murmur about other things is proof that where preference is shown in the right spirit and for the right reason offence need not arise.

All of this certainly impresses one with the deliberate way that Jesus proportioned His life to those He wanted to train.

CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE

Archive: Stand Tall!

ARCHIVE: Renewal Through Recovey

Archive: Renewal Through Recovery

By Carl E. Glasow, Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Cleveland, Tennessee

A Local Pastor Looks at The Church

Renewal is one of the current emphases in the Christian Church. Decreasing Sunday school and worship attendance, the lack of success in evangelism, the difficulty in recruiting ministers, and the general cut-back of religious activities to one hour a week is causing great concern among the leaders and members of the major Protestant bodies. Also, a large number of people feel that the declining influence of the Church is a contributing factor to the decay of our society. To them, the growing crime rate, narcotic addiction, divorce, and juvenile delinquency are at least partly the result of a lack of religious vigor in our society.

Many ideas have been advanced by Christian leadership in an effort to bring the desired renewal into existence. For example, a great deal of stress has been placed upon the re-designing of church school curriculum materials. It is felt that professional language, varied lesson outlines, charts, maps, and film strips will revitalize the educational program. Another approach to renewal was taken recently in The Methodist Church when one of our noted theologians made a strong statement to the effect that the episcopal appointive system is out of date. A restructuring at this point is apparently essential for the morale of the Methodist clergy in modern America. In other instances, local pastors are being told repeatedly in books and periodicals that they must change the basic pattern of their work. Many critics are saying that preaching is old fashioned and that the Gospel must be advanced by more modern methods. They stress that the program of the local church must be reorganized to include participation in the civil rights movement, the war on poverty, and various open-housing projects.

In short, it seems that the trend in current thinking is toward renewal through an institutional approach. Redesign, restructure, and reorganization are the terms which apparently define the major approaches being recommended for the strengthening of the modern Church. The clearest indication of this is to be seen in the ecumenical movement. The Consultation on Church Union is making rapid progress in the establishment of a giant church to be achieved by the merger of 10 different Protestant bodies. Those supporting this movement are dedicated to the idea that a major restructuring of denominations will lead to a new day for the Christian religion in America. These ecumenists believe that union “is the most hopeful frontier in contemporary Church life.”

But does this approach to the religious problem in our modem society stand the test of reason and revelation? Does “renewal through reorganization” make sense? Does it fit in with the historical insights and performance of the Church? Is it adequate for the challenge of these days? Some observers think not. These pastors and laymen feel that this contemporary approach is superficial and does not deal with the basic issues involved.

In order to support this critical viewpoint, let us take a brief look at Church history. Even though we live in the twentieth century, we can learn something from the past. Most Americans today seem preoccupied with the future and the idea of change. They stress all that appears to be different and unique on the modern scene. But a paraphrase of Charles Dickens seems to give us the needed balance. Isn’t it true that “these are the newest of times and yet the oldest of times”? We face a new age in a relative sense but perhaps, in an absolute sense, things are not really so different after all.

One of the motor car companies has recently been using a series of commercials built around the slogan, “Ford has a better idea.” Actually, this was the basic claim that was made by Christianity at its founding 2000 years ago. The Gospel proposes that it has “a better idea” about God and the salvation of man. This idea was summarized by the writer of Matthew’s Gospel when he recorded Peter’s confession to Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” Our faith proclaims the message that Jesus was the Messiah of Jewish expectation and that He, in a unique way, incarnates the deity and offers redemption to the world.

However, an idea is only part of our religious heritage. Ideas lead to institutions. Thus, the idea of education results in a school, the idea of love results in marriage, the idea of democracy results in a government. So it is with the idea that Christ was the Messiah. Following Peter’s confession, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” In short, the Christian idea led to the Christian Church.

Theoretically, of course, ideas and their institutions should remain in a balanced relationship, in a kind of creative tension resulting in the complimenting of each by the other. However, in actual practice, this dynamic equilibrium is difficult to attain. History reveals that, from time to time, churchmen have so emphasized their organization that they have neglected the Gospel and its central truth.

For example, in New Testament times, the idea of the Gospel resulted in the institution of the Christian Church. By the fourth century, the Church had conquered the Roman Empire. But following this struggle, the organization became pre-occupied with secular pursuits and its own advancement. In a sense, the institution came to neglect the Christ-idea and thus lost its spiritual vitality. In fact, many historians point to Constantine’s support of Christianity as marking the fall of the Church into politics and temporal concerns.

Reform followed in the development of the monastic movement. A dedicated minority of laymen, seeing the imbalance of the institution, went off into the deserts and mountains to meditate and pray. These monks revitalized the idea regarding Jesus, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” And they followed Christ in lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience. This renewal, in turn, led to a new organization, the monastery. Then, after a period of success, this institution also lost much of its spiritual force. The idea of the Gospel was greatly weakened in later monasticism when it became, too often, the instrument of the Church, as illustrated by the sale of indulgences and by the excesses of the Inquisition.

Martin Luther, a monk himself, was shocked by the overall situation and began the Protestant reformation in the sixteenth century. He recovered the concept of a faith relationship to God made possible by the ministry of Jesus. Later on, however, this idea again was lost and a need for renewal became evident among the churches of the Reformation. John Wesley faced an indifferent, state-supported church in England during the eighteenth century. By the grace of God, he recovered the Christian idea and was later forced to establish an institution that has evolved into The United Methodist Church.

Today, it is evident that the major denominations have grown to great size and great wealth. But the need for reform is all too evident-as has been noted in the opening paragraph. In short, the modern Church has all the signs of once again being an institution that has lost the power of the idea that gave it birth and vitality.

If this analysis is essentially valid, it is quite obvious that “renewal through reorganization” is not the basic solution needed. The importance of structure and strategy is only secondary. Primarily, we must understand that our only hope is “renewal through recovery” – the recovery of the Gospel idea. Institutional pre-occupation with curriculum, church union, civil rights legislation, and the poverty program is not an adequate substitute for the experience and projection of the confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” These secondary activities properly follow from the idea of Christ’s Lordship. But to offer them in the place of spiritual vitality is a waste. It is the spiritual vitality that is sadly lacking today and that must be recovered.

Again, the past offers us guidance as we seek the objective, “renewal through recovery.” As we have noted, the monks brought reform to the ancient Church. While this movement had its limitations, its positive contributions included a return to Scriptural Christianity, a stress upon the obedience of the laity (monasticism began as a lay movement), and an emphasis upon higher standards for the fellowship. Luther brought vitality to bear upon the medieval Church. His approach was similar. He returned to Pauline theology, developed the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers. And he called all Christians to the same high level of commitment. Wesley brought renewal to the English church. Again, remember the similarities. He took Biblical preaching to the people, organized the laity, and set up strict General Rules for his societies.

In each case, the Idea was recovered by turning to the Book which has preserved the Gospel from its beginning. Also, a stress was put upon the disciplined discipleship of the rank and file. These creative approaches go back to the mind of Jesus. They are suggested in John 15 with these words, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered …”

Renewal today depends upon the fulfillment of these requirements. Without the vir1e and its life-giving nurture, the branches will die. Without the pruning influence of God’s high standards, the vine itself is greatly hindered and even threatened. Thus, the vitality of the whole Church is dependent upon the Bible as the source of the Christ idea, upon the disciplined obedience of its members, and upon the life-giving presence of The Holy Spirit.

However, this approach faces great obstacles at the present time. Back in the second century, the Roman emperor Diocletian wished to defeat the Christian religion. His plan was simply to destroy its Book. He issued an edict that all Scriptures be burned. Today, we do not face this external danger in America. Yet there is evidence that the influence of the Bible has already been largely destroyed. The reason for this is that its authority has been undermined from within the Church itself by humanistic theology, by extreme Biblical criticism, and an over-emphasis on social action as THE gospel.

The result has been the watering down of the Christian message to the point that there is little difference between it and secular idealism. At the same time, church membership standards have grown increasingly lax. In Methodism, for example, Wesley’s General Rules have given way to virtually no rules at all. It is true, in general, that the civic clubs are stricter than the major denominations when it comes to the admission of members and the fulfillment of attendance and financial commitments. This trend will only be accelerated by participation in the radical aspect of the ecumenical movement. Organic union of the major churches will be achieved only through the further compromise of membership, doctrinal, and ethical standards.

Actually, the Christian Church is weak because a major segment of the ministry and the laity have apparently lost the dynamic idea of the redemptive work of Christ which leads to a personal and prophetic witness in a troubled world. Both clergy and laymen will remain “frozen assets” until their hearts are “strangely warmed” by creative encounter with Christ and the Bible in its traditional function as the authoritative witness to Christ, and until greater discipline is restored to the Christian community.

The Church faces a new day in this twentieth century – but only in a relative sense. Actually, these are the newest of days, yet the oldest of days. The institution has lost the power of the basic Idea, which is Christ. Let us understand that renewal must be achieved through recovery of the Idea that “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Next to this, reorganization of the Church institution is only secondary. New life will come to the Church only as the laity and clergy alike return to Scriptural Christianity and to higher standards of obedience to Christ.

Archive: Stand Tall!

Archive: Where Does an Alien Go to Register?

Archive: Where Does an Alien Go to Register?

In whatever tribe the alien resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance, says the Lord God.  Ezekiel 47:33 

By David R. Hunsberger, Pastor, United Methodist Church, Wrightstown, New Jersey

Christians who are commonly called conservative and liberal continue to discuss their differences.  This is most wholesome.  This time, “Good News” kindly gives a hearing to one who lacks good standing in either group.  Here are the confessions of a theological half-breed, a “critical evangelical.”

This middle position consigns me to that no-man’s-land separating the embattled frontiers.  In this buffer zone I frequently get caught in the crossfire. Customs officials on either side remind me that my doctrinal passport is invalid. No matter how friendly the border guards, I still must ask, “where does an alien go to register?”

Two opposing voices bend the preacher’s ear, Christianity Today and The Christian Century. Both are welcome. Each offers commendable material, yet each can be rather disappointing.

To me, preaching the Gospel remains the pastor’s most important function. His life must illustrate the Good News that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. His job is to persuade others, by word and action.

This is why we have the Scripture.  We should not use it for our purpose, but let God use it through us for His purpose. Handling the Bible easily becomes manhandling it. The Spirit of God moved men to write what they could never have written on their own. He spoke through them to the needs of their day. Thus He has recorded the testimony of witnesses who were men like ourselves. But their faith was not something they latched on to.  Rather, it overcame them, almost in spite of themselves. They could only tell what they had seen and heard. In doing so, they were transcribing faith into life. No one else could produce what that company did who actually saw and heard the Man, Christ Jesus.

Their witness is the bundle of documents we call the New Testament, a witness that held up in their age and applies in any age, even ours. To a lesser degree of importance, this witness applied in proclaiming the Old Testament message. We must search and understand the Scripture the better to preach and demonstrate the Gospel. That others may also be overcome by the same conviction of faith is the preacher’s job. On this basis also, I call myself evangelical.

What makes me suspect is my use of Biblical criticism. That it undermines the authority of Holy Scripture has not been the case with me. It has helped me better to appreciate the written Word by looking, as the hymn says, beyond the sacred page to Christ, the Living Word. For me, responsible Biblical criticism drives home more forcefully the Good News we preach.

My adherence to this school of thought does not make it right.  Equally vain would be any notion that a middle position alone exercises true faith, good sense, and a generous attitude. Conservative friends in the church help by reminding me that belief in the infallibility of the Bible does not require a hot-headed narrowmindedness.  Let me only suggest that Biblical criticism did not rise from the bottomless pit, and that one may use it and still be an evangelical Christian. I find it painful being greeted as a fellow member of the colony of heaven – provided I hold a certain view of Biblical inspiration.

Space forbids outlining my own case, much less explaining it. Instead, let me offer “Good News” readers a few proposals which may strengthen our bond of faith in Christ, despite our differences.  Even if the attempt fails, it is worth trying.

For one thing, let’s give the other fellow credit for a pure motive, rather than dismissing him as blind and stubborn. Remember the Old Testament Rechabites?  Jeremiah commended their devotion even though he obviously disagreed with their reactionary practices. He paid a public compliment to their faithfulness shining like an evening star in the dusk of the Hebrew monarchy.

Again, leave every subject open. Nothing is so dull as a closed topic. Don’t hesitate to examine any belief afresh. Truth always thrives under honest investigation.  Even a hostile challenge is no worse than refusing to take a long, hard look at one’s own beliefs. This is how the death-of-God fad did me a lot of good. It demanded from me solid evidence that God really lives in daily life. Or, could He just as well be six feet under for all the difference He really makes to me?

Even a Pharisee can help us here. That sect had little time for our Lord, yet not all of its members were His enemies. When Nicodemus protested judging a man before hearing him, he was only raising a point of order. But his point is always in order. Why classify everyone we meet? As if every liberal were a disciple of Thomas Altizer! As if every conservative were a follower of Carl McIntire!

I would also suggest that a man’s faith may exceed the terms he uses to confess it. Look at the many attempts to explain the atonement of Christ. Each theory holds certain strong points while also laboring under serious defects:  Each explanation holds real value; none is perfect. The whole subject is just too big for any single explanation to do it justice.  But that your understanding of it differs from mine does not mean that one of us necessarily lacks true confidence in the merit of Christ’s finished work.

Many oppose Biblical criticism as something negative. We easily pin that term on anything that cuts across our thinking. Any new idea is bound to deny something.  Our Lord drew that charge when He threw out excessively rigid Sabbatarian rules, even though they were commonly accepted.  Paul was considered destructive when he rejected the need for circumcision.

The question then becomes:  What is it that is being denied?  Suppose two thinkers affirm differing views of the Bible’s inspiration.  Each accuses the other of negativism and insists that his opponent is not defining inspiration at all.

To me, Biblical criticism is a discerning search along every path of evidence. The scholars I know are confident that all knowledge only reinforces the truth, and that faith in Christ can stand any amount of scrutiny.  These men respect the Scripture.

Consider some names from the days when higher criticism was a hotter issue. It would be unfair to assert that George Adam Smith was not evangelical, that Arthur S. Peake (a Methodist layman, incidentally) toned down the Gospel, or that Charles A Briggs’ belief in the nature of Christ was defective.

Of course there were casualties.  Some scholars failed to negotiate critical curves and plunged headlong into some skeptical ditch.  But does no other group have to live down the follies of its false friends? Paul suffered frequent embarrassment from those in whose carelessness his teaching of Christian freedom went to seed. Luther found a Peasants’ Revolt on his hands. Wesley could not ignore those fanatics who rode Christian perfection into the ground. Yet, would you call the apostle deceived, the reformer a radical, or the even tempered evangelist a crackpot?

I would not recommend striving to defend or prove faith.  Remember how Gideon said Baal could plead his own case? If that argument worked for the fictitious Canaanite fertility deity, surely the living God can take care of Himself! Any defender is bigger and stronger than the object he fights to protect.

Before we attack heresy, let’s be sure what it is. The saintly Augustine, that champion of orthodoxy, said it was difficult, if not impossible to define heresy.  He went on to say that it consisted not so much in a man’s opinion but in his attitude in holding it.

Think of the Nestorian controversy which rocked the fifth century Church. Nestorius held views on the person of Christ which were unsatisfactory, as they still are. His main antagonist was Cyril of Alexandria. A sincere, though mistaken heresy clashed with a savage orthodoxy. The words of the church historian H. H. Milman come to mind. In his History of Latin Christianity, he said, if given the choice he would rather face the Redeemer loaded down with the errors of Nestorius than with the barbarities of Cyril. So would I.

Why not scrap our passion to tabulate a theological box score?  Suppose I pitch my middle position views to a liberal or a conservative batter and succeed in striking him out. If I fail to encourage his faith or improve my attitude toward him, what have I gained?

A final plea from an alien among conservative Christians:  Remember the Good Shepherd’s words, “I have other sheep who are not of this fold.”

Archive: Stand Tall!

Archive: Methodist Apostle in the Land of Lightning

Archive: Methodist Apostle in the Land of Lightning

By Harold Spann
Pastor, First United Methodist Church, San Augustine, Texas

These days, it is rare to find a Methodist church excited about world missions. Recently, Mrs. Porter Brown, head of the Board of Missions, sadly admitted that missionary success stories are few and far between. But the “vision glorious” has not entirely disappeared. One outstanding example is found in San Augustine, Texas. Here Methodists have reversed the anti-missionary tide, and support a daring and creative program of salvation-centered world outreach. – Charles W. Keysor, Editor

It is a long way from the comfortable home of a banker in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a communal dwelling where the whole village lives under one roof on the banks of the Rio de Oro (River of Gold) in Colombia, South America. But this is the journey that Bruce Olson, 19 year old youth, made in less than a year’s time when the Holy Spirit spoke and he obeyed.

Christ had become thrillingly alive and real to Bruce when he was a sophomore in high school in St. Paul. One night alone in his bedroom, he slipped to his knees a seeking, hungering boy. He arose a short time later filled with joy and peace in the Lord Jesus. Not only did he receive Christ as his personal Savior that night, Bruce also dedicated his life to the Lord for the Christian ministry.

In 1961, he was studying ancient languages at the University of Pennsylvania. The Holy Spirit spoke with such urgency that Bruce yielded to His insistence that he go at once to some foreign field for missionary service. The call was distinct and clear that he should go to some aboriginal tribe who had never heard the Name of Jesus. Though he had not finished his education and was only 19 and without many funds, he bought a one-way ticket to Venezuela. He landed at Caracas with only $72.00 in his pocket – and the assurance in his heart that this was the first step on the road of God’s choosing for his missionary service.

What now? This was the question that confronted this boy in a strange land among a people whose language he did not speak. A $22-a-day hotel soon soaked up his meager funds, but God gave him a friend who took Bruce into his home. This friend introduced him to the Venezuelan minister of health, who employed him on the spot with a month’s salary in advance. In this job he helped to vaccinate Indians in the Oronaco River valley. He also attended classes at the University of Caracas, where he taught Greek to supplement his income and where he eventually received his university degree.

Confronted with the threat of expulsion from the country because of the lack of legal papers, Bruce was given another friend by God. This friend he met one day in a crowded sidewalk cafe in Caracas. The well-dressed gentleman who took a seat at his table and heard his story patiently turned out to be none other than the personal secretary to President Romulo Betancourt, President of the Republic of Venezuela. It was not difficult for him to help Bruce solve his problems with immigration officials.

During the few months he had been in South America, Bruce had heard of a fierce nation of Indians in the mountainous jungles along the Venezuelan and Colombian borders. From the early forties to 1960 they had wounded over 800 oil company employees. Sixty-eight of the workers had been the fatal victims of the Indians’ deadly spears and arrows. Bruce was somewhat shaken when God told him to go to these Indians, the Motilones. No white man had ever contacted the Motilones and lived to tell of it.

Less than a year from that night that he landed at the Caracas airport, Bruce Olson walked alone into the jungles of Venezuela in search of the dreaded Motilones. Night fell suddenly and a frightened 19 year old made his bed on leaves he had ripped from trees with his bare hands. In his excitement about entering the jungles he had forgotten a can opener. So he had to pound his sardine cans on a rock in order to suck the juice from the tins.

For three days he forced his way through the jungles. From the brow of a high hill on the fourth day he saw a little village below. Rushing down the hill, he shouted in Spanish greetings to the old men who came forward to meet him. He soon learned that they neither spoke nor understood Spanish. He tried Latin, Norwegian, and a few others, but they only laughed and flopped their lips at him in mockery.

A few days later, the chief and the young men returned to their village from a hunt, and Bruce found himself a prisoner of the chieftain and warriors who demanded his immediate death. These were not the Motilone but the Yucco Indians. His life was spared when the old men convinced their chief that he could not kill the white man who had learned to play the sacred tunes of the Yucca on his little flute.

By injecting penicillin into some of the sick children of the village, Bruce was able to heal them and to gain the trust and support of these Indians. After 6 months with the Yuccas he persuaded three of the more daring young Indians to guide him to the edge of the Motilone territory, still farther to the north in the jungle.

After four days on the trail, Olson and his guides were suddenly under fire by a barrage of sharp, four-foot arrows, sent singing through the air by the strong five foot bows of the Motilones. The three Yuccas began to run. One of them was hit in the arm, but kept on running. Bruce began to run too. Then he was struck deep in the thigh by an arrow. He fell to the ground and God spoke to his heart reminding him that he had come here for just this reason, to contact the Motilones.

Contact was made!

The Indians, five of them, stepped from hiding, their bows loaded and drawn. One of them ripped the arrow from his leg. Another demanded his death on the spot. An argument followed. Three of the five insisted that they take the white man to their chief rather than killing him. The three prevailed, and Bruce was carried a prisoner to the communal dwelling some miles down the trail.

Exhausted, he fell into a hammock (the only sleeping accommodations in Motilone land) and was allowed to sleep for several hours. He was a prisoner and treated much as a captured animal.

While with the Yuccos, he had drunk polluted water and contracted amoebic dysentery. He grew weaker by the day and finally realized that unless he escaped and got medical help he could not live. One moonless night, he slipped unnoticed from the house while the other 150 occupants were sleeping. Stumbling through the jungle blackness he came to the river nearby and began wading downstream. For 10 days, half delirious from fever and weakness he stumbled on, existing on wild bananas.

Finally he came to a colonist’s house on the edge of the jungle – to discover that he was no longer in Venezuela but in Colombia.

From Bogota, the capital of Colombia, he returned to Motilone territory by way of the River of Gold. He went upriver in a boat loaded with supplies. He made camp on the riverbank and placed gifts on a trail discovered nearby. A month passed. No sign of life and the gifts untouched. Another month and the gifts disappeared. He left other gifts. Then they disappeared, and where they had been he found several arrows stuck in the ground – a sign he had been warned to take seriously: it meant death!

He pushed a little farther down the trail and left other gifts. Then one day he found himself surrounded by several young Motilone men. Giving the Motilone greeting of the raised eyebrow and a smile, he found his captors smiling at him. They unloaded their bows and carried him to their communal house where he was given liberty and treated as a friend.

Again God had proven His faithfulness and reassured Bruce that He had called him to evangelize these people. Under the anointing of the Lord, he identified as completely as possible with the Motilones. They were impressed that the white man ate their food and went on the trail with them on their hunts. He ate monkey meat and even smacked his lips over the long, soft worms he ate with the Indians. He mastered the “art” of biting the head off the worms and sucking out the insides; of cracking large beetles between his teeth and sucking out their insides.

Beginning to learn a few words of their language, Bruce learned that they had a head chief in another of the villages farther into the interior. He asked to be carried to this chief. The Indians refused. At last they agreed and the long eight day walk on the trail began. Halfway through the journey, Bruce became violently ill with chest pains and nausea. One of the Indians asked how he turned his eyes to such a pretty yellow. He knew this was a symptom of hepatitis. By the time they reached the high chief’s communal dwelling, Bruce was too weak to walk. He had to be carried by the Indians. The chief took one look at the white man and demanded why they had not killed him. He ordered them to kill Bruce at once or the chief would do so with his own hands.

The Indians pleaded for his life, telling their chief that he could not kill the white man because he was sick. Motilones believe that if they kill. any person or animal dying with a disease, the Motilone will be cursed, and will never kill game again on the hunt. His arrows will break in midflight.

Despairing of living any longer because of his pain and weakness, Bruce one day heard the sound of a helicopter in the distance. The Indians were all frightened; they thought the copter was a great vulture coming to eat them. Bruce persuaded an Indian to carry him out into the clearing before the house and to spread his red plastic tent on the roof of the building. This the Indian did before he, too, fled into the jungle. The aircraft landed in the clearing and its two occupants one of whom, a medical doctor, loaded him into the craft and carried him back to civilization.

In two weeks God had healed Bruce sufficiently so that he headed back to the River of Gold and the Motilones.

This time the Indians received him almost as if he were a god. They believed that the great vulture bird had taken him away to devour him. And now here he was back, quite well and talking to them!

God has spared Bruce Olson from many deadly dangers, given him extraordinary wisdom, and blessed his work among these Indians. The Gospel has begun to bear fruit. Five years after the first contact, there was one real convert among the Motilones, a young man named Kobayra Bobarishora. “Bobby,” as he was nicknamed, was the son of the Indian who demanded Bruce’s death at the first contact.

But others are interested. Recently an Indian came from another village to inquire of Bobby if Jesus loved them too. When told that Jesus did, the Indian smiled and said, “Then I want to know all about Him.”

Within a few months the first Motilone will be teaching his own people to read and write. Soon the first health clinic and meeting place will be completed. Mule trails have been cut through the 2,000,000 acre territory and six mules carry supplies over these 95 miles of trail. Dugout canoes have been made and motors put on them to carry supplies from the edge of the jungles to the first communal dwelling. This summer, the second health clinic and meeting house will be begun. Soon the Gospel of Mark will be translated fully into the Motilone language.

Young Olson explained to the congregation of the First Methodist Church of San Augustine, Texas, in January of 1967 that his plan is to get the Gospel planted in the hearts of the people before civilization moves in with its vices and temptations.

This season, the Motilones will market their first agricultural products. And sometime this year dairy cattle will be brought into the territory for milk and meat.

In June four missionary recruits left San Augustine to share in the Motilone ministry. The four, Mrs. Myra Kennedy, Miss Carol Anderson, Rev. and Mrs. Tim Walker, are all from Texas. They will work for at least one year among the Motilones.

Unknown to most of the world, a quiet but mighty miracle of redemption has been taking place. The heavy weight of evangelizing this Indian nation has rested on the shoulders of one consecrated young man who risked all to be faithful to the call of God. Through the faith and obedience of Bruce Olson, a great light has begun to shine in another of earth’s dark places. Bonds of fear, superstition and hate have been broken from the minds and hearts of the Motilones.

To talk to Bruce Olson is to know the deep humility of his life and to savor the salt of his faith. To hear his story and witness his passion for the souls of this primitive people is to inhale in our twentieth century the fresh Christian air of the first century.

Archive: Stand Tall!

Archive: Jesus is Lord

Archive: Jesus is Lord

By E. Stanley Jones
Condensed from A SONG OF ASCENTS by E. Stanley Jones, Copyright © 1968 by Abingdon Press. Used by permission.

Now in his 80’s, E. Stanley Jones is Methodism’s most famous missionary evangelist. Author of 25 books, his globe-circling ministry has led countless thousands to Christ. As a keynote to observance of a Christ-exalting Christmas season, we off er this excerpt from “Brother Stanley’s” exciting spiritual autobiography. — Charles W. Keysor, Editor

My faith has been reduced to simplicity: “Jesus is Lord.” They say that all great discoveries are a reduction from complexity to simplicity. The false hypothesis is always complex, for you have to use a lot of words to cover up the falsity, but the truth is always simple … My life answer has been found; I have an answer which is the Answer, and it works; the universe and life approve of it: “Jesus is Lord.” That is the greatest reduction from complexity to simplicity I know – the whole of religion in general and the whole of Christianity in particular reduced to three words: “Jesus is Lord.”

The earliest Christian creed was just that: “Jesus is Lord.” “If you confess with your lips … ‘Jesus is Lord’ … you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 RSV). “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:3 RSV). In both these places “Jesus is Lord” is in quotation marks, showing that it was the earliest Christian confession, probably the earliest Christian creed. This was particularly amazing, for it grew up among the Jewish people whose characteristic and central saying was this: “Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). “God” was “Lord.” How did these fiercely monotheistic [one God] people come to the conclusion that “Jesus is Lord”? Not easily. They were compelled to it-the facts led them to an almost unwilling confession. They saw that the touch of Jesus upon life was the touch of God. He was doing things that only God could do. So from their very reluctant lips came the confession, “Jesus is Lord. ”

But the moment they said it, everything fell into place – God, life, destiny, future, present, past – everything made sense. They had the key that unlocked everything, everything in Heaven and on earth. Jesus is still that key. Lose Him and you lose the way to live, to think, to be, to love. Keep Him, surrender to Him, obey Him, and you have the key – the way to live. …

Apart from Jesus, you know little or nothing about God, and what you know is wrong. If you don’t see God in the face of Jesus, you see something else than God – and different. Jesus is the self-revelation of God: God meeting us in understandable form, human form, the Word become flesh. God is a Jesus-like God.

A Hindu said to me: “We can talk about God; you talk to us about Jesus.” He was right. For apart from Jesus your ideas of God become strange and uncertain. When you lose Jesus, you lose God.

A Unitarian said to me: “Will you come to our Unitarian conference – help us to get God back into Unitarianism? We are losing God and becoming humanism.” I replied: “This is interesting. You who have specialized on God have lost Him. I, who specialize on Jesus, have found Him.”

I can’t tell where God ends and Jesus begins in my experience, for the more I know of Jesus the more I know of God. I can go from one to the other without any sense of difference. They do not rival or push each other out – they are one.

Jesus is the starting point: You cannot say God until you have first said Jesus. You can’t say Christ until you have first said Jesus, for the Jews had a nationalistic view of Christ; He was to be the conquering Christ. You cannot say the Holy Spirit until you have first said Jesus, for apart from Jesus, divine power has always bordered on the strange or weird. You cannot say the Kingdom of God until you can first say Jesus, for the Jews expected the Kingdom of God to be David’s kingdom – a nationalistic mold. Jesus universalized it and made it God’s Kingdom. …

Jesus is Lord in three directions: He is Lord of the past, Lord of the present, and Lord of the future.

PAST: He cleanses the past of its guilt, reverses the propensities brought over into the present, and can release us from the inferiorities and failures of the past. He can cleanse the subconscious mind, which is a depository of the past, and give it new content and new bent. Jesus saves us from being prisoners of our past. Freud says that man is determined by the lower urges in the subconscious brought over from the past. In Jesus, that is no longer true. Existentialism says that since life is process, the present is dying to the past, so that there is no past. But experience says that there is a past, and a guilty past. The past is not dead, but comes into the present as guilt.

A businessman of the Middle West said to me: “I have an awful sense of guilt in my life, and night after night I’ve tied up my arm to the bedpost so I couldn’t sleep decently to punish myself and atone for my sins.”

My reply: “That hasn’t taken away the guilt, has it? ”

“No,” he replied sadly.

“My brother,” I replied, “you are on the wrong track. You are trying to atone for your sins by what you do, offering your suffering. You can’t find God by what you do; you can find Him by what He has done. He died for you on the cross, to get to you in spite of your sins and to offer you forgiveness. Empty your hands and take the gift of God.”

He looked incredulous. “Why that’s too cheap ” he said.

“No,” I replied, “it is very expensive. For if you take the gift you will belong forever to the Giver. …”

We prayed together. A few days later I received this letter: “I didn’t know that a man could be as happy as I am. All that sense of guilt is gone. I went to church the next day and sang the hymns I had never sung before. I had sung words; now I really sang the hymns. I went to work the next day with lightness of step I had never known, and for the first time in my life I let my full weight down on the universe. ”

A beautiful church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee is made up of broken pieces of waste marble, built into a sanctuary. The broken pieces of our life mistakes can be gathered up and built into a temple of God. He redeems the past as well as cleanses it. …

PRESENT: I know nothing, absolutely nothing so potent, so redeeming, so transforming as the direct and immediate impact of Jesus Christ upon the framework of human nature. It creates miracles of changed character around the world among all classes, among all degrees of culture, among all ages, among both sexes. Jesus is Lord – Lord where it counts most: in the realm of character and life. …

A woman told me she … went to a pagan psychiatrist. He said this: “You are strongly sexed – your libido is out of control. Take up smoking and drinking and that will distribute the load.”

She said, “I did take up smoking and drinking. And instead of getting better I got worse; for now I was fighting on three fronts instead of one. I saw the utter futility of all this, surrendered myself and my drives to Christ, and walked out of all three problems. I’m free – and happy. ” And she was! Jesus is Lord of the present. …

FUTURE: l face the future with confidence, even joy. Many are afraid of the future, afraid of two things – decay and death. But if you belong to Jesus Christ, you don’t belong to either one; you belong to Him, not decay, not death. Because if you live in Him, you are not subject to decay. The real person is not decaying if you live in Him. The shell may wrinkle; the substance is ripening. …

So I stand assured, assured that neither encroaching time nor approaching death can touch me – the real me – for I do not belong to time or death. I belong to the timeless and the deathless: I belong to Jesus Christ. …

Cecil Rhodes, when dying, said: “It is dark – very dark. ” Well, it is not dark to me to live in Christ. It is light, light – light that shall shine more and more to the perfect Day. …

In Jesus there are no sunsets, they are all sunrises. He is the “bright and morning star ” – not the evening star. He heralds the dawn – not the dark. Rufus Moseley, a layman, called on to conduct a funeral, went to the New Testament to see how Jesus conducted a funeral. He found that “Jesus did not conduct funerals. He conducted resurrections. ”

So Jesus is Lord – Lord of the past, Lord of the present, Lord of the future. Jesus is Lord of everything.