Archive: 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).

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