Monday, July 24, 2006
This is part four of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14,2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”
God the Son
“Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.”
Genesis 18:1ff.; Psalms 2:7ff.; 110:1ff.; Isaiah 7:14; 53; Matthew 1:18-23; 3:17; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16,27; 17:5; 27; 28:1-6,19; Mark 1:1; 3:11; Luke 1:35; 4:41; 22:70; 24:46; John 1:1-18,29; 10:30,38; 11:25-27; 12:44-50; 14:7-11; 16:15-16,28; 17:1-5,21-22; 20:1-20,28; Acts 1:9; 2:22-24; 7:55-56; 9:4-5,20; Romans 1:3-4; 3:23-26; 5:6-21; 8:1-3,34; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2:2; 8:6; 15:1-8,24-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21;8:9; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:20; 3:11; 4:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-22; 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 3:16; Titus 2:13-14; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-15; 7:14-28; 9:12-15,24-28; 12:2; 13:8; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:22; 1 John 1:7-9; 3:2; 4:14-15; 5:9; 2 John 7-9; Revelation 1:13-16; 5:9-14; 12:10-11; 13:8; 19:16.
(Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)
Bethlehem was not the beginning of Christ, the Son of God. That marked the entrance of the Eternal Son into this temporal sphere as a Being of flesh. The Man, Jesus, was born in a manger, but there was never a time when Christ was not. He is God without beginning and ending—Alpha and Omega.
Yet the Infinite became an infant. When He stepped out of the Celestial City and into time and space, Jesus laid aside the prerogatives of Deity and took upon Himself the limitations of humanity. He was just as much God as if He were not man, and just as much man as if He were not God. He is the Godman—not God-man—not a demigod, half god and half man, but fully God and man.
Nearly two thousand years ago, the Spirit of God wrought a miraculous conception as Jesus the Unique, Only Begotten Son of God was implanted in Mary’s womb in a one and only kind of event—a virgin young lady nurturing God within her. In doing so, He became man that He might die for us—while still God to make His death sufficient for all mankind to be forgiven of their sins. By this miracle, God brought One into the world who was untainted by the pollution of Adam’s race, yet still a member of that race. You have never met a perfect person—but there was one—Jesus Christ. Tempted like we are and yet without sin—we have a spotless sacrifice. He was subjected to all the toils, trials and tears of this terrestrial plane, so that we have a sympathetic Savior. Only Jesus could qualify to deal with our sins.
Having fulfilled all the righteous demands of God, Jesus became our substitute on Calvary. He became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. When He cried from the cross, “It is finished!” He meant that the debt was paid in full.
Yet, that death would have only been a grave miscarriage of justice, a horrible tragedy, had the tomb been the end of the line for Jesus. But He arose—literally, bodily—glorified humanity! Because He lives, we can live also.
Hundreds of people saw Jesus alive from the dead. Skeptics have tried since the first century to undermine the credibility of the Gospel accounts, but there is no other explanation for the transformation in the disciples except that they actually saw Jesus resurrected. For forty days He demonstrated His conquest of death by many infallible proofs.
Then He ascended into heaven before the eyes of the startled and saddened onlookers. Rising up into the clouds, He was received into glory with the promise that He would come again. There—at the right hand of the Father—He waits for the word which will send Him back for His bride, the church. Meanwhile, Jesus is not idle—He ever lives to intercede for us. His death on the cross purchased our salvation; but His mediation in heaven preserves it. He died to save us and ascended to secure us.
One day, perhaps soon, the trumpet will sound and the authoritative voice that summoned Lazarus back to life will call the sleeping saints to awaken from their graves. Those who are alive when Christ appears in the clouds will be transformed and given bodies like unto His glorious body. Together, we will rise to meet Him in the air.
This will begin the final countdown to the end of the age. Judgment will be meted out. The One who will judge, as well as the criteria by which humanity will be judged, is Jesus Christ, who in that day will be acknowledged as King of kings and Lord of lords. Before Him every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Some will bow gladly. I will. Others, who have similarly received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in this life, will be saved eternally and welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Some will bow sadly. They missed their opportunity to enter heaven. Fully intending one day to be saved, they waited too late and never accepted Christ’s invitation. The road to hell will be paved with their good intentions.
Some will bow madly. The enemies of Christ will be forced to acknowledge His triumph. Even Satan himself—the ultimate rebel—will have to grovel before being cast into the lake of fire.
But all will bow before God the Son.
If you want to be saved, you must do so now!
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Several days ago, I shared an article from Jim Elliff in which he leveled some serious concerns about the members of Southern Baptist Churches. His conviction stated there was that many who had their names on the church roll were indeed unsaved. This post contains part two of that discussion. Consider then:
Southern Baptists, An Unregenerate Denomination (Part 2)
Facing the Dilemma
What must be done? I suggest five responses:
1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member. Every author in the New Testament writes of the nature of deception. Some books give major consideration to the subject. Jesus Himself spoke profusely about true and false conversion, giving significant attention to the fruit found in true believers (Jn. 10:26-27; Mt. 7:21-23; Mt. 25:1-13, etc.). If this sort of teaching creates doubt in people, you should not be alarmed, nor should you back away from it. Given the unregenerate state of so many professing Christians, their doubts may be fully warranted. In any case, as one friend told me, "Doubts never sent anyone to hell, but deception always does." Most will work through their doubts, if they are regenerate and if we continue to preach the whole truth. Contrary to popular opinion, all doubts are not of the devil. Speak truthfully the whole counsel of God. You cannot "unsave" true believers.
It is true that there may be some who are overly scrupulous and overwhelmed by such examination. But most who will be affected are those who are too self-confident, having based their assurance on such shaky platforms as their response to an invitation, praying a perfectly worded "sinner's prayer," or getting baptized. If they are unregenerate, they may take offense and leave. But if they are truly regenerate, patient teaching and care will help them to overcome their doubts and gain biblical assurance. Such preaching may even result in true conversion for some who are deceived. And don't forget that the overconfident ones are not the only ones at risk. Quiet, sensitive, insecure people can be deceived also.
2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members, including their sinful failure to attend the stated meetings of the church. This must be done by reestablishing the forgotten practice of church discipline. Each church should adopt guidelines that state just what will happen when a member falls into sin, including the sin of non-attendance or very nominal attendance. Such discipline for non-attendance is clearly found in the history of Baptists—but more importantly, in the Bible.
Everyone in the church, including new members, should be made familiar with the biblical steps of church discipline. Jesus said that a person who was lovingly, but firmly, disciplined by the church, and yet failed to repent, should be thought of as "a heathen and a tax collector" (see Mt. 18:15-17). Though David committed atrocious sins, he was a repenter at heart (see 2 Sam.12:13; Psalm 51). Every Christian is a life-long repenter and church discipline brings this out. (See "Restoring Those Who Fall," in Our Church on Solid Ground: Documents That Preserve the Integrity and Unity of the Church, www.CCWonline.org)
Leaders must get into the homes of all our erring church members, seeking either to bring them to Christ, or to reluctantly release them to the world which they love more than Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to keep non-believers on the rolls. As a side benefit from church discipline for the SBC, remember that when we reduce our membership to what it actually is, we will be amazed at the statistical improvements in the ratio of members per baptism and members to attenders. Of course, statistics are not worth dying for, but obedience to God's Word is.
We are never to aggressively pluck the supposed tares from the wheat as if we had absolute knowledge (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43). We might be mistaken. However, loving church discipline is a careful process by which the obvious sinner in essence removes himself by his resistance to correction. The church is made up of repenting saints, not rebelling sinners (see 1 Cor. 5). The slight improvement in the disparity between membership and attendance in the last couple of years is likely due, in major part, to some churches beginning to practice church discipline—a matter of obedience that thankfully is regaining credence among us. Some have removed hundreds from their rolls in this process, and regained some also.
3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership. In my estimation, the public altar call (a modern invention) often reaps people prematurely. Others will disagree or can perhaps make significant improvements on the traditional "invitation system." We have used this method in our evangelism because of our genuine zeal to see the lost converted. But in our zeal, we have often overlooked the fact that many who do what our method calls for (i.e. respond to our invitation) may not be converted.
Though sacrosanct to Baptists, careful study should be done related to the historical use of the invitation system evangelistically. For eighteen hundred years the church did not use such a method. It was not until its principle originator, Charles Finney, a true pelagian in his theology, promoted his "new measures." Earlier preachers were content to let true conviction play a greater part in conversion. They needed no props for the gospel—no persuasive techniques to prompt people to make a "decision." Instead of relying on a method, their confidence was in the preached Word and the Holy Spirit. Baptist giant, C. H. Spurgeon, for instance, saw thousands converted without the use of an "altar call." His message was his invitation. We should always offer a verbal invitation in our gospel preaching, meaning we must invite people to repent and believe. But there is no real benefit, while there is much potential harm, in our inviting them to the front of the church and then assuring them that their short walk or tearful response proves their conversion.
We don't need better methods to get people down to the front. What we need is more biblical content and more unction in our preaching. You cannot beat sinners away from Christ when God is bringing them in (see Jn. 6:37, 44-45). When as many as 70-90% of "converts" are giving little, if any, evidence of being saved after their first weeks or months of emotional excitement, questions should be asked, both about our understanding of the gospel and about our methods. Forget the fact, if you must, that there is no clear biblical precedent for the altar call. Even considering the matter pragmatically ought to make us quit. Though prevalent in our churches for decades, it has not helped us. (See "Closing with Christ," www.CCWonline.org/closing.html)
The dangerous practice of receiving new members immediately after they walk the aisle must finally be abandoned. Also, more careful counsel should be taken with those entering in as members from other churches. And add to this a need for much deeper thinking concerning childhood conversion. An alarming percentage of childhood professions wash out later in the teen and college years. For unconverted yet baptized church kids, the more independence they are granted, the more they live out their true nature. (See "Childhood Conversion," www.CCWonline.org/cconv.html)
4. We must stop giving immediate verbal assurance to people who make professions of faith or who respond to our invitations. It is the Holy Spirit's job to give assurance. We are to give thebasis upon which assurance can be had, not the assurance itself. Study 1 John in this respect. What things were written so that they might know they have eternal life? (1 Jn. 5:13). Answer: The tests given in the book. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).
5. We must restore sound doctrine. Revival, I am finding as I study its history, is largely about the recovery of the true gospel. The three great doctrines which have so often shown up in true revival are: 1) God's sovereignty in salvation, 2) justification by grace through faith alone, and 3) regeneration with discernible fruit. Revival is God showing up, but the blessing of the presence of God is directly affected by our beliefs. God most often comes in the context of these and other great doctrines, preached penetratingly and faithfully, and with the unction of the Holy Spirit.
As an illustration of our doctrinal reductionism, repentance is often forgotten completely in gospel presentations, or else it is minimized to mean nothing more than "admitting that you are a sinner." Also, "Inviting Christ into your heart," a phrase never found in the Bible (study the context of Jn.1:12 and Rev. 3:20, the verses used for this), has taken the place of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. The doctrine of God's judgment is rarely preached with any carefulness. And comprehensive studies of the meaning of the cross are seldom heard. Merely looking over the titles of the sermons which awakening preachers preached in the past would surprise most modern pastors.
Be Healthy or Be Ashamed
Which army would you rather have? Gideon's first army or his last? No church, and no denomination, should call itself healthy unless more people attend than are on the roll. This is a standard kept by most of the world, and was kept by our great-grandparents in Baptist churches as well. We would be closer to the revival we desire if we would admit our failure, humbly hang our heads, and seek to rectify this awful hindrance to God's blessing. When we boast of how big we are, we are bragging about our shame.
In the Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, our first association, our initial American statistical record shows that five times as many people attended the association's churches as were on their rolls. Greg Wills in Democratic Religion in the South (Oxford University Press, 1997, p.14) reports that three times the number on the rolls attended Baptist churches, then located mostly along the eastern seaboard when surveyed in 1791 by John Ashlund. In 1835, the Christian Index of Georgia recorded that "not less than twice the number" of members were in attendance.
Today, in rough numbers, it takes 300 people on our rolls to have 100 attenders. In the 1790s, it took only 33. Or, to put it in larger figures, it now takes nearly 3000 people, supposedly won to Christ and baptized, to result in a church attendance of 1000. Then, it took only 333. Our potency has diminished to such an extent that we must "win" and "baptize" over 2,000 more people to get to the same 1000 to attend.
Apparently, being orthodox in terms of inerrancy and infallibility is not enough, though without these doctrines we have no foundation for true evangelism. A lot has to be done, and a lot undone. And, sadly, we have been actively transporting this mainly American problem overseas for many years.
To conclude, I suggest two remedial steps for the convention as a whole, in addition to what was suggested for the churches:
1. We might reverse some of our proclivity to continue as normal if we introduced our preachers more accurately in our evangelism meetings and convention settings. Try using this introduction: "Here is Brother ______, pastor of a church of 10,000 members, 6400 of whom do not bother to come on a given Sunday morning, and 8600 of whom do not come on Sunday evening. He is here to tell us about how to have a healthy, evangelistic church."
It might be better to ask a man to speak who shepherds 100 members, all of whom attend with regularity and all of whom show signs of regeneration—a man who, in the last year, has baptized 5 people who stick—rather than a pastor of 10,000 members, 7000 of whom do not come—a man who has baptized 1000 in the past year, 700 of whom cannot be found. The smaller, but more consistent numbers of the first pastor reveal a far more effective ministry and thus a far better example for other churches. (Please understand that I don't like this talk about "numbers," but this is the main way we evaluate people and churches as Baptists. I am sure God is not really impressed with any of our statistics.)
2. We should establish a study group to explore our presently deplorable situation and to track its history. This group should also seek to re-examine the biblical mandate to have a regenerate church. Then this study group should report back with a strategy to help us out of the dilemma. They should be painfully honest. I am hopeful that individual churches will act without this prompting, but this would be an added stimulus to getting us to our fighting weight as a denomination. Some church leaders will not act without this sort of backing since independent action would be a departure from the status quo.
Our only alternative is to carry on in the old way—the way that produces 70-90% fallout. By continuing on as we are, we will gradually blur, and eventually obscure altogether, any distinction between the professing and the authentic Christian. In the end, we will look like every other mainline, liberal denomination. We are only one-third to one-tenth alive now. If we want to avoid complete deadness, we must take dramatic measures immediately. Like cotton candy, our apparent size does not add up to much.
Our forebears, especially those who died for the biblical concept of a regenerate church, would hardly recognize our compromised condition. It will admittedly take us down a notch or two, in the estimation of the rest of professing Christianity, when millions are removed from our rolls. But humility and a new reality might be the starting place for God's greatest blessings on us yet!
The next time someone asks how your church and your denomination are doing, tell the truth. Tell them that we have a new confidence in the inerrant Bible. Tell them that we have seminaries that promote orthodoxy, and new evangelistic fervor among the true believers. Tell them we have a lot to be excited about. But also tell them that when considered as a whole, most Southern Baptists need raising from the dead.
(Jim Elliff is president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. More articles by Jim may be found at www.CCWonline.org.)
Revised edition, Copyright © Jim Elliff 2005 Christian Communicators Worldwide, Inc. 201 Main, Parkville, MO 64152 USA Permission granted for not-for-sale reproduction in exact form including copyright. Other uses require written permission.
And so, my intent this Sunday is to begin a series of messages from 1 John entitled, "The Proof of Our Profession." These verses will also be the focus of our Sunday School lessons. Let us pray that God will speak to any among the congregation who may be lost--and either too proud to admit it or too blind to see it--that they may bow before the Lord and receive His grace that alone can save us from our sins. This is the difference that makes a difference and it is the difference between heaven and hell.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Recently one of our members asked me this question. Maybe you have wondered also--but not many of you, for few have missed it. Most never attended it.
Believing in the importance of prayer--I led a year long study of prayer from the Scriptures and beat the drum about its necessity for the life and vitality of the church. Yet, I failed to stimulate the congregation to more than meager involvement.
There has never been anything magical about having a prayer meeting on Wednesday night. Yet, we still do--if anyone still cares. When FAITH semesters take place during the spring and summer we ask a FAITH team to remain behind to lead in prayer--a different team rotating each week. Year round a prayer element is featured in CARE on Wednesday nights. There are prayer lists available. We have prayer grams to send out to those contacted. But it is about prayer--not a warmed-up Bible study devotion, a hymn or that sort of thing that mark the traditional "prayer" meeting, but just prayer. Also, the prayer room is available whenever the facility is open. On Sunday mornings at 8 AM, anyone who would like to join the pastor and his prayer partner(s) in the prayer room would be most welcome! But the following article gets to the core issues more than anything concerning the dearth of corporate prayer--on Wednesday or any day.
Whatever Happened to Prayer Meeting?
East Indian evangelist K. P. Yohannan says he will never forget one of his first prayer meetings in an American church. He had come to the United States eager to meet some of its spiritual giants and leaders. One man in particular held his interest, a preacher known even in India for his powerful sermons and uncompromising commitment to the truth.
More than 3,000 people attended services on the Sunday Yohannan visited his church. The choirs were outstanding and the preaching was everything he'd hoped it would be. But he was especially taken by an announcement the pastor made about the midweek prayer meeting. He said there were some things lying heavy on his heart—would the people come and pray about them? Then he announced the name of a certain chapel on the church campus. Excited, Yohannan determined he would attend.
When he arrived later that week, he brought with him some definite assumptions. The most basic was that prayer meetings are essential, of primary importance. In India, and in many other parts of the world where Christians are persecuted, the prayer meeting is the centerpiece of the church's life. Everyone comes, the meetings often last long into the night, and it is not unusual for believers to arise daily before sunup to pray together for the work of the church.
Fearing a huge crowd, he came early to get a seat. But when he arrived he was surprised to discover a chapel with a capacity for only 500—that was empty! A few people eventually came in, but there was no leader, no songs or worship, just chit chat about news, weather, and sports.
Forty-five minutes later an elderly man, the leader, but not the pastor, walked into the chapel to offer a few devotional thoughts from the Bible and give a brief prayer. The meeting was over, and as the seven attendees filed out of the chapel, Yohannan sat in stunned silence, his mind filled with questions: Was this it? Weren't they going to stay and wait upon God? Where was the worship? The tears? The cries for guidance and direction? Where was the list of the sick, and the poor, and those in need? What about that burden the pastor said was heavy on his heart? Weren't we going to intercede for a miracle? And where was the pastor?
That meeting became a paradigm for his experience of prayer meetings in America. In all his travels here, Yohannon saw the same pattern repeated in hundreds of midweek meetings. Almost anything happens but prayer. There are announcements, singing, homilies, but few prayers—and that's in the churches that actually have prayer meetings in their schedules. Many more make no pretense.
Church leaders who think nothing of spending days planning programs or of spending thousands of dollars to hire consultants to help them do it, blanch at the thought of spending even one whole night to wait on the Lord to show them what to do.
If it is true that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12), then we must pray, mustn't we? Can there be any other way to reach a lost world? Do we really think our plans and programs can bring down strongholds of spiritual evil in the heavenly realms?
Yohannan attributes our prayerlessness to a false sense of self-sufficiency. The Laodicean church is deja vu all over again in the so-called Christian West. That was the church that said of itself, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But Jesus had a different opinion: "You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."
And worst of all, he saw himself as standing outside the church, not inside; knocking on the door, asking to be let in. "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:14-22). To pray would be to open the door. But our sense of self-sufficiency paralyzes the hand that would turn the knob.
Secularization, the process by which things like prayer are losing their practical social significance, is at the root of most of our difficulties with prayer. For many of us, on an almost subconscious level, there is a lack of confidence that something like prayer can actually get anything done. Therefore, since our lives are full of things that need to be done, prayer naturally gets pushed out to the edges of the day. Prayer may have some therapeutic value; for instance, it can give one a sense of inner peace, but we think it can do little to raise money for the operating budget.
The logic of secularization makes us frenetically over-committed and so full of blind activity that we become too busy and too tired to pray. As P. T. Forsyth warned, the inability to pray is the punishment for the refusal to pray.
God said it would be that way: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.' Therefore, you will flee!" (Isa. 30:15-16, italics mine). Flight is a good image of the kind of activity that dominates prayerless people and churches.
Along with secularization, American individualism has taken its toll. If churches fancy themselves self-sufficient, it's because their members share the same conceit. We like our lives to be self-contained. For many, the prayer meeting is unnecessary as long as individuals are praying in their own homes on their own time. What is missed is that most of what the Bible says about prayer is addressed to groups, people meeting together, to pray. The Bible's great book of prayer, Psalms, was written largely for use in the congregation of Israel.
Even the individual prayer of a man like Ezra had the effect of moving all the people to pray together. For "while Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly" (Ezra 10:1).
Unforgettable is the prayer life of the young church in Jerusalem, as "they all joined together constantly in prayer," and who, when threatened with persecution, raised "their voices together in prayer to God" for him to show his power against her enemies (Acts 1:14; 4:23-31).
It was in a congregational prayer meeting that a missionary movement was launched in Antioch: "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off" (Acts 13:1-3).
When Paul urged the churches to pray for him, he was urging congregations to pray as congregations, not only as mere individuals.
Corporate prayer has a special place in God's heart because he desires that his people be one. Jesus prays to the Father, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23). Note that Jesus claims for Christian unity a power he gives only to the Holy Spirit, to nothing and no one else—the power to persuade the world that he is indeed the One sent from God "to let the world know that you sent me." The greatest argument for the authority and identity of Jesus comes not only from theologians and apologists. It can come from the simplest believers who will live together in the unity of the Holy Spirit! There is a blessedness, a shalom, among those who are one in Christ that is so extraordinary and miraculous that it is visible to nonbelievers.
What does this have to do with corporate prayer?
There can't be one without the other—no genuine corporate prayer without unity, no real unity without corporate prayer. If prayer is the deepest communion we can have with our Father God this side of heaven, how can we have this intimacy if we are at loggerheads with his family?
Taking his cue from the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:19, Jonathan Edwards urged the churches of eighteenth-century New England to see prayer as a kind of concert. "Again I tell you, that if two of you agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." The word for "agree" is the Greek sumphoneo, from which we get our word symphony. Edwards proposed that churches pray in concerted agreement for two things: the revival of religion in the church and the spread of God's kingdom in the world. The Great Awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were birthed in this kind of prayer. With them came spiritual renewal and profoundly beneficial social and political changes.
That kind of praying required a level of Christian community most churches know nothing of.
Bob Bakke of National Prayer Advance tells of churches of Ipswich, Massachusetts, and their experience of this kind of prayer. After the first Great Awakening, three churches in this community covenanted to follow the pattern suggested by Edwards.
In each congregation, cell groups would meet weekly to agree in prayer. Monthly, the separate congregations would then gather the cells and conduct all church prayer meetings of agreement. Then quarterly, all three would come together for the same kind of praying.
This pattern was followed faithfully, without interruption, for a century. Two remarkable things happened during this time. All three churches reported periodic harvests or "ingatherings" of souls, in which a number of new believers were brought into the congregations, about every eight to ten years. Also, during this time, all of New England was being swept by Unitarianism. But not these three churches. They remained firmly true to the faith while apostasy swirled around them, but not over them.
Around the time of the Civil War, the prayer meetings ceased. Within five years these churches all capitulated to Unitarianism!
In times of intense spiritual conflict, simple, unified corporate prayer can be literally the difference between life and death.
Launch into the Deep
Since the best teacher of prayer is the Holy Spirit, the best way to learn to pray is by praying. Whether, and how much we pray is, I think, finally a matter of appetite, of hunger for God and all that he is and desires.
As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory: "We are far too easily pleased." We have become satisfied with mere church, mere religious exertion, mere numbers and buildings—the things we can do. There is nothing wrong with these things, but they are no more than foam left by the surf on the ocean of God's glory and goodness.
There are things way out in the depths that only God can give us. They can be ours only if we launch out in our little prayer boats and learn to sail, even one day walk, on those waters.
Bon voyage, my friend.
This article is excerpted from Deepening Your Conversation with God: the Life-Changing Power of Prayer, the seventh volume in LEADERSHIP's "Pastor's Soul" book series.
Ben Patterson is dean of the chapel at Hope CollegeP.O. Box 9000 Holland MI 49422
Copyright © 1999 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
This article is located at:http://www.ctlibrary.com/3047
So my friends, as a leader I take responsibility that I have allowed our sorry state of prayerlessness to become entrenched. I became discouraged--but that is no excuse. Now, a fire burns in me once again. Someone will pray--if it is only me, and I will continue to call the church to prayer whether anyone listens or not.
Lord, teach us to pray.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
BUILDING A HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH, Message Seven
"MIRACLES FOR YOUR MARRIAGE"
June is the month for weddings. Click on the link and here's a video sure to strike terror into the hearts of those getting ready for a wedding!
Let me tell you about another wedding blooper. All the guests had gathered to celebrate when a terrible thing happened. It was no laughing matter. We read about it in John 2:1-11.
Some of you may feel that most of your marriage is one big blooper. What you need is what only Jesus can bring--a miracle for your marriage. How does is happen?
We see it here through:
1. GOD'S PATTERN FOR A MARRIAGE MIRACLE (v.1)
Jesus came to a wedding. To Him, it was a big deal. Jesus only had three and one half years to accomplish His mission and He wasn't going to waste His time on trivial pursuits.
It was a wedding. The couple didn't just hook up or shack up. This week the media calls us to celebrate the birth of Shiloh, the baby conceived by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They were asked if they were planning a wedding. No, right now they thought it most important to give time to raising their child. Talk about getting the cart before the horse.
But this was a real marriage and Jesus attendance there forever blessed this most important institution--this thing we call marriage. But what is marriage anyway? Some would relegate it to an archaic tradition of the past. They say, "It's just a piece of paper." Indeed, is that all it is? In this day when there is a call for legitimizing homosexual marriages and polygamy, when marriage can mean anything, then it really means nothing. But that's exactly what the courts are forcing down our throats and spineless politicians cannot even muster enough votes to pass an amendment saying that marriage is between and man and woman! Recently, Gail Harding who serves on our Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee wrote this article for the Buncombe Baptist Newsletter, in which she begins with a quote from President Bush:
"Marriage is the most enduring and important human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious, and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all.".... President George Bush
My dictionary defines marriage as "the legal union of a man with a woman for life." The pattern was created by God with Adam and Eve. Forty-five of our fifty states define traditional marriage in such a way that same-sex marriage would not be permitted - 19 by state constitutional amendments and 26 by statutes. An additional 12 states will be deciding on marriage amendments sometime this year. Judges have struck down marriage-protection laws and amendments in Massachusetts, Nebraska and Georgia - giving us law by judicial fiat rather than by the people through the legislative process. This illustrates the need for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as we have known it since the beginning of civilization. Although 45 states, by vote of their citizens, have codified this definition, their Senators have chosen, for the second time, to shelve S.J.Res.1 which states: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."
Sixty votes were needed to end debate and vote. The tally was 49-48, pretty much along party lines as 85% of Republicans voted for and 91% of Democrats voted against. As I listened to senators speak in opposition to the amendment, I heard reasoning such as bigotry, dividing the people, we should be addressing important issues such as health care, Iraq and bringing our boys and girls home, etc. One wonders when the bedrock of our society, the traditional home, ceased to be important in the eyes of those elected to represent us.
We need a marriage miracle in America! The miracle in marriage begins when you acknowledge God's pattern and then:
2. GOD'S PRESENCE IN A MARRIAGE MIRACLE (v.2) Thankfully, this couple invited Jesus to the wedding. Without Him it would have become a disaster! He is the most important guest. I can't imagine trying to found a life-long relationship with someone without founding it on the Rock of Ages--Jesus Christ. The Bible says, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." You see, for a miracle in your marriage, you need a miracle worker and His name is Jesus! There is always hope in Jesus. In John 4:46-54 a nobleman pleads with Jesus to heal his son who is dying and Jesus responds with a miracle. If your marriage is dying, He can heal it! In chapter 5 He makes a cripple walk. If you can't get anywhere in your marriage, Jesus can help. In chapter 6, He feeds 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish and comes to His disciples on a storm walking on the water. So, when your resources are exhausted, Jesus can supply and when you're in a storm in your home, He will come to your aid. In chapter 9, He opens the eyes of a man blind from birth. Perhaps you can't see how the marriage can be put together--He can show you. In chapter 11, He raises a dead man--and I have seen Jesus resurrect marriages pronounced dead and buried! He is the miracle worker and the first miracle was in a marriage! How can we see a miracle? There is:
3. GOD'S PROVISION FOR A MARRIAGE MIRACLE (v.3-10) Someone said that marriage is like flies on a screen door. Those that are out are trying to get in and those that are in are trying to get out. If we are single, how can we get in? If we are married, how can we stay in, as God intends? Two principles are seen:
· THE PRINCIPLE OF INTERCESSION (v.3) Present your plea to Jesus. Seek Him in prayer. Here's a statistic to ponder: The odds are that one in every two marriages will end in divorce. But when you do only one thing, the odds go to 1 in 1,052. That one significant thing is to pray together as husband and wife, several times a week on a consistent basis. We will struggle with that. I know my wife and I do. It always seems that other things crowd out our good intentions. Yet, we must make time for a circle of two with Christ promising to be in that circle of prayer. Prayer is that important.
Then intercede for your spouse everyday--cover them with prayer. This is the arena of spiritual warfare where victory is won. Satan wants to destroy your marriage, but God has given us supernatural weapons to overcome him.
What if you're not married? Prayer can lead you to the one God has picked for you. We can pray for others in their marriages. The miracle power is accessed through prayer.
· THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBMISSION (v.4-5) Mary couldn't figure out how He would take care of it--she just believed He would. This is great counsel for all of us--whatever Jesus says to you, do it! Scripture gives the blueprint for a successful marriage: 1) Wives submit to your husbands; 2) Husbands love your wives. Get in the Word of God, surrender to the will of God, join together in the work of God and your marriage will know the wonders of God--a miracle for you!
As singles we must submit to God's will for us and that could include a lifetime of singleness in service to Christ. That may not be the cup we would choose to drink, but life's most important prayer is, "Nevertheless, not my will but Yours, be done!"
4. GOD'S PROCLAMATION IN A MARRIAGE MIRACLE (v.11) A committed, Christian marriage is a powerful testimony to Christ. It results in God's glory and leads people to faith. If the world is going to believe our message of love, they must see it in our homes. If they are going to believe our Gospel of changed lives, they are going to have to witness it in us. Why should they believe us? What is different about us?
Do you need a miracle today? Come to Jesus--He is the miracle Man!