Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ! As we look back over the past several years we truly want to “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Lives have been touched by our Lord’s power and grace in so many ways that it would be impossible to list them all! Yet these have also been years of humbling ourselves, repentance, and faith. We have been stretched and challenged, often times beyond what we thought we could endure, and yet God has always proven faithful to us. As elders we are humbled and continually thankful for every member of this church who has publicly stood and identified themselves with our Lord Jesus Christ, and with us, a particular expression of his body in his kingdom.
Over the past several years there has been an issue which has frequently surfaced in our deliberations as elders. It has not dominated our discussion, and yet it continually surfaced as a matter of significance to us. This issue is our denominational affiliation. After quite a few years of discussion and exchanging and reading many letters, articles, memos and papers, and after much prayer, repentance and searching of our hearts, the elders at our session meeting on December 12, 1989, approved the following resolution, “That the Session recommend to the Congregation that New Life Presbyterian Church withdraw from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and affiliate with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).”
While there was much sentiment for realignment to the PCA among many in our congregation and on our session several years back, as elders we felt it was wiser to wait. We were (and still are) the largest church in the denomination and we did not want to take action that would be “precipitous”, causing many other churches to leave the denomination following our lead at a time when there was much tension in the denomination.
Since that time quite a few churches have, in fact, realigned from the OPC into the PCA. Our daughter/sister church in Northeast Philadelphia was one of them. Our daughter/sister church in Fort Washington has organized in the PCA. New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido, pastored by Dick Kauffman (one of our former elders) has also made the move. Now we believe it is time for us to do the same. We believe this step would glorify the Lord, and would strengthen the ministry of New Life here in Glenside as well. We think you will agree with us that this would prove to be a positive, exciting, forward looking movement for our church to make in the times in which we live. We seek, therefore, your prayerful endorsement of the Session’s decision, that we might move ahead together with unity of mind and heart.
I. A brief history of this matter:
In 1936 the OPC was formed when a small group of churches and ministers separated themselves from the large northern denomination of Presbyterians due to that denomination’s defection from biblical truth. In 1974 the PCA was formed by a similar separation of conservative churches from the large southern denomination of presbyterians and for similar reasons.
In 1979 the PCA proposed to the OPC and to the RPCES (another body of presbyterians) a plan inviting them to join her ranks. That plan was referred to as “J & R”, meaning joining and receiving. J & R was a method of union devised in order to shorten the normal process of negotiated merger, which ordinarily takes many years. It was an attempt to demonstrate to the world the unity of the body of Christ which Jesus prays for in his high priestly prayer in John 17.
These seekings after biblical unity are complicated and sometimes rocky. In 1980 the PCA withdrew the invitation to the OPC. The RCES joined the PCA in 1982 via the J & R process. In 1984 the PCA reissued a J & R invitation to the OPC. In June of 1986 the General Assembly of the OPC rejected that invitation. A two thirds vote was needed for approval but the vote was only 54% yes and 46% no. In the several years that have followed, the OPC has made it quite clear that it does not favor a J & R plan as a method of union whereas the PCA has also made it clear that it does not favor a lengthy process of negotiated merger. Some in our denomination may disagree, but for all practical purposes the union between the OPC and P C seems extremely unlikely. Those of us who believe that the union of these two virtually identical churches is a biblical imperative made clear in our Lord’s will for Christian unity (John 17, Ephesians 4) have been very disappointed.
We now have a decision forced upon us in the absence of such union. Where do we belong? Where can we best move forward with the kingdom vision God has given our congregation? Both of these denominations are biblical in their doctrine and structure. Where does our church fi t most strategically in the light of our philosophy of ministry, and the times in which we live? We have concluded that affiliation with the PCA is clearly the better choice for us, since the prospect of union between the OPC and the PCA is dim.
II. Key Reasons for affiliating with the PCA:
A recommendation to move into the PCA is based primarily on positive assessment of the PCA, not on negative reactions to the OPC. We love both churches and believe we could function in either body. We should hasten to say that both denominations are imperfect, and we will add to the flaws and failures of either one. We recognize that the OPC has certain strengths that are not found in the PCA, but in general we believe that we can function best in the PCA. We believe that we are more in step with its general direction and priorities. We are enthusiastic about i s aggressive commitment to reach our nation and the world for Jesus Christ. In the PCA we see the following things:
1. The PCA is a church with vision. We are very enthusiastic about the ministry vision that characterizes the PCA as a whole. The PCA is committed to an aggressive vision that includes reviving America and reaching the world for Christ. In fact, World Harvest Mission (WHM), which had its birth through our church, has received enormous support in the PCA, even leading to a mutually helpful cooperative agreement with their denominational foreign missions program. (Something we have been unable to establish with the OPC.) We believe that we can commit ourselves enthusiastically to the priorities that have marked that church in recent years. They are the same priorities that we have as a congregation. We believe that in the PCA we will be in step with the general movement, able to learn and be stimulated by our brothers, and able to contribute to the movement.
2. The PCA is increasingly a national presbyterian body. Though it is a young denomination, it has grown quickly in many parts of the United states and Canada. It has a potential to make a difference for Christ in North America. It has over two hundred thousand members in almost a thousand churches. Thus, we see the PCA can have a significant role in our society by proclaiming the gospel, standing up for God’s truth, and living out of a visible lifestyle of love and unity. It is a denomination that is still at the formative stage. We can be a significant part of this new movement of the Lord. We believe that the PCA represents the kind of national presbyterian body that we have wanted to be a part of for many years.
3. As mentioned above, our daughter churches and other sister churches have already realigned, and there are many other similar churches in the PCA who share our vision and philosophy of ministry. These are few in the OPC. It is a wonderful privilege and joy to work with like minded pastors and churches.
4. Both denominations care seriously about the city. Yet, at this point in time, it appears that the PCA is self-consciously seeking to be more than a primarily white suburban denomination. The majority of its church planting works in the USA are in major metropolitan areas. Ministries are growing that reach Koreans, Blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese and French-Canadians. They have made a tremendous effort to work with Tim Keller to establish a church in New York City and there is also this same commitment at a regional level for our city, Philadelphia. We believe there is a great need for unity and a concerted effort in ministry if we are to make a serious dent in the problems of this great city. And if we don’t reach the cities of our land for Christ, we won’t reach the nation. So we are convinced that our urban ministry at New Life will be strengthened through the urban focus and fellowship in the PCA.
III. The process of re-affiliating:
The process is rather simple. The OPC Form of Government gives clear direction on how to leave the denomination. Furthermore, the scriptures do not seem to speak directly to denominations. Thus, the ethics of this sort of realignment do not seem to be a problem. But the session did spend a great deal of time discussing the ethical considerations of such a move, and only after we had concluded that it was biblically permissible did we come t o a recommendation.
We believe that the Scriptures teach that to leave one denomination is not necessarily to leave the body of Christ. It is, rather, to leave one part of the church to join another. Our action is not motivated by disregard for the government of the OPC. As mentioned above our action is provided for in the OPC Form of Government and we are following that provision carefully.
In the very act of withdrawal we are seeking to be subject to our OPC brethren. We have no desire for autonomy. On the contrary, we intend to join another presbyterian denomination which, just like the OPC, requires obedience to its standards and to its form of government.
The OPC Form of Government (Chapter 16, section 7) which we follow says:
“A congregation may withdraw from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church only by an affirmative vote of the congregation at two successive meetings of the congregation, duly called by the session, notice of the proposed action having been included in the calls for the meetings. The meetings shall be held not less than three weeks, nor more than one year, apart. If the vote of the first meeting is in favor of withdrawal the session shall inform the presbytery promptly, and the presbytery shall have the opportunity, at the second meeting, to dissuade the congregation from withdrawing. If the congregation, at the second meeting, reaffirms its previous action it shall be the duty of the presbytery to prepare a roll of members who desire to continue as members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and to provide for the oversight of these continuing members.
Thus we recommend the following schedule:
A. The unanimous session recommendation December 12, 1989, that New Life withdraw from the OPC and affiliate with the PCA.
B. Session decision announced to the congregation Sunday, December 17, 1989.
C. We are scheduling Saturday morning, January 6, 1990, a t 9:00 A.M. as a time for congregational discussion for anyone who feels they need extended clarification or discussion of this matter.
D. We are scheduling Sunday evening, January 7, 1990, at 6:00 P.M. as a called congregational meeting to have further discussion of this issue, prayer and the first vote.
E. If the first vote is affirmative, we would notify the presbytery at its February 3, 1990, meeting.
F. We would schedule the second congregational meeting for Sunday afternoon, February 1 at 4:00 P.M. in order to hear a delegation from the Presbytery and then to take the second vote. If the second vote is affirmative, we would then apply to the PCA for membership. A certified list of our members would be received without examination. Our elders and deacons would meet as a group with a committee from the receiving presbytery for a group exam and time to get acquainted. All ordained ministers would have to transfer their membership individually and would be examined by the receiving presbytery as it saw fit.
G. A special service of reception would be held by the PCA presbytery to welcome us into its fellowship.
IV. A final word:
In taking this action we want to make clear that we have a deep appreciation and respect for the ministry of the OPC. We have enjoyed its fellowship and are grateful for the birth of our church in its bounds. We have many brothers and sisters we love in the OPC and that will never change.
Yet our loyalty to Christ and his kingdom leads us to want to promote Him and His cause by placing ourselves within His church as strategically as possible. We believe that, for New Life Glenside, our work will be less hindered, and more encouraged, within the PCA. We believe that this is a time of great opportunity given to us by God as a church. Our hope is that God will grant us grace so that we will use the opportunity, not in a spirit of pride, but in a spirit of humility and repentance. We believe God is calling our whole church to a period of repentance and self-examination. We as elders want to encourage you to join us in humbling ourselves before God and seeking His mercy in the form of reviving grace. Certainly there are sins in all of us that the Lord wants to sweep clean.
Pray for a spirit of unity and harmony among us and of great love for our Lord and His church as we make this important decision together.
Warm greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus! I will not be able to attend the session meeting this Tuesday since Rose Marie and I will be just returning from Nashville. But what a great joy it is to know that He is Head of the body and not we ourselves—and that we can draw upon His wisdom and not our own!
I have in view our deliberations concerning the prospect of a move to the PCA. We need a wisdom which is not from man and a grace for enduring through a time of testing, yes, and perhaps even to walk in humiliation. Already I give thanks that God has been moving with power in our midst in these matters. For example, Thursday morning we labored and agonized in prayer over these issues and heard a report from John Yenchko about his time spent this week with two key leaders in the OPC. It seemed to us at this wonderful prayer time, a session of tears, that the Father had especially anointed John with wisdom and grace to spend a whole day with these two brothers and listen to them speak about their priorities and in turn speak to them concerning the priorities Christ has placed upon His church from the Scriptures.
Truly I hallow God’s name for being with John and giving him heavenly wisdom and patience and courage in a most challenging situation. God is at work.
I also wanted to take seriously David Powlison’s request that we each meditate and pray and list pros and cons concerning our proposed move to the PCA. In my own thinking I tried to get down to gut level reasons which are in my own heart and mind.
I come up with three primary reasons for staying in the OPC. 1 am thinking of visceral objections to our leaving. First, it is possible that a move into the PCA will be fraught with uncertainty, pain, and strains in relationships with those who for many years have been fellow members of the OPC with us and in some instances long time, dear friends. That makes the move very painful.
Second, it might seem that there is more that can be done in the OPC to work through its problems and to go to the PCA would be to leave in the lurch those brethren who are seeking to fulfill the Great Commission in the OPC. It might even seem that there is a need for a prophetic rebuke to alert the leaders and people of the OPC and it would appear that such correction could be offered more effectively from within the denomination. It’s personally frustrating to leave without having dealt with some of the problems and have seen progress in working with them. Isn’t this the way of loyalty?
Third, there is a fear of the change itself. The PCA has problems of its own, some like ours in the OPC and some associated with a southern American culture.
I took these matters before the Lord and by His grace became willing to stay in the OPC—if that was His will.
In prayer and meditation this week I found myself wanting to do almost anything to avoid leaving the OPC. I sought to cleanse myself from personal or prejudicial motivation and told Him I was even willing to go through the pain of all the judicial conflicts which likely lie ahead of us if we stay in the OPC if it was His will for us to stay. I was willing to sit down personally with the key figures who are moving in the opposite direction from us at New Life and enter into deep conflicts—and even to consider pressing charges against them if that is warranted.
By grace I went further. It seems clear to me that if we stay in the OPC John and I must be willing to rethink our ministry priorities and job descriptions. Litigation in the OPC can really be time consuming and drawn out. (In 1950 the Sloyer conflict was in presbytery for ten years. Sloyer finally left the denomination and, I believe, he died not long afterwards as a fairly young man.) John will need to take time away from his ministry to the congregation, and I will need to back off from the writing and World Harvest. We will also need to labor to bring the congregation aboard what we are doing and why and on a constant basis. We will need to work overtime to protect the congregation from reaction to the OPC and bitterness.
I think this will be extremely unpleasant or at least very painful for the whole church. Sooner or later charges are almost certainly going to come our way—there are apparently eight pages of charges filed anew against Harvie Conn. What happened to the Wheaton Church is another window into which we can see the future. And Joe’s experience in the local presbytery is part of a broader picture. There is a great deal of bitterness and frustration out there tied in with the decline of the OPC foreign missions program and so many churches leaving the denomination for the PCA and now with the Wheaton church going into the EPC. People have been hinting about bringing charges against us maybe for a couple of years. So far it’s been mostly talk, but with what happened to Wheaton and Joe there’s obviously a new wind blowing.
But there is more. The major reason for staying concerns working to correct the OPC. I mean beginning with our own deepening repentance and then having John and me, along with other elders, sitting down with key leaders in our presbytery and the denomination and seeking to get them to face up to sins and errors in the church. The elders will all need to take time to work on this undertaking together.
If this does not bring about some correction, then we would need to prepare charges ourselves against some of these brethren. I assume that these charges would take the form of violating two parts of their ordination vows: the vows to keep the peace and unity of the church. In the OPC you vow to “study the peace, purity, and unity” of the church. I think it would also be necessary to bring charges against men for prejudicial and unconstitutional treatment of Joe.
Now there is nothing that appeals to me less. If we elect to stay and do battle, then such matters as substantial trips overseas are over for me. I simply must be here for presbytery and G.A. Our elders must also take turns in going to presbytery, perhaps several will need to go. We will also need to form a committee of elders to work on these issues and have increased session meetings.
Also we should expect that if this kind of conflict ensues, it may well get national publicity, at least in Christian circles. It could also get into the local newspapers. This has often happened in our nation when church conflicts heat up.
Mysteriously, God made me willing to do all these though I did not love the thought. I think this is amazing grace which came out of a love for these men who differ with us. Strange visitation from heaven!
But after a day or two I thought of the dishonor to Christ that could come from these public conflicts. I hung my head with sorrow over the thought He would be shamed by endless debates and charges and countercharges that likely will take place.
But most important: it occurred to me that we would by staying and entering into increasing conflict we would be giving up the priorities Christ has given us. On the side for realigning with the PCA what is our one overarching consideration? It is our desire to enhance our work in fulfilling the Great Commission and to avoid entanglements and conflicts that would hinder this ministry.
What cleared the air for me was two convictions which I have reason to hope came from the Lord. 1) God’s will for me is not to become the prosecuting attorney in the OPC but to fulfill my calling in obedience to the Great Commission. 2) God’s will is not for me to be the Holy Spirit. I am not able to reform people who are not ready or willing to listen to me or anyone else call them to repentance. I think the same is true for John. He is not called to be either a prosecuting attorney or the Holy Spirit.
I thought of the many calls to repentance which have gone out to leaders in the OPC and to church members. Clearly what John said so well to the two key leaders he met with this week was another such call. Harvie Conn has made such calls with great power at the times of G.A.’s meeting. I have written a letter to the church with the same burden. Doubtless people have repented in our churches, and any true Christian must repent. But I am thinking of what has come to be known as the OP outlook. It is not the accepted style to confess to one another sin and weaknesses. In three instances where I saw repentance take place publicly in the OPC the repentances came under strong attack as doctrinally suspect.
You see, dear brothers, ours is a denomination which has separated itself from liberalism/modernism for good reasons, but in the process its priorities became defensive and negative. It came to exist less and less to proclaim the gospel and more and more to defend itself by pointing out sins and weaknesses in others. Even to admit weaknesses and failings and sins in our denomination became a sign of compromise—of giving in to the enemy. Almost by definition—or at least by unconscious attitude—such a mindset rejects the whole idea of repentance for our denomination and anyone who proposes it. Repentance is seen as an admission that “the cause was wrong.” Gradually “the enemy” became more and more fellow Christians—not just theological liberals but evangelicals and reformed who were different. The result is that the OPC has become a church where the priorities are not evangelism and missions but perfecting procedures and distancing ourselves from any brethren who seem to diverge from these perfecting norms.
It, then, is not simply that I don’t feel like being in the OPC. It is a matter of the basic calling of ourselves as leaders and as a congregation to serve the Lord of the church and to obey His command to go and preach the gospel.
My final humbling lies right here. I am thinking of the first three visceral reasons I mentioned for staying in the OPC. I was converted in the OPC and love its doctrinal roots in the glorious Reformation, all my memories are here. I have never belonged to another church except the Christian Reformed Church. There are things about the PCA that seem all too much like the OPC, though in a somewhat different form. But it has been inexpressibly humbling for me to confess that denominations, unless revived by repentance, usually fade after fifty to seventy years. To admit that this is what happens in history and that I cannot change this history is crushing to my pride. Somehow I feel in my heart there ought to be one more thing to do, one more attempt to call men to repentance, one more way of rationalizing this chaotic aspect of life, or some way to minimize, wish away, the dreadful effects of sin in Christian movements.
But it is also freeing for me to recognize my limits. Very freeing for my conscience. I am not the Holy Spirit. I can trust the OPC to His working. I can and must endure the pain of seeing my beloved society of fellow Christians become more and more ingrown and to avoid repentance as a thing of shame. To leave may mean that we shall be misunderstood and judged by them. Oh, I love to preach about being forgiven like the publican, but I hate to be treated like one by the church where I found Christ! Brothers, it hurts deep, but it hurts clean!
I believe I can also learn from history. Denominations rise under the stirring of the Spirit. He is breaking into the world, to use B. B. Warfield’s expression, like “a pent-up stream” and that stream works through denominations, but when complacency, rigidity, pride, and defensiveness overtake the Christian institutions and denominations, He often raises up new denominations and mission societies or even sends revivals to seemingly dead ones. No church or institution can ever become an end in itself; when this takes place the Holy Spirit of the Father proves that God can take care of Himself. He never permits us to make Him a prisoner of our institutional priorities.
The Israelites think that God is under their control, and confident of this fact they take the ark of the covenant into battle. They end up powerless and defeated. But when the glory departs from Israel, the God of glory raises up a Samuel and a David to replace an Eli and a Saul. While it may be no fun to flee like a David avoiding Saul, that way leads to revival and reconstituting the people of God.
You have my thoughts, beloved brothers. Let us always lead the way with our own repentance. My prayers are with you though I cannot attend our meeting on Tuesday. May the grace of the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit be with your meeting on Tuesday evening. You have my love and prayers.
Most affectionately in Christ,
“Letter to Elders of New Life Church concerning Affiliating with the Presbyterian Church in America,” 8 December 1989.
We … who are reformers are often part of the problem. We are in the position of trying to clean up others with hands that are dirty. [T]o recover ourselves and model renewal for others in the local church, we must begin by humbling ourselves. We do this by identifying ourselves first of all as a living member of Christ’s body, the people of God. We are one with the people of God. As such we have Christ’s promise as the ascended Lord to enable us and others to do “greater works” than He did during His public ministry on earth. As we pray and claim His promises, the Spirit enables us to live out our mission in the local church which is to function in the world as Christ’s missionary instrument.
Now comes the hard part. [T]he supreme concern of the ascended Lord is the Great Commission. His master purpose for the local church is for its members to go with the gospel to the lost … We shall be looking at Christ’s imperial vision for conquering the nations through His ambassadors taking the message to them. The intention is to relate this to the life of the pacesetter and the life of the congregation to which he or she belongs. Here we are going to talk about authority for the conflict.
Why is authority so important? Simply because of the intensity of the conflict. In the world outside the church proclamation of the gospel meets with active resistance. In the local church itself the gospel command meets passive resistance, the indifference of the comfortable and self-sufficient.
Active resistance to the gospel in the world can take the form of a raised eyebrow, outright mockery and ridicule, slander, or worse. A pastor friend of mine was actually thrown out the front door of a home by a man who eventually became a Christian. According to Jesus, the mission of the church in the world is always conducted by His “sheep in the midst of wolves.” He says bluntly to His disciples: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”
Sometimes hatred of the gospel can be equally bitter within the church, but ordinarily opposition from within to grace takes much more subtle forms and can be harder to handle emotionally. Either way the idealist reformer is likely to be crushed by opposition from within and without.
He is also exposed to the temptation to fight evil with evil. He meets opposition from human wills and he struggles against this opposition by asserting his will. One of the most obvious ways this happens is through gossip. You are attacked and misrepresented. Evil motivation is attributed to you. You defend yourself in the same spirit and manner. You spread your own opinions about the opposition in the heat of the moment and in the agony of your suffering. It all seems so justified. And it is not hard to end up being roasted in the very bon-fire you yourself touched off or at least the one you added some fuel to.
For this reason we need to think through the nature of Jesus’s authority and how it relates to us and the conflict which always lies before us. What we want to concentrate on here is the exercising of authority in the local church by the person who wants to see it obedient to the Lord’s command to go with the gospel to the world.
An example will help to give the problem a sharp edge and outline. A young man who had a leadership position in a Sunday school came to me and said something like this: “In our church there is a problem that is very upsetting. This couple won’t speak to me. I don’t know what to do about it and I don’t think our pastor does either.” Pain was written all over the face of this young man. He loved the Lord and it really hurt him to see this particular middle-aged couple oppose any attempt to change the program and now to be alienated from him personally.
In name they were evangelical Christians, but they seemed to have a bias against doing anything toward reaching the lost. So his emotions were really mixed. On the one hand, he wanted to have an attitude of love toward them but on the other hand he found himself resenting them for their antipathy to outreach. What was worse, much of the real authority in the church was in their hands. They contributed handsomely to the church budget each month. The wife had great influence in the Sunday school by virtue of her having been active in its program for many years, and the husband had equally great influence on the board of elders because of his age and his prominence in the community as a successful businessman.
As I listened I could have drawn my own portrait of this couple, or at least a variation of it bearing a remarkable resemblance. Let’s call them Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus Jones. They are in their middle fifties. Typically Mrs. Jones dominates the Sunday school or some other favorite program of hers. She is the prevailing negative voice on the Christian education committee. When a new idea surfaces at a committee meeting, her face turns cold. As she listens her whole body forms into a stiff angular position. Her voice acquires an edge to it as she states her case against the new proposal. Her defense doesn’t need preparation. It’s always the same. “It’s about time we remember,” she says with chill emphasis, “what happened when we permitted the junior high class to have breakfasts in the church. You can remember, don’t you?” The question is purely rhetorical. Everyone remembers. She has never let them forget. Crumbs were left in the kitchen, ants followed. It’s not so much the familiar facts that intimidate the other committee members. It’s her vision of Indians about to attack, her genuine fear that there are barbarian types “out there” who are ready to desecrate all that is holy.
Cyrus may seem kinder than his wife. Yet he is a super conservative when it comes to the development of the work of God’s Kingdom. He is nice to the pastor, gives him a $200 check each year for Christmas and is courteous to others. She looks more like the “bad” cop who can lose her temper on command; he is more like the “good” cop who tries to smooth things over and tone down any conflicts. One of his favorite remarks when tensions build between him and other leaders is that: “We don’t really mean to leave the church unless things get out of hand.” By “things getting out of hand” he means the introduction of any program which would bring strangers into the fellowship in significant numbers. Since he may contribute something like $400 monthly to the church budget, this remark has authority all its own.
What the young man needs is to see that people like the Jones’s couple have an authority based upon their own vision of what is the church and its purpose. One perceptive observer of the Christian church has called their church “religiousness within a secular framework.” It means that people participate actively in their church ritual and subscribe to its creed, but take their working point of view from the world and not from Scripture. They have a worldly theology.
In Mrs. Jones’s theological outlook, she views the church as the building located at the corner of 22nd Street and Pine. The people who file in for worship around eleven o’clock each Sunday morning are primarily guests. Since the building and not the people are the “church,” she treats the church building with great respect and the people with bare courtesy. She has no concept whatsoever that they are “the people of God” and “the body of Christ.”
Cyrus has essentially the same point of view. But his focus falls more on the organization of congregational life. His supreme concern is to keep the church institution from being overrun by “strangers.” It was his efforts which last year blocked the hiring of a pastoral assistant to do evangelism. He said, “We just couldn’t afford it.” Yet what he meant was: “We want to protect our own little church life and keep our social club pure from upsetting contacts with people who are different.”
What the young man has before him is a conflict between authorities based upon two different visions about the church and its role in the world. Folks like the Jones’s have a secular faith concealed under a garb of religiousness. Their secularism has many features. First, what it leaves out. It is a point of view completely out of touch with Christ’s lordship over history and the mandate of Christ to conquer all nations by the power of the gospel in reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Its adherents have little practical sense of the purpose that Christ has given the church to evangelize the lost. Into this vacuum such religious secularists put the forms, structures, and habits of Christianity without any awareness of the power of a living Christ over worship and life.
A central figure in this worldly theology is the pastor. [H]is role is that of nice men. But he is also expected to be more than that. He is also a primary source of comfort for those who want a little of Christ but not too much. As a preacher, he is expected to be intellectually stimulating, perhaps even biblical, but never to go so far into the prophetic role as to give offense. He must not create conflicts of a foundational sort in preaching or counseling just because his supreme responsibility is to console. As chief consoler he is to baptize, teach, comfort, marry, and bury. In a word, his priestly task is largely to meet the emotional needs of those who have lost virtually all practical touch with God and His purpose for the church.
Since I have applied the word “religious” to this point of view, it is appropriate to ask exactly how this approach warrants such a name. Isn’t it simply secularism disguised as Christianity? Since secularism is simply the widespread suppression by people of the consciousness of God, we must agree that this is secularism. But it is secularism with a twist; a devilish one. It is really religious sentimentalism, a kind of idolatry of the emotions in which the person puts his faith in the forms and practices of the church institution rather that in the Kingship of Christ. In this sense it is intensely religious. The knowledge of God is being suppressed by the use of religious forms and practices. The forms themselves become a substitute for the knowledge of the Most High.
The inner nature of this “religiousness within a secular framework” is made apparent by conflicts that I have observed in churches both conservative and liberal. For example, I know of a highly conservative congregation where the pastor made what seemed to him to be a small change in the liturgy. He changed the title in the bulletin of the main prayer in the morning worship service. He substituted the title “Congregational Prayer” for the wording “Pastoral Prayer.”
To his amazement and chagrin, he discovered one of the leading members of the congregation bearing down on him with all the inevitability of a circular saw cutting through soft wood. Because of this change he was accused of grave error in thought and practice. Immediate repentance was expected of the reeling pastoral victim.
I have chosen this example because the circumstances are so trivial. I could have cited any one of the countless battles over more important changes in worship forms in conservative churches that I know about. But this one illustrates the point that I want to make. It is that any change no matter how small is a threat to many conservative religious people, because their faith is practically summed up by emotional attachment to visible forms of worship and traditional practices in administering the life of the church. My fear is that the defender of the faith in this case had so lost touch with the Kingship of Christ that all loyalty of heart was being given to the visible expressions of worship. The real Lord of that life seems to have become the fixed order of the worship, not the ascended Lord of the Great Commission who overturns all our little human empires.
Seen from the angle of authority, this shift from the worship of the triumphant Lord to the worship of ritual means that Christ is being denied the right to make any changes as the King of the church—not just in worship forms but in the lives caught up in an idolatrous devotion to things that may be good in themselves.
I have encountered the same mind-set in liberal churches. Sometimes they are intrigued by hearing reports of the work of God under my preaching and witnessing and invite me to conduct a series of meetings, sometimes even agreeing that the purpose should be expressly evangelistic. In one instance in a nearby liberal church I was invited to give a series of three lectures on successive Sunday evenings on the subject of the gospel and our modern culture. Through the presentation I developed the theme that modern man was, at bottom, given over to hopelessness. By contrast, I said that the gospel could change the most hopeless appearing person if that one believed it. I underscored that it didn’t matter who that person was or what that person had done. My presupposition was the active Kingship of Christ as risen Lord who used His gospel message to change any believer’s fundamental relationships.
What happened at the end of the third lecture was a bit of an uproar generated by the pastor of the church coming to his feet and saying he did not believe Christ could change everyone. I believe his words were: “Christ cannot change just anyone. Some people have medical problems and are so mentally disturbed that only the medical experts can help them.”
What impressed me was his candor and the candor of the people in the congregation. In the hub-bub that followed people started arguing with one another. Some said Christ simply couldn’t change just anyone who believed. Others said—especially the younger ones—that they weren’t so certain that He couldn’t.
The question here seems to be different from that in the conservative church where tradition became a kind of religious lockstep for everyone. But beneath the surface, I think there are some striking parallels.
What these folks in the liberal church wanted to avoid was a supernatural Christ who has the kind of ongoing power to touch a life here and now and begin to make that life over in a radical manner. In a sense, you might say that in the typical liberal church the people have gone on strike and locked out the Owner of the church.
I know something of the same happens in conservative churches, though it is more covert. It seems to me that in many conservative and liberal churches the question of whether Christ is really there as risen Lord has been passed over. What has been substituted is a love of church music, of lovely church buildings, and habitual associations that are more sentimental than genuinely spiritual.
The proof is found in the lack of confidence in the transforming power of the message of atonement given in the gospel. This unbelief is shared by many people in conservative congregations. Practical atheists abound in conservative churches as well as liberal ones. These folks attend church and honor the Bible not because they are there to submit everything to the authority of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ but because of the emotional need that is met by traditional religious order and moral structure. One man put it to me like this: “Even if I didn’t believe God existed, I’d fight for Him all the way. I’d never miss church and would always insist that my family come too. We need religion in our lives. Otherwise the bottom will fall out of everything.”
So our problem is to get the conflict clear and to disentangle our feet from involvement with the secularist and sentimental view of Christ and the church. The difficulty facing the young leader in the Sunday school and his pastor was that they were in some measure accepting the secularist and sentimentalist view of the church which dominated the thinking of the middle-aged couple who resisted any and all outreach.
The pastor, for instance, if he is typical of Protestant clergy, may refer to the church building as “the house of the Lord” and act as though the “sanctuary” had some vague connections with the Old Testament temple. Thus holiness is not something inherent in the people, but in “holy” material things associated with worship. He is also pretty blind to the fact that emotionally he is for many people the head of the church and has taken Christ’s role as the priest of the church. He has not taught from the pulpit and elsewhere that the supreme concern of Christ for His church is obedience to the Great Commission. He is not even sure that “going with the gospel” is Jesus’s overarching priority for the church in the world. He sees gospel proclamation as one spoke in a wheel with many other spokes and has not understood the message of forgiveness is the rim which binds all the separate parts into one. He has therefore not attempted to arouse the “laity” from their passive stance toward worldwide evangelism and the accompanying good deeds which authenticate the gospel.
The result is that his conflict with people like the Jones couple is piecemeal and inconsistent and is all too likely to degenerate into a personality conflict centered around a clash of human wills. In summary his teaching lacks comprehensiveness and confidence because his own vision of Christ’s purpose in the world is clouded.
You cannot expect to have a part in seeing the church renewed unless you see that the heart of the biblical program for the church and the world is Christ’s authority and that by virtue of that authority He has constituted His church as His own special missionary agency in the world. I don’t see how you can challenge people like the Jones couple and others like them to give up their ingrowness unless someone much bigger than you disapproves of it and has another purpose for us.
The issue is that simple. Christ constituted His church in the world by His own supreme kingly authority as the instrument of His missionary enterprise. That’s why we are here. That’s our reason for being, not for our comfort, but for us to risk everything including life in order as soldiers of the gospel to fulfill His marching orders.
For that reason I invite you to look more closely at the biblical authority for a courageous faith which is strong enough to take on a passively resistant church and an actively resistant world. Otherwise your faith will be quickly damped down by the unbelief that you meet both inside the congregation and outside in the world.
[I]n the summer of 1970 my family and I spent the summer in Barcelona, where I spent a good deal of time meditating on the Scriptural promises. I don’t want to romanticize that time. The study was hard work. Hour after hour I labored over the Scriptures and then tried to reduce my thoughts to written form. I also took long walks for the purpose of pondering over the nature and character of these promises. I talked little with anyone, including my wife. I needed to be silent before God so that He could teach me. My central problem was too much awareness of people. I was far too easily intimidated by people like the Jones couple and often had my zeal quenched by them. Furthermore, I was often ashamed of the gospel in the face of strong opposition which I met sometimes in the church and sometimes outside. I needed in the words of Isaiah to learn to “cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils” and learn to obey God without question as a ready servant.
Gradually through systemic meditation, a new mind-set began to form in me. From Isaiah my faith fed on the theme of the nations spontaneously flowing to Jerusalem at the appearing of the Messiah. In the same book I encountered a vision of a Servant whose “law” went forth to distant “coastlands” and “isles.” His innocent life was offered as a guilt offering “for the sins of many.” From Isaiah, Joel, and Zechariah I learned about the “outpouring” of the Spirit of grace like a flood transforming water in the new age. In Ezekiel I discovered that this river of grace comes from a new temple. In the Gospel of John, I saw that many of these Messianic themes converge in Christ’s incarnation, completed work of suffering, and resurrection.
Prodded by Johannes Blauw’s insights in his The Missionary Nature of the Church, I came more and more to see the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20 as the keystone which brings together the whole structure of new covenant fulfillment under the supreme authority of the risen Lord. As Blauw says, Jesus’s claim to supreme authority is intended to alert us to His standing as the Son of Man in fulfillment of the great Messianic prediction of Daniel 7:13–14.
A look at Daniel 7:13–14 confronts us with a vision of absolute power being given over to one who is “like the son of man” by “the Ancient of Days” (God in His eternal being and sovereign authority). The text adds that this supreme master—“ a son of man”—will rule over every nation of the earth. Verse 14 says specifically that the proclamation of His authority is to include “all peoples, nations, and languages.” They shall serve Him. No part of the earth is excluded from His empire. The latter part of verse 14 further explains that this rule is permanent: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall never pass away.”
The heart of this new supremacy is kindness. This absolute Lord joins authority over the whole earth with a kindly humanity. Beasts arise from the sea to terrorize the earth. These worldly rulers govern with a fierceness like that of the lion, the leopard, the bear, and an unnamed monster beast which devours with “great iron teeth.” They are inhumane cruel dominators of mankind. By contrast, this “son of man” is not “like” them in their cruel imperialism. He is “like” a human being, a kindred spirit ruling over men for their good. His authority is supreme and never ending, yet it is not maintained by any armed might or oppression.
Spelled out in the light of new covenant fulfillment, this absolute but human authority is seen to consist in the conquest of sinners by the gospel message of forgiveness preached under Christ’s kingly authority. In the Great Commission the Lord Jesus announces that just such a loving authority has been placed in His hands. There is no maybe to it. No perhaps. He has it, and He must be obeyed. To disobey Him is to go against the supreme power in the universe and to reject His master purpose for the local church. He says, “All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations …”
The Ancient of Days has acted. All authority is given to the Son in His mediatorial office as the Messiah or Christ. The “therefore” of the following verse ties this authority to going with the gospel. The idea is: Christ has been enthroned over the universe by the victory of victories. Therefore take the gospel to all mankind. Go and conquer them for Christ.
When soldiers receive orders before going into battle, their responsibility is to listen to those orders, to understand them, and to obey them to the fullest detail. Their task is not to argue. They are silenced by the authority and wisdom of those over them. So it is with Christ. We are His soldiers. We are silenced by His commands. Anyone who resists His authority must give account to the King.
In a word, the ingrown church has no right to exist. Sentimental and secularized religion with all its self-centeredness has no right to exist. Our reason for being is summed up in the words “go and make disciples.” The church has been constituted as a missionary church by Jesus’s ascension to royal rule. He as a “life giving Spirit” has sent the Spirit into the church to accomplish this task through going with us “until the end of the age.” Our marching orders are as permanent as His authority and the promise of His presence.
In entering into conflict we often precipitate a wrong kind of battle by our fears. The young leader from the Sunday school confessed that he and the pastor agreed that the middle-aged couple were wrong and unchristian in their attitudes. “The truth is,” I added, “You are also afraid of them.”
I know all about it. Many times I’ve had the same fears. These inward tremors then immobilize you and people like them sense it. You are acting like you had no authority for teaching Christ’s vision of the harvest and no right as a believer to discipline people who oppose the outreach of the gospel. I think you and your pastor may be like me. I don’t like to suffer, so I let situations like this one drift. But you shouldn’t permit them to choose the ground for the conflict. I know they have opposed a particular program of outreach that you and other leaders favor. But you need to get down to your philosophy of ministry and their philosophy of the church as well. Have you and the pastor really taught them Christ’s vision for the harvest and His authority standing behind it? Have you challenged their view of the purpose and the nature of the church and presented Christ’s vision of its reason for being?”
What I urged upon him, and through him upon his pastor, was the necessity of systematic teaching in the congregation both from the pulpit and in the Sunday school about the missionary nature of the church. This teaching must be done with the authority of heaven and earth. I also counseled him to exercise the authority which he had as a member of the body of Christ in going to this alienated couple in the manner indicated in Matthew 18:15–17. Here Christ’s pattern is for going first in private when you have been sinned against, and then if your appeal for repentance is rejected, going with two or three more.
In going you are to seek to explain to them your deepest motivation for wanting outreach—which is nothing less than obedience to the Son of Man. You also want them to understand that this motivation is tied with Christ’s master purpose of the church which is to harvest the lost. Often what is said in a sermon lives in a special category until someone hears it explained close up on how it influences a life and personal conduct.
I think people like the Jones couple also deserve something more. They need systematic teaching done with Holy Spirit anointed authority. They need personal interaction, including loving and tender confrontation with their rejection of Christ’s authority over the church. But they also need to see the pacesetter act on the message. They need to see us silenced and awed first by the authority of Christ over all things.
[The pacesetter] needs to demonstrate in his life and ministry that the gospel message is supremely powerful because of its content dealing with man’s deepest problem—the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God through Christ. Let him expect that the Spirit of Christ is a missionary Spirit and will apply it savingly to human hearts. Christ is alive and I must act on it. I must live it, love it, obey it, and take the risks of such an adventure—which always includes suffering. Soldiers must not expect that battles are fought without pain and dying. Courage in witness must flow from such a commitment.
It was in late May of 1971 when I finished my series of lectures in that nearby liberal church. That Sunday evening I went home and bowed my knees to Christ’s authority in a new way after some painful heart searching. I prayed something like this: “Heavenly Father, I am not sure that in my heart of hearts I really believed what I said tonight about your message being able to change anyone. But now I confess my unbelief and repent of it. I commit myself now to believe your gospel can change anyone. I will act on that commitment with confidence that you will glorify yourself by changing people who appear to be beyond hope.”
In a short time after that commitment our lives were filled up with people that you might think only medical experts could change. In most instances that we know the “medical experts” had tried and failed. So some of these people actually began to live with us in our rather large home in Jenkintown, Pa. One of them was a strapping young woman who came from Building Ten of Norristown State Hospital, where one of the members of the nearby liberal church committed suicide. It had been decided by the medical authorities that the only way to control this young woman was to perform the equivalent of a modified lobotomy. But we took her in and can report after much agony on the part of many Christians, the gospel has proved to be a remarkable power in her life and ours. Today, more than a decade later, Christ has been glorified as supreme Lord in her life. She has never had the surgery. She has her problems, but she knows Christ as Savior. She holds a job, lives in her own apartment, and is a member of Mechanicsville Chapel. The woman psychiatrist who had her for a patient at Norristown State Hospital subsequently told me: “We really missed it with M_______. There is a power in faith that goes beyond anything we can do.”
C. John Miller, “Authority for the Conflict” (p. 14–25), Part 2 of “Building a Missionary Consciousness in the Local Church” (no date).
The pastor functioning as a servant and brother knows that work is the operative word for his calling: the pastor is a working model for his people. Like Epaphroditus he may be called to labor in self-giving right to the door of death (Phil 2:28–30), to study diligently as a scribe of the kingdom (Matt 13:32; 2 Tim 2:15), and to agonize in prayer for men (Col 2:1–3; 4:12–13).
On a daily basis, this means that self-indulgence must be put to death in the pastor. Self-indulgence represents a special and continuing temptation to the pastor because his time is largely in his own hands. It takes the form of physical laziness and sluggishness of spirit, which readily fosters fear. Personal timidity and physical exhaustion often seem to issue from the poisoned conscience of the slothful man.
It works like this: the pastor neglects his calling in the community, grows weary of study and finds his preaching and teaching a burden. He also thinks he needs more sleep. And his fear of people grows.
Other sins soon spin out of his disobedient life. Legalistic penance, wheel-spinning, the aggressive pushing of secondary causes in the church, the neglect of matters of first importance—he indulges in it all.
To be rid of this burden of self-indulgence, go to Christ, the perfect Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1–2). By faith hand the sins over to Him. Be specific as you confess your transgressions, and then trust in His forgiveness. He promises it (1 John 1:8–10).
If this does not bring fundamental help, ask your elders to pray for you, acknowledging your tendency to self-indulgence. At the same time, ask the Lord to search out your hearts for related sins, such as daydreaming and fantasizing.
What you may learn is that the pride that keeps you is the fundamental cause of your laziness. You may have been too proud to let the Lord search you and root out your pet sins, whatever they were.
But be comforted. The Holy Spirit will help you (Psa 139:23–24). Christ will write the Father’s laws and love on your heart (Ezek 36:24–25). And remember, repentance is normal for the believer, his way of responding to Christ and drawing near to the Father (Luke 15:20–24).
Sincere and swift repentance of sinful habits and attitudes can transform the ministry of the most discouraged, ineffectual pastor. Imagine for a moment a young minister who arrives at his study late, already feeling guilty because he has not begun the day in earnest prayer. Usually, the despair produced by habitual sins like these causes him to fritter away his entire time. But today he faces his sins head on. He begins his time by looking to Christ for help. He labors in prayer until he has experienced His cleansing and then seeks God’s wisdom in preparing his Sunday sermon (James 1:5–8).
This time, his preparation does not consist solely of an exegesis of the passage and the writing of the sermon text. Instead, the pastor relates his calling as servant and brother to his preaching. He makes a list of several people who concern him, people he suspects may be unconverted or believers with special needs. He then takes time to pray for them.
Afterwards, he returns to the shaping of the sermon in view of the needs of the men and women for whom he has just prayed. He gives up his academic vocabulary and the elements of bookish didacticism as he thinks of their souls. Illustrations come to mind as he mentally reasons from Scripture with these lost and straying sheep. With eyes of faith he sees them—and he will have their souls for God!
By the time he leaves his study, he cannot wait until Sunday to preach. That afternoon, he calls on these people to minister to them in their homes. He is becoming a man who preaches the Word in season and out, and his pulpit and his study are fused into a continuum: in the study he drinks of the gospel as a thirsty sinner, and in the pulpit he pours forth the overflow to other sinners like himself (John 7:37–39).
The pastor is on his way to becoming, like Paul, a model for witness to his people. He begins by seeking the knowledge of Christ from Scripture, a knowledge which so fills him with the love of God that old sins and habits are displaced by a new fulness. Though lazy and filled with fears, he brought forth both failings to Christ, seeking the strengthening of his faith.
This is the key: strengthening the Christian leader by faith. “The just shall live by faith” must include the pastor’s whole life, for it is this that enables him to concentrate his energies, define goals, repent of sins and honestly face up to his own limitations. It is this that makes him a fruit-bearing disciple, eager to have answers to prayer through his own preaching, to have lives come under the power of the gospel.
He is not content with a vague concept of “edification”—he prays for his hearers to be brought to a full knowledge of the Father and the Son (John 17:3). And by dealing with his own sins of pride, fear, laziness and lust, he is able to make the message powerfully concrete.
The pastor whom God has made a model for witness is one whose character is inseparably intertwined with his faith in the gospel message. If he did not have confidence in its power to change him, the awareness of his own sins would crush his ministry. But as he leaves his idols to serve Christ, he discovers that the message purifies his heart through faith, and liberates him from all his guilty fears (2 Cor 3:16–18; 1 Thess 1:9–10; John 3:1–3). He is a man set free to serve a living God.
C. John “Jack” Miller, Evangelism & Your Church, 58–61.
I wish to affirm that faith alone is the exclusive means for the believer’s continuance in justification. In the divine act of initial justification, faith alone obtains God’s once-and-for-all pardon and free acceptance. The same is true for justification as an ongoing manifestation in the life of the believer. My sins that are daily confessed are pardoned through faith without any addition of works.
There is a clear biblical rationale for this continued preeminence of faith in receiving forgiveness throughout your life. There is an inseparable connection between Christ alone and faith alone. Faith alone is just my way of taking nothing from myself and all from Christ. The ground or procuring cause of forgiveness is always and only the priestly sacrifice of Christ, and faith is always and only the sole means or instrumental cause for claiming His blood and righteousness for our acquittal before the throne of the Highest.
Your own conscience as a Christian readily confirms this conclusion. When you daily confess your sins, do you remind God of your course of covenantal obedience as a cause of acquittal? I think not. You claim in all humility the blood of Christ as your sole hope. In the presence of the Most High you deny that your good works could give you an interest in His favor. You acknowledge that apart from the justifying work of Christ your best efforts are filled with evil. In doing this, you act by faith alone — which is simply to say you look away from yourself to Christ alone.
Compelling Scriptural support for this attitude is found in Philippians 3. Paul is here speaking as a Christian man, not as someone coming to Christ for the first time. His choice of language is intriguing, almost paradoxical. You might almost sum up verses 4 through 11 as Paul portrays himself as laboring intensively not to rest in his own labors. According to him, everything that he had by way of gain from his law-keeping has gone overboard, tossed over by the Apostle’s own hands (v. 7). That is the past. But Paul did not see his struggle with Judaism and the way of law-keeping as a mere phase of his past. Instead, he sees the works-righteousness of Judaism as, in the words of G. C. Berkouwer, “a symptom of the threat to grace inherent in man’s sinful self-importance.” As such, then, the struggle against law-works goes on in Paul’s ongoing life as a man of God. In vs. 8 the battle against works is in the present. Paul says: “Yes, what is more, I certainly do count all things to be sheer loss because of the all-surpassing excellence of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffer the loss of all these things, and I am still counting them refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (William Hendriksen’s translation). Knowing the deceitful way of man’s arrogant heart, Paul makes it the first order of business in the present (and the future too) not to run after anything but “the righteousness from God which depends on faith” (v. 9 RSV). In this matter of justification paradoxically he labors not to have “a righteousness of my own” (v. 9). The idea is that Paul does not trust himself. He gives all his attention to making sure that he may not be drawn away by “man’s sinful self-importance” to build a record of achievement sufficient to earn a stake in his justification.
The matter can be made even clearer by looking at Paul’s citation of the examples of Abraham and David in Romans 4:1-8. It seems certain that both men were believers and already justified by grace at this time. The citation of Genesis 15:6 in vs. 3 indicates that Abraham had been a believer for some years, and the quotation from Ps. 32 of David’s experience is unquestionably the statement of faith of a man already a believer and therefore already a justified person.
Now considering that Paul is speaking to believers, note the direction of Paul’s reasoning. He argues that Abraham was acquitted through faith altogether apart from works done by him. Verse 2 introduces the subject: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not toward God” (ARV). Verse 5 then draws the conclusion: “and to the one who does not work but trusts in Him who justifies the ungodly, His faith is credited to Him for righteousness.” The opposition between faith and works here is obvious. This faith-works dichotomy is found in the life of the believer whenever justification (pardon of sins and acceptance with God) is in view.
The same line of thought is applied by Paul to David with equal vigor. He writes: “So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness without works” (vs. 6). This “without works” is the same as saying nothing from man but all from God. Or to state the issue more precisely, Paul is teaching that even the noblest believing men — Abraham and David — cannot rely upon their good works for their justification. Whenever the specific concern is the acquittal of sinners against the charge of sin, the only condition is that of faith.
My purpose, then, is to affirm that always in justification understood as remission of sins we must see works and faith as in opposition. I am persuaded that this is the Reformed way. Among the continental Reformed, of the seventeenth century, Ludovicus Crocius (1636) states flatly: “So not only are those works excluded from the act of justification, which are emitted before faith and conversion, but also those which proceed from faith (my italics). Gulielmus Bucanus (1609) is so zealous to exclude all works from justification that he concludes: “As regards justification faith is purely a passive thing, bringing nothing of ours to conciliate God, but receiving from Christ what we lack (my italics).
Francisco’s Burmannus (1699) sums it all up this: “Indeed faith is so opposed to works in this matter that it even excludes itself if it is considered as a work. Although regarded by itself it is a work, in justification it is not regarded after this manner but purely as an instrumental work” (my italics).
In the British tradition, Anthony Burgess, prominent member of the Westminster Assembly, states: “That distinction of faith justifying … which is lively and working, but not AS lively and working; is not trifling …” He adds: “Neither is this justification by faith alone, excluding the conditionality of works to be applied to our justification at first only, but as continued; so that from first to last, we are justified all along by faith …” (my italics). He concludes: “… The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, not faith to works” (Rom 1:17).
Speaking for the Independents, John Owen also writes:
“Some say that, on our part, the continuation of this state of our justification depends on the condition of good works; that is, that they are of the same consideration and use with faith itself herein. In our justification, itself there is, they will grant, somewhat peculiar unto faith; but as to the continuation of our justification, faith and works have the same influence unto it; yea, some seem to ascribe it distinctly unto works in an especial manner, with this only proviso, that they be done in faith. For my part I cannot understand that the continuance of our justification hath any other dependencies than hath our justification itself. As faith alone is required unto the one, so faith alone is required unto the other, although its operations and effects in the discharge of its duty and office in justification and the confutation of it, are diverse …”
But James Buchanan, successor to Thomas Chalmers in the chair of divinity at New College in Edinburgh, is even stronger in maintaining that in the relationship to justification works and faith are opposed. He is of the view that the pride even of believing man is sufficient to turn the fruits of the Spirit into law works. He reasons that “the same works” can be described from two standpoints. From the standpoint of the “fruits of sanctification,” they are “an odor of a sweet smell, holy, acceptable to God,” but from the standpoint of the ground of our justification, or as forming any part of our TITLE to that inheritance, they are to be utterly rejected, and treated as ‘dung’ and ‘filthy rags’ with reference to that end.”
Perhaps better than anyone else Calvin puts it all together. Speaking in the Institutes of the opposition between faith and works, he says that it is necessary to reject the position of even “the sounder Schoolmen.” They grant that “the beginning of justification” consists in the sinner’s being “freely delivered from condemnation.” On this point “there is no controversy between us.” Where we differ is that these “sounder Schoolmen” teach that “the regenerate man … being once reconciled to God by means of Christ … is afterwards deemed righteous by his good works and is accepted in consideration of them.”
By contrast, Calvin says that throughout our lives “We must hold fast” our trust in Christ, not in our works. To prove his point, he turns to Romans 4 and its citation of Abraham and David. He reasons along lines that I have already expressed in this work. Concerning Abraham, Calvin writes:
“Abraham had long served God with a pure heart and performed that obedience of the Law which a mortal man is able to perform: yet his righteousness still consisted in faith. Hence, we infer, according to the reasoning of Paul, that it was not of works. In like manner, when the prophet says, ‘The just shall live by his faith’ (Hab. ii. 4), he is not speaking of the wicked and profane, whom the Lord justifies by converting them to the faith: his discourse is directed to believers, and life is promised to them by faith.”
In the same context, Calvin also says of the citation of Psalm 32:1-2 by Paul in Romans 4:7-8:
“It is certain that David is not speaking of the ungodly, but of believers such as himself was, because he was giving utterance to the feelings of his own mind. Therefore, we must have this blessedness not only once, but must hold it fast during our whole lives (my italics). Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days but is declared to be perpetual in the church (2 Cor. v. 18). Hence believers have not even to the end of life any other righteousness than that which is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death — vix., ablution, satisfaction, expiation; in short, perfect obedience, by which all our iniquities are covered. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul says not that the beginning of salvation is of grace, but ‘by grace’ are ye saved,’ ‘not of works, lest any man should boast’” (Eph. 2:8-9).
After spending several more pages explaining why the better Schoolmen are mistaken, Calvin drives the final nail. In the continuance of justification, these theologians talk about the “partial righteousness” of the believer and the gift of “accepting grace” which makes up for its incompleteness. As far as Calvin is concerned this is stuff and nonsense. They forget that the law of God always demands absolute righteousness of the believer as well as the unbeliever, “the only righteousness acknowledged in heaven being the perfect righteousness of the law.” For this reason even the best works of the believer have no place as a cause or condition of our justification. At this point Calvin’s writing exhibits unusual energy and intensity of conviction. He wishes to allow no loophole for works. He seizes the language most familiar to the Schoolmen — that of Aristotle’s four causes. Concerning the efficient cause, we can find nothing of works here. This can only be “the mercy and free love of the heavenly Father toward us.” The material cause cannot be works but Christ and His righteousness. The final cause “is the demonstration of the divine righteousness and the praise of His goodness.” No works here. And the instrumental cause? That can never be works “but faith.” The nail has gone home. Now nothing is loose. Faith guarantees that it is of grace in the Christian life. It is clear why Calvin in the Institutes puts justification by faith in the section dealing with the Christian life. He wants “the saints” to know that for grace to be all in all for them “the blessing of justification is possessed by faith alone.”
My purpose, then, is to affirm that always in justification understood as remission of sins we must keep faith and works in opposition. The sole condition for continuing in justification from sins is faith alone. For the Reformed, Calvin says the matter is not negotiable. It is the biblical way, issuing from the vision of the majesty of God. When we lift our eyes to the King on high, our good works always dissolve into nothingness. In awe, we cry: “Enter not into judgment with thy servant” (Psalm 143:2). Concerning the comprehensive salvation of the believer, we insist upon the necessity of good works with all vigor. But in this specific matter of forgiveness and acceptance with God in relationship to Christ’s priestly office, we must hold unwaveringly to faith alone. This must be as true of the believer from the moment he first trusts in Christ to the moment of his death. He is ever in danger of converting the fruits of the Spirit into legal works presented to the Father as a good record warranting acceptance.
Among Christian leaders this temptation is the most common one. Because their position and religious activity, they often stand well in the eyes of men. Then gradually they feel “justified” before public opinion by their performance and attainments. From this human self-evaluation it is but a small step to self-elevation before God. When this happens, the conscience begins to be troubled, and confession of sin becomes oppressive and half-hearted (Lam 1:14). The wheels of life go heavy in the sand, with the result that a great deal of churning about produces very little (Psalm 39:11), work and worship become increasingly mechanical, and the spirit is left restless and unsatisfied even in the midst of intense Christian activity (Heb. 9:14). Day and night the hand of God is heavy upon the believer, and he may experience physical sickness in this state (Psalm 32:3,4).
Once at a pastor’s conference, I met a young man who described himself along these lines. He explained that when he first entered the ministry God put an unusual blessing upon his life and work. Under his guidance, every part of the church life proved to be fruitful. This brought him great joy. But after two years something went wrong, first with himself, then with the congregation. He was mystified. Where did the power of the Spirit go? Why did He [God] withdraw a large measure of the blessing?
The young pastor suggested an answer: pride. To this insight, I added a question: “Do you suppose that somehow you began to offer your good works and accomplishments to God as a basis for your justification?” I explained the matter much as it is set forth in this chapter. To my astonishment, he looked as though he had been cut to the heart by a dagger. In a moment he burst into tears.
After leaving him alone for a couple of hours, I returned to my even greater astonishment and found him with joy unlike anything I had ever seen before in a minister. He had been through deep waters but had landed on the rock of Psalm 32 and Romans 3-4. “Of course,” he explained, in effect, “I was already a Christian. But through my self-righteousness and pride I was leaning heavily on my own record for my relationship with God.” He concluded that this was partly unconscious. He had no idea that he had for all practical purposes abandoned justification by faith alone and mixed in work as part of his hope of acceptance with God.
But does this suggest that there is more than one justification? Are we to conclude that Abraham, David, and our young pastor were justified twice? Not at all. I find no evidence in Scripture for repeated justifications. But the Bible does teach that real pardon does continue to take place after the first and final imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner through the conditionality of faith alone. The initial act of definitive or absolute justification brought into being an unalterable relationship. Further remission of sins is the effect and consequence of that first imputation. Subsequent forgiveness is, then, through faith alone as an application of that initial act of justification. It is not a second and different act of justification.
So further pardon is not a repeated justification. The Scriptures know nothing of the shakiness and doubts that go with the schemes of multiple justifications. At the same time, subsequent pardon is not reduced to a charge by the initial declaration of forgiveness by God. It is all too easy for us to think that justification via imputation is a cold, dead legal issue, settled forever is some remote heavenly courtroom. This caricature is just close enough to the truth to be dangerously misleading. In fact, justification is a final legal pronouncement settled in heaven. But what has happened in much so-called Christian thinking is the acceptance of the devil’s own distortion. “Once-for-all” is bent so as to mean “far-off”, “inert”, and “inapplicable”. Carried a step further, this partly unconscious trend expresses itself in the mental attitude that it is somehow doctrinally unsound to confess sins too heartily and feelingly — or daringly to believe that they have been completely removed by the blood of Christ. At bottom, the idea is: why ask for something you already have as a justified Christian?
Finally, this caricature of justification by faith alone ends up either turning the confession of sins into a meaningless routine or causing confession to God through Christ to cease altogether. After all, the man thinks: Am I not already forgiven? Are not my sins already under the blood?
But such careless presumption is not the way faith. Faith knows that further pardon is no charade. It is actual. When we confess our sins in Jesus’ name by faith alone, we must know that they are truly forgiven for His dear sake alone. The conscience as the courtroom of the soul is really set at rest altogether apart from any other conditionality than faith in Christ. Through such trust the accuser of the brethren is really cast down. What we are now enjoying as believers is the application of that justification to our present struggle against our sins. In this intense warfare it is of the greatest encouragement to know that the blood of a righteous high priest is forever mine and that in the midst of many sins I can daily claim it as my sure hope before the heavenly Father.
Some brothers will be sincerely troubled by this teaching, in many instances because they are distressed by lack of reverence today for God and His laws. They especially are concerned by what they see as downplaying the cost of discipleship in much contemporary evangelism. As a consequence, they want the necessity of obedience to be kept up front in our message. Faith alone, therefore, sounds like easy-believism and salvation without discipleship. Though I share this concern, I am equally concerned that this motivation not lead us to confuse different kinds of necessities. For example, there is a necessity involved in the forgiveness of others, in daily repentance, and in new obedience in general. But this is a different kind of necessity, a different kind of conditionality, from that which we have been speaking. It is a necessity of obedience to Christ’s prophetic and kingly offices, the necessity of evidence establishing the reality of my faith in Him. But the necessity or conditionality in relationship to justification and the continuance in it is of a unique kind. Faith can do something that no other Christian grace can do. It is able to embrace Christ and His forgiving mercy. Humble faith can do that. When the justified person is guilty of sin, when his conscience presses hard upon him bringing him to the edge of despair, then faith can effectively plead Christ’s priestly sacrifice. It brings a fresh cleaning of guilt before God and a renewed experience of His justifying grace. This is both a sweet comfort and a powerful jolt to our pride.
If the church of God and the individual believer are to walk in freedom, then we must keep this distinction clear. Otherwise, we are in danger of blurring the nature of the gospel itself. We do not want to forget that we must exercise repentance and new obedience. But this above all must be remembered: when it comes to the remission of sins, God requires only one thing — faith alone embracing Christ alone.
 Faith and Justification (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 78.
 Cited in Heinrich Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics: Set Out and Illustrated from the Sources (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 554.
 Anthony Burgess, Original Sin (1659), from unnumbered pages in the postscript. So also John Ball, Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (1645), p. 20, Ball says that faith and works are inseparably joined in the person being redeemed but that in “the matter of justification and salvation in the covenant” they are opposed. I am indebted to Mr. David Lachman for both of these quotations.
 John Owen, Justification by Faith, (Grand Rapids: Sovereign Grace Pub. Co., reprint), Ch. V.
 James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House: reprint 1955), pp. 363–64.
 Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Company, 1958), BK III, Ch. XIV, Sec. 11.
[00:00:04] Turn in your Bible to Luke 11, beginning to read with verse one,. [00:00:08][3.6]
[00:00:10] One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, When you pray, say father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. [00:00:35][25.2]
[00:00:37] Then he said to them, Suppose one of you has a friend and he goes to him at midnight and says, Friend, lend me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me and I have nothing to set before him. Then the one inside answers. Don’t bother me. The door is already locked and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything. [00:00:57][20.4]
[00:00:58] I tell you though, he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend. Yet because the man’s persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you ask and it will be given to you seek and you will find. Knock on the door will be open to you. For everyone who asks, receives. He who seeks, finds and to him who knocks the door will be open. [00:01:21][22.4]
[00:01:22] Which of you fathers if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead, or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion. If you then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? [00:01:41][19.0]
[00:01:42] And then Matthew eighteen. We have these words most striking in verses 19 and 20, Matthew 18, verses 19 and 20. [00:01:57][15.1]
[00:01:58] Again, I tell you, if two of you on Earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name there am I with them. [00:02:12][14.9]
[00:02:13] And then Acts chapter one in verses 13 and 14. This is after the resurrection and ascension of Christ. The disciples have gathered together in the upper room. [00:02:25][11.5]
[00:02:25] When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James, son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus and his brothers. [00:02:49][23.8]
[00:02:51] And then Acts two verse one, apparently still continuing in prayer, we read: when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. [00:03:00][8.8]
[00:03:03] And then turning back with me to Luke, Chapter 11, we come to these words of the disciples addressed to Jesus: Lord, teach us to pray, Lord. Teach us to pray. [00:03:17][14.0]
[00:03:21] Usually we think of this in an individualistic way, Lord teach us … really we translate it, Lord, teach me to pray. But you’ll notice the text does say teach us to pray. And of course, that does mean me and you, but it also means us together. [00:03:36][14.8]
[00:03:37] So we’re going to be talking today about praying together effectively. [00:03:40][3.3]
[00:03:42] And I’d like to begin by just asking what is prayer? [00:03:45][3.2]
[00:03:46] And I think we can say that prayer is talking to God. [00:03:51][4.8]
[00:03:52] We’re going to be seeing what is effective prayer and then how to pray effectively, how to do it together. We need to start off by asking ourselves just what is prayer? [00:04:01][8.3]
[00:04:01] And I think it’s a pretty good definition to say prayer is talking to God and then you might add on the basis of Jesus name. [00:04:09][7.6]
[00:04:10] But that still hasn’t brought us to what effective prayer is. And I believe effective prayer is talking to God about some distinct thing. [00:04:22][11.9]
[00:04:26] Because many times when we try to pray and get through, the reason we don’t get through is we don’t really have anything in particular we’re praying about. [00:04:36][10.6]
[00:04:37] You know, you have a very guilty feeling that somebody here at New Life wants you to get up in the morning and have devotions and you feel you should. But there doesn’t seem to be any strong motivation for it. And it isn’t going to be effective if you do because you don’t have any distinct thing that you want to pray about. It’s all rather vague. [00:04:56][18.6]
[00:04:57] And so it means then that somewhere in effective prayer, it isn’t that you get up in the morning and you get your revolver out and blow out your brains and then you pray, and that effective prayer consists without any mind in action. [00:05:11][14.6]
[00:05:12] No effective prayer must involve the head. Some understanding that you want to get something from God. [00:05:19][6.4]
[00:05:21] All right. It’s talking to God then about some distinct thing, but then it wouldn’t be effective unless what happened? Unless you got an answer. Nobody’s going to keep on praying if he doesn’t get answers. [00:05:33][12.8]
[00:05:36] Well, I know some people who do, I should say, I mean its their whole religion. But most of us are too lazy. I’m not going to keep on praying if I don’t get answers. [00:05:45][9.0]
[00:05:45] So effective praying is talking to God about some particular thing and then getting an answer to that request. It might be deliverance from a temptation or a bad habit, and that can really fuel your desire to pray. You say, well, look, if I got rid of that one or if God got rid of it for me, maybe I’d better try a little more of this. It whets your appetite. [00:06:07][21.9]
[00:06:08] And so effective prayer begins to develop. Or maybe you’re in temptation and you thought, man, I’m going to go down and you couldn’t even think of any noble way to pray. You couldn’t even remember the Lord’s Prayer. And you just cry out, Lord, help me with this temptation. And He did. And you walked away surprised. Oh, dear. You know, this kind of works. I wonder what happened. [00:06:27][19.3]
[00:06:28] And then you may have a tremendous problem dropped in your lap of a health kind of a health kind. Daniel Adams, you see here is a very serious matter. And we all pray and we see an answer. Or we prayed earlier in the year, remember when we had that time, we all prayed for increased income and no one told me if their income diminished. But now that might have happened. I don’t know. But anyway, all kinds of people came forward and said they had more income afterwards. [00:07:02][34.0]
[00:07:04] And, well, that’s effective prayer. It’s something that happened. And we’re told it’s all right to pray that because in the Lord’s Prayer at Lord’s Prayer, it says, pray for your daily bread. And that’s something you need. And so you pray for that. [00:07:17][13.6]
[00:07:18] Well, having said that, it brings us to the question now: How do you pray effectively? What is the way you do it? [00:07:25][7.0]
[00:07:27] And our text has a lot of help for us. And in verse six, it says about prayer, it really begins with these words. “I have nothing.” I have nothing. [00:07:36][9.8]
[00:07:38] You see, if you have a strong sense of your own competence, there’s nothing coming down the road that you can’t deal with, there’s not much reason to pray. [00:07:47][9.1]
Jack Miller: [00:07:49] But when something comes down the road that is too big even for you to deal with, then you say, what do I do now? [00:07:56][7.7]
[00:07:58] I remember when I was about 14, I was a young atheist. I did not believe in God for many years. And my sister, the doctor, says she’s going to die. And what does the young atheist do when his sister is going to die? You know, what a young atheist does? He says, God, I don’t know whether you exist, you probably don’t, but if you do, I’m going to be better if you would make my sister live. Well you know, my sister lived, but I didn’t change. [00:08:32][33.7]
[00:08:33] But the need was there for the first time. And I realized I was not complete in myself. Human adequacy became very inadequate. What can you do? [00:08:43][9.1]
[00:08:45] And so this, I have nothing to set before him. I have nothing. That’s the need side of how to pray. Realizing your needs. [00:08:54][9.1]
[00:08:56] When I was in North Carolina recently with Rose Marie. And I we went down there for a conference and we were trying to enlist people both for missions and also material support for some of our missionaries. But even more than that, we’re trying to help them to learn to pray, that each church might be a missionary power. And while we were there, so much blessing came from them to us. It was really exciting. And one of the young men who’s there is a doctor and he’s a graduate of Jenkintown High School in nineteen seventy four. And so he’s very much interested in becoming a missionary. And so he was telling us how he became a Christian. He told us all about life in Jenkintown. It was interesting how many people we knew together and so on. And it was like Old Home Week. But he said when he got out of medical school, at first it went well. Then he got in the third year and he began to discover his own inadequacies. He had a struggle with some close relationship that went sour and he felt guilty over it and he felt he did the wrong thing to the other person. And he said, how do I get rid of that? I’m adequate. And he was really troubled by that. And then he said, I began as I went into my third year, I began to get more time in the hospital. I began to see more people. And he says, I have a kind of integrity in me and I don’t lie to patients. And when I think they’re dying, I can’t stand there and say, well, just take this pill and you’re going to be all right. And he said, I didn’t know what to tell them. And he said some of them were terribly frightened and I had nothing to say. And he said I had this one patient who was really frightened and she was afraid she was going to have a stroke and maybe die. And he says, I couldn’t tell her that she might not have a stroke and die because I thought she was going to have a stroke and die. So he just felt completely inadequate and his brother in law had been witnessing to him. So he got down on his knees, this proud young doctor, and he cried out, Jesus, show yourself to me, God, show me Jesus. I don’t know anything. [00:10:59][123.5]
[00:11:03] As he walked into that room the next day, and when he walks into the room, he goes over to the bed, he still doesn’t know anything. And the woman is so frightened, she’s a little lady down from the Appalachians. And she asked them the questions again. I’m going to have a stroke. I’m going to die. And he says, look, and he says are you a Christian? [00:11:24][20.7]
[00:11:26] And I looked up at him, you know. I hadn’t heard anything like from him before. And he says he didn’t know where it all came from. But he said, but if you’re a Christian, you must believe that God has a plan over your life. And it must be a good plan. And if it’s a good plan, you don’t need to be afraid. Are you Christian? [00:11:42][15.4]
[00:11:43] She looked at him and she became a Christian at that point, and he says the funny thing was she changed completely right in front of me. And instead of being a person who’s frightened, that her very fears are so great they might kill her, she became a woman of faith. And I’ve never seen fear in her since. And he said I was astonished at the effect of my words on that woman and the fact I saw nothing but faith. And the next time I said, you know, I guess I believe this too don’t I. And she walked out of the room and he says, I became a Christian in there, too. Out of his own words. [00:12:16][32.4]
[00:12:16] And God heard his prayer, the night before, born out of this sense of I don’t have any resources, I’ve got no bread, I don’t know how to do it. And he prayed. And, you know, if you had told him, boy, you really know how to pray effectively, he would have said, I don’t know a thing. Because you see, effectiveness comes when you don’t know a thing. [00:12:34][18.0]
[00:12:36] I remember that when I first became a Christian, it was so wonderful. You remember that time when you first became a Christian. And finally I decided, you know, I really am a chaotic person. I was a student and I would often stay up till three o’clock in the morning and I never hit the sack before 3:00 and my morning classes got visited occasionally by me, not too often. And I had that in my background and I decided, boy, I got to change this. [00:13:06][29.8]
[00:13:06] So I organized, reorganized my life over a period of about six months to a year and begin to show up even at eight o’clock classes. And it was difficult. But then finally I got myself reorganized and I began to get up at six o’clock every morning and pray for an hour. [00:13:20][13.2]
[00:13:20] And was I really adequate? My life was so adequate and I was so satisfied with my six to seven o’clock devotions. I went around exhorting other people to have six to seven devotions, you know. [00:13:30][9.9]
[00:13:30] And then I got married. And we got married and suddenly I discovered Rose Marie wasn’t really red hot about that hour from six to seven. In fact, she said, sometimes your smile at six is a little hard to bear. [00:13:45][14.8]
[00:13:48] So anyway, and then she got pregnant and she had morning sickness every morning from six to seven. So I spent the devotion period bringing tea and toast and trying to provide her a pan if she needed it, whatever. [00:14:05][17.5]
[00:14:06] And so it was in this I became very inadequate. And I thought, I’m losing knowing how to pray. But then it dawned on me somewhere along the line eventually that it isn’t six to seven that teaches you to pray. It’s the morning sins that teaches you to pray. It’s a wife you can’t cope with that teaches you to pray, a husband you can’t cope with that teaches you to pray. [00:14:31][24.5]
[00:14:31] It’s much more basic. It becomes effective when you know you don’t have any clue how to put anything together. And yet you believe maybe out there somewhere, God knows how to put it together. [00:14:43][11.8]
[00:14:44] Are you catching what goes into prayer? And the thing the Lord convicted me. They asked me to speak down there at North Carolina on repentance and missions, repentance and outreach. And I ask myself, Lord, Lord, I don’t want to go down there unrepentant and tell everybody about repentance. That would make me sick at my stomach. And I’m sure God would be nauseated by it too. [00:15:07][23.5]
[00:15:08] And I said, God is there anything about me that you have problems with this morning. Turned out I have quite a few things I discovered, and one of them was looking squarely at how much I lean on human adequacy, my own or somebody else’s, how much I lean on human resources, how much I lean on that which is visible, and then I just asked, God forgive me, I want to lean on you. [00:15:33][24.7]
[00:15:34] And that’s where it is. You don’t lean on yourself or your strength. The whole idea of praying is you’ve got nothing. The man comes at midnight, the knock is there, and he has to say to his friend, I have nothing. And of course, he has nothing. And it’s the insistent realization of that in his heart that keeps him knocking until he gets an answer. [00:15:55][21.5]
[00:15:56] And then the other side of praying is this. And that’s found in verse thirteen. And it says there is a promise and the promise is if you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? [00:16:14][17.7]
[00:16:16] Now, God sometimes exaggerates. Isn’t that true? Its true, the Bible overstates stuff, way, overstates stuff, right? Do you believe the Bible does that? Now, I want to know, do you believe the Bible exaggerates? A lot? And that you appropriately have to cut it down to reality? Right. [00:16:44][28.1]
[00:16:47] Because the picture here isn’t the way most of us pray. It doesn’t seem to be what most of us believe. It says that God has a heart for those who are needy, those who have no bread. He’s ready to give the bread of the Holy Spirit on an ongoing basis. [00:17:02][15.1]
[00:17:03] Notice the language of the text. He says here that, verse nine: Ask, seek and knock. And then he says, you’re going to receive, you’re going to have, the door will be open. And the verbs there are in the present tense, ongoing action. And therefore it means you keep up doing it. And every day, in effect, you ask for the Holy Spirit and the Father is committed to giving him to you. And the central substance of your life, the bread, you see, the combination. He moves down talking about bread, eggs, fish, the substance of life, necessary for life. And then he just moves in and drops that substance language and uses the true substance language of the Holy Spirit. [00:17:45][42.4]
[00:17:47] And he says, I promise to give you every day the Holy Spirit when you ask for him. When was the last time you asked for the Holy Spirit? [00:17:54][7.4]
[00:17:57] Obviously, you cut this one down. You either ignored it or you thought it was an overstatement. God couldn’t love me that much to give me his very life in his Son on a cross and then from that Son and the ascended Son to pour forth on me at my conversion, my rebirth—at the rebirth and conversion he gives me the Spirit—but then daily to give me more of his strength, more of his wisdom, more of his joy, more of the thanksgiving, more of his power, more of his peace, more of his calmness. [00:18:29][32.5]
[00:18:32] I have nothing, but then I have a full cupboard coming to me whenever I ask and believe and claim the promise, do you see? [00:18:43][10.4]
[00:18:43] And so that’s effective prayer. But now the question comes, how do we pray effectively together? [00:18:48][5.0]
[00:18:50] And here we find what we need to see is that prayer, we often think of it too subjectively, too defensively. What can I pray and have God help me with so I can get out of my next scrape? You know, I got myself in this beautiful, tangled mess. I blew it this morning with my husband, with my children. I was obnoxious on the telephone. It was a great beginning for the day. And I need Lord, get me out of this. Help me get it all straight. [00:19:27][37.0]
[00:19:28] Or something is wrong in your studies or your work. You’re in danger of getting fired. Or you might make a major mistake and then you pray through that and you say, boy, I really got the Holy Spirit’s blessing, and you didn’t really. You only got a crumb and you said I had a whole loaf. [00:19:48][20.0]
[00:19:50] Because the point of the passage is that the abundance of the Father’s gift John 7:37-39 says: if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, he that believes in me, according as the scripture has said from within him shall flow rivers of living water. Enough for yourself and enough to overflow to other people. Abundance. [00:20:17][27.8]
[00:20:19] When Jesus talks to the woman at the well that he says, you know, young lady, if you got to know the truth, you’d sure have a great trickle of water running in you. You’d be able to get out of all your scrapes. You will be able to straighten it out with those husbands. You know, you got a little problem there, five of them. The last fellow your not married to. A little problem. But we will give you a trickle. Jesus doesn’t say that. He says will give you a spring, an artesian well inside of you. [00:20:49][29.6]
[00:20:49] And, you know, when she believed that she even forgot about all her problems and ran back telling people about Jesus. There’s a man out there who told me everything I ever did. [00:20:58][8.8]
[00:21:00] And she came with a Christ consciousness, which is the primary work of the Holy Spirit. To make you aware of the glory of Christ, the wonder of the Father’s love. Those are the things that matter. And to love others in that miraculous way, with the intensity with which you love yourself. To live in the monotony of life, where things are the same, where the same dull things must go on and on, and to live there with a kindliness, a tenderness and a patience that says, that advertises, that the Spirit is working in your life, that you are a supernatural person in very ordinary circumstances. [00:21:43][43.0]
[00:21:45] And that’s what prayer is all about and how does that come? [00:21:49][3.8]
[00:21:50] Well, we have to have recognition that there is additional power conferred upon the church officially when we come to pray together. [00:22:00][10.5]
[00:22:01] We see all of these marvelous answers to prayer. And we’re told in Matthew 18, it’s this very simple. If we want to go beyond where we are, it can’t be simply individualistic. If you just pray by yourself at some point, it’s going to start to dry up. It will, because that’s not God’s normal. [00:22:22][20.8]
[00:22:23] Truly effective prayer finds its life in praying with other Christians. [00:22:29][5.7]
[00:22:30] Notice this promise in Matthew, 18, verse 19. Again, I tell you, if two of you on Earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name there Am I with them. [00:22:44][13.9]
[00:22:45] Now have you ever gone to a prayer meeting where the attendance was really down and everybody was demoralized. And some dear saint prayed something like this? God, this isn’t much tonight. And we’re all kind of discouraged. But we remember that promise where you said that we’re two or three are gathered together in your name, there you would be in our midst. And it goes on and on. And the spirits in this group and everybody is down. I mean, you almost crawl out of the place when that prayers finished. And you feel like you’re whistling as you walk by the graveyard. That everything is dead and you’re scared and nothing is going to matter. And so you just kind of pray this as a kind of a pious gesture. That, you know, isn’t it too bad we’re all discouraged tonight and attendance is so bad. [00:23:29][44.2]
[00:23:31] And that prayer promise has been so ruined by the Christian church in our time. And I don’t want you to pray it that way. That’s wicked. That’s not the purpose of that. This is a disciplinary context about a wandering sheep and about going after that wandering sheep and the authority of the church and bringing that one back to God. And if that person refuses to repent, then the excommunication really is a thing before God. [00:23:57][25.9]
[00:23:58] And this prayer context here, then, is one of great authority. It’s of the authority of the highest sort. And so the promise when you come into the new covenant is that we will be praying because the Spirit is going to bring us together to pray. That is his ministry. He’s going to take our inadequacies individually and as a body. And he’s going to bring us together. And when we come together, he has promised that he will be there and he will be working. [00:24:24][26.4]
[00:24:25] And you see here the close identity of Jesus and the Spirit. I’m going to be there. The Spirit is going to be there. Same thing. Because Jesus, in his triumph, earned the Spirit for us. [00:24:35][10.3]
[00:24:36] And so the promise is that when we agree, when we have one mind on anything, the Father bends his ear, reaches forth his hand and moves. And the greatest hindrance to this is not claiming. [00:24:57][20.5]
[00:24:59] You see, now we begin to see that effective prayer moves into the dimension of authority. That God has made every one of us a priest and a king and a prophet in this world. We bear authority. And if we do not exercise it collectively, we insult the God of the promises. [00:25:17][18.0]
[00:25:20] And not to come together and pray with other Christians is to hinder, to stifle, and to risk the whole ministry of the Spirit in the church and in your own life. [00:25:34][14.2]
[00:25:36] And when you come to the norm in the New Testament in the Book of Acts, when you turn there to Chapter one versus 13 and 14, those apostles who could not pray before together, who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, we find here in verse 13 of Acts one, they go upstairs and the group is listed and then the women are there and we we discover the word is used in the Greek. [00:26:03][27.4]
[00:26:04] You know, people object around here sometimes to say in the Greek, but I don’t know any other way to say it. The Greek says they had one mind, one accord. [00:26:12][8.1]
[00:26:15] And it means that they were all of one mind. And because they were of one mind, they got what they asked for. And what did they get? A little small thing. What happened afterwards? They kept on praying constantly in prayer. What happened? A little thing called Pentecost. How would you Like that for an answer to prayer? [00:26:34][19.3]
[00:26:40] And when we read, was Pentecost enough, well, when they had finished Pentecost, they had these terrible struggles and great victories and we read in Acts 4, verse twenty three, the same word is used. And when they get before God and they say, they announced to God, they are there with one accord, they are there in agreement and they’re asking for a new filling of the Holy Spirit. [00:27:01][20.6]
[00:27:03] And in our tradition, some people have been so afraid of being branded Pentecostal that they felt the safest thing to do was to avoid any contact with the Holy Spirit. [00:27:11][7.6]
[00:27:13] Now, that’s terrible. Nobody has cornered the Holy Spirit, including ourselves or anyone else. [00:27:19][6.1]
[00:27:20] He’s sovereign and he has given us certain ways of working and certain ways of proceeding. And if we follow those, we’ll see revival. [00:27:27][7.3]
[00:27:29] I believe this is probably the single most important sermon I have ever preached. And it may be for your life, the single most important one, too, because the conclusion follows, will you be committed to corporate prayer? Will you join with other believers in praying together? [00:28:07][38.0]
[00:28:10] Believers began doing that, and eighteen fifty eight there was a prayer meeting in Ontario, another one in Massachusetts and a third in New York City. Six men gathered in New York City in agreement, Concord, that we will pray for revival in America. [00:28:31][21.0]
[00:28:34] Within one year. I cited this once before and I said, I hope I haven’t exaggerated. I said ten thousand people a week were being converted. I was wrong. I went back and checked. And my mind was blown. It was fifty thousand a week. [00:28:49][14.9]
[00:28:52] And all people were doing was praying and giving people the gospel. There’s no Billy Graham around, no Billy Sunday, no Dwight L. Moody. Just praying Christians. Praying for revival, praying for the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin, to awaken the conscience of the nation. [00:29:11][19.3]
[00:29:12] Look, our struggle with abortion. It is a terrible one. And we have this whole burden of one of our members was arrested for his part in a sit in demonstration during the week. [00:29:24][11.9]
[00:29:25] But you see, we’re not going to win that struggle unless we have a revival, because what’s the problem is not simply with abortion. It’s a lot of people getting in the wrong bed. If everybody stayed in the right bed there wouldn’t be a problem. If you didn’t have sexual intercourse until you got married, there wouldn’t be a problem. We need a rebirth of some basic concepts in America, namely virginity is a good thing until you’re married. [00:29:52][27.4]
[00:29:54] And where are we going to get that? Are we going to go out there with swords and kill all the people who don’t agree with us? [00:30:00][6.5]
[00:30:01] No, we need a persuasion from heaven. We need to be humbled ourselves and purified ourselves. And therefore, if that’s what we get, then we will have revival. [00:30:10][9.6]
[00:30:12] You see all these Korean churches springing up around here. I say to myself, good night these Koreans are taking over America. Everywhere I look, there’s a Korean sign. Where are they all coming from? Well, the answer is they’re coming out of a prayer meeting. [00:30:24][11.9]
[00:30:25] In Korea there was a revival. They started around 1906 and 1907. They got together and they repented of their sins and they had some early morning prayer meetings, five o’clock up in the mountains. And what do you know? The Korean church exploded. They’re sending out missionaries to Indonesia. They’re sending them out to Taiwan. [00:30:43][17.8]
[00:30:45] What’s going on here? They’re praying. Are you going to stay behind? Are you going to stay behind, are you going to really go along with the Lord? [00:30:56][11.5]
[00:30:57] Well, we have a week of prayer coming up. We’ve been asking God to bring us out a hundred a night. I don’t know how many God’s going to bring out. That’s his prayer meeting, not mine. [00:31:08][10.3]
[00:31:15] David Bryant is going to come here in the spring and talk about the release of the Holy Spirit through prayer. Where will you be in this? [00:31:24][9.2]
[00:31:25] I believe this year, this week of prayer is going to decide whether New Life Church will live or die. It will even decide whether it should live or die. We have no guarantee that we should continue unless we are living up to the light we have. [00:31:45][19.9]
[00:31:47] And if you have the light, and I can give you a lot more text from the Bible about corporate prayer and its power. I can’t do that. We don’t have time. [00:31:53][6.5]
[00:31:54] But we have a desperate need. We need everything. And we need to sue God for the Spirit to change our lives and to change our nation. [00:32:02][7.4]
[00:32:03] And I just tell you, the Lord’s convicted me. I, I feel utterly unworthy to talk about this subject of prayer. And I just think that we ought to just have some prayer. And if you’ve never prayed before, like Perry, our doctor friend, will you pray now and say, Jesus show me yourself, I need you. I’m calling on your name to save me. But let’s just have some time to pray. [00:32:37][33.6]
[00:32:55] Teach us to pray for us to pray, forgive us for a lack of desire to come together. [00:33:04][8.4]
[00:33:12] Thank you our Father that you have called upon your people to do things together. This is in your Word in varioius places. Now give us a heart that is united in seeking your blessing that we might have a share in it and that we would do your will with all our hearts. We pray in Jesus name, our Lord and Savior, Amen. [00:33:33][20.9]
[00:33:46] Lord, the reason we have not is because we ask not. Help us to ask. [00:33:50][3.3]
[00:33:58] Lord we ask that you would fill our hearts with a zeal for prayer. That we will be glad to pray before you knowing that it is prayer according to your promise. [00:34:07][8.9]
[00:34:07] Oh, Lord, here we are, no longer orphans, but your sons and daughters, with the gift of being able to talk with you and see you do things in our lives and the lives of others. And yet Lord we refuse most of the time to even come to you in prayer. Yet Lord we rejoice when we see prayers answered and we see its power. Give us as a congregation to know this power of prayer. to know that things can be changed immediately, to know Lord that we can effect the other side of the world, or even the hearts of a person right next to us to prayer. Lord just bless us with an ability not to listen to our flesh, or to Satan, but to know that the Spirit in our lives works in prayer. Give us a heart to pray more. [00:35:00][52.9]
[00:35:08] Father too I pray that you would give us a vision for praying together as a large group that even those of us that may not pray out loud would be encouraged in their faith with those that do pray. Lord we see a real sense of your Spirit encouraging us all, these people who are committed to pray together. [00:35:26][17.9]
[00:35:30] We thank you, Heavenly Father, that we can come and specifically pray for particular items as your children with you our Father. We particularly pray Father that those all over our nation who will be watching the debates tonight before the presidential elections. We pray, Father, that you would grant to those who watch wisdom that they would know who to vote for in the election. We pray, Father, that that individual candidates would demonstrate where they are and what they stand for, so that the people would be able to judge wisely. We ask this specifically, Father in Jesus name, Amen. [00:36:20][50.4]
[00:36:25] Father in heaven, we now bring before you our prayerlessness. We have not prayed, and then sometimes when we have prayed, we have been vague and wandering. And other times, Lord, we have prayed without faith. And we ask you to forgive us that. We also ask you to forgive us our laziness and sloth. Lord, I have been guilty of just a slothful mind, a slothful body, and I just ask you to change that in me and each one here. And we especially ask you to forgive us for not taking our needs to the Father. That we have often Father rather preferred to worry and fear. We let ourselves be consumed by anxiety and we didn’t claim the bread of the Spirit. And right now in Jesus name, we’re asking you, Father, to send your Spirit upon this gathering. We are agreed on this great point. We want the Holy Spirit to come upon lives. We ask you, Lord, that you would come with mighty convicting power to some who are sitting here who yet are complacent in their sins, and they have hidden agendas even from themselves, and secretly are sold out to their own pleasures, their own comforts, their own honor, their own glory. And we ask your Lord to come. And maybe that’s true of all of us. You know, our hearts. And so come and convict us and then free us and then show us Christ and give us a fresh knowledge of your love. [00:38:08][103.0]
[00:38:09] Lord, I’m praying together, representing this body in the name of Jesus for a knowledge of the wonder of Christ’s love to come upon us, to realize the great sacrifice he made and that that love is unchanging, that it’s unconditional, and that the Spirit is inside of us and living. And he will not be defeated. And though we do not know how to pray, he will teach us. And so we pray that you would give us such a confidence in prayer, such a confidence in the Spirit, such a confidence in Christ, that we would live different lives. Father, we ask it of you. We are so helpless. We are so frustrated left in ourselves. We have nothing. And Lord, we long to see thousands of people streaming to Christ. We long to see this place so jammed at eight thirty that you can’t even get in because God has been speaking. That we have to make more doors and have to have a larger place to meet. God, we can’t do that. And therefore we’re claiming it on the basis of your promise. And then we plead with you for a blessing on our homes. O we are asking you, Lord, to bless us with love in our families. Put in each of us a heart of tenderness and love. O God put sacred holy love in us. And then we pray for our nation. We agree together to ask that there would be a putting away of abortion, divorce, adultery, and there would be a recapturing of your teaching that a person should be a virgin until married. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen. [00:39:44][0.0]of [00:39:44][95.0]