This past week George Conger wrote in The Church of England Newspaper on the recent report by the statisticians of The Episcopal Church to our Executive Council. You can read the article here. The report catalogues a 10 year decline in all quantifiable areas. I want you to take note of how “These speak to a parish’s integration in the community and the possibility for future growth.”
The measures uncover a serious flaw in the common assumption of our leadership from parish to diocese to national executive that we are on the right track toward community integration, that community integration is at least possible if not inevitable. Something is terribly wrong.
And that’s where “The Doctor” comes in. Over the summer I slowly studied the revival sermons Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) preached on the 100th anniversary of the last great Anglo-American revival in 1859. He leads you through many texts of the Bible, explains the context of each verse, and the relevance of each verse to true revival. The first half of the book is dedicated to the habits of humanity that hinder revival, as was the masterful method of The Doctor.
MLJ pointed out that what is needed in revival is an outpouring of the Spirit of God. But, and it is a huge BUT, “…that Spirit of God can only honor his own truth. The Holy Spirit cannot honor a lie.” Our task therefore as preachers and teachers of the Scriptures is to ask ourselves if our position conforms to His truth. We must first, as MLJ alludes to his text (Genesis 26.17-18), “…get rid of the rubbish of the Philistines…the work of the Philistines is that they deny, or cast doubt upon, or neglect, or ignore, certain vital essential doctrines.”
It is a painful process. But if you turn to the historical evidence and read the accounts of all the revivals that have ever been known in the long history of the Church you will find that this getting rid of the rubbish comes first as the people of the Church return in repentance to the vital essential teachings:
- The truth concerning the sovereign, transcendent, living God who acts, who intervenes, and erupts into the history of the Church, and of individuals.
- The second truth follows the first. It involves the Bible as the final authority. God has revealed the truth concerning himself, in propositions, in statements, as they are recorded in the Bible.
- The third is that humanity is in sin and under the wrath of God.
- The fourth is the person of Jesus Christ. He is central. He is crucial. The Bible is a book about him, because it is in, and through him that God visits and redeems his people, and provides this great salvation through his atonement, his death upon the cross, his broken body, his shed blood and his bodily resurrection from the dead.
- Fifth is the work of the Holy Spirit, that his supreme work is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. He focusses attention on, and points to, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The unique teaching of MLJ is that God sends and ends revival on His own terms, not ours.
I can only conclude that our failure toward integration into our communities is not through lack of trying or the failure of particular methods and efforts (all of my colleagues work long dedicated hours to this goal).
It is because we do not establish our priorities in the light of the essentials truths of Scripture.
We can see for ourselves that the risen Christ himself can berate a church for being too tolerant of false teaching (Revelation 2.20). We must also ask if we truly dealing with “the body of Christ” when people claim to be Christians but have no intention of submitting to that same Lordship.
My experience of the past decade is more like an awkward union between genuine believers and those with not much more than an aesthetic and sentimental attachment to an institution called the church, divorced from revealed and mandated truth joyfully believed, confessed and obeyed.