In this edition of “Timeless Wisdom from Rev. Ermal Wilson” we will hear the first of three sermons from a Revival at Trinity Wesleyan Church in Oak Hill, Ohio. In this first message he shares with us from the prayer of Jabez, which he had been preaching on long before the book make the verse popular. You’ll hear a little of the Pilgrim Holiness style prayer meeting at the end of the talk. But, just before that, there is a really powerful illustration that I had never heard him share before. The illustration is worth the time listening in and of itself. (There is a bit of a gap in the content of the talk. This was recorded in the days of Tape. So there is a gap where the tape had to reverse directions to record.)
Our culture has changed.
I don’t know if you knew that. But, life in the western world is drastically different from what it was 30+ years ago. Some of the changes have been good. We have made progress in a lot of ways. But some of the things that have been classified as progress are not.
Particularly our approach to morality.
We have made a drastic shift, the long range implications of which are extraordinarily dangerous.
What is the shift? It lies in where the authority of morality originates. In Bible-based, Christian worldview, the authority of morality is God and God alone. The only authority human beings have is based in our ability to understand and apply God’s written word to us in the Bible.
Where, in our current construct of ethics and morals, is the authority of morality? It is within human beings. No longer do we look to God as the moral authority. Instead, we have decided we know better. That, if there is a God, He exists only to blame bad things on and to beg for help in a crisis. But, who is God to tell me how to live my life?
What is the major problem with this shift? Well, there are a few.
First, human beings are always changing. At least in our ideas, as well as other ways. Can you imagine building an ideology around something that is constantly changing? If I were to base my morality on my own life, we would be sunk as a culture. Not only have I made mistakes, but as my understanding of truth has grown, so has my understanding of how live according to that truth. If I built an ideology around what I believed 20 years ago, it would have been entirely different than what I would build today, which would be different from 20 years from now. If I don’t have enough perspective to construct an ideology that is big enough to last for my whole life, how can I build an ideology that is big enough for the lives of the rest of society?
Second, it’s easy for charismatic leaders to manipulate followers. If morality is based on popular opinion, then morality will be decided by whoever controls popular opinion. Who controls popular opinion? Those with enough charisma to be in the front of the room. Somes this is not the case. But most of the time it is. We don’t listen to people without it. And we give too much credit to those who possess it. Charisma does not equal wise or insightful. It simply means they have the ability to get and keep your attention. How many disasters have, at their foundation, a charismatic leader who had a flawed ideology?
Third, there is no objective way to decide between two conflicting points of view. What happens when what I think is right collides with what you think is right? What happens when what I think is wrong collides with what you think is wrong? What happens when what I think is wrong collides with what you think is right? If there is no authority outside the situation, who gets to decided who is right?
Fourth, there is no accountability. When morality is based on what is right for me, there is no way to impose consequences for actions that you have decided are wrong. Just because it’s wrong for you, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for me. Even if it affects you negatively, I have no obligation to be concerned with how my morality affects your life. You cannot hold me to your standard, neither can I hold you to mine. Therefore, if my right affects your right negatively, my only obligation is to my own rightness.
Fifth, the complete devaluing of human life. Ironically, in our pursuit of serving our own humanity, in the end we destroy it. How? There is no inherent dignity in human life anymore. The value of human life is based on what it does for me. If human life gets the way of my way of life, it must be removed or belittled. My life is important, but the importance of your life is based solely on whether your life helps or hinders my life. If your life hinders my own, the value of my own life surpasses the value of yours. Therefore, your life must become subservient to mine.
Myth: We can build a better society by deciding, as a society, what is right and wrong. Why is this a myth? Let me ask this: have you ever been around someone who has a really dominating personality, but had some really bad ideology? I have. And I know that it can be quite a challenge to reign in their dominating personality at times. And, because of their personality, they have tremendous opportunity to take people with them into bad ideology.
Who do you think will have the most influence in morality decided by society? Will it be the humble and wise person who doesn’t speak up or will it be the loud and unwise person who has a charismatic personality? Every form of government I can think of, even those in science fiction TV shows hundred if not thousands of years in the future, can all be manipulated by a strong personality.
What is the alternative?
The alternative is an authority outside our current situation. Just like a judge and a jury are supposed to be unbiased in court, there needs to be an authority that is outside the current situation, so as to offer and unbiased solution.
Before we go on, I want to speak to what you’re probably thinking. Can’t judges and juries be a moral authority because they are removed from situations? The truthful and honest answer to that question is, no. Judges and juries are human beings. They too are affected by the ideology of others. If they weren’t, their rulings would never change. There would be no bias, and they would always make the right decision.
This is why authority must come from the outside. This is why we don’t get to decide what is right and wrong. We don’t have the perspective to be able to see far enough down the road how what we are deciding today will affect those who have to live by it tomorrow. And we don’t have the unbiased ability to decide what the true right thing is, because we will always be biased towards what benefits us the best, personally, first.
This is why we need to go to the one who built the operating system. Imagine the operating system of the world is Apple’s iOS. And imagine each of us are apps on an iphone. Now imagine that an app decided that the iOS is wrong, so it decided that it wasn’t going to abide by the rules of the operating system. Not only that, but it was going to start telling the other apps that iOS is wrong and that each app gets to decide what is right. Then, they all decide to tell iOS how iOS is wrong and what iOS needs to do to adapt to each apps belief of what is right.
This is absurd right? Why? Because it defies logic. An app on a phone is subservient to the operating system of the phone. A program on a computer is subservient to the operating system of the computer. A falling apple is subservient to the law of gravity. A thrown football is subservient to the laws of physics. Everything in a system is subservient to the creator of the system. Even the iOS is subservient to the creator of the iOS.
God made the system we live in. He built the operating system. We play a part in the way things operate, but we didn’t create the system. Nor can we decide to change it. Only one being gets to make that decision, and that is God. I can decide that I don’t like gravity, and that I don’t want it to exist anymore. “Gravity is no longer true!” I shout to the world around me. I may even be able to get some people to believe me. But my belief in gravity does not change the veracity of its existence. My belief in God does not change the veracity of His existence. My belief in the system He created does not change the veracity of the system. Just because I don’t think truth is absolute, does not mean it isn’t. I may choose to break the rules, but that does not release me from the consequences of breaking them.
I can say an apple is an axe. But, that doesn’t mean I’ll be chopping down the apple tree with my “axe”. Calling a computer an apple does not mean I can make a pie out of it. An apple is an apple. A computer is a computer. An axe is an axe. A tree is a tree. God is God. God’s truth is truth. It does not require my belief in it to be truth, it still is, whether I believe it or not.
There’s a great blog/podcast for church leaders that I love to follow, Carey Nieuwhof. One of the posts he wrote just before Christmas (http://careynieuwhof.com/2014/12/impending-death-rebirth-cool-church/) really resonated with me. As I’ve been involved with the discussion, I have also realized that I have a lot to say about this particular subject.
So, I thought I’d share it with you.
But, before I begin, let me be clear. I believe in the church. And I don’t like it when Christians tear down other Christians…when churches tear down other churches. This is not going to be that kind of a post. There’s plenty of content like that out there. It won’t take you long to find it.
With that said, I also think we need to be honest about the current state of the church. I don’t think we are doing ourselves any favors by trying to hide what is going on. The church is in decline.
Fighting for our former position in society will do us no good. It will not help if our interest is in “being seen as a Christian nation again.” I understand the desire. I do. But it is sideways energy.
And it is not the way for us to gain influence in our society. But, we’ll get to that in a bit.
Fighting for the former means.
I have always thought it should be the job of the older and wiser members of a church community who have the depth of understanding to be able to set preference aside. Never setting aside mission. But, set aside their personal preference because they understand the means are the vehicle for connecting with the next generation. I have no problem with a fight to keep the church on mission.
But too often the fight has nothing to do with mission.
Too often the fight is centered around personal preference, and it is mission that gets sacrificed. And when mission is the thing that gets put on the back burner, there is a whole pressure cooker of preference that it just waiting to blow beans all over the ceiling. (I may or may not have experienced first hand what happens when the pressure regulator comes off while pressure cooking beans…just as I may or may not have seen someone mop the ceiling.)
When preference takes over, we forget that the point of the church is the fulfillment of the great commission. This is our function. This is what we are designed for. When the means with which we accomplish that mission become more important than the mission itself, there will inevitably be fights, bickering, backlash, power grabbing and eventually division, strive, discord and ultimately the loss of influence in society.
Yes, there are other functions and activities that the church is supposed to do besides the great commission. But, if you’ll read Paul’s words carefully, you’ll also notice that the point of those functions is for the building up of the body. Those are the things we do to prepare us to do what we have been built to do.
This is where my concern for the church is exacerbated. This isn’t just a bump in the road for us. There is potential massive decline ahead of us. The baby boomer generation has begun to retire. Generation X is a smaller generation, by number, and have, in large part already left the church. And if we thought the church was struggling now, just imagine how it will be in 10-20 years when many of the boomers are gone. Now is the time to sound the alarm.
This means that our hope (as it has always been) lies solely is in reaching the next generations.
Too many churches have caused too much pain and sent a lot of people away from the church. For those who left because their preferences weren’t being met, I’m not that concerned. But for those who left because they didn’t want to be around those fighting for preference, I am greatly concerned. And as long as we’re focused on fighting to preserve what was relevant for us, we make the gospel and the church all about the preferences of those who are already in. And I don’t see that anywhere in scripture.
May I be frank for a moment and speak to my fellow Christians who are clinging to a means instead of mission? For the sake of the next generation, please let go. Please find it in yourself to become the support for the leaders of today’s church who are trying to reach the church of tomorrow. Don’t make their life miserable by clinging to your means. Make their life joyous by fighting for mission.
And if you’re a leader who is clinging to the means of of the past, for the sake of the mission that you once believed in – the mission that was at one time the passion that drove you to pursue ministry – please either get back on mission or get out of the way. (That may sound a little harsh, but I’m a pastor so I feel a little more freedom to speak sternly to my co-laborers.)
But, the pendulum has swung too far.
Just as the church has been greatly sidetracked by an outdated means of ministry, there is a completely separate faction that has swung to the opposite extreme. The extreme of cool.
Relevance is important. But cool does not equal relevant. Sometimes those are the methods that are relevant. But if the end goal is to be cool and hip, then we’ve lost track of mission too.
All the lights and video in the world will not necessarily make you relevant. If you don’t focus on mission, it doesn’t matter how cool your church is because you won’t be changing lives. You’ll just be attracting a crowd.
And there have been just as many casualties of cool as there were of outdated means. The church has sacrificed a great many souls on the altar of cool. If you are pursuing the coolest thing because that’s what’s cool, you’re not doing much better. And we will drive off just as many people.
What is the answer? How do we regain our influence?
It’s really quite simple. If we want to be heard, if we want to have influence, if we want to see a move of God, all we have to do is what we’ve been told to do. The mission.
We’ve lost our influence because we have exchanged mission for preference. We’ve lost our influence because we’ve sacrificed mission for our own selfish pursuits and pleasures. We are no longer credible because we’ve elevated ourselves over the work that Jesus did. I don’t know about you, but I’m so far from perfect and have made far too many mistakes to be the one who decides what the mission should be. We cannot allow ourselves in our imperfections to overthrow the mission. And if we can’t get back to that, we will never be heard.
Is relevance important? Yes. Is it more important than mission? I don’t think that’s the right question.
The question is, does the great commission require relevance?
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
At first, my answer to that question was, “no.” But upon further study I have found that I was wrong. It’s not explicit in the text, but it is implicit. In a few ways.
1. All authority in heaven and on earth.
If Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, aside from the apparent, could it not also imply that Jesus’ authority coupled with Jesus presence empowers us to accomplish the mission in whatever method is necessary?
I’m not talking sinful methods. I’m not talking manipulative methods. But, within what is useful for building the kingdom, doesn’t Jesus’ authority cover all manner of preference?
2. Make Disciples
What is necessary if you’re going to make disciples? You have to have people to disciple. If the people who are available for us to disciple can only be reached through a method that is different than our own preference, doesn’t that mean we need to change our method to even have the opportunity to disciple them?
Our most important task as followers of Jesus Christ is to make disciples. It is not to make ourselves comfortable. If making disciples requires us to be a little uncomfortable, then our job is set comfort aside so that we may receive the title of “good and faithful servant.”
3. Teach them to obey.
A part of making disciples is teaching. We have to teach people to obey Jesus’ commands. Does this require relevance? Well, have you ever tried to get children to listen to a long lecture? Have you ever tried to teach adults using sock puppets? I have. And because of that, I know that relevance is a requirement of teaching. Even more so if we are teaching for the purpose of obedience. It’s one thing to teach to dispense information. It’s something else entirely to teach for obedience.
I think the gospel is the most relevant message of all time. Its relevance transcends time. Christ died to save sinners. It doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t matter what language you speak. It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you’re a sinner, Christ died to save you.
If the gospel is the most relevant message of all time, why have we worked so hard to disguise it beneath to many layers of personal preference?
How do we save the church?
I hope that’s an alarming statement. It should be alarming because the church technically shouldn’t need to be saved. And yet it does. It needs to be saved from its continued pursuit of tarnishing the gospel of grace with things that have nothing to do with it.
But, the church needs some help.
I could be wrong. Definitely been wrong before. But it just seems that the trend is intensifying and with people not feeling societal pressure to be religious, they wont’ put up with irrelevance for much longer. They’ll just be done.
With the decline we have seen in the church’s influence, we don’t have the luxury of being irrelevant. We coasted for a long time because we had influence. But, those days are gone.
If we are going to change the world we live in, we have to live as those who are different. We have to have been changed by grace. We have to believe in the mission and give our lives for it. Our lukewarmness is what has made us unpalatable to the unbelieving world around us.
I guess the question is, do we believe enough to put mission first? If not, we have some repentance ahead of us.
And if we’re not willing to repent of our preferential ways, we should neither be surprised when our churches shut down.
We don’t get to forsake the mission. The mission is the most important thing. And we must do everything we can to fulfill it. Even if that means giving up things that are precious to us. Even if that means putting our preferences aside. Because, is it really worth holding on to your preference if it keeps someone from hearing the most relevant message of all time?
If we saw the mission of being the church as the most important thing, I don’t think we would care what the means are that we use to share that message. But by either fighting to retain what was relevant to us when we found Christ, but is no longer relevant to current and future generations or by dismissing the need for relevance as worldly we silence our own voice.
The saving grace for the church is to speak up. But not with protests and preferences. The way we speak up is to live out the mission. The way we speak up is to make the great commission the most important thing for us and our churches. Setting preference aside, let us press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.
We live in a world where you can find pretty much everything online. There are archives of all kinds out there. You can hear voices every since there have been devices to record them. Of course, this massive online collection is also filled with billions of hours of meaningless content that makes many of us question our very existence.
And that’s exactly what is motivating these posts.
My grandfather, who passed away in April of 2014, was a preacher. He spent much of his life behind the pulpit in one way or another. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of recordings of him preaching. But we do have some.
Over the next few weeks I plan on sharing those recordings with you. He spent a lot of his life traveling and sharing with churches in revivals. And I’ll be honest with you, I’m hoping that by sharing these with you, there may be others who have recordings of some of his sermons that will dig out those old tapes and share them with me.
Nevertheless, the messages he preached, including this one that was preached over 20 years ago, still have a very timely message for us today.
I encourage you to listen in and let God speak to you!
(The audio starts at about 10 seconds in. Also, early in the recording, for about 30 seconds it will sound like he walks away from the mic, but he gets back quickly.)
How many times have you found yourself in a debate over theology? Maybe you’re not a pastor, so it doesn’t happen that often to you. But it happens pretty often in circles I run in. And my guess is, even if you don’t think you’re having theological discussions on a regular basis, you really are.
There are a lot of different theological views out there. Arminian. Reformed. Calvinist. Lutheran. Catholic. And more.
This may feel controversial to you, but my aim in this post is to convince you that your theology is not the most important thing.
We think it is. And it’s important, for sure. But it’s not the most important thing. We’ve elevated it over the most important thing. We’ve given supremacy to our theology and made the important thing secondary. When our theology should be secondary to the most important thing.
What’s the most important thing? What the Bible ACTUALLY says.
Too often, we approach scripture with our theology colored glasses on. And instead of seeking to understand what the Bible says, our aim is to make the words of scripture fit within our theology.
We wouldn’t admit to this, but that’s exactly what we do.
Our theology tells us something is right or wrong. So, we go to the Bible looking for verses that prove our stance. And we can be successful at finding quite a few of them too.
But, what do we do when we find those verses that don’t prove our stance? This is the prime question.
When something from scripture doesn’t fit with what we believe about our faith, do we adjust our belief or do we try to adjust what the Bible says?
I’m afraid, that more often than not, we adjust what the Bible says to fit within our framework of our theological system.
My challenge to you, the next time you’re reading scripture and you come across a passage that seems to contradict what you believe, read it again. And again. And again. Cross reference. Look up what the words mean in a Bible dictionary. Seek counsel. Ask people who agree with you and people who disagree with you.
And if it doesn’t fit with what you believe. Adjust your belief to the Bible.
Don’t let your theology colored glasses affect how you interpret scripture. Always adjust your theology to what scripture says.
There’s a group of idiots out there. Most of us know who they are. They’re known as Westboro Baptist. They protest everything. They first got their bad rap because they protested the funerals of fallen soldiers. Seems like a great idea right? Let’s protest the people who fight for the right for us to protest.
Now, it seems they protest everything. They’d probably protest Jesus if He was walking on the earth today.
Between their protesting of funerals and LGBT rallies and events, they’ve become pretty disliked amongst a lot of groups of people. They probably argue that Christians aren’t supposed to be liked. They probably think they’re being persecuted for their faith. The reality is, they’re being persecuted for being idiots.
But, that’s not really the reason I’m writing this post. I’m writing this post out of a bit of frustration.
“Why are you frustrated, bro?” (I like to call myself bro, it makes me feel relevant.)
The reason I’m frustrated is that I, as a Christ follower and Bible believer often get lumped into the same category as the Westboro Bigots. And it’s unfair. And inaccurate.
The fact that I believe in the Bible does not make me a fundamentalist. It does not mean I want to thump those who don’t agree with me over the head with my bible. It doesn’t mean I want to protest Gay pride parades and shout hate speech.
But, too often, those of us who believe what the Bible ACTUALLY says are lumped into the category with those who distort its message.
Do I disagree with those who say I must condone beliefs and practices that are counter to what the Bible teaches? Yes. Do I hate them? No. Will I treat those I disagree with in an ungodly and unChristlike fashion? No. In fact, I will do my best to love those who disagree with me as Christ would love them. I may fall short from time to time, just as I fall short at loving those with whom I agree. But, will do my best to love.
So, to lump me in with haters just isn’t fair.
Because of this practice, we have silenced the voices of those who probably understand best what the Bible teaches. And so, those would approach the conversation with love are left in this weird middle place. We don’t agree with the radical Westboro idiots. But, neither do we agree with those who say we must compromise on what the Bible teaches.
I can believe the Bible without being a fundamentalist. In fact, I tend to think there are a lot of problems with fundamentalism. I think there are problems with any view of Christianity that minimizes loving your neighbor to elevate proving your stance.
We cannot form doctrine in response to cultural pressures. We should seek to discover what the Bible says when we are presented with cultural issues, but our aim should seek to discover the truth of God’s word not to react to what we think is wrong because the voices of culture around us are so loud. We should have a passion to know God that drives us to discover every possible way we can apply His truth to our lives and our world.
We must always form doctrine out of the truth the Bible actually speaks. If the Bible doesn’t say it, we cannot infer it. Where the Bible isn’t clear, we cannot insert a definitive statement. We can use our best judgement to say, “The Bible doesn’t make this clear, but my best answer in light of God’s word is…”
And we must be lovers of God and his word so that we can rightfully form a belief system that represents the entirety of God’s thought. Our desire for perfectly logical systems cannot trump what the Bible says and doesn’t say. We cannot approach the Bible to find proof for our way of thinking. We cannot approach the Bible to prove our theoLOGICAL system is the right one. If the bible contradicts our theology, our theology must change.
My hope and aim is to start being a voice of humility, honesty and authenticity in this dialog. And I hope more of us will find the courage to add our voice to this discussion and others like it. Just because we disagree does not mean we are released from our command to love.
And a word to my fellow, non-fundamentalist, Bible believing Christian brothers and sisters. We must first be known by our love. This is how the world will know that we follow Christ, by our love for one another. There is no room for us to begin with hatred and slander. It’s just not an option. Let your life prove wrong those who claim we are haters simply because we disagree. But, we must learn to bring a much needed voice of reason to these crucial conversations. Especially when they are happening within the church. To be silent is not an option. But if we approach our disagreements with humility, honesty and authenticity, we will be able to be a part of the crucial conversations that are going to shape the next generation of Christianity.