The Inner Life of the Leader — Part III (by Jon Shuler)

The Sovereignty of God was not much discussed in the Anglican world I grew up in, but I have come to hold to that doctrine as I have grown older in the faith of Jesus Christ. Mercifully, as a child, I was surrounded by Episcopalians who were true believers, even though they were weak in the knowledge of how to share their faith in words. They were ill equipped to stand against the waves of false teaching that began to buffet them in the 1960’s, however, and I suffered for their lack.

But from them, and even more from the words of the Book of Common Prayer (1928) that I heard every Sunday, prevenient grace affected my life. I did learn that there really was a moral right and wrong. I did learn to have an intellectual belief that the Christian Faith was true. But I did not live up to the moral teaching or know how to defend that faith. When I fell in love with a woman who held fast to those moral teachings, I determined to live by them. That determination led me into the arms of God, when I failed miserably to be able to live what they taught. I know now it was all of grace.

Later the stirrings of a call to ordination emerged in me, and I went to see my childhood rector. He took me to the bishop of the diocese, who sent me to the Standing Committee. They tentatively approved me, and I was sent to a psychiatrist, and finally I was recommended as a Postulant for Holy Orders. The bishop arranged for me to go to the most liberal seminary in the Episcopal Church, but I asked if I could study in England. I had some the notion England would be better. He agreed, and I was spared. Not once in the entire sequence of events was I asked to explain my personal faith.

By God’s good grace, I found myself in an Evangelical Church of England Theological College that held to and taught the faith that once the whole Church of England proclaimed. That faith which laid the first foundations of the Episcopal Church in this country, and contributed to the spread of that faith worldwide. The men and women who taught me in that college helped me to truly know Christ Jesus as my Savior and Lord.

In 1973 when I was about to be ordained, I asked for a preacher who would proclaim the true gospel. Because he was from another diocese, and unknown in mine, the request was granted. That day, after the service, my childhood rector asked the preacher to lay hands on him and pray that he might receive the Holy Spirit, but within a few short years my rector took his own life. My home parish and diocese covered it up.

What happened to those of us who grew up in that leadership culture? The answer is painful but clear: we did not learn the true faith. We did not understand, most of us, what distinguished between a formal faith and a true heart faith. We went off to college, the Navy, the Army, careers, and marriages with no real grasp of the Truth of the Gospel. As the church of our childhood moved further and further away from its historic moorings, most of us ceased to be part of any organized parish or congregation. The tragedy I mentioned several weeks ago played itself out.

 

Next Week: Preaching that is True

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The Inner Life of the Leader (Part II) (by Jon Shuler) 

Something happened after World War II in the American church. There was a marked increase of men going in to the ordained ministry who believed themselves called to take care of people. They wanted to be leaders of the Flock of Christ, and they wanted to be part of historic Christian Denominations. But in many of these men one thing was lacking: the conviction that the Holy Scriptures were trustworthy and true.

They were faithful to the traditions and patterns of their denominations, by and large, but they were trained in such a way as to believe they must modernize the faith if it was to make sense to “modern people.” They might have occasionally referred to “the faith once delivered to the saints,” but they considered themselves on a mission to bring the church to a more enlightened place in modern society. Some even believed that Jesus of Nazareth was Savior and Lord, but they increasingly couched this in non biblical theological terms, and philosophical presuppositions that were not Christian.

Many of the most gifted of these men made their way into mainline Theological Seminaries. By the middle of the 1950’s some of them were becoming ever more influential, and they sent out an increasing tide of men who shared their outlook and presuppositions. During the 1960’s they decimated the body of true believers in those denominations they came to dominate. In the Episcopal Church the evidence begins to be irrefutable after 1965. From that day to this, the number of practicing Christians among them has been in continuous decline. Only God knows who among them are true believers, for surely a remnant remains.

One of these men was the rector of my childhood parish. I respected him, and even can say I grew to admire him in my adolescence, but he did not teach me the fundamentals of the faith. He taught me about the church, and her history, and her traditions. As the years of his rectorship stretched out he became more and more a teacher of religion, and less and less a teacher of the Christian Faith.

There was a saving grace in those years, however, as the liturgical life of the parish kept words and sacraments before the congregation that bore witness to the Truth. A believing person could worship regularly, pay little attention to the preaching, and hold fast to the historic Faith and Order of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, as it had come to us through the 16th century Reformation. But if that person was not discipled to seek the truth in the words of Jesus, and the teaching of his apostles, he or she was becoming more and more vulnerable to the slow erosion of true faith in the congregation. The church was less and less understanding itself as submitted to Christ.

It was in this environment that those born after WWII were being raised, and were being bombarded by an ever increasing cultural tide of unbelief, in the church and outside of it. These children were attending the services of the church, they were being sacramentally confirmed, but they were not coming to saving faith. I was one of them.

 

 

Next Week: The Inner Life of the Leader (Part III)

The Inner Life of the Leader (Part I) (by Jon Shuler)

It is clear from the New Testament itself that the quality of leadership in the church was of very real concern to the Lord Jesus and the Apostles. The people of God needed good and godly leaders. Those who saw clearly and rightly were to guide the flock. The sheep needed good shepherds. The blind must not lead or those who follow will go astray. And most importantly of all, hypocrites and deceivers must not lead.

Confusion and misunderstanding among leaders will of course occur. During our Lord’s lifetime on earth, his chosen apostles were often uncomprehending. But godly leaders, when they are in error, are correctable.

Sometimes the correction is a direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. A man prayerfully is reading the scriptures and the Word of God comes alive to him in searing conviction. And that conviction leads to repentance. Or, less frequently but no less effectively, the Holy Spirit speaks directly to the mind and heart of the one in error. Another time the prophetic word of correction comes from a beloved spouse or friend. It can even come from a random event or word that the Spirit uses to pierce the soul. The mark of the faithful leader in every case is always seen in the leader’s response: conviction, followed by repentance.

The early church developed patterns of corporate correction based on the teaching of Jesus. Obeying the Lord one believer was to go to another. Pastoral leaders were to correct errant members of the flock of God in their charge. Beyond this, a universal pattern emerged to maintain unity in the faith between congregations and to correct errors of behavior or doctrine. A threefold order of ministry gave structural connection to the one body of Christ. Boundaries of right belief were defined by creeds and councils. But always these ordered patterns and boundaries were to uphold the teaching of the Lord Jesus and his apostles, not to overturn it. The New Testament became the final form of that teaching, with irrefutable and supreme authority.

For many centuries the church was united, in East and West, around these clear foundational structures. Whenever conflict arose, the leaders met to pray and seek reconciliation. Decisions made were spread among the faithful, and gradually a body of church law emerged. Based on biblical principles and precedents, this development became the standard by which all were judged. Most particularly those set apart to lead.

Our Fathers at the Reformation, after centuries of gradual erosion and careless neglect in the church in England, restored this ancient framework to guard the truth of the gospel. To be a church that truly submits to Christ. This is our Anglican heritage.

But what happens when ordained leaders proclaim publicly what they do not believe inwardly? What happens when the inner spiritual life of the leader of the congregation is not congruent with their outward profession?

Next Week: The Inner Life of the Leader (Part II)

What Has Happened? (by Jon Shuler)

My maternal grandfather was a believer and a churchman. He would never miss Sunday Services unless he was ill. He sang in the choir. He read his bible. He said his prayers. He lived an honorable life, loving and providing for his wife and children. He loved his neighbors. He was a good citizen. But he never discussed his faith with his grandchildren, so far as I know.

My maternal grandmother was a believer. She loved the Lord Jesus. She prayed and read her bible every day. In her widowhood, which lasted nearly twenty years, she could be found most mornings with her bible open on the kitchen table. When I came home from my theological training and first parish curacy in England, she always wanted to talk to me about the things of God. I treasure those memories.

All three of their children attended church most Sundays for as long as they lived. But what of their grandchildren?

There were seventeen of us grandchildren, and at the present time I am only aware of five of us who are active in the life of any church. There may be more, but I am not sure. What I do know to be true is that an active life in a typical local church does not equate to saving faith. And saving faith will not come without hearing and understanding the gospel. Keeping religious habits is not saving faith. More than five may be true believers, but I do not know.

What I do know is that the gospel was not frequently heard and understood in my home church growing up. What was heard were the beautiful cadences of an ancient liturgy. A liturgy, which if understood, communicated the gospel. But only if understood.

The sermons? They were refined, and intellectually stimulating. They urged us to good deeds, and right thoughts. They taught us “what the church teaches.” We became well aware that “we were different” from most Protestants, because we were walking in the patterns of the ancient church – without the tyranny of a distant pope, or the errors of extreme bible thumpers.

What we were not taught, with any consistency, is that what defines a Christian is a true personal faith in Jesus Christ, as that is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. We were not helped to see that true faith is a matter of the heart, of the Holy Spirit. True faith can not be hidden. When true faith comes, a person is born again of the Spirit of God.

Where did this tragedy begin? What happens in a family with faithful parents, when so many of the grandchildren fall away from the faith?

No man can give a full answer, but the history of God’s people is illustrative. Again and again Holy Scripture reveals that such error begins with leaders.

 

Next Week: The Inner Life of the Leader


For more information about Rev. Jon Shuler, his ministry and teaching, please visit: jonshuler.com

Who Is A Christian? 

This is such a simple question, but so difficult for many to answer.

Churchmen will immediately answer: Someone who is baptized. But the fathers of the reformation would disagree. They preached (quoting the Apostle) that that person is a Christian who “professes with his lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believes with his heart that God raised him from the dead.” That man is a born again man. That man can enter the kingdom of God. That man should be baptized, but that does not make him a Christian. The Holy Spirit makes him a Christian, or he is not one. This was the doctrine for which men and women died in the Sixteenth Century. This was the doctrine that turned the whole of Western Europe upside down, just as it had turned the First Century upside down.

The fathers of the Reformation, when they had the God-given opportunity, rewrote the documents of the church of their day. They brought the teaching of the apostles to the fore. Especially the teaching of the apostle Paul. They rewrote hymns, prayers, liturgies, covenants, wills, and bibles to make a few things absolutely clear. They unseated kings and rulers. They removed teachers of theology and schoolmasters. They were absolutely persuaded that the good news of Jesus Christ had been obscured and must be brought again into the light. And as they did this work, many in the organized church of their day attacked them. The Reformers found that their fiercest enemies were men who called themselves Christians.

Students of the New Testament will point out to me, perhaps, that the name “Christian” was not given by Jesus. He called his followers his “disciples.” It was observers who called them “those people who follow Chrestus,” Christians, and it stuck for a hundred generations.

But what does it mean today? What does the average person think it means when someone says they are a Christian? At least in the West?

There is one way to find out. Ask some people you know or meet. See what answers you get.

If they are church people you will get a set of answers that almost always will be about religious behavior. If they are unbelievers, they will soon tell you that Christians are of all people the least attractive they know.

If you doubt this talk to the people who serve in restaurants at mid-day on Sunday.

 

Next Week: What Has Happened?

 

[ If this post moves you, please contact Joel or Jon at info@jonshuler.com ]

What Can One Man Do? 

When the problem seems so big, what can one man do? If the whole Western Church is sliding into irrelevance in its own culture, as it surely is, what can make a difference?

Faithful obedience.

It is absolutely true that we can make no lasting change in anyone else, but we can decide to walk down the path of grace our Lord Jesus Christ puts before us. The words of our Lord to Peter after the resurrection should help us if we will but notice. When Peter wanted to know God’s plan for John. Jesus clearly called him out: “What is that to you? You follow me.” Nothing else matters. “You follow me.”

So what comes after hearing this?

No one finds it easy, but what comes next must be repentance. I must face the truth that I am not walking in the truth I say I believe. It is not her problem, or his problem that is holding me back, it is mine. I am the sinner. I am the one made for God’s glory yet squandering my inheritance on dozens of things that will pass away. I am neglecting the elementary obedience of a brand new disciple. I am not making time to be with the Lord on a daily basis. I am not yearning for his word to so abide in me that it guides my every thought, my every action. I am not sacrificing myself for others. I am not loving as he loves me.

One man beginning to ask God to make this change in him, this change in his daily life, crying out to God with sincerity for the grace of the Holy Spirit to come and reorient his mind and heart, that man will begin to make a difference. But will anyone notice?

For a time, only those nearest to him. And usually their notice will not be to encourage him. He will find that his enemies will perhaps be in his own household. Or in his own fellowship group. They may well be in his local church.

Why?

Because the majority of those who say they love the Lord are not following him with anything like their whole heart, mind, and soul. Their strength is given to other things. And no man wants to face it! Surely you don’t understand my life, he will say. My commitments, my responsibilities, my duties, my principles have taken the best of my time and treasure.

And the Lord Jesus says to that man: “Am I really your Lord?”

Next: Who is a Christian?

 

[ If this post moves you, please contact Joel or Jon at info@jonshuler.com ]

A Living Path of Grace  (by Jon Shuler)

When I became a serious follower of Jesus Christ, those around me encouraged me to follow the traditional patterns they had inherited from their ancestors in the faith. There was not a single voice suggesting that new paths might need to be forged. Almost no one seemed to be aware of the changes that were sweeping over the Christian community of the Western World.

I was concerned, however, by several signs.

The church of my birth was retreating from the clear teaching of its Lord. Strong currents were moving that I believed would shake the very foundations of historic Christianity, but no one I knew seemed to realize it. Or if they did, they seemed to be unaware of the power of these movements. If a few good men continued in the old ways “all would be well,” or so they seemed to think.

I now look back and see that my own ministry path led me into this same seduction. I thought renewal for the church required only a conference here, a good book there, bold preaching in key resource parishes, and a few good bishops committed to Jesus. Add in a handful of senior pastors cooperating, and all would begin to change. I truly thought “the denominational ship” could be redirected toward the light of the truth as it is in Jesus.

How foolish I was.

For more years than I am pleased to remember I applied my efforts to influencing the national leadership through the structured governing organizational components. Conventions, resolutions, committees, politics, positions of power.

How mistaken I was.

Forces I can only now describe as “principalities and powers” where more adept than I in that battleground. Moving the traditions of men off center, and restoring the pure word of God to its rightful place as our primary source of authority, was not going to prevail. No matter the need. At local, national, and international levels, it was always the same. The traditions of men, I found, were more tenacious than obedience to the Word of God. In 1994 I gave up on that approach.

So what do I believe is the way forward now?

Nothing can sway my conviction that God must come down. God must show us a new living path of grace. The church must return to Jesus. She must repent. God must again be given the governance. If God does not restore us we are lost.

Next Week: What Can One Man Do?