An Easter Pause/Easter Hope​​ (by Jon Shuler​​​)

Many religious scholars in the West have made much of the assertion that the early Christians were mistaken about the great Second Coming of the Lord. They expected him to return again in their lifetime, so it is said, and were disappointed in the failure for that to happen. Jesus was wrong they imply. Paul was wrong they declaim. Though Jesus himself told his disciples that only the Father knew when that day would come, these pundits discount that central truth.

Many, if not most, of these same scholars go on to undermine other parts of the early church’s testimony, and in the process have sown great confusion and doubt in the minds and hearts of those whose faith is only notional. It is a tragic reality that for at least several lifetimes many Western scholars have specialized in destroying biblical faith, at least among those whose faith is second hand. But it has not affected those with a living and true faith. Men and women who have met the Risen Jesus Christ need no scholar to support them. They know what God has wrought in the coming of Jesus Christ, and they know they have been drawn into the joyful mystery of Resurrection Life. They know a truth no doubter can remove. They have a joy no quisling can destroy. They have a hope that will never disappoint. They are successors to the first believers.

Easter became, almost immediately, the defining event for all who followed in the way of the Master. To join in the triumphal train of believers was to become part of an Easter People. Sunday became, and remains, for true believers a “little Easter” because always the gospel of the Cross and Resurrection is re-presented. First in word and preaching, and then in the sublime mystery of the sacramental coming of the Risen Lord. Every believer kneeling at the Table of the Lord experiences Easter again.

But does this weekly coming take the place of that Great Day?

It was certainly to be expected that many, perhaps most, would hope that indeed Jesus Christ would return to take his bride home in the lifetime of the first disciples, but it was never taught as doctrine. The central focus on the Lord’s Day as the day of Resurrection, and the consistent experience of the Lord’s presence, did not diminish that confident faith that the Day of Resurrection would one day come for all believers.

Every gathering of faithful since the first Easter always includes the clear and unmistakable news that a day of triumph is coming. The One who came in humility “will come again in power and great glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” Easter Hope is not extinguished, but fanned into bright flame week by week in the company of those who know the Lord Jesus. The Lord who taught them that he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life also taught them that he would come again to take them home.

Whether in this life, or after earthly death, the Easter Hope will be fulfilled among the saints who are in Christ Jesus. Easter Hope is a certainty.
Next Week: Recapping the First Five Principles for Reformation

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An Easter Pause/Easter Joy​ (by ​Jon Shuler​​​)

She was a typical undergraduate at the University of Durham. Well mannered and kind, eager to belong and pleasant company for all who knew her. But she was not a believer.

Another member of her college brought her along to an evening bible study fellowship that met at our flat. As was our custom we sang and praised the Lord for a good while, before cracking open the Word of God together. As the session was drawing to a close we asked if anyone wanted particular prayer, and quietly and reverently we had a time of ministry with those who said “yes.”

As most of the students were leaving Anne (for that was her name) lingered. Did she want to talk about something? “I want the reality I saw tonight,” she said, so a few of us prayed for her to receive Christ Jesus as her Savior and Lord. There were no fireworks, only a deep sense of God’s presence. She seemed to go into a kind of trance, with the most glorious smile on her face. For the next several hours – yes hours – all she did was walk about with a radiance on her face which remains as vivid today, in memory, as it was so stunningly present all those years ago. She entered into Easter Joy. The Risen Lord had come to her. She became a partaker of the promise of the Father for all who believe. Unquenchable joy was now her inheritance in fact.

Joy unspeakable was the most distinguishing mark of the early community of believers. Every sorrow and sadness that had characterized them only hours before vanished in their joy. The One they loved was alive and among them. The grave could not hold him. Death had no more dominion over him. God had vindicated his life and ministry. His words were true. All that he had taught them was from the throne of God. The life that created all things could not be defeated. And this life, this risen life he revealed to them in his glorified body, was to be given to them too, by the power of the Father. As he had promised, like a mother’s joy after the birth of her child, the fulness of joy was now to be theirs. There would never be a normal day again. Heaven had broken in to their lives.

This was the testimony of the early disciples, wherever they went. This was news so amazing, so divine, that it demanded their lives be conformed to this joy. And wherever they went, and shared it, some of those who heard received the truth, and entered in.

How then can the church in the West be in such a state of confusion and decline? The question can only be given one answer: the truth of Easter is not believed by many, and the joy of Easter has not captured their heart, mind, and soul. They are not living the reality of the gospel. The truth of Easter is not being preached and taught. The truth of Easter is not being lived. The truth of Easter is not being imparted to a new generation. If Easter Truth is not at the center of the church’s life, there will be no Easter Joy. But where it is lived joy unspeakable will break out.

Next Week: An Easter Pause/Easter Hope

An Easter Pause/Easter Truth​​​ (by Jon Shuler​​​)

Undergirding every principle that can serve as a new building block for the renewing of the life of the Western Church, is the central truth of Easter. Unless the Resurrection is believed and lived there can be no living community of Christian faith. There may be buildings with ever diminishing attendance, but there will be no “turning the world upside down” as happens when the grace of heaven falls in power.

The church of Jesus Christ is not a collection of people who enjoy a certain way of worshipping, nor who share common ethnic backgrounds or human interests. It is a gathering of those who believe that “Jesus Christ is Alive.” He is not dead, though he was crucified, died, and was buried. He was raised on the third day by the power and authority of God Almighty. The tomb was empty. He is alive and changing the world in this very moment. To know him as alive by the power of the Holy Spirit is to participate now in the breaking in of the everlasting kingdom of God. It is to be forever changed.

It was the glorified Christ who met the first disciples in the midst of their confusion and grief. It was the “First Born From the Dead” who spoke with them, and supped with them, and illuminated their understanding, and sent them out to change the world. The sin of the First Adam was undone by the obedience of the Second Adam, and all who would ever believe in him and follow would be drawn into his resurrected life. Even though they die, yet shall they live.

From a handful of disciples on the first Sunday of the Resurrection the number of followers grew day by day. Now they are on every continent and in almost every nation, and encompass over one third of all those alive today. The church may be suffering in some places, but she is growing wonderfully in others. Resurrection life is awakening one dead soul after another, and where she is growing men and women are discovering the central truth of the gospel. Jesus Christ is no longer in the grave, he is Risen. The tomb is empty. The Good News of the gospel has come to them. And that gospel is the Gospel of Truth, not opinion.

When “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is proclaimed, the full story of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection is preached to all who can hear. It is preached as truth, because it is the Truth. The one who came among us was – and is – “the way, the truth, and the life” by which all creation will be restored. There is no other gospel. There is no other Lord.

Those of us praying for a new dawn for the church in our land live in this truth. Nothing can take it from us. It has come to live in our hearts. It possesses our mind. It owns our being. The Risen Lord Jesus Christ abides in us and with us.

Next Week: An Easter Pause/ Easter Joy

Expounding The 12 Principles; 2 (by Jon Shuler)

2) The Principle of Work.

The clear example of the Lord Jesus must always be our guide, along with his word. His life and teaching set us the example that we are to live, by the grace of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit. He shows us, and has told us, that his food was to do the Father’s will. He was sent to accomplish the Father’s work.

The same is meant to be true of us who are followers of Jesus. A disciple has work to do that no one else is called to do. Our work is particular and specific. God has prepared it for us.

The Apostle tells us that we were created for particular good works, prepared by God for us to walk in. This is not an idle claim, but one of the deepest truths of the outworking of the gospel. God has not made a mistake in creating us, nor in redeeming us, and it is part of that redemption that we enter into our life’s work as he purposes it for us. The ancient way of expressing it is that we are to give ourselves to “our vocation.” This is our calling, and we will all give an account for it at the judgment.

Because this is so, a believing and obedient disciple cannot long watch others in their service and ministry without entering in to their own. They must pray and struggle to clarify the particulars, with the help of others who love the Lord and love them, but the particular is what they must seek. ‘What is my calling Lord Jesus?’

Many will not come to this quickly after conversion, but some will. The sooner the better for the work of the kingdom. Remaining on the sidelines is inexcusable if delayed by lethargy and sloth, or by alibis and excuses. To be a disciple of Jesus requires a single hearted devotion to the Lord’s will and purpose for ‘me.’ Discipleship has a cost.

How then does this become true in my life? How do I find the work that I am to do? The church that submits to Christ is my helper, but the Lord alone must guide and clarify. He speaks to those who truly follow him. In the early days of ones discipleship there will be trial and error, almost always. And there will be times of discouragement and even significant error. But the mistaken or fallen one must get up. The way of repentance and faith is lifelong, yet the Lord will never “leave or forsake” those who love him.

In many Western churches the work of the body is done by only a few. The majority are expected ‘to attend, to give, and to go home.’ Rare today is a historic congregation with even 20% of its membership mobilized according God’s calling, and thus the effectiveness of the witness of these churches is often minimal.

True disciples cannot let this be so of them. They find their calling, and give themselves to the specific work the Lord Jesus has for them. Nothing less will do.

Next Week: The Principle of Being Sent.

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

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

50 Years And Counting

This post first appeared at NAMSnetwork.com on 20 March 2018:

It was a Sunday. The third week of Lent that year. I was sitting not too far from the pulpit, to the right of Cynthia my wife, in the little Church of the Advent in Cynthiana, Kentucky. It was the 17th of March. Then I heard a “voice” inside my self. It spoke to me with an authority that was absolute. “You are meant to be a priest.”

Had I been a member of any other tradition, I might have heard the appropriate title: pastor, preacher, minister. But what I heard I heard. I knew instantly that my calling was to serve the Lord Jesus Christ as a leader in his church.

It seems almost impossible to me to be reflecting on that day fifty years later, but I am. I have just finished a wonderful prayer retreat with seven other men, and God has graciously used the time to encourage and teach me (as he did us all) of his love and grace. And I am as eager to follow where he leads now as I was on that day so many years ago, perhaps more eager. The Lord Jesus has taught me that “in quiet and rest is my strength,” but it is not so I may be permanently still, resting in his grace, but to be renewed for service. To go where he needs me, to be available when he needs me, to do what he asks me.

When my late departed mother heard of my calling so many years ago, she spontaneously uttered a Prayer Book phrase she had prayed since she was a child: “his service is perfect freedom.” A lifetime has taught me that truth. To know God’s will and to begin to walk in it is the most wonderful freedom. It is not always easy, but it is most wonderfully free.

Yet how does this freedom to serve work out in the eighth decade of ones life? How are we to continue to be of use when the world begins to need us less and less, and our bodies begin their inevitable decay?

Long ago I heard an old missionary pastor say: “As long as God has work for me to do, I cannot die.” How I have cherished that saying. If I am alive, there is work for me to do that the Lord requires of me. Not someone else, me. It may be only to live a life of hidden prayer for one person, it may be to write and teach for another, to love and care for an incapacitated spouse, or to simply cooperate with the Lord in the disciple-making journey with a few friends for yet another. But there is always an assignment. A unique and personal one.

Are you seeking to hear the Lord’s voice for the rest of your days? Do you know what he has asked of you, in your uniqueness? Not “then”, but “now”?

Only the Lord Jesus knows our days, but know them he does. We are his workmanship, created for his glory.

How beautiful to hear him still saying: “Follow me.”