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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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.”