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)

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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

Foundations?

“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

Recent events in the United States have served, once again, to show that the historic constitutional foundations of this country are no longer guiding a large part of our society. This seems especially true of many of those in positions of power and responsibility. For those of us who believe that those historic American foundations were absolutely based on the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, this is a very difficult and sad day. The moral law, that undergirded all the presuppositions of the founding generations, has been swept away. The Word of God given to Israel, and then incarnated in the Lord Jesus, has ceased to be a “plumb line” for American life.

This is of course not a new development. It has been steadily happening for many decades. But the pace of this descent into darkness has quickened measurably in these last few years. No one who is concerned for the will of God to be done in our land can be pleased with the unraveling of our basic societal unity, nor with the increasing triumph of wickedness. But what are the Lord’s people to do?

This question has been central in my prayers for my country for many years. I have come to one clear understanding about this situation, and how it came to prevail. The main fault is the church that claims to belong to God.

We have collectively turned away from the Lord and his clear teaching, and we have run after false gods. We have been compromised by our careless attention to the the Word of God, by our general acceptance of unrighteous influences in the newspapers and magazines that we read, the radio and TV we attend to, and the movies we watch. Our consciences have been dulled (if not seared) by a wave of behaviors and speech that are inconsistent with a nation of righteous people. And the church has not called us to the truth. To bear the cost of faithful witness. To accept the backlash and still stand. How did this happen?

The number of professed Christians in the USA is somewhere near 70% of the population, and yet small minorities opposed to God and his Word have taken over almost all of the positions of influence and power in this country. In a majority of the Universities, much of the Media, many of the Legislatures, and large numbers of the schools, and even among many historic churches, unbelievers reign.

I would like to blame others, but I have to accept the blame myself. I have been lulled to sleep by a steady stream of small compromises. I have not stood up. I have not protested. I have been so focused on the things inside the particular places where I was called to serve that I have not noticed the erosion of the moral basis of my nation. I have been a negligent citizen. I have not made the “love of righteous deeds” (Psalm 11:7) my touchstone. And meanwhile my nation has come under the judgment of God.

What can I do? I must repent. What must you do?

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.”