Thinking Through The Four Observations— Observation #2. (by Jon Shuler)

Believing that the Word of God is true.

Astute readers will know why this second observation is directly related to the first. Since the period of history known as the Enlightenment, educated men have undermined faith in the Word of God as true. This began in the 18th century, with non believers, but by the late 19th century it had deeply penetrated most of the institutions that trained Christian leaders in the West. By the late 20th century, many in the older historic families of the church were being led by men who no longer believed the Word of God could be trusted. “Modern” thought had shown its (so they said) many errors. At least by 1950 in the West, if not sooner, men and women who did not believe in and follow the clear teaching of Jesus and his apostles, as revealed in Holy Scripture, were leading and training the next generation of church leaders. The Enemy of all that is good and true was having a field day. The church entered into precipitous decline.

It is in times like these that a few dear saints of God cry out to heaven for mercy. Please God renew in our day what our Fathers have told us you did in days gone by. Faithful witnesses call down the consuming fire of heaven to burn away what has become corrupt, and purify what is called to be holy. And in the fulness of time God acts.

When God begins to move in power, and Holy Spirit reformation of the church begins, it is always in the places where God’s clear Word is being trusted, and the preaching and teaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is coming back to the center. When the truth of the gospel “as it is in Jesus” is restored to the heart of the church’s life, the church begins to grow. And that growth is seen in the lives of humble folk who kneel before their Lord in repentant faith and are born again of the Spirit of God. Obeying the Word of God begins to be their desire, because they love him who is the Word of God incarnate. A new day of reformation dawns when leaders begin to be moved to that repentance, and submit afresh to Jesus as he is revealed in the Word of God.

Of course such men are usually accused of breaking the rules, or not being faithful to the traditions of their denomination, or of being enemies of God. But they know something has happened in their hearts that has called them back to their first love. Or they have at last become truly converted men. In either case, they are brought under the sovereignty of the Word of God written, and they begin to be used for the spread of the kingdom of God. That kingdom and his righteousness becomes what they seek first. They are no longer in thrall to the traditions of men.

The darkness begins to be penetrated, when those days come, and the light of Christ Jesus begins to shine in heart after heart, congregation after congregation, and community after community. The gospel of Christ Jesus begins to change the culture of those places where it is preached and lived. A reformation from God has begun. Times of refreshing have come.

 

Next Week: Observation #3 – Believing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people.

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Thinking Through The Four Observations (by Jon Shuler)

Observation #1 – Leaders Are Rarely Seminary Trained.

When true reformation comes to the church of Jesus Christ, it always disrupts the ordinary way things have recently been done. It is part of the very nature of reformation that it only comes because many things have gone wrong. God is intervening because many of his people, and their leaders, have grown cold in the face of these errors. God intervenes to put things right. But in times like these God always has to raise up leaders who will turn their face toward him, and obey what he asks of them – whatever the consequences. This pattern has been seen in all of Church History.

Understanding this reality, goes a long way to helping us to understand the first observation from last week’s post. Reformation almost always begins through the leadership of men not sharing the currently accepted and “normal” way of being trained to lead. They are often outsiders, not thinking the way the majority think. They do not see the current situation the way those in authority see it.

This phenomena may manifest itself in one of two ways. The first of these, and most common, is God raises up leaders trained on a different path than those currently leading. An example from ancient history is the bishop of Rome known as Gregory the Great. Gregory was a Benedictine Monk, and a part of an order founded by St Benedict of Nursia, who died in AD 547. Benedict had established (we would say planted) thirteen small monasteries before he died, all of which were outside of the Catholic authority and leadership structures of their day. Yet in AD 590 one of his followers, Gregory, was made bishop of Rome, and inaugurated a season of lasting reform whose influence is still felt in 2019. He was trained outside the ordinary structures.

The second way this phenomena manifests itself is through a leader trained in the way common in his day, but who has experienced what he believes to be a direct intervention of God in his life. God has shown him a different way for the church to be guided and shaped. When truly God inspired, this leads him, and those who follow him, back to revealed truth already given to the church but neglected or obscured in his own lifetime. He leads in a way outside the “accepted norms,” but consistent with the Word of God. He is a reformer. Thomas Cranmer was such a man. So was John Wesley.

For at least the last 200 years, if not longer, the Western Seminary system has taught men to be men of the mind. To be scholars. It has neglected the formation of the whole man: heart, mind, soul, and strength, putting the Lord Jesus second after knowledge. This has separated many leaders from their people, and has communicated (often unintentionally) to the flock of God that they “do not know enough” to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. They must read more. They must study more. They must have more classes, more programs, more guidance. They must have “expert” instruction to be good Christians. It does not put obeying the Lord Jesus first. It screens out reformation.

 

Next Week: Observation #2 – Believing that the Word of God is True.

Principles for a New Reformation? (by Jon Shuler)

Some years ago I accused a dear brother of not believing in “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” which we both say we “believe in” every time we recite the Nicene Creed. His response to me was: “I believe in it. I just don’t think you can organize it on earth.” That day I disagreed. Now, on the basis of a long journey of intentionally trying to follow Jesus, I think I believe his answer was correct. But I remain a part of an historic church that I was called by the Lord to serve, and I remain loyal to that call, so what do I do if I believe a new reformation must come?

As a global missionary I have sometimes seen the hand of God move in power by the Holy Spirit, and everywhere I have seen that grace, or heard about it, there are a four things that always seem to be present. So let me posit that these things might need to be in place if there is to be a new reformation in our day. I am persuaded these observations might point us to some foundational principles.

First, and perhaps surprisingly to some of my readers, when true reformation comes the senior leadership of the existing church has usually not been trained in the traditional seminary system of the West. It is not that the leaders are uneducated, but that they are free from many of the cultural blinders that generally are placed over the eyes of men trained (usually in an historic tradition) in a Western rationalist way.

Second, the senior leadership of the church believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, are true. They believe the Word of God written has come to them from the hand of God. They believe they are bound to submit to it.

Third, the senior leadership believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Absolutely true for all people, at all times and in all places. No people or culture is to be neglected. For these leaders obedience to God’s Word as revealed in Jesus Christ is always the final court of appeal.

And fourth, the local church – when true reformation breaks out – is organized on the basis of small gatherings of believers, which exist for the purpose of making disciples who can make disciples. They are not for fellowship, alone, nor for teaching, alone, but for the primary purpose of equipping every believer to be a disciple-making follower of Christ Jesus.

So if, after hearing these four things, someone then asks: What happens when the current senior leadership of the church are confronted with these things?” I would ask that person: “What happened when Jesus confronted the religious leadership of his day?” Those who ask usually have the answer, but they rarely are attracted to the conclusion.

If there is to be true reformation in existing churches, the senior leadership must repent.

 

Next Week: Thinking Through The Four Observations.