7:12 AM At the end of his biography, Malcolm Muggeridge writes something truly profound. He’s talking about the British government but his words, I think, apply to the current political situation in the U.S.
The Apostle Paul, as usual, was right when he told the early Christians that all earthly authority must be accepted since it could only exist to the degree that it was acceptable to God — that is to say, appropriate. When it ceased to be so, it would collapse.
Think about this. Instead of inviting the polarizing ambiguity of politics into our kingdom fellowships and fighting over what we think Caesar should do (and, of course, our side knows better than your side what government should do), we could stop blaming government for what it is or isn’t doing and partner with whatever other churches are willing to mimic Jesus, forsake privilege and power, and advance the Jesus-looking kingdom. In the spiritual realm, it seems to me that we’re spending a lot of time treating symptoms instead of the disease. An aspirin may remove the symptom but there may well be a more serious cause of the headache. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call attention to symptoms. But the basic trouble is the old self-life that doesn’t consent to identification with Christ.
A lot more could be said (and needs to be said — see my aforementioned book if you’re interested), but this post is already longer than I wanted it to be.
5:18 PMThis afternoon I’ve been watching YouTubes of Malcolm Muggeridge, and one of them merits at least a very brief comment. In it, Muggeridge opines:
To identify Christian hopes with an earthly cause, however ostensibly noble, is disastrous, because all earthly causes end in total disappointment.
It was my reading of Muggeridge (as well as Jacque Ellul) that launched a path that ended up in my book Christian Archy.
Muggeridge (and Ellul) taught me a powerful lesson about God’s work in the world. Participating in political causes as Christians inevitably requires acceptable compromise. That’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t be involved in government or politics. But it’s most certainly not their duty to do so. The most important part of Christian initiation is the new birth, for without the new life that comes to us through conversion, we simply have not begun living out the kingdom of God. Being a Republican or a Democrat has nothing to do with it. What would happen if the church took the words of Muggeridge to heart? What if Christians did what Jesus called them and empowered them to do? I submit we would do more than the combined efforts of all the world’s governments and political parties put together. Sadly, a secular world looks at the church and concludes that the only kind of power most Christians think makes an actual difference is political power. But our job is to manifest God’s scandalous love by using our time, talents, and resources to serve the world.
The one thing I like most about Muggeridge is his call to regeneration. There must always be a surrender to the claims of Jesus. And consequently, there must always be a lifestyle change. Without the new birth, we have good reason to doubt that Christian discipleship has begun. The older I get, the surer I am that this message of Muggeridge’s — this message of the New Testament — needs to be at the very center of our proclamation as followers of Jesus Christ. The new birth is crucial, but it is often muted or absent in churches that are into the maintenance of the chairs on the Titanic. Christianity begins with conversion, a personal encounter with the risen Christ. I thank God that I heard this call to conversion when I was 8 years old. I am well aware that not all are so fortunate.
(April 11, 2019) 7:15 AM I’m no expert on world missions, but by God’s providence I’ve been around the globe a few times. It has been an enormous privilege to minister in many countries. It humbles me to think that I’ve had a front row seat to see the workings of God in many parts of the world. It began in 1978, when Becky and I spent 3 months in West Germany. Some aspects of that trip were ludicrous: I thought I could speak German, but frequently made a fool of myself. I was often corrected ruthlessly. Still, I was privileged to see the Lord’s hand in the work our brass octet did as we traveled the length of breadth of that nation. Even in those early days, I realized that God can take any talent we have and use it for His service. The very evening we arrived in Seeheim after 24 hours of travel, I was asked to usher for a crusade being given in town by Joni Earickson. All I wanted to do was sleep. But I was young, and besides, who could pass up an opportunity to hear Joni speak? Her talk was electric. Such were some of the excitements of ministry in the early days of my life as a missionary of Christ.
Later I began traveling to South Korea to teach. I’ve made 6 such trips. This was my first real exposure to Asian Christianity, and I was fascinated to see the appeal of Jesus to the students I taught. At first I thought I was an abject failure. The students would never look at me when when I lectured. Later I was told that this was a mark of respect in that culture. You learn something new every day. My trips to Korea reinforced my determination to make Christ known wherever in the world I went and as long as I could travel internationally.
I have the happiest of memories of my 17 trips to Ethiopia. Simple to see where Becky grew up made an enormous impression on me. Today, during my lectureship at Piedmont International University, I plan on sharing some stories of our visits to Africa. Our repeated visits to Ethiopia were not without costs: malaria for me, and unspeakable disappoints for Becky. I began turning my attention more to Europe, especially the countries that were once in the Soviet Union. I can’t always recall why I was initially invited to visit Romania or Ukraine, but I was, and I delighted in the fellowship I enjoyed with my brothers and sisters there. I remember well a lectureship I gave for a week in Romania. It began in Oradea and finished up in Bucharest. Midweek I happened to be in Cluj, which my mother’s family of 12 left in 1916 in order to make its way to the U.S. It was a bit embarrassing for me not to be able to speak a word of the language, even though I am half Romanian. But it was wonderful to see the dedication and commitment of young people with had practically nothing, except a deep love for Jesus. When later I returned to Asia (13 further trips), what struck me was the way the new generation of Christians were taking risks for God and seeing fruit. I felt a sense of shame that we in the West are sometimes ignorant of the persecution of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, and I found myself praying that God would fan into flame the small fires of renewal to be found in churches where I live and work in North Carolina and Virginia.
I can’t help but wonder how different how things might have been for me had Becky and I not taken that first trip to West Germany. It’s remarkable to see what the Lord is doing all over the world. And it is remarkable to see more and more North Americans becoming intentional about missions both at home and abroad. This speaks eloquently of the free grace of Christ that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
All this, and more, will be on my heart and mind as I travel to speak at Piedmont. We need Christian centers like this, ready and willing to send forth students into the harvest. There is nothing gimmicky about the Gospel. You just follow King Jesus in obedience and love. I’m convinced that the churches in the Majority World have far more to teach us than we have to teach them. The future of the universal church now lies with them. The growth of the church in Asia, Africa, and Latin America totally eclipses anything in the West. Today I hope to share some of the lessons I’ve learned through my travels to these places. I’ll have the opportunity to pass out complimentary copies of my booklet Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?My appeal to my audience will be as basic as ABC:
Ask God to show you the needs of the people you hope to reach.
Be practical and sacrificial in responding to them.
Commit yourself to action.
There is nothing iconoclastic about the Great Commission. Partnership is the key word. We have a long way to go in our churches in America, but the job can be done provided we are prepared to make sacrifices of our time, prayer, finances, and commitment.
Thanks for reading,
Radu Gheorghita, a Romanian-American who teaches New Testament at Midwestern Seminary, served as my translator during my lectureship in Romania.
Here I’m trying to give my best impression of Count Dracula since we’re standing in front of his castle in Transylvania.
(4/6/2019) 7:45 AM The theme of my lectureship at Piedmont International University next week is “Proclaiming the Faith.” This was the theme given to me by the administration, and I’m utterly delighted with it. I’m determined to stay within the 30-minute time limit I have for the Thursday and Friday sessions, though I do have an entire hour to speak over the lunch break on Thursday. In due course I’ll post my Power Points here. I think one of the best ways we can nurture young Christians is through missions training. It enables them to share in the spreading of the Good News and see it take deep root in their own lives. But it needs to be modeled in their own churches and in the lives of their pastors. All Christians are called to serve the Lord, whether in the land of their birth or in ministry overseas (or both). It’s in serving the Lord through serving others that we develop spiritual muscles. We can serve Him through deeds of compassion or cheerful acts of helpfulness in the workplace or through undaunted witness but mostly, I think, through conforming our lives to His. Love shows itself in a myriad of ways. But if it’s going to attract anybody to the Master, it must embody that practical care for others that characterized the life of Jesus.
Just a brief word about my lecture last week in my NT class, which centered on the history and theology of Pentecostalism and the question of the sign gifts and their use (or nonuse) today. As I mentioned in class, I’m not fond of the term “Charismatic Movement” for the simple reason that all evangelicals — whether Charismatic with a capital “C” or not — are or ought to be charismatic in the sense that we all believe the Holy Spirit is given to equip us for service and mission, for love and worship. The Holy Spirit can’t be muzzled or contained. He blows where He wills. And we should celebrate that. The Charismatic Movement is a challenge to unbelief and intellectualism in the church. A true movement of the Holy Spirit always combines intellect and charism, knowledge and power. Not some but all are called to serve. We all have a ministry to perform. And, as the Book of Acts shows, the Spirit is given primarily for witness-bearing. All Christians have a story to tell, and the Holy Spirit is given to fuel our story-telling until we become enthusiastic witness-bearers. Even if we believe, as I do, that the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” refers to our initial encounter with the life-giving Spirit of God, we still need His love and power for continued witness and service. I know from sad personal experience that it’s possible to possess the Spirit of God and not be led by the same Spirit. One example will suffice, and that is prayer. Prayer is the believer’s lifeline to God, but prayer is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Rom. 8:26-27). We can’t achieve anything in the service of God unless we are open to the living God acting and working in our lives, and yet how abysmal is my prayer life so often. I don’t know about you, but at least once a day I have to invite the Holy Spirit to full me afresh with His power for holiness and service.
Any believer who does not do that regularly is doomed to powerlessness and ineffectiveness. I fear that much of our trouble goes back to over-intellectualism in our classrooms. A radical reform of theological education is one of the most urgent tasks of the church if it is to provide leaders whom people are willing to follow.