"And He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." Matthew 13:58
Somewhere along the way our Christian churches of the Western world have lost our God-given power and initiative. The evidence of it is all around us. We have become distracted and side-tracked with issues and tasks that are not of primary biblical importance, and we have quietly drifted into the position of becoming the hunted instead of the hunter.
Our influence upon our American culture has declined to the point that we are afraid to speak the name of God in public or even to expect the general public to understand that abortion on demand is murder and that homosexuality is a crime in the eyes of God. The countries of Europe are far ahead of us in this decline and retreat, but we here in America are well on our way. The handwriting is on the wall, but regretfully we are not reading it.
What we are doing is trying to stir ourselves up by renewing our purpose, and so we pursue every application of "practical Christianity" we can find, hoping to become "purpose driven" Christians once again. Is it working for us? No, it is not working well because the problem is not in our dedication, in our purpose nor in our practicality. The problem is in our theology. Our understanding of who God is and what He is like has become seriously flawed, as well as our understanding of His mission for us, and without that we are fast becoming sounding brass only.
How did these conditions come to exist? Well, if we look around us and also backward at our historical Christian record the answer should be very plain indeed. There are three major voids that have come to exist in our Christian standards of belief. Three voids -- major ones. What are they? We will take a look at the three of them in this scripture letter.
The God Who Does Nothing
What is God like? What is His nature, and what are His attributes? We now have widespread belief in a God who does nothing. He does not cause any calamities or discomforts to happen to anyone, and He does not judge people who sin. He is entirely peaceful. This is the god of the newspapers, the evening news and our state school systems -- and all too often he is the god of churches as well. He is the god who only blesses. Nothing else.
Has it always been this way? No. We do have literature preserved from times past, and we can know what our forefathers thought about God. And their concept of Him was very different from ours. In the Christian world of two hundred years ago believing men and women understood God to be decisive and firm in His rule of His church and of the world. In those days people understood what a king was supposed to be, and God was a real King to them.
But times have changed. Thankfully, with our American Revolution the age of democracy was ushered into the New World and soon afterward the new standard of republican rule began to spread around the globe. Tyrannical Kings were overthrown and sometimes they were murdered, as they were in France and Russia. The voices of the people began to be heard as representative rule began to spread. It was a blessed change, and God brought it all about for us. And along with our new freedoms came a new age of enlightenment and prosperity. It was an age of new possibilities, and we can thank the good Lord for it all. We are blessed to be living in these times.
But with it all came along a new concept of God. He Himself became the god of only possibilities, subject to the decisions and directives of man. Instead of the God who appointed things to be (as real kings do), He became the God only of opportunities who is trying to save all the world but is doing a poor job of it. As it stands now, according to current Christian philosophy, the vast majority of people who have ever lived will be sent to a place of eternal torment.
When the greater part of Christians began to believe that it was their job to get people into heaven, this did great damage to our understanding of the sovereign will and acts of God. That's bad enough. If it had stopped there the situation would not have been as tragic, but it went on from there to other aspects of our beliefs. If God is trying to save people from hell but failing to do it, He must also be failing in other areas. He must be unable to control the weather, sickness or misfortunes. It must be that these misfortunes "just happen" to us by pure accident like the recent tsunamis and earthquakes, and that they are out of the control of man or even God Himself. And there we have the God of current belief. OK, maybe He does mean well (if He exists at all), but everything in life is up to us. We are the "captains of our souls." Where did it all start? It started when the majority of churches rejected the God of purpose, of determination and of election and predestination, and adopted a god who loves to win and "save" people but cannot quite pull it off except in small quantities here and there.
The Rejection of Historical Prophecy
This rejection of the God of purpose and predestination has developed in the church only within the last 150 years. More recently, however, within the last 50 years, the God of fulfilled prophecy has also been rejected. Now, it is true that most Christians in general do believe in Bible prophecy. It is only those in the liberal camp that have rejected the Bible's accounts of miracles and prophetic writings. I know this because I have interviewed some of their leaders -- seminary professors . They do not believe that the Book of Revelation, for instance, is prophecy of the future. It is only a nice book written for the comfort of Christians. But the problem goes farther than that, and even invades the territory of conservative Christians who do believe in prophecy. Due to numerous books and television programs that have been produced in recent years, the emphasis of Bible prophecy has been shifted away from the mighty works that God has accomplished through time -- and has become concentrated on an end-time tribulation of great world calamities that is supposed to come soon.
No doubt there are some calamities that are coming. But what about the mighty works that God has done over the last 2,000 years? Do they mean nothing? Is there no comfort in seeing that God has caused mighty events and even the rise and fall of nations over the course of time? When the Book of Revelation is applied only to the future, we lose all of that (Revelation 15:3-4). In Isaiah, chapter 41, God sets forth the fulfillment of His prophecies as a major means of proving His being and His authority. The fact that God has proclaimed events and then brought them to pass is one of the major anchors of our faith, as well as a major witness to the world about us. The craze of dispensationalism contained in popular books, movies and TV is losing all of that for us.
The Rejection of the Works of the Holy Spirit
Now this is a really sore issue. Like the issue of predestination, it has split churches, friendships and even families. It seems that the general idea among a lot of folks is just to leave the issue alone and not talk about it. Many who oppose the gifts of the Spirit are saying that we have our churches, our Bibles and our understanding of God, so what more do we need? The great move of the Holy Spirit recorded in the Book of Acts was fine for that day (before the Bible was written), but we have Bibles now, so we are "complete."
Well, for one thing our Lord Jesus Christ told us in Acts 1:8 that real power to witness comes through fillings and manifestations of the Holy Spirit -- as was given on the Day of Pentecost. When we live in a country where only a minority of people are active Christians does that tell us anything? Are we missing any power? Is our just having lots of printed Bibles in our possession enough?
Why is it that the early Christian believers captured the great expansive Roman Empire within 350 years of time and we cannot even turn back the tide of anti-Christian rhetoric in America or recognize the being of God in our public schools? What's missing? God is missing, and the Holy Spirit is God Himself, willing to show and manifest Himself in effective ways that change sinners and turn back the adversary if we ask Him. You do know that we are urged to ask for the Holy Spirit don't you? That's Luke 11:13, as well as other scriptures. We ask for revivals don't we? We ask for sick people to get well. We even sometimes ask for the Spirit to come unto us, but we only seem to want Him if He will behave Himself. No tongues. No healings. No miracles, No prophecies. No revelatory knowledge. We want Him to stay in our box of tradition and not rock any of our little boats.
Churches that have these manifestations are "those" kind of churches, and we don't want to be like them.
The Lord has given us Holy Spirit revivals in America before, as well as in Britain and other places. These were accompanied by miraculous evidences, such as people falling powerless to the ground and weeping and crying. It's all recorded in our church history which few people want to read.
Around the year 1900 the Lord's Spirit fell upon many congregations in America, and that began the Pentecostal movement. But the manifestations at that time were in churches that were "across the tracks" and not in the more socially respectable churches. They were just like the people Jesus Christ ministered to -- the off scouring of Jewish society. Beginning about the 1960's another powerful movement of God's Holy Spirit came to America, sometimes derisively called "charismatic." It has had a powerful effect upon the majority of churches in our land, and has caused some radical changes in the worship of evangelical churches -- including new praise music and generally new ways of doing "church." Many evangelical churches, including Baptist ones, have adopted the more obvious changes, while rejecting the real motivation for it all -- which is the visitation of the Holy Spirit. These "contemporary" churches sound like part of the new wave and look like it, but the substance is missing. The Spirit is not there. Many of the leaders in these churches are not even aware of where it all started. They think they are just being "modern."
Thankfully, the countries of the developing world are having a fresh go at all of this, because they are not as bound by centuries of strong tradition as we are. They have made for themselves new wineskins, and God is pouring into them the new wine. A new day is dawning. For us in the old Christian world there is also hope and even great expectations. The God who can save to the uttermost can visit us. Do we dare ask Him?