Monday, January 5, 2015

Missing Notes in the Modern Church by Vance Havner (Part 3)

There is a third characteristic of the New Testament that is quite out of style: IT WAS A SENSATIONAL CHURCH. There was something happening every minute. On the day of Pentecost the multitude gathered "amazed, confounded and perplexed." And from that day on, Jerusalem was kept in a turmoil on account of this new power let loose in the world which jails could not lock up nor swords kill nor death destroy. And wherever they went, these Christians stirred up the elements. Paul exceedingly troubled Philippi and created no small stir in Ephesus and won the name of a world upsetter. That a mere handful of plain witnesses, talking about One who was supposed to be dead and buried, should tackle the great Roman world in a head-on collision and come off winners is the most sensational thing in history. 

Today we Christians are living, for the most part, on the momentum with which the New Testament Church started and on fresh waves of momentum started since through others who were sensational in their day. Savonarola and Luther and Knox and Wesley and Whitefield and Moody let nobody go to sleep in their vicinity. But of late anything out of the ordinary, anything likely to disturb the saints at ease in Zion, is frowned upon by a stiff and starched formalism "faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null" (Tennyson). In reaction to that there has sprung up in the churches today an extreme sensationalism as bad as the thing it tries to correct. Wild free-lances, weird prophetic firebrands, erratic evangelists would try to remedy freezing in formalism by frying in emotionalism. So the battle rages, and the saints are so busy calling each other names that Satan gets scant attention. 

But the counterfeit proves the genuine and the fact of a spurious sensationalism should not blind us to the truth. Someone has said that sensational preaching is the kind some preachers don't like because they can't do it. Be that as it may, we have dried up being "resolutionary," we need to become revolutionary. There is no reason why any band of Spirit-filled Christians should not arouse and excite and stir any community. If they didn't, something would be wrong. It is argued that the world is so much more Christian than it was in the New Testament days that we cannot expect such reactions today. The argument is beside the point. The days are darker instead of brighter and the contrast should be all the more pronounced. As for being Christian, our civilization has become infected with a mild rash of Christianity that has almost immunized it against the real thing. A real revival would be such a contrast with this weak Sunday-morning Laodiceanism that it would be a sensation indeed. 

We glory these days in our churches being precise. Every "i" is dotted, every "t" is crossed. We are Disciples of the Great Happy Medium. Now, because there are extremes, our Lord would not have us be middle-of-the-roaders. He said He would spew us out of His mouth, not for being too hot, but for being lukewarm. He would rather have us on the wrong side of the fence than on the fence. Yet today the churches are on the fence. We do not commit ourselves boldly to anything. We are so cautious that half of what we say cancels the other half and we end up by having said nothing. We are salt without savor, there is no tang, no flavor, no relish about us, nothing to smack the lips over. Our services are dry and flat and tasteless, and when we try to pep them up with a little glorified "spizzerenctum" the result is embarrassing. We need a New Testament sensationalism -- not an emotional spree but the earth-shaking stir of a movement of the Holy Spirit. To have that, we need only to be New Testament Christians, then things will begin to happen. The most sensational thing I can imagine would be an outbreak of New Testament Christianity. It would create a sensation among the churches, for it would be a revival, an awaking out of sleep. Some churches have slept so long that the awakening would be as remarkable as Rip Van Winkle's. It would certainly create a sensation in this world, for the world has become so accustomed to our being comfortably hidden away in brick buildings on street corners that if a revival drove us out as at Pentecost to declare in the marketplaces the wonderful works of God, the general public would gather amazed, confounded, perplexed. 

I am not advocating mere noise and uproar, but the Acts of the Apostles is an exciting book. And most of the denominations that now repose in such quiet dignity had a rather stirring start. The Baptists have subsided until one would hardly think that they were once considered heretical nuisances, so greatly did they disturb the peace. Surely the Methodists have a name for setting the woods on fire in days gone by. And even the Presbyterians, long synonymous with dignity, were once agitators second to none. Some of our denominationalists who fear that a holy stir in the house of God would be out of keeping with their tradition need to learn that it would be entirely in keeping -- they would merely be returning to what they started with! If any of our modern denominations had started with no more zeal than they now have, they wouldn't be living today to tell the tale! 

Intolerant, unpopular, sensational, such was the New Testament Church. And so will we be if we dare to follow in that train. What kind of people were these New Testament Christians? They believed in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. They did not live on a memory; they believed in One who had died, had risen and was coming again. They were filled with the Spirit. They were living a supernatural life in this present world. They were all witnesses. To them a missionary was not somebody to visit the church now and then to talk about Africa or China. Every Christian was a missionary. 

Let us try that today, and something will happen. Personal faith in a risen, coming Christ. The infilling of the Spirit, our duty and privilege, as we yield all, receive, trust, and obey. The daily practice of Galatians 2:20, living by the faith of the Son of God. Every Christian a missionary. Let a few in any church start living that, and the impact will shake the community. For that is the way it started.

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