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|1 August, 1999|
You are not long in the United States before you realize how overtly Christian the country claims to be. In the mid-West, churches out-number service stations. In the women's magazines there are passages of Scripture. At the Rotary Club men speak about their belief in Jesus Christ. The women behind the check-out counter of the supermarket tell you without being asked which church they attend. The national anthem is a prayer to God and their money declares that "In God We Trust." God and Jesus Christ are constantly spoken about by politicians and all candidates for next year's Presidential elections claim to be born again. This overt Christianity however, is not matched by Christian practise.
President Clinton attended the National Prayer Breakfast, then continued his sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky. Politicians talk about their faith constantly but their actions do not differ from their counterparts in Australia. The nation prays much, but the poor, the black, the Hispanic live in squalor worse than what we see in this country. Faith and practise do not seem to go together. Our country never was a Christian country. We did not commence with Pilgrim Fathers falling down on their knees in prayers of thanksgiving. Our country started with convicts and solders, falling down drunk! We always were a skeptical, secular people that paid lip service to the Christian faith. We used it to impose morality upon convicts; to impose respectability upon our new middle-class; to impose veneer upon our governments and acceptability upon our children. For many Christianity was never a force, but a form, a way of life rather than an abundant life.
Australian society worships many gods like Mars the god of war; Mammon the god of money; Dionysios the god of alcohol; Eros the god of sex; Prometheus the god of technology; and Ego, the little god of self. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is seen as only one of a pantheon of gods. Many believe His words are useful for study but not binding on Christians, including some in the Uniting Church. That is why the Maribyrnong Valley Presbytery of the Uniting Church in Australia decided they could ordain a homosexual couple into ministry two weeks ago. Some Christians downgrade the Scriptures to place their commands equal with social trends. For them, Christianity is now a doctrinally impoverished lowest-common denominator moralism where social trends are paramount and where Biblical Christianity has been reduced to cappuccino froth! Wesley Mission opposes such attitudes. Friday night in Los Angles airport, a man approached and said he knew of our Uniting Church battle and was praying for us!
Jesus never meant us to merely reflect society. The church was never to satisfy consumer demands. Jesus taught us to be in the world but not of the world. Yet some Christians are so much of the world they have become indistinguishable from secular humanists. The world says: do what you feel like doing, and they echo: "if it feels good, it's O.K.". The world says: everything is acceptable, and these Christians echo: "just do it with love." The world says: the customer is always right, and these Christians echo: "we never say no." The world says: any behaviour is acceptable; and these Christians echo: "everything is beautiful in its own way."
This part of the Church is tasteless salt. As Orlando Costas wrote this kind of a church today all too often offers "a gospel without demands, a conscience-soothing Jesus, with an unscandalous cross, an other-worldly kingdom, a private, inward limited spirit, a pocket God, a spiritualized Bible, and an escapist church." That's the theology of some in Australia. They fail to live the radical discipleship of Jesus. They fail to be the alternative society that Jesus and Paul taught. They fail to understand that conversion from the world and to the Kingdom of God shows in the way we behave.
We have no option but to live the prayer "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." We need to have a Kingdom life-style both corporately and individually. We must proclaim the Gospel of Jesus inviting people to recognize their sin, repent, believe and obey. Christians who believe the Scriptures and obey the Gospel must liberate the Church from the captivity of this Australian worldview. We will only be a credible Church in the eyes of the world if we practise what we preach, live according to the commandments, present an alternative life-style that the world recognizes but which some Christians cannot see. Then our newfound credibility and power as an alternate society makes us different from the world.
We must demonstrate the way of Jesus is radically different from a world affirming, inclusive of everything, pretend church. At the heart of this alternative way of life is the doctrine of conversion. This is one essential we must take into the 21st Century: a new life in Christ, a new outlook described only as being "born again."
One man whose life was amazingly turned back to front by God's amazing grace was a ship's captain, John Newton. He was making handsome profits shipping cargoes of slaves to America. God dealt with him, a most unlikely recipient of God's grace. He wrote "I can see no reason why the Lord singled me out for mercy unless it was to show, by one astonishing instance, that with Him "nothing is impossible".' He spent off-duty hours examining the New Testament to see if he could trust it. He read Luke 11:13: 'If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?' This gave him an idea. If this book is true, he reflected, the promise in this passage is true, that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. He must therefore pray for God to make good His promise. Newton, profligate sailor struggled with his newly awakened conscience. The sodden cabin where the living God dealt faithfully with him, became a place of conversion as real as that of St. Paul on the Damascus Road. He later wrote:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saves a wretch like me
Smart cynics talk about conversion in terms of psychological pressures, emotional responses, and the burden of guilt. But for the man who has come from drunkenness to faith, from crime to Christ, from darkness to light, from death to life, from hopelessness to joy and new being, there is no argument. He knows conversion. There are five elements in conversion that are common to all acts of conversion today.
1. A PRESSURE FROM GOD. Conversion starts with God not us. We may be looking, but when we seek God, we discover God searching for us. All we must do is stop running. This is "prevenient grace". The grace of God before conversion. Jesus Christ, like a caring shepherd, leaves ninety-nine secure while He goes looking for the one that is lost. Matt. 18 The pressure of God is there, even in those antagonistic to God, superior to Christians, prejudiced against Jesus and rejecting of the Scriptures.
2. A HOSTILE REACTION. We may resent this pressure from God and become hostile. A hostile reaction may be a sign of the presence of God. You see it in the story of Paul. Paul was present when Stephen was stoned to death. The way Stephen died impressed Paul. Now God was putting pressure on him, and he lashed out in hostility. Acts 9:1-2 "Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem." Many, like Paul, hostile to the faith, critical of the church, are on their way to faith. If you are in that situation, ask yourself, "Is my hostility a sign of God's inner pressure on me?"
3. AN ACTION OF GOD. Conversion is not something we do. It is a result of God's action. God wants to win us to Himself, so He brings us closer. With the Apostle Paul it was on his way to Damascus to harass the church. For Paul the desert situation was perfect.
Psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, he was ready. Acts 9:3-6 "As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, " Saul , Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. " I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." God comes to people in even stranger places than on the Damascus Road. C.S.Lewis was riding in a double-decker bus going to a zoo when he was converted. Johnny Cash, the country and western singer was by himself in jail, lying in a bunk, when God made Himself known. God can come to you in any ordinary experience that can lead to your conversion.
4. A HUMBLING OF SPIRIT. The Apostle Paul, the arrogant persecutor of the church, needed to be humbled. Acts 9:7-9 "The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything." He went as the great persecutor, to grab men and women of the Way of Jesus, and bring them back in chains to Jerusalem. Now, humbled, unable to see, he could only continue if someone led him by the hand. It seemed like sudden conversion. But it was not. It started at the death of Stephen. God worked on his life, putting pressure on him. There was sudden yielding of his heart to the Lord, but the conversion took place over a period of time.
5. A FAITH FRIEND. When a baby is born into the world there is need of a mid-wife. In the birth of a new Christian a mature Christians must take responsibility. Acts 9:10-19 "In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias !" "Yes, Lord," he answered. The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight." "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. " Ananias entered the house and went to the man who had done so much harm. "Placing his hands on Saul, he said, " Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
When you are converted your old friends are not going to believe it. They will think that you have a religious bug. They might laugh at you and put your faith to the test. But you will also make new friends, faith friends who will help you to grow. Paul believed, repented, was baptized, studied the Scriptures, and witnessed to his faith. Do you want to be converted like that? Have you felt the pressure of God? Been hostile towards Him? If so, stop! God is working on you now! Respond in belief!
- Orlando Costas "Christ Outside The Gate" Maryknoll Orbis 1989.
- John Pollock "Amazing Grace" Hodder pp 79/80
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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