April / May 2015 - Vol. 79
What is going on in the world and what is God up to?
by Bob Tedesco
Special seasons, such as Lent and Advent, mark times of reflection in the Christian world. On a more widespread level, the celebration of the New Year causes people of many persuasions to also reflect. On a daily basis the mostly bad news reported by the media sets many of us to wonder what is happening in the world. Terrorism, family violence, rebellion, and confusion about standards and absolutes elicits many a “Woe is me!” from Christian and non-Christian alike.
Sometimes the seasons or the news reports cause us to question what the Lord is doing, what is His response to the situation that we find ourselves in? Maybe He has already responded and it’s not so clear to us. In one such session, I took hope in knowing that the Lord is always a step ahead...even steps ahead. As I considered it more, I realized that the Lord is miles ahead of the enemy...even millennia ahead.
There is a certain coherence to the remarkable moves of the Lord; we need to make sense out of them, remember them and speak of them to our children.What I hope to do here is to mention three major moves of God over a period of one hundred and sixteen years and then say a little about our response to them. This will be a review or remembering for many of us, but for the young or newer community members, it may be more enlightening.
The Evangelical Revolution
I use the word revolution instead of movement to emphasize that this divine initiative was colossal and worldwide in its impact. This was the call to be “born again,” to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It affected people personally, deeply and effectively.
Protestants got a big jump on this and whole congregations identified as evangelical Lutherans or evangelical Presbyterians, etc. If you attended a well functioning evangelical church, the gospel would be preached, the Word of God would be exalted and there would be frequent opportunities to respond to an altar call. The Billy Graham crusades were para-church expressions of this great move of God. A crusade would result in decisions for Christ, some churches would grow, new churches would spring up, and still others might divide to become “evangelical.”
Catholics later would benefit from this initiative, but not in the same way. Catholics of the 1950’s and 1960’s had no language for it. In an article, one Catholic bishop even denied the possibility of having a personal relationship with Jesus. There was a lot of suspicion with many raising the concern that “It’s Protestant.” Today it’s not unusual to hear a priest talking about his personal relationship with Christ. The evangelical reality and language has slowly been rising due to personal decisions. Catholic movements such as the Charismatic Renewal and Cursillo led people to Christ: some for conversion, but for some life-long Catholics, their faith came alive as Jesus became personal and real. Some local Catholic bishops now welcome Franklin Graham to their city.
Some of the markers of this revolution are the altar calls, the sinner’s prayer, the four spiritual laws, and the conversion experience. I emphasize “experience” because many or most experience their heart being touched and their lives taking a new direction. Other markers are evangelical mission groups, campus ministries (e.g. Campus Crusade), tent revivals, etc.
I’ve selected a few scriptures that emphasize “relational” and “experience”
John 14:23 “Jesus answered him, ‘If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
John 15:14-15 “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Galatians 4:7 “So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.”
We have relationship with those in our home; we experience them, we have discourse with them.
We have relationship with our friends; we experience them, we have discourse with them.
We have a relationship with our Father; we experience him, we have discourse with him.
Charismatic Renewal: Baptism in the Spirit Releasing Spiritual Gifts
Near the beginning of the twentieth century some Christians sought to be filled with the Holy Spirit and receive spiritual gifts as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 and several other places. This beginning led to the Pentecostal outpouring that has spread all over the world and has also led to the founding of many churches and even denominations such as the Assembly of God.
Once again Catholics were slower to get involved; but in 1967, two professors from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, led a small number of students to seek the “baptism in the Spirit” on a retreat weekend. The professors had been influenced by the Pentecostal movement among the Episcopalians, and this time Catholics had some history and language for spiritual gifting, a history of saints receiving gifts and power from the Holy Spirit. There was a spiritual explosion that involved millions of Catholics worldwide. The baptism in the Spirit went from Pittsburgh to Michigan and Notre Dame, to Rome and from there, all over the world.
We all had our idea of what Christianity is or should be. A Pentecostal experience of the Holy Spirit presents more of the Lord’s idea for what Christianity is and what our lives should be.
Many have actually come to conversion due to their involvement with the Charismatic Renewal and prayer meetings. The commonly-used Life in the Spirit Seminar addresses the relationship with Christ early and then progresses to the baptism in the Spirit and the relevance of spiritual gifts. Usually (but not always) people have an experience when they are prayed with especially if there is a release of the spiritual gifts. It’s not unusual for it to be a delayed or ongoing experience of receiving spiritual gifts and touches by the Holy Spirit. Something deeply spiritual has happened; some new world seems to have opened up: Scripture has come alive with energy and authority; there is greater freedom to enter into spontaneous prayer and praise; people from other denominations now seem more like brothers and sisters to me. Lay leadership was a key marker of the early renewal that I am most familiar with.
I think one of the key markers of the Charismatic Renewal was its ecumenical nature. Many prayer meetings were area-wide and included members from different denominations and even different races. These broad-based prayer meetings were often very powerful and very close to the heart of God. The follow-on experience of dividing those groups into parish and congregational prayer meetings have not been as successful: not as evangelistic; the gifts are not as prevalent; not as attractive to men.
Perhaps most importantly, they lost the ecumenical dimension...
Acts 2:4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Acts 10:45-46 “And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”
Community: close committed relationships
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, some of the groups that had been formed out of the Charismatic Renewal formed into Christian communities. Similar pop-ups happened all over the world. People realized that the baptism in the Spirit and spiritual gifts were for charismatic body life and not just “stand-alone” spiritual experiences. Some of those who did not want to leave their denominational churches, formed communities. Networks of ecumenical, denominational and some non-denominational communities sprung out of Ann Arbor, Michigan; Notre Dame, Indiana; Orlando, Florida and others. Our Sword of the Spirit network has around one hundred communities in locations around the world in varying stages of development.
Some folks knew they had hit the “mother-lode” of God’s plan and laid down their lives together to see it through. They composed covenants that expressed the way of life that they intended to pursue together. They developed various plans and approaches that progress the covenant from temporary to lifelong or “public commitment.” Not all communities have covenants, but, over time, it is common to realize the need to document your vision and your intended way of life.
Most communities realized the need for some sort of initiations teachings and for ongoing discipleship and pastoral care. Courses were developed for single life, married life, and community life. Discipleship included: teaching (information); training (application); Christian discipline (prayer, Scripture study, fasting, etc.) service; and pastoral care (ongoing help, support, instruction, etc.)
Almost all communities are marked by the desire for close personal relationships, and that was most often expressed by a small group structure or men’s and women’s groups. Many communities had some expressions of neighborhoods where some of the members bought (or built) houses to be closer together...to raise children together...to be more supported in single life.
Communities often sponsored or facilitated conferences, retreats, summer camps, campus outreaches, and youth groups. A special sense of the need to work with men often developed.
Mt. 12: 48-50 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Luke 6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For, even sinners love those who love them.”
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers.
Intentional: decisive, decision
Our communities are sometimes called intentional community. A group of non-related people decide to form a group with a shared life...an intentional, non-biological family...a decision to be relational beyond the natural family.
The word “intentional” is now sliding to other activities. As I mentioned earlier, one of the expressions of community life is the building of intentional Christian neighborhoods or “clusters”. Intentional discipleship is what we hope for when taking folks through the Entering Formation Seminar. We hope they will make a decision to live a life of discipleship, a decision to receive ongoing training in a pastoral relationship.
Christianity is intentional, active, (not passive), alive...not on “auto-pilot”. It is a personal decision for a significant spiritual step, a conversion that leads to a decision...and then a life of deciding for Christ.
Our Response to His Response
His response to the times is to give us all of this again as in the early church: the gospel, the Pentecost, the community. It’s all needed to do well! It’s a revival of the original plan, and it’s not received passively or with an “osmosis” approach to the needed decisions.
We intentionally and decisively embrace it all. We invest in this Christian body that he has given us; we love the life that he has given us; we speak positively about it to our children and in our Christmas letters and social cards.
We teach and lead our children into intentional Christianity – the complete response. We (counter-intuitively) teach them that they can’t make it on their own. That experiment is being tried all around us and with little success. We intentionally join them to the right people. We have a window of opportunity with our children and parents and communities need to make the most of it.
It is not passive parenting, but parenting with a plan...a divine plan.
Intentional Mission: “Go and make...”
We are repeatedly reminded by speakers to live a good life and to be a good example...the “city on a hill” example from Scripture. The times we live in demand an intentional approach to mission; an active, life-filled sharing of the whole good news. (Ro 10:14b “...And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”)
The times in the world are not good...evil abounds. But the Lord has responded to that: life in the kingdom is great! Every “Woe is me,” or “We’re doomed!” should be seen as an invitation to share the gospel. We were not given a spirit of fear at Pentecost, but a spirit of boldness and courage and power!
“Go and make disciples...”
See also > The Three Greatest Needs of the Christian Church, by Bob Tedesco
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