“Obedience is walking the Christ Road. The walk of faith is not just internal. If it has no impact on the pain of the world it’s not faith.”
Charles Ringma (Cry Freedom)
“Peace is the tranquillity of order – Joy is the happy expression of that order.” Augustine
"Human love has little regard for truth. It makes the truth relative, since nothing, not even the truth, must come between it and the beloved person…Human love lives by uncontrolled and uncontrollable dark desires; spiritual love lives in the clear light of service ordered by the truth. Human love produces human subjection, dependence, constraint; spiritual love creates freedom of the brethren under the Word.
Human love breeds hothouse flowers; spiritual love creates the fruits that grow healthily in accord with God's good will in the rain and storm and sunshine of God’s outdoors. The existence of any Christian life together depends on whether it succeeds at the right time in bringing out the ability to distinguish between a human ideal and God's reality, between spiritual and human community.”
Bonhoeffer (Life Together)
“The emerging ‘social justice’ enamoured Christian activist is rapidly losing focus of the Gospel of the Kingdom and are inadvertently embracing a humanity placating – not serving – mechanism. The former seeks all of God to govern all of us in every part and portion. The latter seeks amendment or promotion of perceived and ‘felt’ needs or rights outside of Divine perspective and governance. Without the central focus of Christ’s Lordship, actions may lead to alleviation, but not to transformation. This new activist is now too earthly minded to be any Heavenly good!”
Shane W. Varcoe
The Origin of Order?
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, what do I believe is the ultimate architecture of order? That answer, at least from my investigations into meta-narratives, is the Kingdom of God and its instruction manual – The Bible.
Of course, right there, I have lost anyone who does not subscribe to that perspective and has no desire to. However, for those who may not know, or even think the Judeo-Christian worldview has that potential, but are still looking for ‘best-practice’, please read on.
It is when humankind decide that they are the final authority and the highest echelon of wisdom, understanding and the ‘adjudications’ these unleash, that disorder is almost ensured.
If we understand the Biblical narrative to be true, then this human usurpation is (to enlist an absolute Biblical term) idolatry at its core – Idolising of self, by self, for self.
History is replete with such musings from Khan to Mohammad and Nebuchadnezzar to Napoleon. However, in our purported enlightened and advanced progressive culture, we most certainly have not seen this hubris dissipate. It may cloak better, but as the global family continues to unravel, as we are currently experiencing on the global stage, we are witnessing a doubling down on this hubris by the global oligarchs.
As a response to (or is it the cause of?) such unravelling, the ‘Architects’ of societal reform emerge, and with demigod aspirations no-less; from Erdogan to Xi Jinping and from Putin to Modi all attempting to usher in their coerced homogeneity with their socio-political machinations. Their tyranny is cloaked in nationalist fervour. In the ‘democratic’ contexts where the idolatry of rabid individualism rules, with players from Trump to Soros, or Clinton to Antifa, we have little more than a perfidious chaos – akin to spoilt children throwing cultural, and literarily city destroying, tantrums until their dysfunctional parent caves to their egocentric demands.
This is emerging as the very best a ‘humanity’ disconnected from its Creator can conjure. The Adversary has much to work with and, need but whisper a strategy and light the fuse of a Hell inspired powder keg to see brazen self-righteous vanity unleashed cloaked in the garb of neo-social justice mantras.
“Man wants to be on a level with God, and in doing so to become independent of Him…Sin is the desire for the autonomy of man; therefore, in the last resort, it is the denial of God and deification of self: it is getting rid of the Lord God, and the proclamation of self-sovereignty.”
Emil Brunner (Dogmatics II, 1952)
Brunner was just seeing a fresh what many other Ambassadors of YHWH’s Kingdom have witnessed throughout a long history of God usurping players who have inherited, been given, or taken rule, in absolute terms and the inevitable corruption, dysfunction and tyranny that ensues – Again, from Divine Despotism, infamously leveraged by the French monarchy, to Marxism in full flight under Stalin methodology.
Interrupting the Order Disrupters?
Arguably the greatest orator that France ever produced, Catholic Priest, Jacques Bossuet, had the highest potential (and often greatest grief) as Priest to the Court at Versailles, during the reign of Louis XIV. This Louis, history reveals, is probably the last monarch of France who was, though not corrupt, did celebrate his ‘divine right to rule’ with growing self-indulgence, yet still was wanting to ‘advance’ his nation, not simply exploit it.
The King wanted Bossuet at his court, and would listen to his eloquent, but profoundly Biblical and challenging sermons on righteousness; and in a John the Baptist like manner, even messages challenging this Divine Despot to stop his adulteries. It was said that the court at Versailles would weep during his sagacious sermons but “leave unchanged.”
The following excerpt from On This Day – September 27th reveals a little of what I would argue, stayed the decline of the monarchy for a little longer – the decline that lead to the Storming the Bastille – the day France ex-communicated God from the land and attempted to snuff out Christ and His Christianity from its history.
“The honour of the world makes us attribute to ourselves all that we do and ends by setting us upon pedestals like little gods. Well, proud and self-complacent soul, thus deified by the honour of the world, see how the eternal, the Living God abases Himself in order to confound you! Man makes himself God through pride, God makes Himself man through humility! Man, falsely attributes to himself what belongs to God; and God, in order to teach him to humble himself, takes what belongs to man. This is the remedy of insolence! This alone can confound the honour of the world – that Hill of Calvary, that Cross of Shame, Jesus Christ the Incarnate God, our Pattern, our Master, our King!”
The Eighteenth century was the century of Kingdom Global Mission – The Protestants Finally Woke up from their ‘predestination’ slumber!
Whilst the Roman Catholic church was sending out missionaries, at times with less than holy agendas, but the majority with a genuine desire to continue to reached the lost, the pagan and the ignorant, much of the burgeoning Protestant movement was trying to sort out its theology, fight-off various persecutions from church-state actors and then finally be rendered missionally inert by a ‘hyper-Calvinist’ doctrine, that inadvertently rendered the idea of human activity in evangelism as redundant.
Apart from the (arguably) Free Will Theistic Moravians (the progeny of the Herrnhut community created by ‘The Rich Young Ruler who said – Yes’ – Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf) in the early era of the Protestant movement, there was little organized, strategic and resourced, reaching, rescuing and reviving work to the unwashed.
The now famously titled ‘Father’ of protestant missions, William Carey, was confronted by this resistance in his early endeavours to create missional societies. (He looked to Herrnhut for his inspiration)
Yet pre-dating them both was a man commission by King Ferdinand of Denmark, who had experienced a Pietist revival and consequently was prompted to reach those beyond his shores. (The issue of holiness focused Spirit-filled Christianity, is a clue to missional fervour) Answering that call was Bartholomew Ziegenbalg who is rightly remembered as the ‘grand-father’ of Protestant mission. He went to the southern tip of India and was met with relentless opposition, but after being ‘spent’ for the Kingdom and famously coining the phrase Ora et Labora – pray and work – he died at the age of 35 leaving 350 converts. It wasn’t until over 70 years later, that Carey would first land in India.
At a meeting of Baptist leaders in the late 1700s, a newly ordained minister – the ‘plodder’ William Carey – stood to argue for the value of overseas missions. He was abruptly interrupted by an older minister who said, "Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me."
Revival, Only for Reformation.
However, it was not only blatant obstructionism that would prove an impediment to Kingdom impact, but a more subtle undermining that would deplete the capacity of God’s Church to do what it’s Founder commissioned – That is it make Disciples of All nations and teaching them ALL that the Saviour had commanded – not ‘recommended.’
Evangelical revisionism has seen some culling of significant Kingdom practices over the years, and very much to the detriment of the following church and its discipleship processes.
We are going to try to ‘re-insert’ some of this vital historical Kingdom practice into the narrative, by retrieving some of what has been not only lost but deliberated excised.
The Protestant reformers and activists in the United States, were very much engaged in social reform, most prominently the abolition of slavery. However, that issued from more than just an isolated disapproval of a shocking and entrenched practice, it was birthed from a full understanding of the Kingdom Gospel.
“The need of developing nation is to increase in wisdom, righteousness and strength and to cast off whatever is in consistent with that noble age to which youth aspires. Only that with is true and right can abide….Society is Perfect where what is right in theory exist in fact; where Practice coincides with Principle, and the Law of God is the Law of the Land…every true minister of Christ is a universal reformer, whose business it is, so far as possible, to reform all the evils which press on human concerns…One cannot construct a perfect society out of imperfect men…every reformer needs a perfect stat of society ever in his eye, as a pattern to work by, so far as the nature of his materials will admit…The Kingdom of God is Christ ruling in and over rational creatures who are obeying him freely and from choice, under no constraint but that of love…what John the Baptist and the Saviour meant when they preached the ‘kingdom of God’ was a perfect state of society…though this kingdom is not of this world, it is in it… those who locate Christ’s kingdom in the future to the neglect to the present and those who seek to construct a local heaven upon earth [are] shutting out the influences and motives of eternity.”
Charles A Blanchard – Founder Wheaton College (pp 9,10; Discovering an Evangelical Heritage - Donald W Dayton)
One of that centuries most lauded ministers of the Gospel, Charles Finney, is almost invariably framed as a great ‘Revivalist’, and whilst true, much of his methodology was not only, profound but seminal in its agenda to bring The Kingdom to the nation. Yes, it was total personal salvation, but in the context of total national salvation. This is Christ governance of the nation, not just the individual.
Finney was credited with many things but some of the most important mechanisms he was led to introduce, particularly in his proclamation platform, have been, if not lost then rendered powerless. For example, the ‘alter call’ which we now have (though little seen) has only a little resemblance to the significant and thorough process Finney intended – a process that meant revival transitioned into reformation and that not just of the individual, but of the society through that Kingdom bearing disciple.
“Controversy surrounded Finney’s work on several levels. He introduced into revivalism many “new measures” that shocked more conservative evangelists. His preaching style was popular and colloquial, though forceful and laced with the logic of the lawyer. He popularized the ‘protracted meeting’ that continued for several days or weeks and employed the ‘anxious bench’, a row of seats in front of the church for those under ‘conviction’ of sin. Perhaps the most controversial of his ‘new measures’ was encouraging women to pray and speak in mixed assemblies (p 16, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage)
Now it is important to note that the introduction of the anxious bench, was a Divine prompt to Finney, and though it did become the prototype of what would be later called the ‘mercy seat’ or ‘altar call’. It is important to note in the above excerpt that the place of the ‘anxious bench’ was set for not only hours, ‘but days and even weeks’; such was the need Finney saw for the complete conviction of the soul and the need to repent, not just of personal indiscretions, but more vitally of a disregard for God’s Kingdom agenda against the injustice, corruption and perversion on the earth that this self-governing idolatry called ‘sin’ brings.
This decision is not made in an ‘emotive moment’, as some contemporaries accused him of. Finney saw slavery, prostitution, intemperance, and other social issues as Blanchard did, a blight on God’s perfect society in not just its presence, but the horrendous harms it was doing to the humanity created in Gods image.
I would posit that Finney on preaching a full gospel (including priorities from both Micah 6:8 and Matthew 6:33) of seeking righteousness, surrender in humility, and the new 180 degree turning away from all that perverts God’s society and His Kingdom agenda, he would call for repentance.
In this context Finney is pushing hard against mere emotive appeals and calling for a bold and marked change.
Not merely a potential ‘putting down’ of some vices – though this is implied – but actually taking up action against the same issues of perversion and injustice as God calls it, in their community. i.e. “I used to ‘dabble’ in this, now I champion against it!”
It is not about ‘moralising’ unpalatable conduct or fighting people of differing opinions, but working by Gospel means, to eradicate the egregious community and societal harms that issue from that God-less and Law-less lifestyles.
Now the great business of the church is to reform the world--to put away every kind of sin. The church of Christ was originally organized to be a body of reformers. The very profession of Christianity implies the profession and virtually an oath to do all that can be done for the universal reformation of the world. The Christian church was designed to make aggressive movements in every direction--to lift up her voice and put forth her energies against iniquity in high and low places--to reform individuals, communities, and governments, and never rest until the kingdom and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High God--until every form of iniquity shall be driven from the earth.
(excerpt from Letters On Revivals-No. 23: THE PERNICIOUS ATTITUDE OF THE CHURCH ON THE REFORMS OF THE AGE. Professor Charles G. Finney)
I would argue that the ‘days and weeks at the anxious bench’ aren’t about helping the candidate find a ‘happy space of contentment with the new and wonderful plan of blessing that God has for your prosperity and well-being’, rather it is a call to surrender a life in total service and unyielding commitment to ‘God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven’ agenda.
Though a God orchestrated journey and call to those lost to the Divine Kingdom communion; the candidate must respond to that call for rescue, adoption and discipleship – the denying self, taking up the cross and following – for a sober, intentional, and contrite surrender to that new governance and practice. Not to do it for YHWH, but collaborate with the Author of Salvation, so that this saving work pours out to those around, not just a ‘fire insurance’ or ‘magic lamp’ for those embracing this new relationship and communion.
The cheapening of the altar call to a mere atmosphere of warm affections alone that expurgates the robust call to (quote Finney directly) “Admit that God is absolutely right and you are absolutely wrong!”, is to do perniciously more than a disservice to those the Holy Spirit is working to bring to conviction and repentance. Yes, the initial moment can be a profound and remarkable awakening to the truth of the Gospel claims and God’s Kingdom, but that does not automatically equate to conversion – this can take time; time at the ‘anxious bench”.
Finney’s message was directed primarily at the church people (not those outside) or ‘professors of religion’ not living up to the fullness of Christian existence. The revival was a means of “breaking the power of the world and of sin over Christians” This involved the accusation that many (perhaps most) church people were less than vital Christians, a suggestion vigorously resisted by the traditional clergy. But this call to a “revived” Christian life incorporated the implicit demand that true conversion evidence itself in good works and commitment to the welfare of others. In such dynamics is the beginning of an impulse to ‘Reform’ activity. (p17, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage)
18th Century England and the Desperate Need for Reformation
The repetition of these egregious perversions are more near than we think for the 21st century First World Church.
(The following are excerpts from The Book That Made Your World – Vishal Mangalwadi Pages 259-263)
In 1738, two centuries after the Reformation, Bishop Berkeley declared that religion and morality in Britain had collapsed “to a degree that was never before know in any Christian country.” The important reasons for the degeneration of Protestant England were the…
- Restoration of the monarchy
- The supremacy of the Anglican Church
- Oppression of the Puritans
- Expulsion of more than 400 conscientious Anglican clergy – they were priests for God, not the monarch.
- Rise of the Enlightenment toward the end of the 17th and continuing into the 18th century.
The combined impact of these developments was to leave the church bereft of prophets. Matters were made worse by the decree prohibiting Anglican bishops and clergy from meeting together to deliberate on ecclesiastical matters. With little correction, encouragement, or accountability, the moral life of the priests degenerated, lowering the standards for the entire nation.
Deism, or “natural religion”, taught that God is not involved in the affairs of the world. He has given no law. He is neither watching over you, nor will he judge, punish, or reward you. God is just an uninvolved creator. That belief too away the fear of God. The Bible was still available, but it was not the Word of God. It was just another book about wisdom and virtue.
A national church publicly muzzled, with its prophetic and priestly wings clipped, could not refute deists and sceptics. Deism progressed to rationalism, scepticism, atheism, and finally cynicism. Once biblical truth was undermined, biblical morality began to lose ground. The corruption of the clergy of the Church of England spread from top to bottom.
A corrupt church with closed Scriptures darkened most aspects of English life. By the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, England had wrung from France and Spain the monopoly of the slave trade. The slave trade bred and fed financial greed, it brutalized masters’ and slaves’ lives, making labour undignified. That became a curse on the economic and political life of the 18th century.
Corruption spreads like cancer. Nepotism, place seeking, and bribery became the order of the day in politics, especially at election times. For the first half of the century, the prime minister, Robert Walpole, epitomized corruption. His politics were not about public service but about managing, means, money, and the manipulation of laws, their administration, and the penal system in the interest of the ruling classes.
The strangulation of Biblical Christianity had further inhumane consequences in the treatment and morality of children. Their death rates tell a terrible tale, though authentic statistics are only available for London. These show that between 1730 and 1750, three out every four children born to all classes died before their fifth birthday.
The eighteenth century in England is known as the “Gin Age”. Horrible child abuse was often the result of drinking strong fiery, poisonous gin, which outrivalled beer as the national beverage. Irish historian William Lecky define the national gin-drinker’s drunkenness as the “master-curse of English life between 1720-1750.” The inevitable evils of alcoholism followed – poverty, violence, prostitution, and murders. The liquor trade, with its daily disruption of the nation’s life, was the cardinal cause of social disintegration and degeneration during those thirty years.
The moral darkness of the age expressed itself in a perverted conception of sport, which, like alcohol, brought attendant evils in its train, such as further coarsening of the personality, cruelty, and gambling. The baiting of bulls, bears, badgers and dogs – with fireworks attached to them – was typical of the third and fourth decades of this century. Most of those tortures took place in public house grounds, in a village green, in village church grounds, or in cathedral closes. The animals were often baited to death to provide greater excitement.
Gambling was a national obsession for all classes, bringing appalling ruin to thousands. In London and other big cities, promiscuity became a sport, from court masquerades to fornication in daylight on the village green or selling one’s wife by auction at a cattle market. There was an abundance of openly pornographic literature. Again, William Lecky: “The profligacy of the theatre during the generation that followed the Restoration, can hardly be exaggerated.” Likewise, a judge remarked that “no sooner is a play-house opened in any part of the kingdom, than it at once becomes surrounded by a halo of brothels.”
The Bible because a closed book, and the result was ignorance, lawlessness, and savagery. Until the advent of the Sunday school movement toward then of the century, little or no provision was made for the free education of the poor, except the church system of charity schools.
Into this spiritual and moral quagmire stepped John Wesley. He was born the same year as Jonathan Edward, 1703 – One of 19 children – He went to Charterhouse School and on to Oxford, where his intellectual gifts led to his being elected a fellow and tutor of Lincoln College. Devoutly religious, he and others ministered as best they could to the poor and downtrodden, but their peers despised them for it.
John Wesley experienced what Jesus called being “born again”. It began in an encounter with Protestant proto-reformers, the Moravians and their zeal for deep intimacy with God and Mission, which lead to the experience of the warming of his heart, unify his personality, multiply his sympathies, sharpen his critical faculties, and clarify his life’s purpose….Despite misgivings, but encouraged by Evangelist George Whitefield’s example, Wesley, aged 36, preached his first open-air sermon, expounding the Bible to the unchurched.
The Great Awakening in the Belly of Corruption and Persecution.
The Great Awakening, the evangelical revival, was born. It was to be reared for many years in an atmosphere of insolence, contempt, abuse, and violence.
For three decades, magistrates, squires, and clergy turned a blind eye to the continual drunken and brutal attacks by mobs and gangs on Wesley and his supporters. Wesley endured physical assault with missiles of various kinds. Frequently bulls would be driven into the midst of congregations or musical instruments blared to down out preachers’ voices.
Time after time, the Wesley’s and Whitefield narrowly escaped death, while several of their fellow itinerant preachers were attacked and their houses set on fire. Hundreds of anti-revival publications appeared, as did regular, inaccurate, and scurrilous newspaper reports and articles. And the most virulent attacks, not surprisingly, came from the priests/clergy, who referred to Wesley as “that Methodist,” “that enthusiast,” “that mystery of iniquity,” “a diabolical seducer, and imposter and fanatic.”
Wesley’s central understanding of Christianity was that individual redemption leads to social regeneration. He believed that the main purpose of the Bible is to show sinners their way back to God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is what he preached, but he also understood that social changes are an inevitable by-product and a useful piece of evidence of conversion. Because of the preaching of the Gospel the high moral principles set forth in Scriptures slowly began to take root in people’s minds. Wesley believed that God’s Word calls for the salvation of individual souls. It also gives us firm ordinances for national existence and a common social life under God – these were his goals, and he never lost sight of them.
John Wesley’s life was a triumph of God’s Grace. Under physical and verbal attack thousands of times, never once did he lose his temper. He was prepared to endure a blow if the dealing of it would diffuse the hysteria. When struck by a stone or cudgel, he would wipe away the blood and carry on preaching. He loved his enemies, and do what they would, they could not make him discourteous or angry.
This cultured man, keen theologian, and esteemed intellectual warned his preachers that one could; “never be a deep preacher without extensive reading, any more than a thorough Christian.”
Wesley’s book of Rules for Helper gives a sampling of the cultural influences he diffused in Britain.
“Never be unemployed for a moment; believe evil of no one; speak evil of no one; a preacher of the Gospel is the servant of all; be ashamed of nothing but sin; be punctual; give none that asks relief and ill word or an ill look. Do not harm them; you will need all the sense you have to have your wits about you.”
A further fruit of Wesley’s work were the conversions of William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, and others, and the development of what is called the Clapham Sect. The ‘ripple effect’ of good disciple-making reformers, is always mobilisation – “Teaching them to observe all Jesus commanded.”
Compiled and Written, Shane Wesley Varcoe November 2021