Covid is for the Church – not the world?

There’s a tendency for the church to look out upon the world with an eye to judgement. That’s probably an understatement, nevertheless, there’s a lot in the world that would rightly fall under the judgment of God. The millions of abortions that take place on its own confirms that. It isn’t surprising then that some Christians could see the current pandemic as a judgment from God. We look on to see the world repenting and calling upon the Lord (or rather look on and don’t see that). The Church being in the world gets caught up in these judgments from on high. We look in vain. There may be a few people here and there that turn to God, but by and large the world carries on as usual. The church is sidelined. That is the way of the world. Let’s face it, the church today (in the UK anyway) is an utter irrelevance.

It’s probably not a unique thought. But what if it’s the other way round and we are looking at this all wrong? What if it’s really the world caught up in God’s judgment upon the Church!

Just as we look vainly upon the world for repentance towards God, we look vainly upon the church to do the same. The world looks upon the church in vain. Where is the repentance and a turning towards the Lord in repentance and faith? We might say, ‘What have we to repent of?’ Our self-righteousness world be a good start.

These thoughts came out of my reading just the other morning. My default is probably set to look out and judge the world. But it came to me specifically that the Covid Pandemic has been sent by God as a judgement on the church. We always, or nearly always, think that if anything bad happens in the world it’s a judgment from God upon the world. It’s a damning and profoundly unsettling realisation that it could well be the other way round. I am quite upset about it. I’m finding it to be quite disturbing actually. For one thing it means I’ve been looking at it all wrong.

The verses I’m referring to are found in Chronicles. The context is Solomons dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Of course, all Gods dealing with the church are by grace. Even His judgments are a mercy to His people and to His church. I’ve heard the phrase used a few times lately that God is sifting the church. It does seem to be the case. Perhaps God is sifting us as individuals as well. What are our convictions? Do we care more about being correct than people? Some evidence then that the church needs to be looking at itself rather than casting a self-righteous judgmental eye on the world – which we’re pretty good at doing.

We know that God sends the pestilence, even this pandemic. I don’t think most Christians doubt that. God hasn’t been surprised or caught off guard by any of this. But I do think we (I include myself here) may have seriously misjudged its purpose. I’ll admit to being late to realise this. Maybe too late. I think my fear now is that once things start, dare I say it, returning to ‘normal’, it will be ‘business as usual.’ The meetings will restart and return to ‘normality.’ The pandemic will have passed, and we’ll all thank God and return to thinking how wonderful we all are, and nothing will have changed. My biggest worry, like I say, is that for the church, it will be ‘Business as usual.’ Do we want ‘business as usual’? What did ‘business as usual’ look like?

How then, in the light of this, assuming it’s true, and I’m right about this, are we to respond? To respond right now. I don’t think prayers for God to end the pandemic are really going to cut it.

If all that’s happening is really about the church, and it really is, how are we to change? I don’t think I’ve read much along on these lines. A lot has been said about the legality etc of the lockdowns and how the government are persecuting the church. You know the stuff I mean. Those are real issues by the way.

Christians have, and are, deeply divided over how to deal with the pandemic and our responses to government overreach are just as divisive. Wearing masks, closing churches, social distancing, and vaccinations are just some of the many ways we have been divided. We have our views. I have mine. And I’m not saying these are not valid. For example, the government is overreaching in many areas. They are manipulating the population. But what if we have all missed the point?

As churches we want to get back to normal. We want to get back to business as usual. But what is normal? And what is business as usual? What did those things look like? What is normal for us? What is a normal prayer meeting for example? Do we want a return to normal? Are we happy that our normal prayer meetings now just continue as normal but online? Or our normal services just continue now as normal online. And when our services return to normal will they just continue as before?

We do ok with normal. Normal is safe. Normal is cuddly. Normal has no surprises. We can manage normal. Normal is under control. Under our control that is. I think, perhaps what the word normal describes is formality. We are very formal. Normal is formality. Could it even be described as having a form of godliness? Or even in Revelation the Lord Jesus describes one church as having a reputation for being alive. But that wasn’t how Jesus described them! We are just so correct and righteous.

We pray (sometimes), or sing, for God to come sweeping through us. Maybe he is. But not in the way we expected!

And as we (at Towcester Evangelical Church) heard on Sunday morning, don’t think for one moment the purposes of God will be thwarted. They won’t be. But we will miss out. Don’t worry though. Everything will be back to normal soon! God will have passed by unnoticed, and we’ll be left to carry on with business as usual.

The world, on the face of it, is completely opposed to the Christian faith. And I understand all the reasons for that. But I think there’s another side to this. And that is, unconsciously or not, the world is looking to the church for hope and redemption, and for mercy and forgiveness. Where else is real and true hope to be found? There is nowhere else. Only the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has the good news of the Gospel to dispense to the world. It is us, Christians, that have been commissioned by God to preach Good News of a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.

Honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss to know quite what to do with this. I believe the very thought of what I’m suggesting will be met, by some, with opposition, or much more likely to be met with the cold shoulder of indifference.

We can’t revive ourselves, and we can’t turn the tide of secularism back, so isn’t it time for us to call upon the Lord to have mercy on us? To revive us. To wake us up out of our slumber. Or are we (self) satisfied with ‘business as usual.’ Are we, or will we be satisfied with being ‘normal?’

 

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (3)

This is part three of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 here & Part 2 here)  Note the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing..

What follows is a description of what most of us have no personal knowledge of: when the fire falls upon His people. What’s so encouraging is that these believers were in such a low spiritual state. God visits us when He chooses to do so. Not because we’ve reached a point where we might be tempted to say ‘God will bless us now.’ The Christian faith is not a works based religion. It is Grace based, not merit based. Our merit before God is found in another. Namely in the Son of God – The Lord Jesus Christ. It does not give us licence to live how we choose, but at the same time our living is not meritorious. We do not earn Gods favour. How we should know the reality of the phrase ‘we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).’

EUSEBIUS continues…. ‘But at last, forced by cowardice, unbelief and the onslaughts of Satan, we resolved to give up our special meeting; and now we were about to offer a final prayer, fully intending never again to meet thus in fellowship. But it is when man reaches the lowest depths of unbelief that God imparts faith, and when man has failed, then God reveals Himself. So here, with us in such dire straits, on the brink of despair, with the door shut on every hope of success, God Himself entered into our midst, and the light of day from on high dawned upon us; for one of the brethren – yes, the most timid of us all, the one who was strongest in his belief that God would never visit us – while in prayer, was stirred in his spirit and laid hold powerfully on heaven, as one who would not let go.

His tongue spoke unusual words, his voice was raised, his spirit was aflame, he pleaded, he cried to God, he struggled, he wrestled in earnest, like Jacob, in the agony of his soul. The fire took hold on others – all were awakened, the coldest to the most heedless took hold and were warmed; the spirit of struggling and wrestling fell on all, we all went with him into the battle, with him we laid hold upon God, His attributes, His Word and His promises, resolving that we would never let go our hold until all our desire should be satisfied.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 8 & 9.

I’ll leave it there and continue the narrative with another post – maybe two more. My desire is simply to encourage us all in the Lord (1 Thess 5:11 & Heb 10:25).

We all went with him into battle

I like the phrase ‘we all went with him into the battle.’ I don’t think that means everyone was praying at the same time or that everyone prayed. But that when one prayed, all prayed (Acts 4:24). Such was their united assault upon the throne of Grace. That’s the sort of unity we want in our prayer meetings.

It’s a fine line, perhaps, between not despising the day of small things (Zech 4:10) and the realisation that without God we are sunk. God is at work. He does not stop working. The Lord Jesus is building His church (Matt 16:18), and He will continue to build it until He returns. He gives us persevering grace. We are not fallen away because He keeps us in the way. For this we are thankful and raise our Ebenezer (1 Sam 7:12). But we pray: “Lord, give us that longing we know we need.” ‘O, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64:1)’ and ‘that glory may dwell in our land (Ps 85:9).’

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (2)

This is part two of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 is here) (Part 3 here) I don’t intend to post anything, for now, on how the society meetings were organised during the flow of the revival, rather the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing.

This next section is, I believe, one in which our churches can take great encouragement to not give up meeting. Revival comes not at the behest of man but by Gods gracious intervention – and that, when we are at our lowest ebb. Perhaps that is one of our problems. Our churches are so well organised that if God were absent from our meetings, or our evangelism, would any of us really notice?

‘And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.’ Judges 16:20

The Bold text is my highlighting. I have also divided the text into two paragraphs so it’s slightly easier to read.. Continuing then where we left off with Eusebius on page 8:

EUSEBIUS continues….: ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world. One time, there were just a few of us, professing believers, gathered together, cold and unbelievably dead, in a meeting which we called a special service, so discouraged as to doubt whether we should ever meet again, some who were usually absent from every meeting, some in a deadly apathy, with nothing to say of God nor their own souls, some given over to the world and its cares, some backslidden completely from all means of grace and the ordinances of the gospel, some given over to the flesh and its lusts, as in the days of Noah – seeking a wife, seeking a husband marrying and giving in marriage – and I myself well nigh disheartened and thinking often of coming to live in warmer spiritual climes, and moving my tent from Ur of the Chaldees nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.

But, even though all things were as i have described them – the world, the flesh and Satan victorious – these special services were yet conducted in an incredibly lifeless manner. There was no encouragement for anyone to carry on the work, save only the promise of God, that wherever there were two or three coming together in His name, if their purpose were right, however lifeless their present state, He would come to them and bless them. This alone had made us come together to pray; but our prayers were not much more than groans.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Page 8.

I like the way he says ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world.’ It may be the Lord will again work in that way – here in Wales and where you are too. But in this passage especially, we should note the condition they were in. ‘cold and unbelievably dead‘ and a ‘deadly apathy.’ How many of us have thought of moving our tents to where ‘things are happening?’ ‘To warmer spiritual climes‘ and ‘nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.‘ Is that us? Is that how we see ourselves? Or are we in need of nothing?

Also notice there were people in the meeting ‘who were usually absent from every meeting.’ I’m sure Pastors try to encourage their people to attend – but to no avail. The Lord can do in a moment what man can’t.

Despite this, we shouldn’t fail to recognise who we are. The world may despise the church of God, and we can be tempted to think that way sometimes too, but our hope is still in the living God.

‘Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!’

I’ve written more than I meant to but I do hope and pray these posts from the writing of William Williams will be an encouragement to the church.

 

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (1)

I read this book years ago, and one particular section especially was impressed indelibly upon my mind. And I always tend, somehow, to make reference to it when talking about revival. Which I did do just recently. It’s about time then, that I typed that section up. It’s fairly lengthy for one post so I’ll break it up into three or four shorter posts. (Part 2 here & Part 3 here) Any highlights in bold or italics will be mine.

I don’t know if the book is still in print. Whether it is or not doesn’t really matter. What the book, or this section anyway, tells me is that no matter how lifeless we think our prayer meetings are, and let’s face it, they mostly are, the Lord is well able to visit us and revive us. We don’t need to gee them up and try to inject life into them. We simply need the Lord to visit us. That’s the only life we need. His life. The Spirit of God. Our hope is in God. Williams writes the book as a conversation or dialogue between two people, Theophilus and Eusebius. Here’s the first of the quotes:

THEOPHILUS: And now, what progress is the Lord’s work making in your country? I have heard that the gospel of Jesus has reached you, and has begotten many sons. Will you please tell me how grace began to work there? By what means? And with what power? And to what extent apart from the usual means? And which graces appeared first? What wiles has Satan devised to hinder the work? And what troubles or trials have you suffered to test and strengthen you and to purify you?

EUSEBIUS: You have asked me many questions, and I will do my best to answer them all, for I find nothing sweeter to recount, and nothing to quicken my soul more, than to remember the days of the Lord’s visitation to me and to others in the day of my betrothal to Him, the joyful day of my heart; to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey (This is the first paragraph of a long section).

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 7 & 8.

I can’t recall where I read it, but in one of Jonathan Edwards books he talked about how through remembering and talking about past visitations of God those same feelings can come back. I don’t think Edwards was speaking negatively here, but speaking experientially. Hence we read above: ‘to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey.’

 

History: A Students Guide by Nathan A. Finn – A Review, sort of.

History: A Student’s Guide by Nathan A Finn, Crossway, 2016. This is part a series called ‘Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition.’ I came across this book through a casual reference by Michael Haykin on Facebook. So, thank you Michael, I really enjoyed reading it.

I’m not going to be pursuing any career, let alone a career in history, so the book has no relevance to me in that regard. But if you are at the beginning of your further education or are considering a change where studying history is a requirement or especially if you are a Christian studying for a degree in history, then you should read it. Typically, it would probably be found in a university book store. I can’t really recommend the book for general reading because it probably isn’t meant to be used in that way. But if you are so inclined then do read it. Ministers / Pastors would probably find it helpful. Also, check out the other books in the series.

It’s not a long book (111 pages) but the text is on the small side and the footnotes (Hooray for footnotes!) are even smaller. It has ‘Questions for reflection (p.101), a Glossary (p.103-4), Resources for further study (p.105-6), a General Index (p.107-9), and a Scripture Index (p.111). He packs a lot in! I’m not sure, but I think all the ‘Resources’ are all of Christian ‘Historians.’

The book then is written for Christians and there are many aspects of the book that I found helpful and encouraging. Here are three things that I found helpful – maybe you would too.

Presentism. This absolutely plagues our world today. Here’s the Glossary entry, ‘Presentism: Any attempt to read present assumptions back into the past.’ We see this in shedloads today. It is like an epidemic. It is abhorrent. Every historian will know the quote from L. P. Hartley even if they haven’t read the book. Nathan quotes it on p.29 “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” He also points out this applies to the recent past as well, and not just to ancient history. In the strongest possible way I can, dumping present morals on the past is not only dangerous, it is also stupid.

Providentialism. This was quite an interesting discussion. This is the way Christian Historians (can) see the hand of God working in or through history. God is clearly working in history and the world is on a linear path to its end, and if it were not for God there would be no history at all. But reading the hand of God into a particular event, for good or ill, is notoriously difficult. God has chosen to make his revealed will known only through the Scriptures. Perhaps as an example of Providentialism, I read a book on Machiavelli where Savonarola is given a fair bit of space. Some Christians (BoT) read back into Savonarola a ‘Revival of Religion.’ I’m afraid I don’t. It’s a lovely thought but I really don’t see a ‘Revival’ there. Not in the same sense as we see in the Evangelical Awakenings of the 18th Century anyway. You may disagree – which is fine.
The point being, care is needed with any attempt at reading God working in the past. We also need to be charitable as not all Christian Historians will read providence in the same way. Later in the book Nathan does urge Christian Historians to make judgments in the present by using the past – but carefully.

Providentialism is a slightly different point to what is dealt with in Chapter 2 on ‘Historical Interpretation.’ Nathan lists five interpretive grids. One of these is the Marxist view. He Mentions Christopher Hill in the book. Here’s an amusing anecdote. I wasn’t there unfortunately, I couldn’t make it, but a friend was. Professor Hill visited a school in Rugby (my home town – born & bred) to lecture on an aspect of the English Civil War. One questioner asked something like, ‘Professor Hill, how would a Marxist interpret the Civil War?’ to which he replied ‘What do you think I’ve been doing for the last hour.’ There you go. It isn’t always obvious, and we should definitely not throw everything out because they (other historians) have a different worldview. Discernment is required.

Usefulness to the Church. He means here, not just The Church, but the local church. While at secondary school we had a history exam where I scored -1 (minus 1). And that wasn’t the lowest score either! History had absolutely no relevance to me at all. Plus, the History Teacher (Mr Baldwin) was a sadist – I exagerate. But he did like to lift boys up by their sideburns and give them a twist on the way up. It didn’t endear me to the subject. What changed? God intervened and a love of history was kindled almost straight away – with the help of Peter Jeffery, my first Pastor.

My experience over the years has shown that although some Christians have an interest in history – churches as a whole don’t. It’s a great shame. Your church might be blessed to have an historian as a member, though I’m sure many do not. But if your church does, or you are an historian, Nathan gives some suggestions how historians might be useful in the local church. Here’s three:

* A Sunday School Class on the History of Christianity.
* Start a history themed reading group.
* Ask about occasional Church History lectures.

Not the normal book I review. More could be said. Hope it has been helpful.

 

‘O Lord, …. In wrath remember mercy’

Hab 3:2 O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.

‘March 21st (1832) was appointed by the government as a day of prayer and fasting on account of the cholera that was spreading through Britain. ‘On that day there were more people than ordinary, of all ranks and ages, in every place of worship through the whole country: a great fervency of prayer was manifested, and it is thought that the Lord has poured his Spirit on the churches, from the results; as many, many, are now crying out for mercy, especially among the young people of Sunday schools.’ At Denbigh, by following July, about 200 had joined different societies of Christians there, being roused, it is thought, by the visitation of the cholera.’ It is estimated that about 2,000 were added to the Calvinistic Methodists in Caernarfonshire alone as a result of the revival.’

Revivals in Wales 1762 – 1862, D. Geraint Jones. The Heath Christian Trust. (ISBN 0 907193 10 2) p. 36 & 37.

It makes you wonder what God has to do to make us look up and call upon Him. We shouldn’t expect anything other than what we see: today, the church is seen as completely worthless by the government.