Sunday, September 26, 2010

Historical example

Thinking more about my last post about Acts 1, and remembering an example from recent history:

After World War 2, many young men returned from military service with a desire to be pastors. Seminaries were full and in the early 1950's, churches saw a boom both in babies and in highly trained leaders. Look around the suburbs today and you will find many, many church buildings from the late 1950's and early 1960's. These pastors were at the height of their careers in the late 1960's when something remarkable happened in the church.

In the late 1960's, the Holy Spirit began to move forcefully through the church in America. Looking back today, we see movements like the Jesus People and many charismatic explosions of new believers, dramatic conversions, and creative, Spirit-driven ways to share the good news of Jesus. (For example, the entire contemporary Christian music movement grew out of this time period when groups like "Second Chapter of Acts" and Petra and the Imperials began in response to this move of the Spirit.)

What we often forget is that this move of the Spirit had its earliest beginnings in Roman Catholic and mainline (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) churches. A few people got excited about Jesus and what he was doing in their lives, and a few congregations responded favorably. But by and large, the Roman Catholic and mainline churches had too much to lose. They had well trained, highly respected leaders, massive buildings, and everything seemed to be going well for them already. For the most part, these churches and leaders did not welcome this new movement of the Spirit. So those who were not welcomed in these churches moved out and began new churches, or joined Pentecostal churches who trace their roots back to a similar revival (commonly known as the Azusa Street Revival) in the early 1900's.

Mainline pastors felt this new movement was too risky, and not theologically correct. (Keith Miller wrote a book in the mid-70's called The Taste of New Wine that specifically addressed people who had experienced this renewal, but who had been condemned or rejected by their pastors and churches.) By squelching this revival, pastors and church leaders set their churches on a pattern of decline that continues to this day.

What if these highly trained, well-resourced churches and leaders had welcomed what God's Spirit was doing? What if they had recognized that in the excitement of a new thing God was doing, there might well be some excesses -- but with qualified leadership, the initial frenzy over time could be turned to earnest passion for Jesus?

Fact is, for many of these leaders it was the passion that scared them away. They had too much to lose, and they were not willing to take a chance on something that might make them or their churches look foolish.

Keith Miller's book was reissued recently because he saw the same pattern happening again. People are coming to know Jesus, their lives are changing in radical ways, and their churches are suspicious. Are we at a point where we are in danger of missing a new thing God is doing? Are we desperately in need of re-reading the book of Acts to see how God might be shaping and renewing his church? Do we have too much to lose?

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