This page describes some concerns that I've been mulling over in mind: (1) The refusal on the part of most American Christians to face up to the times in which we live; that, specifically, the Christian Faith is no longer "main-stream;" that, consequently, we face increasing contempt and in some cases outright persecution. (2) That we live in an era of prophetic fulfillment - on the cusp of the Second Coming - and that we're largely indifferent to it. (3) That most believers have never led a single soul to Christ and don't seem to care that they haven't. (4) That the evangelical church refuses to go over to the attack and prefers instead to "hunker down" into a defensive stance - a stance not countenanced by the Holy Spirit and one that will never be honored by God.
Thirty years after the Jesus Movement.
What can the Church of Ephesus teach us about the state of the Evangelical church thirty years after the Jesus Movement?
Here we have a truly tragic tale: a church once on fire for the Lord, once filled with believers willing to forsake all for Christ, once head over heels in love with God; but now loveless – a pathetic caricature of the congregation Paul the Apostle once rejoiced over. I find here in the story of Ephesus much that has gone wrong with the Evangelical church over the last thirty years or so. Let’s read over the whole passage – beginning with Revelation 2:1 and extending through Revelation 2:7.
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things says he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear those who are evil: and you have tried those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them to be liars:
And have borne, and have patience, and for my name’s sake have labored, and have not fainted.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your lampstand out of its place, except you repent.
But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches; To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Notice carefully the description Jesus gives of Ephesus here in Revelation 2:2-3. It begins so full of promise . . .
Now he who plants and he who waters are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor (“kopos”).
1 Cor. 3:8
In short, what we have here is a church well known for its labor in behalf of Christ – hard work – difficult and wearisome work – all undertaken to win God’s approbation. So far, so good. An excellent account.
And it doesn’t stop there: Jesus goes on to say that Ephesus is well known for her good judgment – her keen and accurate sense of discernment – meaning she has protected the saints from false apostles and, by implication, false doctrine. Simply put, Ephesus is a church resting on a foundation of sound, Biblical teaching. She has made a point of cultivating the basic principles of the Christian Faith and instilling them in the minds and hearts of the believers there.
And, then, to underscore once again her character, her upstanding integrity, Jesus adds verse 3 . . .
And have borne, and have patience, and for my name’s sake have labored, and have not fainted.
. . . which, of course, merely sums up all he has already noted about Ephesus: her good deeds - her hard, wearisome toil in behalf of Christ, all motivated by a desire to win God’s approbation.
What a record! What church wouldn’t want that kind of record?
But it’s not enough! In the end, Jesus censors Ephesus more severely than any other church – at least as severely as Laodicia – and, in my opinion – even more so. She’s censored for her lovelessness – she’s excoriated for having forsaken her “first love.” And the sanction Jesus threatens is startling – indeed, horrifying:
. . . repent . . . or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your lampstand out of its place . . .
. . . meaning her witness falls short of justifying her very standing as a church. That's how far short it falls. Imagine! Jesus threatening to remove her “lampstand”!
How is it possible for a church once so filled with abandoned love to fall within one or two generations into such a sorry state?
I think I know. Because it’s exactly what I’ve witnessed over the last thirty years – ever since the end of the “Jesus Movement.” In a sense, I’ve lived through what happened to Ephesus.
But first, what exactly does love look and feel like – what’s it all about?
Anyone who has ever been “in love” – really “in love” – knows that it doesn’t accommodate itself to the principles we ordinarily live by and the thinking that normally governs our lives. It’s wild, reckless, and abandoned.
Book-keeping terms are foreign to love – its very antithesis. Indeed, love that can be summed up in accounting terms isn’t love at all.
Love is sacrificial. Love – genuine love – is always wild, reckless, and abandoned. It’s impulsive! It’s intoxicating! There’s no looking back in regret! There’s no sense of loss over what has been forsaken in its behalf. No cost is too much! No sacrifice is too unthinkable! No pain is too unbearable! Indeed, lovers boast in the scars they’ve suffered in its behalf.
Lovers are ecstatically happy just being with each other. It doesn’t matter to them if home is a mansion or a hovel. All that matters is that they’re together.
That’s exactly the kind of love that "drove" God to send Christ to the Cross in our behalf – and it’s that kind of love that caused Christ to go there. Think about it! It wasn’t at all reasonable for God to have paid that price for the likes of us. We weren’t worth it – not at least in terms that can be summed up in a profit and loss statement. Wild, reckless, and abandoned – that’s the kind of love that sent Christ to the Cross. And anyone who thinks otherwise is blind and deaf to its meaning.
It’s that kind of love that Ephesus was so bereft of at the time the Book of Revelation was written – wild, reckless, and abandoned.
And that brings me back to the Jesus Movement . . . Careers that were forsaken; underutilized college degrees; homes that were sold; savings accounts that were drained; dangerous neighborhoods; packed out communes; always on the streets; always on the move; strangers closing in on us; little if any free time; reckless decisions. That was the Jesus Movement!
"Unnecessary risks leading to uncalled for sacrifices.” That’s how so many of its “survivors” assess it today – believers who crashed headlong into the consequences arising from those “reckless” decisions. “Couldn’t we have been a little more prudent?,” they ask. “Couldn’t we have been a little less abandoned? A little more calculating? Just a tad more cautious? Didn’t we give up too much?”
And our sons and daughters are even more prone to that assessment – many of whom lived through the Jesus Movement as children and have assumed leadership roles in today’s evangelical church. “Nothing in excess. Balance, sanity, and safety. Let’s not play the fool the way our parents did” – that has become their mind-set - not all of them, of course, but far too many. The very same mind-set the second and third generation of believers at Ephesus no doubt harbored!
They’re convinced they can have Jesus . . .
. . . just as long they keep their commitment to Christ in balance.
Yes they want Jesus, but . . .
Once again, it’s not that they want to give up on Jesus; indeed, most of them consider themselves deeply committed; it’s that they want to be safe and sane at the same time.
Safe and sane love! But what kind of love is that? Is it the kind that wins hearts and transforms souls? Of course it isn’t. Husbands, ask your wives. Wives, ask your husbands. But if we can't buy into that kind of love, how can we possibly believe Jesus does? If that kind of love turns our stomachs, why would we think it doesn’t turn his stomach as well.
Jesus makes it plain that, in point of fact, he doesn't buy into it - and that it does turn his stomach. That’s why he warned Ephesus that her very standing as a church was in jeopardy. That’s why any church today founded on sanity, balance, and safety is hardly worth calling a church.
When Jesus told his disciples that unless they were willing to sell all they couldn't be his disciples, it’s love that he had in mind, not self-flagellation. He was simply saying, “If you don’t love me, please don’t bother to be my disciple." Jesus doesn't promote masochism; he promotes love - wild, reckless, abandoned love. The kind of love that joyfully sells all.
Jesus wants churches that are madly, wildly, insanely in love with him. And that’s exactly what we don’t have in many churches anymore. What about your church? What about you?
The truth of the matter is quite simple. It’s the same truth that anyone in love will testify to: love never counts the cost. Nothing can take its place. There's no substitute for love – not wearisome toil, not good deeds, not spiritual discernment, not even right doctrine. None of that is bad; indeed, its vital. But it’s not good enough! Indeed, it falls woefully short.
It’s not safe and sane believers that Jesus is looking for. It’s not safe and sane leaders. It's not safe and sane churches. It’s believers, leaders, and churches who are wildly, passionately, hopelessly in love with him. And that's in pretty short supply these days.
Recently, I was sent an e-mail by a friend of mine concerning Pastor Rick Warren's meeting with Islamic leaders. My friend wrote: "Does every address he makes need to include an altar call?"
"When you're a pastor who has achieved the standing he has - and when you're acknowledged to be (too much to say?) the spokesman for the Evangelical Faith, then, yes, I believe that the gospel takes precedence over anything else - anything at all - especially in light of the compromises that have already been made by so many of the so-called spokesmen for American evangelicalism. We can't cut him the slack we might for lesser lights. There's an old saying in French: "Noblesse oblige" - meaning standing and privilege entail responsibilities that can't be ignored.
And, yes, I have heard him preach the gospel - up close and in person. And I have heard his testimony concerning its importance. There's no doubt that he harbors a genuine love of the gospel - and that the gospel he preaches is "right on." But that's not good enough - certainly not in this day and age. When he's speaking on a world stage to a world-wide audience, the gospel must be pre-eminent - and in no uncertain terms. The persons listening to him are not going to have "read the literature" on him. Politics and the gospel have never been on friendly terms - and the likelihood of that changing is nil. A world-wide standing is not afforded to any pastor by God for the purpose of achieving world peace or to make common cause with other religions, but to witness to the mercy of God through his son Jesus Christ."
Napolean, a brilliant military genius of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, once summed up his key to victory: "Attaque, attaque, toujours attaque!" "Attack, attack, always attack!" And that's precisely how the Bible sums up the church's key to victory.
Tragically, however, the church here in America has slipped into a defensive posture - unwilling to "go over to the attack" - unwilling to put herself at risk anymore - unwilling to "rock the boat" - unwilling any longer to make salvation of the lost the focal point of her mission - unwilling any longer to preach an unabashed, straight forward gospel message.
Listen carefully on a Sunday morning to what's being preached from the pulpit - not in every church, of course, but in far too many:
Ever since the "Jesus Movement" finally lost momentum in the late 1970s, Evangelical Christians have been backing away from any kind of frontal assault against the gates of hell - meaning, once again, that we don't preach a straight-on gospel message nor do we make salvation of the lost our top priority - indeed, our very "raison d'être."
And that doesn't bode well for the church. Why? Because the Church was never designed to withdraw into a defensive shell. That's why! There's a simple truth that stalks the pages of the New Testament: anytime the church makes safety her primary objective she ceases to be safe.
Nowhere in scripture is the church cast in a defensive guise. Nowhere is she likened to a fortress - with the devil's minions hovering around her - encircling her - and launching assault after assault against her - with believers cringing in fear behind protective walls.
It's certainly true that God himself is likened to a fortress: we're told in no uncertain terms that he's our high tower - our shield and our buckler - our defender. But that's not the description the Bible gives of the church. Jesus' first description of the church - his archetypical description of her - is found in Matthew 16:18 - and it's not at all the description most pastors and teachers have been disseminating over the last thirty years or so . . .
And I say also unto thee, That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Look closely at the final clause: "... and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her."
We've got it all wrong! We've turned it all upside down! And it's all so subtle.
Just the other day, a pastor asked me my opinion on a program that his youth ministry was developing. It was designed around one over-riding purpose: to shield their youth from the ever encroaching flood-tide of anti-Christian bias now taking hold in American society - especially in our public schools. He went on to ask, "How long can we continue sending our children to public schools? Shouldn't we begin developing our own schools and pull our children back into them? Fortress Church!
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not at all suggesting that we shouldn't pull our children out of public schools. Nor am I suggesting that it's wrong to shield ourselves from the insidious impact of secular culture. But we'd better take stock of how doing that might affect our attitude toward the lost.
Isn't it possible that the more we fall back into a defensive posture, the more we'll actually put ourselves in jeopardy - the more vulnerable we'll actually become? Think about it. We've been pulling back into a defensive posture for the last thirty years - and . . .
The answer, of course, is "No!" The church is a pathetic caracicature of what she was during the Jesus Movment years. Believers are less sanctified, less committed, and less robust in their witness - what little witness there is.
And what about our children? Are they any safer? Has our defensive posture proven to be effective in assuring their security? Hardly! One recent survey has found that while 95 percent of 20 to 29 year old children raised in evangelical homes attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years, only 55 percent were still attending church during high school; and by college only 11 percent were still attending. (See article #1, article #2, and article #3.) Effective? Take a good look: it has been an abysmal failure.
No, pulling back into a defensive posture has not served the church well. And it has been a down-right tragedy for our children.
It's not wrong to guard our flanks as we move forward to the attack; but it is wrong to become so defensive-minded, so preoccupied with keeping ourselves and our children safe and protected that moving forward to save the lost ceases to be an option - especially when, in point of fact, that's the church's prime directive.
Another Reason for Discipleship Houses
Discipleship houses provide a means of enabling the church to recover her spiritual bearings, reset her compass, and reorder her priorities - in short, to once again go over to the attack. It's no coincidence that the demise of discipleship houses corresponds almost exactly with the gradual pull-back of the church into a defensive posture. Here at New Hope we are determined to once again establish a series of discipleship houses that will prepare committed believers to make salvation of the loss the church's primary objective. Press the link here to find out more about New Hope's Discipleship Project.
The History of a "Little Life House Station"
The Evangelical church's history over the last thirty years can be summed up allegorically in a media file that has been circulating on the internet for at least the last four or five years. Press this link to navigate to the "Life House Station Page," and then press on the picture of the light house on that page.
Future articles soon to be posted