Publication: One-to-One, Winter 2010
In times of uncertainty and transition, people are looking for hope and direction. Churches often look around for models of church growth and effectiveness. The true model should be a personal model followed by believers who have given their lives to Jesus Christ.
I have been reading both volumes of George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth Century by Arnold A. Dallimore and have been greatly impressed by Whitefield’s deep devotion and success in the Great Awakening during the 1740’s. At the age of 24, he was preaching to as many as 40,000 people in open air. He affected literally millions of people in the United Kingdom and the United States. When he preached to the coal miners in Kingswood, England, their faces – blackened by coal dust – were streaked with tears. Hardened hearts were plowed by the Word of God in spiritual power.
It would be useful to discuss Whitefield much further, but I will only add that he was sorely persecuted by ecclesiastical officials and contemporaries. He overcame by the prevailing power of the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
The model that I will address in more detail is the one given to us by our Lord. This is the model that Whitefield observed and the one that we should observe also.
In Jesus’ day, the debate wasn’t between “the churched versus the unchurched”; it was the religious leaders versus Jesus, much like the days of Whitefield. Typical of the conflict was the Pharisees versus the sinners, symbolized by the Publicans. The Pharisees were religious legalist and traditionalists who
were strict adherents to the Jewish law and loved to seen in their self-righteousness.
The Publican’s were Jewish men who had gained the right from the Roman Senate to collect taxes for Rome from the Jewish citizens. For the most part, they were corrupt and oppressive, hated by their own people. The two words “Publicans” and “Sinners” were often found together.
Matthew chapter 9 gives us a clear view of Jesus’ method and purpose. Like Whitefield, He was an open air preacher and teacher, encountering people where they were. One day, Jesus was passing through a village on the Sea of Galilee, and paused at a Publicans table and said, “Follow me.” Later in that same day He attended a dinner party at this tax collector’s home, which was attended by a group of known sinners, and He ate with them. This angered the Pharisees. The Publican was Matthew, who became an author and apostle.
“Why do you eat with sinners?” the Pharisees asked. Jesus’ response was precise; “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Jesus attended the synagogue, but His mission was in the streets and the homes of those who understood their need to repent. In order to follow Jesus, we must adjust our sense of mission from church to the unredeemed community.
Matthew 11:19 tells us that Jesus was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners. In that passage, He is again challenged by the religious community. His response was, “Wisdom is justified by its children.” Jesus was fruitful!
Matthew 21:28-32 tells us that both John the Baptist and Jesus had a special appeal to tax collectors and harlots. That appeal is remarkable in that while they had a different approach, they both spoke the message of repentance without compromise. They were both respected in the non-religious culture. The Scriptures say that the common people heard Jesus gladly (see Luke 7:29-50).
Jesus’ model demonstrates that moral compromise is not useful or necessary in attracting those who need the message. Truth, love, and respect are useful.
Luke and Matthew point out Jesus’ success with sinners. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus again responds to a challenge by the Pharisee with a parable: two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a Publican.
The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like other men in that he tithed and fasted twice a week. He was a keeper of the law. The Publican, in contrast, stood afar off, and could not lift his head. He beat his chest, and prayed in deep anguish, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus concluded that the Pharisee “prayed with himself”, but the Publican went home justified (as if he had never sinned). That is remarkable! Jesus adds, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
I find it amazing that such a simple prayer would cause an unrighteous person to be counted righteous and that such a hard-working, religious person’s prayer would be ignored. This parable holds a significant clue to the next Great Awakening.
Jesus enjoyed His mission. Luke 15 gives us three more parables that relate to the restoration of something lost: the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. In each case, something valuable was lost and in the end recovered, and in each case, the recovery brought great joy.
Luke 157 says, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
Was Jesus implying that the Pharisees need not repent? No. Even a cursory reading of Matthew 23 would say otherwise. What He was saying is that reaching sinners was His and Heaven’s joy. Could this be a clue as to why so many Christians have lost their joy? I think so.
One might think that we could follow Jesus by simply employing methods; that is not the case. Jesus demonstrated that though He was the Son of God, He still needed to pray. Luke 6:12 says that He continued all night in prayer. Matthew 14:23 tells us that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray alone. He was there for many hours. There are numerous other recorded occasions of Jesus engaged in lengthy prayer. These occasions were the well-spring of His public ministry.
A public ministry without private prayer is a rootless and fruitless endeavor. All of Jesus’ authority and power were the product of time with the Father, in the Holy Spirit. The glory that rested upon Jesus was the clear result of being bathed in the glow of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 9). Public worship without private prayer will not produce public power.
Again we turn to Luke 9. Jesus is coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. He comes to a scene where His remaining disciples have failed to cast out an evil spirit, but Jesus succeeds where they have failed. In Matthew 17:21, Jesus says, “This kind does not go out but by prayer and fasting.”
There is a direct relationship again between our time with the Father and our time with those in desperate need. The Gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus’ power. To think that we can affect a needy culture without seriously seeking God and being filled with His Spirit is a misplaced hope. And many churches confirm that reality.
Whitefield and others who have led great revivals were men and women of prayer, not mere manipulation. Matthew 4 and Luke 3 tell us that Jesus returned from His wilderness temptation in the power of the Holy Spirit preaching the Kingdom of God, and great multitudes followed Him. Multitudes have followed the leaders of every awakening. And multitudes await our return to God in prayer and spiritual power.
Wherever the Holy Spirit is present in power, people are drawn and miracles still happen. This is evident not only in the Gospels and Acts, but throughout history, and it can happen again.
My own call to minister has been primarily to the Church. I grew up in it and have pastored since 1957. Jesus loved the Church and gave his life for it. I do not take kindly to those who stand away and criticize it, though there are often reasons that one could. We owe the Church a great debt, both those who are in or out of it. But I grieve for it; many pastors do. Sometimes, I grieve over my own inability in leading.
Jesus loved the Church, but in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, He had something to say correcting various churches. Loving the Church does not mean silence in the face of its needs. Loving the Church requires both truth and love. Rather than criticizing the Church in general, I much prefer addressing individuals personally as to our personal devotion to follow Jesus’ model. One size does not fit all.
I remembered an occasion when I was 18 years old in 1955, and was invited to preach at the local rescue mission. I was a student and had a job as a butcher. The Saturday night before my engagement to preach, I decided to visit the mission so that I could understand how it would proceed when my time to preach would come. I came in late dressed in the same clothes I wore while butchering, unshaven, and in poor appearance. I sat in the back where all the other “tramps” sat. I fit in quite nicely.
Down front were the religious supporters of the minister that evening a well-dressed young minister. There were several empty rows between us and them. The minister was obviously smiling at those of us in the back, and the “amens” were coming from the front. Everyone seemed to enjoy it but me. The minister and his friends seemed happy to be in their mentality, the tramps were quietly at rest waiting for food, but I didn’t like this picture. I slipped out at the close of the meeting.
The next week when my turn came, I preached correction to the front rows; there were few “amens”, but the tramps seemed to enjoy it. I don’t recall being invited back.
There is an old spiritual which says, “It’s not my brother or my sister but it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” As believers in Jesus, we need to examine ourselves to see if indeed we are followers of Jesus, if we follow the master’s model. Are we praying the Pharisee’s prayer or the Publican’s prayer? Should we not cry out, “God have mercy upon us”?
We could ask ourselves, personally, “Do I have the Lord’s purpose to call sinners to repentance? Is my life appealing? Do I attract non-Christians and can I eat with them rather than just be with my own kind? Do I find pleasure in leading sinners to repentance? If so, when did that last occur? Am I engaging in serious private prayer or is my ministry mainly in public worship?”
And another question: “Is there evidence of spiritual power in my life?” Has anything occurred of late that would point to Holy Spirit activity or that would cause someone to be attracted to you? When that evidence begins to happen, people are drawn to the Lord.
The multitudes like those that heard John the Baptist, Jesus, the apostles, and leaders of past revivals all over the world await our decision. They are waiting for followers of Jesus to catch fire with the Holy Spirit so that they may escape the fires of judgment stoked by ignorance of the Gospel and Jesus Christ.
Hypocrisy, lukewarmness, compromise, or criticism will not have the Divine effect that spiritual power and prayer will most certainly have. Join me – let us pray for our nation and our churches that so desperately need another Great Awakening.
Scripture Reference: Matthew 9; Matthew 11:19; Matthew 21:28-32; Luke 7:29-50; Luke 18:9-14; Luke 15; Matthew 23; Luke 6:12; Matthew 14:23; Luke 9; Matthew 17:21; Matthew 4; Luke 3; Revelation 2-3
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.