Connecting the dots

Consider this: JOLLYBLOGGER: Treating Prostitutes with Dignity.

There was an old preacher in Wales in 1735 which none of us have probably heard of because his messages were in Welsch.  His name was Daniel Rolands.  He was an Episcopal minister who was spiritually dead.  No one liked his messages; his church was dying.  He thought Christianity meant being a moral person.

He went to hear a man preach who was visiting, who said, “The determining factor in your relationship with God is not what you have done, but what Christ has done for you.  It is grace alone, through faith alone because of Christ alone.”  Daniel went back and thought about this for a month, until one night he was taking communion and this truth exploded in his heart.  He realized what Christ had done for him and it became a power to him.

The first thing that happened to him was a revolution in his identity.  This is always what happens first in someone’s life as the Gospel becomes objectively and subjectively true.  You see yourself and a child of God first and everything else second.

Secondly, the things that once controlled his life and scared him, like failure, simply lost its hold on him.  He no longer was ashamed of the Gospel.

This truth exploded in his church and it began to experience revival.  This revival flooded out of the church into the streets of Wales to the degree that the prostitutes began to attend prayer meetings and morning services.

Notice, the way he was affected by God, notice the impact that had on his ministry. Now go and read these stories:

Also consider reading these blogs:

As is often the case Pam has wise words relating to some of the issues in Perspective.

Now I want to write about revival and I will later in the post. But I cannot jump straight to there. If you have not read those posts and blogs then I urge you to go and do so before continuing.

This is about so much more than revival, this is about individuals, created and loved by God. Individuals for whom Christ died, to bring healing, resurrection, new hope and new life. From story after story, not just these but in a wide variety of research over the years, not only that but from the lives of people I have known it is clear that there has been terrible abuse within the Church family and wider society and the Church has failed huge numbers of people.

When I hear people defending the structures and teaching that has allowed this to happen in the name of holiness I want to scream. Is this like Nero fiddling while Rome burns? Is this like Pharisees destroying people through the application of the law? Too many have suffered (one would have been too many, but we are talking big numbers here), we have to change, we have to turn back to a focus on grace.

And one more thing before continuing, I want to express my indebtedness to those people who having endured so much have through their courage, honesty, vulnerability, faith and wisdom taught me so much. I only wish it could have been less costly, as I have read their stories and written this through my own tears I have been praying for healing, comfort, strength and peace for them.

But why all this, how are these terrible stories connected to Daniel Rolands and to revival? Well I desire transformation and revival. East Northants needs transformation and revival. To me these threads connect up in how we are to be Christians and how we are to be Church if revival is to come. So while I can write 42: Shock horror! I agree with Adrian on revival I for one need to see our preparation in terms of repentance, grace and inclusion.

Sadly much of what I read about the desire for revival focuses on a need for a specific understanding of holiness. A need to do actions that "put us right with God" in some way. I am uncomfortable with this, it is theologically wrong, surely we believe that our actions cannot bring us to God.

Often this search for holiness seems a coded message for heavy shepherding, for male headship and strict criteria for who is in and out. Adrian illustrates some of these tendencies in his latest post Pierced for Our Transgressions – The Atonement Revisited. You can see this in comments on my post by DH here and here. I figure Tim has it spot on when he says:

I like Jesus’ definition of holiness myself: ‘Love the Lord your God
with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbour
as yourself’.

Revival came when Daniel Rolands moving on from strict moral teaching to a real experience of God’s grace. If we want revival then we need to be praying for such real experiences. It seems to me that God’s grace is absolutely where we have to start when hearing stories such as those from Suzanne, Wayne and Psalmist.

As male minister:

  • If I preach morality like Daniel Rolands
  • if I teach male headship
  • if I believe I have all the answers about faith
  • if I believe I can earn and teach holiness through strict doctrine

then I have nothing to say and no way of walking alongside women who have suffered abuse from their husbands. I have nothing to say and no way to be a minister to anyone who has been abused. There will be no revival.

But if I give up my self-righteousness, if I take on board Ephesians 2:1-7 for me, if what happened to Daniel Rolands happpens to me so that I can own "He realized what Christ had done for him and it became a power to him." Well then I can walk alongside anyone, not because I know the way, but because I realise that I am no better and that I cannot be holy myself, that we all need to be

  • Alive in Christ
  • Raised with Christ
  • Seated with Christ

"in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches
of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus." then God’s power may be freed to work here to bring the transformation this place needs so badly.

These stories leave me repeating "Come Lord Jesus, Come", for there is no other hope.

8 thoughts on “Connecting the dots

  1. Psalmist

    Greetings, Dave.
    I have read your blog off and on and have appreciated your thoughtful and passionate exploration of so many different aspects of faithful Christian discipleship.
    While I really do appreciate your expression of outrage over the stories that Suzanne, Wayne and I have posted–domestic abuse is something that ought to provoke outrage in anyone with a heart, especially Christians–please accept a couple of gentle clarifications.
    First (and I’m speaking only for myself here), the abuse is in the distant past in my case. I’ve been blessed to be able to share the story when God prompts me to do so, for many years now. That is good news! I think of it as God turning the evil inside-out, making my past an instrument for healing and blessing for others not so far along in their own journeys to wholeness. Honestly, for some survivors, only a fellow survivor is going to have the credibility they require in order to build a trusting relationship in which the reality of God’s transforming power can be experienced. So what I think is important for you as a pastor is to make it clear that you are aware of the prevalence of domestic violence, will actively work for intervention and change when you learn of specific cases, and that you’re a “safe” person for whom those seeking wholeness can trust with their awful truth. Don’t expect to be the wone who walks closely through the process with most people, if you yourself are not a survivor of family abuse.
    But do continue to communicate your outrage that human beings do such things to their fellow human beings. When I had been in therapy and a support group for a while and indicated I was seeing/feeling progress, my pastor (who had gently but firmly insisted that I get such help) would sometimes ask me questions about what had happened; he wanted so badly to understand the dynamics of healing so that he could be more effective the next time he was called on by God to help someone connect with the appropriate resources. He would occasionally say something like, “I just can’t imagine a father hurting his children. It’s not that I don’t believe you; on the contrary, I know there’s probably a lot more that you’re not ready to tell anyone about. It’s just so foreign to me how a man could be so evil to his own children. I’m sorry; this is about you, it’s not about your father.” And I finally told him to keep on telling me how unfathomable he finds child abuse, because that reminded me in the tough times of recovery that what happened to me WAS evil. The abuse was almost routine in my life; it surprised me when, as a teenager, I finally realized that everyone’s parents didn’t beat their children. Comments like my pastor’s helped me remember that my childhood was not normal. Only if it were normal, would there be no hope.
    Finally, may I suggest that you consult with some trusted lay leaders about your commitment to helping abuse victims break the silence so they can seek help. See if these leaders can help you identify two or three people in your congregation (or more) who have some knowledge or education/vocation in working with victims of violence and who could help you organize what we in the U.S. would call a “task force” to begin to discern how God can make yours a church that both takes a hard stand against domestic violence and has genuine compassion and assistance for the victims.
    There are so many “status quo” pastors and churches out there, Dave, that turn blind eyes and deaf ears to the reality of domestic violence all around them. Kudos for not wanting to be one of them. People have to be convinced that the church can be a safe haven for them, instead of the more typical clueless dispensary of platitudes and spiritual malpractice concerning family/violence issues. Believe me, if you and your church develop the reputation of being the exception to this dismal rule, you will be a rare and shining jewel. To quote an American baseball movie, “Field of Dreams,” “If you build it, they will come.”
    God bless you, brother. May your desire for change in the church be a blessing to many.

    Reply
  2. Dave Warnock

    Psalmist,
    Thanks for the comment.
    I agree totally that the role/possibility of a minister cannot and should not attempt to replace fellow survivors.
    I do not think it appropriate to talk much about what is happening in this area in my own Churches, however, be assured that I am not working alone and that a safe haven is part of what I believe is central to being Church.

    Reply
  3. Dave Warnock

    Oh and by the Psalmist, when you say
    “First (and I’m speaking only for myself here), the abuse is in the distant past in my case. I’ve been blessed to be able to share the story when God prompts me to do so, for many years now. That is good news!”
    My reaction is Amen, good news indeed. But I don’t think the fact that you are now in this position makes what was done normal or ok. It does not remove the evil or mean we should not react with horror.
    It can be wonderfully encouraging to hear survivors. But just because there are miracles of healing and wholeness does not mean that the original events were not horrific. While we should not re-open wounds we should also not allow healing to hide the evil that was done.
    We should also of course celebrate healing as God’s work. Another reason why I love him/her.

    Reply
  4. Pam

    Dave, this post has really touched me and I can’t really say why.
    I get uncomfortable with the general concept of “revivial” because to me it does specifically imply that what is wanted is more bums on seats saying “We e have the right doctrine about God and you must believe as we do.”
    I get uncomfortable when other Christians decry what I’d call “holiness in action” because they insist that I’m not responding to God’s love but rather “trying to earn my salvation”. I believe we are saved by grace but, darn it, that doesn’t excuse us from trying to do the right thing and to live God’s way.
    The book “Domestic Violence: what every pastor needs to know” (ISBN 0-8006-3175-7) was written by a conservative male US-based minister and it explains the psychological dynamics of domestic violence. He explains that the person who engages in physical violence (he does assume that it’s the husband who is abusing) is addicted to this behaviour. He explains that abusers are ALWAYS genuinely sorry but, absent the abuser seeking help, abuse always escalates. That is why churches cannot allow an abuser off the hook “because s/he was really sorry”. The author tells many stories about women he encountered who are either not believed when they report abuse to their minister and/or who are counselled to stay with “genuinely repentant” husbands.

    Reply
  5. Psalmist

    To clarify, Dave: In NO way do I believe that my own healing makes the past abuse “normal” or “OK.” What I meant to convey in my comment is that part of what makes recovery so difficult for many survivors is their belief that the abuse WAS OK or normal. I fully recognize that the ability to tell my own story is a gift from God, and it’s always (so far) been about helping someone else begin or continue to work toward wholeness.
    Heavens, no, it wasn’t normal or OK! But it’s a wonderful miracle of God to see something good happening because of my own healing.
    A final point: I don’t know if I’ll ever be “completely” healed, this side of eternity. If I gave that impression, I certainly didn’t mean to. Recovery happens in layers and all I know for sure is that there’s still at least one more layer left, even after all these years.
    Thanks again for your post and for these responses.

    Reply
  6. Suzanne McCarthy

    I just want to mention that we are all individuals and each case is different. I was greatly helped by other women survivors but sometimes they assumed that my situation was identical to theirs, so it wasn’t unmixed.
    My counsellor is a non-Christian man who has not experienced abuse himself. I was reluctant at first, but he was recommended by a Christian as the “best”. I have found it to be so.
    Some friends who have no experience of abuse have been incredibly helpful. Especially men who just treat me as an equal without pause. That makes up for the patronising attitude I meet elsewhere. I think anyone can help by
    1. knowing the details of the law on abuse
    2. not making disparaging comments about divorce
    3. pointing out that half of us are single anyway, so “no big deal”
    4. acknowledging that a woman can seek fulfillment in a career in exactly the same way a man can
    5. giving single men/women the same status as anyone else
    6. encouraging single people to see that others will want to spend time with them for who they are as indivduals

    Reply
  7. sally

    Yes we need revival and renewal- and I believe it needs to start with a revival of grace- our re-recieving the grace that God has poured out upon us in Christ- too much of our time as churches is taken up with debating moral issues and too little time in prayer for God’s perspective on those issues.
    We fail to love in the name of holiness, and because of that we become hard and brittle, resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

    Reply

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