Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A New Awakening?

It's been a few days since I posted, because I've been busy reading the book Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. So far, it's been a great book, and a great inspiration to read how Wilberforce was able to change the way a society (and thus pretty much all the civilized world) thought. While slavery still exsists today, Metaxes asserts that Wilberforce, by legally abolishing the slave trade in England , caused people, for the first time in human history, to realize that it's wrong to own another person. It's virtually unthinkable to most of us that humanity could ever have thought it was right in the first place. Yet, according to Metaxas, we have William Wilberforce to thank for that mindset. How amazing would it be to be a person that can impact the world in such a way?!

But, I digress...

What really struck me was Metaxas' brief and simple explanation of the spiritual life of England at the time that Wilberforce was alive (mid 18th century). In response to the ugliness of the Puritans and subsequent wars, violence and divisions in the church, England was running from any kind of serious Christianity.

So, what happened, writes Metaxas, was "The churches of mid-eighteenth-century England all but abandoned orthodox, historical Christianity and now preached a tepid kind of moralism that seemed to present civility and the preservation of the status quo as the summum bonnum." (That's Latin for "the highest good" for all you Latin flunkies out there -- although I always thought it was spelled "summum bonum" so I'm a Latin flunky too).

Just that got me thinking! While we don't have a history of religious wars in this country (unless you count white "Christians" annihilating the native population....), we do have a splintered history with church divisions, national Christian leaders misrepresenting us, slavery, "manifest destiny", prohibition and whatnot that would cause more than a few of the doubtful to run.

And, even now there is so much evidence of trying to preserve the morality of all for the highest good. Think about the arguments against homosexual marriage, keeping the 10 commandments in public buildings, or arguments (often not with gentleness and respect) about the creation/evolution debate. These, along with others, are pushed by many large organizations for the sake of protecting the foundations of our society. Or, perhaps our "present civility and the preservation of the status quo."

Now, I'm not saying that I don't agree with certain arguments, but where do those arguments belong, how should they be stated, and what standard do I expect a person who has not committed their life to Christ to adhere to? Sometimes it feels to me like the statement the church in America makes is less like one of unconditional love and more like the Peanuts gang's teacher, "waaa...waaaa....waaaaa.....waaaaaa". Who wants to listen to that?

But that's not even all! Metaxas goes on to write:

"And so, understandably, people looked less and less to the churches for the ultimate answers to their questions, and a fog of hopelessness and brutal superstitious spiritualism crept over the land."

Whoa! Maybe that explains the Oprah phenomenon, the overabundance of parenting books (for instance "Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guide to Parenting), the national fascination with Dr. Phil.... it goes on.... there's so much "advice" out there, and so much of it is not based on real Biblical truth, that it has brought a "fog of hopelessness" and "superstitious spiritualism" over us. We can't really think straight, and in the meantime the church is worried about electing the "right president" rather than teaching the good news that changes hearts, minds and, ultimately, the world!

But... it gets even better. This is part that I was excited about.

Enter the "Holy Club". John and Charles Wesley, brothers that apparently got along pretty well, and George Whitfield. And, for all you church history flunkies out there (myself included), they were the original Methodists. For years, while at Oxford, they followed a strict moral and methodical life, with lots of public praying. People were making fun of them by calling them Methodists, but I guess the name stuck.

This all went on until the day that Whitefield had his "great awakening", realizing that it was God's mercy, not our piety that saved us. He realized that only Jesus had achieved a totally moral life, and that our only hope for salvation rested in asking Jesus to save us.

Now, a couple hundred years later, that message has been ingrained in us, although we struggle to really believe it. Back then it was such a radical thought that it sparked a revolution throughout England that actually spread to the colonies across the Atlantic (us!)! So, of course this made the Church of England happy! NOT!

Now, all of a sudden, all these sinful, greasy, smelly, poor, broken people were understanding that there was a way out of their hopelessness! So, this revolution grew until it wasn't unheard of for Whitefield to address crowds of 20,000 or more -- not bad for a guy without a microphone! And, he was reaching so many people in America that Benjamin Franklin, after verifying that the crowds were really that big, became his publisher. Not a convert, just a publisher.

So, Metaxas goes on to say, "There was a great fear among those in power, especially ecclesiastical power, that men like Whitefield -- and John and Charles Wesley-- were threatening the social order. The lower classes were being encouraged to think for themselves, to resist the more orderly religion found in most of the Church of England congregations. Blacks and women were finding a place in this new, vibrant form of Christianity and it was all very troubling."

Oh how exciting! To be a part of something troubling! To challenge the social order of the day! To see people with no hope first learn about the hope they have! Or to see hearts change and desire what's pure and noble and good rather than trying to use civil law to force them to! That's so much more exciting than debating the placement of the 10 commandants! Of course, Whitefield wasn't concerned with forcing the prevailing church of the day, or the government,to force people to stop sinning (although he preached the topics of sin and hell very boldly). He focused on spreading some great news to people who needed to hear it.

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