ESTABLISHING NEW CONVERTS IN THE WORD
The ultimately defeating obstacles to sturdy saintliness will be the remains of sin in the believer. Let not the Wesleyan pastor forget the doctrine that we are born with a sinful twist in our nature constituting an abnormal proneness toward aversion to God and to self-idolatry; that regeneration subdues this aversion but does not uproot it and that this remaining self-centeredness will compete with the new loyalty, causing a crippling and debilitating doublemindedness. This will constitute an abnormal proneness to negative reaction in the face of disappointment and disillusionment.
So far such doctrine is just basic orthodoxy, whether Wesleyan, Lutheran, or Calvinist. But Wesleyans (and some Calvinists) believe that God can cleanse
the Christian’s heart of this doublemindedness and fill it with the Holy Spirit as the Great Enabler. Unless the believer is led into this experience, his growth before long will begin to stall, for the essence of the carnal mind is a reluctance to accept the full implications of the lordship of Jesus. The convert in the flush of his new joy and life-orientation is unaware-or at least only dimly aware-of this inner reluctance. But as time goes on the excitement will subside, disillusionments will come, new light will dawn to open up a whole spectrum of demands in stewardship and obedience not foreseen, and the Christian will find himself beginning to struggle. Latent rebelliousness, self will, personal ambitions, materialism, and lusts will all begin to ferment and cast a shadow over his spiritual life. Gradually a battle royal will develop, ultimately reaching an acute crisis of wills.
At this point the Christian will, if he is to go on-reach a crossroads of total surrender, at a level and concerning issues never even thought of at the time of conversion. Self will be decisively dethroned. If this crisis is not resolved on the side of heart holiness, he will either drift back into the world or settle into a nominal churchianity, having a “form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). His progress toward becoming a sturdy saint will have been aborted. But if he faces the challenge of the carnal self-life and the full will of God for him, and be willing to go all out for God’s best, be a true steward of all he is and has, and become thoroughly spiritually-minded, with an intensified and concentrated devotion to Christ, he will then be on the way to his full potential. The pastor will watch him grow with joy and satisfaction. Which means that the pastor can grow sturdy saints best by leading his converts into holiness.
Does it need to be added that the most successful pastor in leading Christians into Canaan and developing sturdy saints is the pastor who models best. If he is a man of prayer, lives in the Spirit, experiences daily God-given insight and guidance, and is obviously blessed in his soul, it will be natural for young Christians to feel at home with that kind of religion. Biblical spirituality is caught more easily than taught.
THE URGENCY OF INDOCTRINATION
But that sentence does not mean that teaching doctrine can be dispensed with if only the pastor is saintly enough. If he is saintly enough, he will want to teach, for his very love for his people will incite him to impart to them the truth.
Normally, sound, conversion sparks an intellectual awakening. People who before floated in an intellectual vacuum find themselves with a new desire to learn. Especially do they desire to acquire a knowledge of the Bible and of what they are supposed to believe. So they ask questions and attend classes. This is the time for the alert pastor to guide them into a meaningful reading program. For many the level must be very elementary, or they will become bewildered and discouraged.
The pastor himself should lead the way as teacher. His sermons should be instructive. He should be prepared to answer questions and discuss difficulties
in his pastoral calling (cf. Acts 20:20). He should conduct disciplining classes, and not be too quick to shift this ministry to lay persons, few of whom are really qualified. Of course developing qualified teachers among the laity, who can handle doctrinal and ethical subjects competently, should be a goal of the pastor’s disciplining. But one elementary course is not sufficient qualification. Unfortunately, some pastors are too weak intellectually themselves to grow sturdy saints very effectively. They are strong on arousements but feeble on instruction because they are not deep students. They feel but do not think, As a consequence they are unwitting roadblocks to the growth of their people.
The weakness is compounded by the disposition of some to disparage indoctrination. The famous R. W. Dale of Birmingham, England, was wiser. When he began his pastorate as a young man, the church officers warned him, “These people won’t stand for doctrinal preaching.” He replied, “They will have to stand for it. ” They stood it for forty-five years. He understood his calling.
The Scriptures have some trenchant things to say about this. The Antichrist will succeed in deluding the religious world because people do not receive “the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10, NASB). Paul commanded Timothy not to permit his elders “to teach false doctrines any longer” (1 Tim. 1:3). Could this today apply to Sunday school teachers? This writer has more than once shuddered at the heretical nonsense propounded in adult classes.
It was impossible not to wonder whether the pastor had any awareness of this. Did he have any sense of responsibility or make some kind of an effort to know
what was being taught in his Sunday school?
Paul instructs Timothy, “Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). Then Paul adds, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (v. 16).
The man whose primary goal is to build a super church at any cost will avoid rugged doctrine, especially holiness doctrine. Doctrine declares positions and thus divides people. It always has and always will. The man bitten by the super church bug will be tempted to avoid anything that would draw lines, so he will aim at a bland, inoffensive, undemanding, all-things-to-all-people type of ministry. He will operate his church on the philosophy of meeting people’s felt needs-forgetting that their felt needs may not be their real needs. But the one who would save souls for eternity will put faithfulness ahead of numbers.
Indoctrination is a bad word only with the superficial and insincere. A pastor’s concern for the indoctrination of his people is in direct relation to the depth of his own beliefs. If he is unsure, he is willing for his people to be unsure. If he is tolerant of theological pluralism, he will be comfortable when his people are. If his doctrinal commitment is tepid, he will not lose any sleep over similar mildness in the beliefs of his people.
“Be diligent,” Timothy is exhorted, “to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of
truth” (2 Tim. 2:1 5, NASB). We are in the day predicted, when many “will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires ” (2 Tim. 4:3, NASB). Some pastors are selling out to accommodate. But a sanctified man will not sell out. He will courageously hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9, NASB). Controversy may have its perils, but its perils are not so deadly as those of pulpit wimpishness. Jude pleads with the church to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3, NASB). Doctrinal flabbiness enervates the church,undermines its witness, robs its members of religious certainty, and softens church members for the inroads of the cults. Unindoctrinated Christians are without intellectual defenses. Therefore, to fail to indoctrinate is to betray our trust.
THE ART OF INDOCTRINATION
Pastors who feel incapable themselves can begin by saturating their congregations with holiness literature. Book tables should be in every church foyer with clear, sound holiness books on display. While the self-help and self-understanding books, half psychology and half religion, have value, they do not put meat on the bones in the way that deep devotional books do or the expositions of doctrine do. Actually dozens of books, old and new, some simple, some technical, are available and should be circulating continuously in every holiness church. Sometimes classes can be built around some such book as a text, either in the Sunday school or elsewhere.
Even if the pastor is weak in the pulpit, there is still no excuse for doctrinal ignorance if he can persuade his people to read and study, both alone and in groups. However, the pastor has an obligation to learn to articulate doctrine himself, both in sermon and in group situations. Let him follow textbooks if need be. After all, college and seminary professors do, so why shouldn’t he?
The art of indoctrination includes ways to inform the mind and then build emotional attachments and strong loyalties to certain doctrines. Some may become
overly dogmatic, but in time the Lord will help such persons achieve a balance between firm belief and excessive argumentativeness over details. The important
thing is that strong Christians are those who believe some things strongly.
In this process people need to be helped to distinguish between private notions, personal preferences, speculative opinions, and bedrock convictions
important enough to die for. People have carried on crusades for years about some emotional prejudice, such as whether Christ was crucified on Friday or Thursday, or some darling prophetic notion, or the exclusive sanctity of the King James Version, only to find in the end that all their verbosity and emotional energy had been expended on a theological dead end.
The pastor who would indoctrinate systematically seeks to give to his people:
A conceptual framework;
A biblical base; and
A bridge to life.
In developing the vocabulary the primary tools are the Bible and the creeds. Let the pastor use biblical terms for the various stages of salvation experience and explain those terms. Sanctification is a Bible term-why avoid it? So also are holiness and perfection. Let’s not join the chorus of “So Who’s Perfect?” and stop there so long as our people will go home and read in the Bible, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). If there is a difference between Christian perfection and absolute flawlessness, then say so, with such biblical support and clarity that the people will never again be befuddled over a concept that in holiness circles is at once professed and denied.
The conceptual framework may be summarized as follows:
1. Theism as a world view, distinct from deism, pantheism, or materialism. God is both transcendent and immanent. He is both Creator of the universe and sovereign Governor through law, providence, and judgment.
2. The Godhead, with the Persons assuming distinct functions in the redemptive plan-the Father as Lawgiver and Initiator, the Son as Revealer and Redeemer, the Spirit as Executive, implementing the processes of redemption. He is God-in-relation.
3. The inviolability of the divine holiness, which not only excludes wrong doing by God but excludes toleration of moral wrong. From this come the necessity of the Atonement and the necessity of eternal retribution against those who reject the Atonement.
4. The supernatural nature of Christianity, by which is meant the grounding of Christianity on the redemptive acts of God in ways not explainable or accountable on naturalistic premises. The miracles that constitute Christianity’s structure are the Incarnation by means of the Virgin Birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, His ascension into heaven as our contemporary Savior and Intercessor; the Pentecost event with all that issues from it, including the church; and the finalized production of the Bible as the Word of God written.
5. The nature of man as a unique being created in God’s image, male and female, with capacity for moral change, either into Christlike holiness or demonic depravity; a capacity predicated on the power of choice, either to obey God or rebel. That men and women are accountable moral agents destined to answer to their Creator is a basic assumption of Christianity.
6. The cruciality of sin in the human predicament, including an inherited bent to sinning due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and the voluntary commission of known wrong. This concept distinguishes sin from mistakes, infirmities, ignorances, and weaknesses, which are the nonvolitional scars of the Fall. Christianity sees sin (not illness, ignorance, poverty, or political systems) as the supreme impediment to happiness and peace.
7. The degrading and damning power of sin, in its debasement of human character, its blighting of human life, and its present and eternal alienation from God.
8. The moral structure of life, by which is meant the law of consequences (“we are free to choose but we are not free to choose the consequences of our choices”), and the law of affinity-that the universe is on the side of righteousness and against sin. Sin produces ultimate pain, righteousness produces ultimate harmony and happiness.
9. The probationary nature of human life, with eternal hell the outcome of confirmed unbelief and disobedience and eternal heaven the outcome of sustained faith and obedience.
10. The necessity of a blood atonement, offered by Christ in His death on the cross, as God’s requirement for the satisfaction of both justice and mercy, and as God’s prescribed basis for forgiveness, reconciliation, sanctification, the Spirit’s indwelling, and eternal life.
11. Salvation from sin and the recovery of lost holiness, including the cleansing of the carnal mind and the full reinhabitation of the Spirit, as the primary objective of Christ’s mission, and the central overarching theme of the Bible.
12. The universality of the Atonement’s provisional benefits, and the conditionality of the Atonement’s ultimate personal benefits. God’s saving economy does not include the arbitrary regeneration of the “elect” based on divine decree, with the rest of humanity left without viable options. Neither does the Atonement “lock in” the born-again person to eternal life apart from his ongoing choice to believe and obey.
13. The grace-system of redemption: The personal problem of sin cannot be overcome by human initiative but only by responding to God’s initiative; furthermore, it cannot be overcome by law-keeping or good works, but only by a humble and penitent acknowledgment of our sinfulness and full acceptance of God’s unmerited favor offered in Christ; and the full appropriation of God’s grace as an inner power for holiness.
14. The pivotal place of prevenient grace in the divine economy, seen as a universal benefit of the Atonement, ministered by the Spirit, which counteracts total depravity in every human being sufficiently to make all persons salvable. and starts the first flow of desires toward God and salvation.
15. The radical newness of life in Christ, which makes impossible the commingling of saving faith and continued willful sinning.
16. The experiential nature of salvation, which is individual, personal, and conscious-involving a real “I-Thou” relationship with God (a “know-so” salvation).
17. The sequence of stages in the Christian life, involving regeneration and entire sanctification as distinct works of grace, both received by faith in a moment and witnessed to by the Spirit, both preceded and followed by gradual processes of awakening, conviction, learning, and growth.
18. The obligatory nature of spiritual formation by which is meant that growth in grace is what Christians are commanded to do (2 Peter 3:18), and that it will not occur as God intends unless deliberate attention is given to the means of grace and to the dynamics of growth.
These are the great conceptual elements of the Christian religion, which pastors are expected to make thoroughly familiar and understandable to their people.” These should become the very warp , and woof of their thinking, so profoundly internalized that all else in life will be shaped by them.
There are certain especially critical areas, such as the distinction between sins and mistakes, intentions and performance, carnality and normal humanity, temptation and sin. We need to help them understand something of the nature of love as being a godlike commitment to the glory of God and the welfare of others, a love that transcends feelings and that is yielding without being spineless, forgiving without being maudlin, understanding without surrendering one’s sense of justice or erasing the boundaries of right and wrong. There is a circle of holy love that sees its source to be in God, mediated through Calvary to our hearts, but flowing back to God and to God’s Law first, then flowing out to people. Our love for people must be structured by our love for God and His Law-then we will love people as He wants us to love them rather than as we want to love them or as they want us to love them.
All of these distinctions belong to the inculcation of Christian truth essential for living. Only then will our people be rescued from the sentimental rubbish they pick up from this morally bankrupt society.
In building a vocabulary and conceptual framework no better tool is at hand, next to the Bible, than the creeds. A series of sermons on the doctrinal statements of one’s denomination would be useful periodically. It would serve two purposes-sharpen and realign the pastor’s own thinking, and educate the church.
Church music is also a supportive tool. John and Charles Wesley knew the power of a sound hymnody. What people sing in church they probably sing at home.
What they sing at home seeps into their subconscious and enriches the treasury of their doctrinal attachments. If a pastor’s minister of music keeps the people
jigging to empty ditties, he should-fire the musician and find one with a better understanding of his mission.
But further than this we cannot go in this book. Pastors who believe this understanding of salvation and who experience its reality in their own lives, will find a way to learn to handle the doctrine effectively and convincingly.
But their preaching must be rich in texture. All facets of this diamond need to be held up to the light. And the preaching must be so precise that the listeners
are not left in a fog. What they hear must be understood by them as the preaching of regeneration and entire sanctification as two distinct works of grace. This will be the point of offense, and this will be the criterion of faithfulness.
Perhaps the real test of whether or not so-called holiness preaching is authentically biblical and Wesleyan is a very simple one: Is the preaching helping anyone find “the blessing”? Are believers receiving light on the subject, and reflectively receiving light on their own need, and becoming so hungry that they become seekers and then finders? Are there folk around who can testify to a clear experience of entire sanctification who could not so testify before we came? And are they testifying?
For this to be true, holiness preaching, in one or other of its facets, must mark a pastor’s year-round ministry, not be an occasional shock treatment. For, in the words of D. G. Kehle, “one learns doctrine through repetition, whether the doctrine be commercial, satanic, or divine. “