NEW CONVERTS: DEEPENING SPIRITUAL VALUES
R. S. TAYLOR
SOME CRUCIAL AREAS OF NURTURE
Some areas of nurture are more difficult than others, requiring unusual thought and labor on the part of the pastor. For this reason pastors may allow certain
emphases to drop through the cracks. But when this occurs the maturing process of new converts and the church as a whole is short-circuited.
THE CHRISTIANIZING OF VALUES
While indoctrination is the foundation of healthful growth and spiritual stability, it must include more than a head knowledge of the essential tenets of the Christian religion. It must be the indoctrination of the heart as well.
Built into the Christian should be not only intellectual understandings and underpinnings but personal habits and lifestyles that become the practice of the truth.
Consciously or unconsciously everyone is controlled by his value system. Some things receive prior attention, energy, and time because in his value system they are of prime importance. Other values range down the ladder, and can be more willingly pushed aside. The worldly mind is shaped in its value system by the sales pitch of the world. The body is at the top of the list, hence exercise is more important than church. Some think loyalty to their bowling team the most important. Others wouldn’t think of missing the Wednesday night square dance. These are samples of the world’s value systems, and they illustrate how such systems dictate choices.
Our new converts bring into the Christian life with them at least a residue of their habitual and respective value systems. Reshaping them will be the first big hurdle in learning how to live the Christian life. Regeneration radically recasts one’s perspective, so that now spiritual claims are seen as First Claims. God has been brought into the center. But a lot of previous baggage is dragged in also, on the assumption that because these things are not essentially sinful they can be continued as part of life. So sports, travel, accumulation of the latest gadgets, TV favorites, bowling night, boats and boating, et cetera, continue to fill up life as before.
But the new Christian quickly begins to discover that these old activities are competing with his new commitments. Gradually it dawns on him that if he is going to attend prayer meeting, Wednesday bowling must go. Rapidly with some, but with others slowly, the whole lifestyle will undergo a radical overhaul-compelled by the inner change in perspective by which comparative values are determined. At some point along the line, the cleansing crisis of entire sanctification will be crucial to this process.
This process belongs to that essential “renewing” of the mind (Rom. 12:2). It is learning to think like a Christian. A Christian who thinks like a Christian sees that holiness is more important than happiness, heaven more important than earth, eternity more important than time, and God more important than people. Fun and frolic, fads and fashions, VCRs and cameras, hobbies and clubs, begin to be seen as less and less important, and gradually are submerged by more urgent activities, activities that are now perceived to be of eternal consequence. Unless this process of revamping one’s value system goes forward to its Christian conclusion, spiritual growth will be stymied and backsliding will set in. To repeat: the deeper internal spiritualization of one’s nature by entire sanctification will be the crucial factor in aiding one through this reorganizing period.
DEEPENING THE GODWARD RELATIONSHIP
Doctrine without devotion will produce a well mapped desert. Pastors are wise to speak frequently of the importance of prayer. Stress should be on the intimate love relationship between the believer and God, which marks the normal Christian life. Prayer is keeping in constant touch with Christ our Friend. It must not be seen as a burden but as a privilege, as delightful as visiting with earthly friends we love.
It is to be expected that the new Christian will have some problems at first. He may struggle with feelings of unreality, for when he talks with spouse or children or neighbor he can see them. They are obviously real. But where is God? Prayer to some seems like talking into empty space. But here too doctrine guides the mind in its understanding of the True God, who not only created and rules and not only walked as a man in Galilee and Judea but who as the Holy Spirit is present with us each moment. If we acknowledge His presence, He will make Himself real to us. Hebrews 11:6 is appropriate here:
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Then the problems of wandering thoughts and restlessness will plague. Most difficult to solve is the problem of finding time to get alone with God. This will be difficult for everyone-women, men, young people. But the pastor must help them see that God is the most important Person in their lives, and time spent with Him is the most important appointment that they can ever keep. Talking to God is grander, nobler, more pregnant with potential for life than any possible conversation with kings or presidents. To say these things is not to be rhetorical. It is simply to acknowledge the truth. Can we help new Christians see and feel this? If so, they will not groan about having to find time to pray, but will delight in the challenge of solving their personal dilemmas. Eagerness will spark ingenuity, and they will find all sorts of ways for adjusting this and dispensing with that in order to have a solid block of time alone with their Lord.
That sacred period of time should include quiet, unhurried reading of the Word; also meditation, praise, petition, and intercession. But always the Christian needs to think of it as an intimate conversation with an unseen but very real and close and understanding Friend. And he should feel free to express himself fully his doubts, complaints, longings, defeats. Everything that comprises his life, whether domestic or social or vocational, is a fit subject of prayer. Christians should be encouraged to believe that nothing is too small for them to bring to God. If it is important enough to talk about, it is important enough to pray about.
All tampering with occult meditation systems must be avoided. Trying to meditate with the aid of a mantra, for instance, is an insult to the Holy Spirit.
In the early days of one’s Christian life frequent recommitments to a prayer regimen may be necessary, as the pressures of life will tend to bend our plans and intrude into the secret closet. But no matter how many times a growing Christian may have to reassess his schedule and reestablish his prayer commitment, he must understand that this is to be rigorously done; for it is as basic to life and health as are meals and sleep.
The pastor can also help new Christians understand that while spiritual appetites are a gift of grace in one sense, yet they are also to be cultivated. A deep love for prayer, a sense of ease on one’s knees, a spirit of prayer through the day, a real love for the Bible are all marks of Christian maturity, and will be the end product of faithfulness during the days we struggle with disinterest and sluggishness and unreality. Acquiring a real delight in the Scripture and in communion with our heavenly Father is part of the learning and growing process.
If a pastor is going to succeed in nurturing the prayer life of his people, he must see to it that his total church life is structured by an emphasis on prayer meetings. The pastor must make every effort to draw new converts into women’s, men’s, youth, mid-week, and home prayer meetings. They should be encouraged, without undue pressure, to take part.
Elementary sentence prayer sessions will be the easiest ice-breaker. However, the church is itself immature if sentence praying is all its members are capable of doing. In every church there should be a corps of prayer warriors who know how to call on God and engage in protracted prevailing prayer. New converts should find themselves also in this kind of a prayer situation. Even though they only listen and wonder, their growth will accelerate, and they will imbibe a standard which will immunize them against the perpetuation of infantile piety.
LEARNING THE JOYS OF STEWARDSHIP
Responsible handling of their resources is also an area of disciplining (as introduced in chapter twelve). Very soon a new Christian should be taught the duty and privilege of tithing. Sermons, tracts, classes, testimonies of others will all play a part in helping the neophyte see that this is just part of serving God. A non-tither is still an outsider. He is a guest in the house. Tithing makes one an insider. One is now part of the team, sharing with others gladly and unselfishly the responsibility of keeping the doors open and spreading the gospel.
Tithing is an act of faith. The very idea of taking ten percent and giving it to the church is at first shocking and often precipitates a deep struggle. “How can we do it?” Not knowing the wonderful ways of God, the new Christian may regard the practice as impossible for him, even unethical in the face of current obligations and debts. Let the pastor put into timid hands some such book as Your Money Matters by Malcolm MacGreggor, and perhaps their faith will become strong enough to plunge into the practice of tithing, fearfully but courageously, as an act of obedience.
Three aspects of this will require careful, repetitive instruction. One is that we do not tithe in order to be prospered. Tithing is part of our service. It is an act of devotion. Second, tithing is indispensable to spiritual growth. It is part of living the Christian life. People who fear or refuse to tithe never prosper spiritually.
But the third aspect is that tithing is but the acknowledgement of our total stewardship. Christians should learn to think in terms of God’s ownership of themselves and all they have or hope to have. As stewards their aim in life is to extend the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. All of life is consecrated and disciplined to contribute to this supreme end, and anything that cannot contribute is willingly surrendered. The Christian lives for God and souls. His private happiness is under tribute to this Christian perspective. Therefore, the tithe is a token of the whole. Financial support of the Lord’s work begins with the tithe, but does not end with it. Gradually the joy of giving will be learned, until the Christian will delight in giving more and more of his resources.
But far beyond money, he himself will be at the Lord’s disposal. Talents, time, energies, and possessions as well as vocation and avocation will all be seen by the believer as belonging to God. Stewardship will come to be seen not simply as a passive availability, languidly acknowledged, but as an aggressive, intense application of all one’s powers. This is the way the wholly sanctified believer feels and thinks. This is a fundamental facet of heart holiness. Stewardship and holiness can almost be said to be two names for the same thing.
All Christians must learn to put God’s plumbline on their human relations. For many the chief arena of struggle will be the home. If they are to become sturdy saints they must learn to be saintly there. Yet many of them struggle with their more intimate interpersonal relationships: with unsaved spouses, parents with unruly children and associated disciplinary challenges, and with burdens of livelihood and money/property management. It is one thing to be converted, another to be cleansed of the carnal mind, but yet another to learn to cope with the nuts and bolts of everyday living. And the most ideal school for the developing of sainthood is the home.
Pastors will need to give much attention to the home challenge through their counseling, their pastoral calling,and in such auxiliary ministries as Marriage Enrichment Retreats. In most instances the two bottlenecks are lack of wisdom and lack of understanding. If somehow young husbands can be helped to understand their wives and live with them according to 1 Peter 3:7, domestic tranquillity and happiness will in many cases finally move in. And if young wives can learn to understand their husbands and see with loving discernment their hurts and fears and needs, they themselves will be more relaxed and happier. But this paragraph merely serves to remind the pastor of one facet of his job, if he is to grow sturdy saints.
RELATING TO THE WORLD AROUND
New converts have been brought out of the world into the church. They have correctly seen the necessity of separation and abstention, according to 2 Corinthians 6: 14 7:1 . But they cannot hibernate within the four walls of a church building. They must go back out into the world to acquire an education, do business, make a living, contribute to society. They will be rubbing elbows with the unsaved every day, even at home in many cases, certainly on the job.
Can the pastor help these Christians find the balance between being in the world but not of it? A sound independence of peers, of trends and fads, and a discernment of what is proper and what is improper, what is legitimate for a Christian and what is not are all marks of Christian depth and stability.
Certain emphases are vital. One is the art of witnessing with wisdom. If a Christian is weak, withdrawal is the way of wisdom. But if he feels himself to be strong enough to mingle socially to some degree, he should be motivated always by soul-winning concerns. This should be aggressive, uppermost in one’s thinking and planning, and supported by much prayer. Social contacts should not be times for hiding one’s light but for seeking ways and means of witnessing.
Unfortunately, many young Christians tend to be hopelessly naive. They are lambs in the midst of experienced and designing wolves. For the first few years of their Christian life, they had better stick as much as possible to their own crowd, and not branch out except as their occupations demand intermingling; and unless and until they have had some training and are themselves definitely led by the Spirit, perhaps they should team up with another Christian.
TEACHING CHRISTIAN ETHICS
Another important pastoral tutorial emphasis must be on basic Christian ethics. This is a demanding area of ministry, requiring careful thought, thorough study, and prayerful courage. Christians need to understand that (in the words of R. Duane Thompson), “Communion with God is not simply an end in itself; social and ethical righteousness, with power to transform the social setting, is a natural and necessary component.”‘
The general principle is that the pastor needs to remind people continually of the basic requirements of righteousness. The Ten Commandments should be expounded periodically, together with the plethora of supporting and expanding passages in the New Testament. Chief of these would be the Sermon on the Mount, then Romans 12-14, Galatians 5, Ephesians 4-6, and many others.
Christians should never be permitted to forget that they are to practice secretly and publicly unimpeachable honesty and purity. New converts often bring into the Christian life years of confused ethical thinking and shady practices. It takes time and instruction for their sense of right and wrong to get straightened out. A good conscience (1 Tim. 1 :5) is not only clear through forgiveness but educated by the Bible. Expounding biblical ethics belongs to the pastor’s disciplining task.
Then the field of ethics includes also those special positions taken by most holiness churches. They are called Church Rules. These should not be seen as roadblocks to freedom but preservations of freedom. They should not be seen as tolerated nuisances but as badges of courage and honor. They are not barriers behind which we cower but standards by which we march. To put it differently the pastor is not sufficiently competent if the church rules continue to be seen as excess baggage and are an embarrassment to him. Christians are not yet thinking straight unless they are so committed to everything that is right and so opposed to everything that is wrong that they will daily thank God for a church that dares to take open, unabashed stands on moral and ethical issues.
Preaching once a year on the rules of one’s denomination, as a duty, is self-defeating. Nothing will more surely create scorn both for the preacher and the rules. If
the rules are not germane to present discipleship every day, and if they are not relevant to the tides of life reflected daily in the newspaper, then they are vestigial
tabus of the past. Instead of dusting them off and displaying them nostalgically once a year they should be forgotten. But if the rules represent biblical principles and ethical positions vital to the spiritual and moral welfare of contemporary Christians, they should be handled with the respect and competence they deserve.
Fundamental to that competence is pastoral fire. If a pastor truly loves people, he will be intensely interested in trends and practices that affect his people and society in general. In every faithful pastor is the soul of the prophet. He will be capable of holy warfare. There will be in him the ardent heart of a crusader. Therefore, he will blend into his total preaching program frequent forays into ethical territory, with force and conviction. The result will be an ethically informed and responsive people.
The pastor will need to make special effort to reestablish certain basic moral convictions in the minds of people in his congregation who have suffered the brainwashing of the media and whose convictions have been eroded. These include legal public gambling, sex outside of marriage, living together without
marriage, easy divorce, the use of alcohol, and casual abortion. Every Sunday the pastor is facing some folk who have become mushy and loose in their thinking
about such issues. But meeting the needs of these people will require more than tirades. It will call for careful biblical exposition and thoroughly competent
ethical reasoning. But no mincing.”
It is fundamental to Christian ethics that we learn to live by principle. This will go beyond the letter of the law and involve applying the inner principle of the letter to situations not named precisely. Such skill in applying principles will give Christians a moral discernment in their TV viewing, in their places of recreation and entertainment, and in business and social complexities. The legalist will run to the church discipline to see if this or that is named. If it is not named, he will feel free to indulge. The mature ethicist will ask if the moral principle underlying the rule is being violated. The goal of Christian growth is the maturity that sifts life daily along these lines spontaneously and naturally because the conscience is trained to discern what is compatible with holiness and what is not. “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).
Another basic principle is that acceptability in the Christian life of a particular practice is determined by its potential impact on others. Here Romans 14-15 is a treasure store of instruction.
Yet another principle which must be inculcated is that activities are ethically evaluated not just in terms of obvious hurtfulness at the moment but in terms of intrinsic trends and ultimate directions. The Puritan Thomas Greenham taught that not only is sin forbidden but its occasion as well, i.e., anything which tends to lead to sin. This of course is the rationale behind opposition to the social dance, the use of regular playing cards, and many questionable practices. In teaching these truths, the pastor could well make frequent use of Susanna Wesley’s wise counsel: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of your body over mind, that thing for you is sin.”
This leads to a yet further principle which belongs to the pastor’s pedagogical task. It is essential that people see that avoidance of this or that should not be out of fear or duty but out of love for God. Their affections should be profoundly conditioned to “abhor that which is evil and cleave to that which is good” (Rom. 12:9, KJV). Then avoidance will not seem like a deprivation for which they feel slightly sorry for themselves. Neither will the rules seem like an infringement on their liberties. If their moral sense is sound, they will hate what God hates, with instant recoil and internalized rejection. For such people the printed rule will be useful for guidance and instruction but needless for motivation.