PROVOCATIVE PAMPHLETS--NUMBER 113
At the Grass Roots . . .
By F. C. HUNTING
MR. FRANK C. HUNTING graduated from the College of the Bible in 1933 to become the Minister of the church at Blackburn, Vic., where he had been serving as Student Preacher. After serving with the churches at Blackburn and Prahran in Victoria, Mr. Hunting became Youth Director with the churches in New South Wales. He then served with the church at Ann Street, Brisbane; and for the past fifteen years has been Minister of the church at Dawson Street, Ballarat. Mr. Hunting preached the Conference Sermon of Victorian-Tasmanian Conference 1964. Those who were privileged to hear that sermon will be glad to have it in this printed form, and we trust its searching challenge may be faced also by those who, for the first time, receive the message in this pamphlet.
At the Grass Roots . . .
By F. C. HUNTINGIt is said of Billy Graham that during the twenty years he has been missioning, he has spoken face to face with at least 31 million people, of whom 800,000 have registered some kind of decision. Every night his forty odd films are showing somewhere, and an average of two hundred people respond. Each Sunday an estimated fifteen to twenty million people tune in to his radio session "Hour of Decision." His column "My Answer" is printed in a chain of two hundred and twenty-five newspapers. "Decision" Magazine numbers one and a quarter million subscribers. His book "Peace with God" has sold nearly one and a quarter million copies in forty-three different languages. Such use of modern communications to reach the millions staggers us, especially those of us who have thought it rather wonderful to speak to four or five hundred people at any one time.
Yet there is a very real and exciting sense in which your church is all important to the Kingdom of God in your community. And there is another real and exciting sense in which you are all important to your local church. The church has been called the "sleeping giant." It is a giant because of its enormous man and woman power--numbered by the millions. It is a giant because of its money potential. It is a giant because of its vast (but mostly unused) resources of intellectual and business acumen. It is a giant because of the limitless spiritual power lying almost unused with God in heaven.
It is a sleeping giant because hundreds, thousands, millions of people like you and me, who constitute the Church, are spiritually stodgy, appallingly apathetic, and incredibly inert: Nothing rouses us, nothing changes us, nothing excites us, nothing stirs us, nothing gets us firing, in the important business of the Church--the winning of men and women to Christ and making them His disciples. It is a sleeping giant because there are hundreds of thousands who in ten, twenty; thirty years have not won a single individual to the Saviour who alone can redeem a man from the power and consequences of his sin.
THE WORLD INTO WHICH THE CHURCH MUST GOTo talk about the world into which the Church must go, is to talk about the men and the women, you and I are personally responsible to reach for Jesus Christ. They are the men and the women in the community around your Church and mine. They are the men and women who often live in a hell of their own making, and who will go to hell, unless you and I take to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ which alone is the power of God to save them. Known to you, are men and women, who will never be saved unless you lead them to the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is the little woman who has probably come to your district to get away from the place in which she is known. She is married to one man, but is now living de facto with another to whom she has three or four children. Somehow she has heard the gospel, has accepted Christ as her Saviour, and now an impossibly complicated family situation has to be sorted out and rehabilitated. There is the deserted husband or wife, who needs all the love and understanding and help which only a genuine Christian fellowship can give, in order to remake a life or family which is badly upset and disturbed. In your community
Not very far from your Church there is the person who has been passed out from a mental hospital, frightened, cowed, inadequate to meet life. As likely as not their real trouble, the basis of their mental disturbance is spiritual, and they will never be cured until they find a working faith in Christ. But they will never find Christ, and that working faith, unless you go to them, and intrigue them with the possibilities of what Christ can do to heal them. And, of course, you will not go very far in your community before you will meet someone who has had, or is threatened with a nervous breakdown. Analyse a nervous breakdown, and almost invariably you will find the basis to be some shock received in childhood, some paralysing fear, some obsessing worry, or some damning guilt--causes for which Jesus has the answer. For some of these causes, Jesus alone has the answer. Scores of these people are going to psychiatrists, but they ought to be going to competent Christian ministers, who are backed by an understanding, loving, vital, Christian fellowship which is provided by the local Christian Church. Then, if your Church and mine, was really alive and alert to what is going on around it, it would soon seem to us that almost every second home has some serious trouble or problem which threatens to permanently disrupt it. We ought to face the fact that there are husbands and wives who genuinely believe themselves to be incompatible but to whom Jesus could so give a personality and dispositional change--if they wanted it--as to make the whole of their marriage a honeymoon--and this--after ten or fifteen or twenty years of serious bickering and fighting.
There were forty unmarried mothers in one of the Ballarat Hospital's maternity section last year. That does not count those in the other hospital, nor does it take into account those who went to hospitals away from Ballarat. A mother in one of our Western Victorian towns asked her high school daughter who had to get married: "Why did you do it?" The teenager replied--"The other girls said I would be chicken if I didn't." Girls who have gone to dances in my City, tell me that the boys who take them to a dance or home from a dance, want sexual intercourse, and that many of them give in because they have come to believe that this is the expected and usual thing. I would support every attempt to give proper sex education to young people, but I know only too well that education must be backed by all the restraining power of the living Christ to be effective. Last year there were six thousand sex crimes here in Victoria, and over the past five years there has been a 45% increase in crime in this State. What ever the reasons given, we know that the basic cause is the spiritual poverty and illiteracy of the people. I have only begun to touch on the variety and kinds of human problems and needs which every where abound around and in your Church.
This is the world with its heartaches, its sins, its troubles, its despair and despondency, into which you and I must go with the cleansing, lifting, changing, transforming, power of the Gospel.
WHAT STOPS US FROM DOING THIS?Every Christian should have some part in this great need for redemption which I have indicated. How many people have come to your Church because they have found
Let me give you some of the reasons why we are failing to meet these great needs in the lives of people.
1. The leaders doing the work in our Churches are overloaded with the running of organisations, and are only trained and disciplined to programme and run such organisations. They have no idea as to what to do to provide the answer to the deep personal needs in the lives of people. It has never occurred to them that Christ wants to use them to help people with the needs I have described,
2. There are the very ordinary Christian people, as most of us are, who have dodged every challenge, evaded every demand, and who have shied away from every hint of sacrifice, which living for Jesus Christ demands, and the years when Christ wanted to enlist them, teach them, train them for such work among people have been wasted, and now we can do little more than keep a seat warm once or twice in Church on a Sunday.
3. Having organised our Church fellowships around external needs, we have failed to produce fellowships which operate at spiritual and moral depth, so that people with deep, personal needs, can find a fellowship which not only understands their need, but vitally helps solve that need.
4. Another reason why so many of us are more like spiritual mice than spiritual men, is because we have let things like shyness, fear of what men and women say about us, gossip, criticism, attitudes, and reactions, resentments and hurt feelings, completely paralyse us and prevent us from a clear cut, compelling, personal witness to Jesus Christ.
5. A further reason is: We are not willing to sacrifice. To be or become the man or woman Christ would make us, makes demands that many regard as sacrifice (although in the light of Christ's cross no Christian can think of what he does as a sacrifice). Helping men and women find the answer to their needs through Christ, can be costly. It may mean long and deep involvement in the problems and troubles of another. We will not be able to regard time and leisure as our own. Possessions or property may be involved. A willingness to accept unenviable responsibility, even criticism, may be involved. Such a Christian to be used by the Saviour in the problems and needs of people will need to keep a tight spiritual discipline on himself. An effective daily Quiet Time in which there is a real encounter with God, and an actual committal of oneself to Christ is the least of such a spiritual discipline, but is necessary,
6. We cannot be used by Christ because we have secret sins which cripple us. We have practices in our lives which mean that any speaking for Christ makes us hypocrites, and the tragedy is that we have no intention of being finished with these things, in order to have the spiritual contagion and reality that will rub off on to others.
7. Another reason that has rendered many of us useless and ineffective in meeting the needs, the spiritual needs of men and women, is: When we received Jesus Christ as our Saviour we were given the barest minimum of instruction in the Christian way of life. We were introduced to nothing that would enable us to catch a vision of what Christ could do for us and in us and with us. We were never enabled to see the possibilities within us which, as the years passed, were awaiting the developing touch of the Master's hand.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT ALL THIS?What a wonderful thing it would be for our Churches if God would raise up someone--some man or woman--who could spark off all
For what they are worth, here are one or two suggestions as to what we could do to bring spiritual power and spiritual effectiveness into our Churches.
1. We should teach all our members to have a daily Quiet Time, in which they do, in fact, have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We should teach them how to get their besetting sins, both of commission and omission, to Christ for deliverance.
We should teach them how, in daily living, to yield their lives in an actual surrender to Jesus Christ day by day.
We should teach them how to listen--wait upon God--so that they are receiving a real and genuine guidance from God in their daily living.
2. From the time a person becomes a Christian, we should begin to teach them of the possible potential wrapped up in their life for the Kingdom of God. We should never allow anyone, as far as we can help it merely to keep a seat warm in Church on Sunday, and think that that is fulfilling the demands of Christ upon their lives in being Christian.
3. We should train our spiritually best people to care for all new Christians. Call these Christians counsellors if you like. They should have a faith that can "rub off" on to others. They should have a concern that will cause them to live alongside someone for a year or two, until the new Christian is able to reproduce their faith in the life of someone else.
4. Every Church should have several fellowships which work at depth--spiritual depth--in the areas where people really live, with their sins, their defeats; their inadequacies, their frustrations, their fears, and anxieties and worries. From long experience now, over years, I know the value of such groups to people with personality problems, and other difficulties. Groups of this nature will produce an answer and radiance of Christian life which nothing else can. These groups provide spiritual therapy over years. They are also an excellent means of growing to spiritual maturity.
5. I believe we should restore the prayer meeting in our Churches until it becomes the power house of the Church. Our battle is not against flesh and blood--it is against evil, spiritual forces, and the only power on the face of this earth adequate to deal with the spiritual evil we fight, is the Holy Spirit. If we cannot take God into the impossible situations we must deal with, then we ought, here and now, shut up shop. The way we bring God into situation after situation--is in believing prayer. There is no known substitute for the power of prayer.
WHERE DO WE BEGIN?As Individuals.
More and more of us, as individuals, need to become convinced of what is true--we can learn to share our faith, we can pass on our personal experience of Christ in a telling and effectual way to others. This is possible to every person committed to Christ, and who is daily living in His power and victory. It is something we can all learn to do, and will, if we are committed to Christ.
We can rejuvenate our prayer meetings by attending and sharing with spiritual fervour in the prayers for the ministry of the whole Church. It is the responsibility of every elder, deacon, Sunday school teacher, and leader, to share in making the prayer meeting the veritable power house of the Church. You can be one whose contribution to the prayer meeting makes it God's power centre in your Church.
Every Christian can be a changing Christian with a growing, vital experience of the living Christ. This largely depends on the reality of our encounter with Jesus in our daily Quiet Time, and on the depth to which we let Him take control of our desires and living. You can make the resolute committal to keep your Daily Quiet Time.
Groups (called Class Meetings) were the secret of the tremendous spiritual force Methodism was in its heyday. Jesus formed a group of twelve who were to become twelve of the most spiritually dynamic men ever to live. The power of groups, and their value is being recognised by a growing number today inside and outside of the Church. Groups that work at spiritual and moral depth are tremendous agencies for the Holy Spirit to change men and empower and equip them.
If Churches want to bring spiritual vitality to their church and if they want to help those badly adjusted to living in general, or people in particular, then ministers and leaders should come to thoroughly understand how to create small groups that work at spiritual depth. The results will be amazing.
What will get us, who are apathetic, stodgy Christians, concerned enough, to begin in earnest to do something about the above matters? Perhaps some of us will need to reach desperation point, as we come to the end of our own resources. All of us need to go again to the Cross of Jesus. Let us begin in, Gethsemane.
"He took with Him," says Mark, "Peter, James and John, and began to be horror stricken and distressed:" "My heart is ready to break with grief" Jesus confided in them. Then came the trial before Caiaphas and Pilate, when they spat in His face, and knocked Him about and scourged Him. Next the long terrible walk to Golgotha, where they nailed Him to the Cross.
"Hi You, Who could destroy the temple and build it up again in three days, why don't You come down from the Cross and save Yourself?" "He saved others" they scoffed, "Himself He cannot save:"
But now for a moment, let us see if we are not in this.
See, the moon is breaking through the clouds and Jesus is on His face before God.
What is that glistening in the moonlight--ruby red? Great drops of sweat like blood, dripping, dripping, from the Saviour's brow. The cloud has gone. You can see further into the garden. Two little groups of men--SOUND ASLEEP.
Yes, that is the way they pray with their Master in His hours of agony. Has the picture changed in twenty centuries? Some of you are deacons, some of you Sunday School teachers, some Youth Leaders. Where are you when the Prayer Meeting is on?
We are at the Cross. I am looking for the disciples, but I cannot easily see them. As the breeze stirs it brings back a distant echo. What are the words I am faintly catching? I hear them plainly now. Peter is speaking, and with him the rest are joining in. "I tell you Master, if everyone should desert You, I will never, never, never leave You. I . . . I . . . I would die with You rather than desert You." Did you not, the night you were baptised, tell Christ you would give Him your
Ever since you have been gradually taking this and that back from that promise, until today you do little more than keep a seat warm in Church. If the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot move us out of our selfish lethargy, what can?
Footnote: Please see blog entitled about Frank Hunting