Tuesday, May 12, 2015



The Final Lectures
Number 3
Dr. Donald McGavran

In this lecture we shall ask whether biblical soundness and spiritual renewal will automatically reap ripe harvest fields.  It is at this precise point that many go astray.  It is exactly here that we need careful thinking.

The Widespread Efforts Toward Doctrinal Soundness and Spiritual Renewal in North America and Other Lands
The last quarter of the twentieth century is seeing many movements toward renewal and many emphases on biblical soundness.  These are occurring in all six continents among all Branches of the Universal Church, both those with whose theology we agree and those with whose theology we disagree.  The charismatic movement, which for many decades was limited to the Pentecostals, has now spread to denominations as separate as the Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist.
As I was preparing this lecture, I received a request from the editor of a new denominational journal called Disciple Renewal to write an article for that paper.  The editor and a group of ministers of the million-member Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) felt that that denomination as a whole needed a renewal movement in every state of the union.  Their magazine was going to furnish one of the means for initiating, spreading and supporting such a movement.
In the great United Methodist denomination a considerable number of congregations, feeling that the Board of Global Ministries was not sufficiently biblical and Spirit-filled, started a new missionary organization called The Mission Society for United Methodists.  Presbyterians of both the former southern Presbyterian Church and northern Presbyterian Church have pulled out of those denominations and formed the Presbyterian Church of America, which claims to be a much sounder denomination.  In the 1940’s many withdrew from the Northern Baptist Church to form the Conservative Baptist denomination.  Many of us are constantly in touch with renewal movements of one sort and another.
Often these movements are within an existing denomination and intend to remain so.  Often they split off to found new Branches of the Church, more orthodox or more Spirit-filled.  Such movements are not limited to the United States.  They go on in all countries of the world.  Dr. David Barrett, author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, tells us that there are now 20,800 denominations in the world.  Many of these have arisen out of renewal movements that no longer felt comfortable in their old denominations.
We must not let the fact that such multiplication of denominations seems questionable keep us from realizing that such movements are continually going on and are usually animated by the best motives.

The Necessity of Biblical Soundness and Spiritual Renewal
Let us all be certain that biblical soundness and spiritual renewal are highly necessary.  Congregations and denominations do unfortunately, in some cases at least, grow cold.  Under the impact of some new spurt of scholarship they become biblically unsound.  They become so respectable, well organized, and academic that they attract only certain members of certain sections of the general population.  Their congregations become sealed off and unreproductive.  When the original members of such congregations move to the city or to the suburbs, the congregations do not attract the somewhat different kinds of people who have now moved into their places.  Frequently congregations and whole denominations become static and non-growing.
While I was speaking in some of the large cities of western Canada, I became aware that the strong Mennonite congregations in the farming communities were losing many of their younger members to the cities.  These young, well educated Mennonite men and women would move to the cities away from the farm, get urban jobs of one sort and another, and find themselves many miles from the nearest Mennonite congregation.  Often believing that “We are Mennonites,” they would continue to remain members of a far-off country church.  Often they would lapse into nominal Christianity.  Had the rural Mennonite congregation been fully biblical and had they been spiritually renewed, they would have made every effort to multiply Mennonite congregations in the cities.  They had many good starts, but they did not develop them.  They would have shepherded not only scattered Mennonites but also won many of the secular nominally Christian and indeed pagan women and men who now live in all cities of North America and brought them to fervent belief in the Lord.  The Mennonites were not biblically sound enough or spiritually filled enough to do this.  Their experience is, alas, a common experience in too many denominations.

Renewal Often Concentrates on Existing Christians
“Until the existing Christians become much more biblically sound and Spirit-filled than they now are, we must be concerned not with winning others but with reviving the saints.”  Believing this firmly in many places, renewal limits itself to existing Christians.  This process is understandable and reasonable.  Existing congregations must become sounder, must know more of the Bible, and must live more ardently Christian lives.  Indeed, some Christians stridently maintain that until the Church is purged of many of its nominal members, it can neither be the true church nor win others to the true Christian faith.  One of the notable criticisms of the church growth movement has been that what the church needs is not growth but a clearing out of many members who “belong to a church but have no real faith in Christ.”
We are speaking of the dual nature of biblical soundness and spiritual renewal.  We certainly do and ought to motivate congregations and denominations to bring their present membership into a more ardent and doctrinally correct Christian life.  This is what most sermons aim at.  All Paul’s letters are written to existing Christians and urge them to a deeper and more genuine Christian life.  One aspect of biblical soundness and spiritual renewal certainly requires this.
However, we must look at the other side of biblical soundness and spiritual renewal.  If anyone is really in Christ, if Christ does dwell in his heart through faith, he, like Christ, will look on fields white to harvest and work to bring in many sheaves.  No one can be truly biblically sound and spiritually renewed without being tremendously concerned about the multitudes of unreached men and women and, indeed, of unreached segments of society.  It is impossible for anybody to be really in Christ, really full of the Holy Spirit, without doing what the 120 did on the Day of Pentecost.  They rushed out and told everyone they met about Jesus and urged them to become His followers.  They spoke to Jews from fifteen different countries in addition to those living in Jerusalem. They added 3,000 to the church in one day.
When anyone gives his life entirely to Christ, he does what Paul did.  He devotes himself to multiplying churches in other segments of the population.  He notes the segments of society in his neighborhood which is unchurched.  He looks at the 70-75% of the American population which is not in Christ.  He notes that they are in many cases highly winnable.  He lifts up his eyes and looks on the fields and sees that many of them are white to harvest.  He hurries off to get his sickle and rope and bind up sheaves and carry them back to the master’s barn.  He notes that 3 billion today and 4 billion tomorrow of the world’s population are not Christians in any sense, and he resolves to do his part to bring them to salvation.
Men and women who are biblically sound and spiritually renewed will certainly live genuinely Christian lives.  They will also demonstrate that the genuine Christian life is always concerned with and works at bringing God’s lost children back to the Father’s house.  The dual nature of biblical soundness and spiritual renewal guarantees that vital Christians will not focus on one segment only.  They seek to be biblically sound in regard to bringing in the sheaves and spiritually renewed in regard to multiplying churches.

Only a Growing Congregation is Fully Sound and Fully Renewed
Because biblical soundness and spiritual renewal require activity on both fronts—Christians must become more moral and devout, and they must become more effective harvesters.  Here again we must see what happened on the Day of Pentecost.  The 120 had been meeting in secret.  They had been afraid that, like their Master, they would be persecuted and indeed killed by the Jews.  But when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they went public in a very big way.  They rushed out into the streets.  They started telling people that Jesus Christ was not dead.  God had raised Him from the dead, and they all ought to become His followers.  The account in chapter 2 of Acts is certainly clear that all of them started speaking to everybody on the streets of Jerusalem.  Normally retiring men spoke boldly to anyone they met.  Modest and even timid women started to tell those they met about Jesus.  They were imparting great good news.  They were telling others of the way of salvation.  They were sharing the most important news they had ever received.  All of them—women and men, leaders and follower, extroverts and introverts—all stopped anyone they met and said excitedly to him or her, “Let me tell you of the most important thing that has happened in many years.  Have you heard the amazing good news?  This is something you absolutely must hear.  I know you’re busy, but you will never forgive yourself if you do not stop and listen.”
Indeed, so unusual was this exited communication that many of those to whom they spoke exclaimed, “We must not take all this excitement too seriously.  These people have simply drunk too much.  They are talking nonsense.”
When a vast crowd, perhaps 10,000 men and women, had gathered, Peter spoke to them the message recorded in Acts.  Many of the crowd were deeply touched and exclaimed, “What must we then do?”  Peter replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Be baptized and become His confessed followers.”
It is not necessary to believe that 100% biblical soundness and spiritual renewal issue in an exact duplication of these events.  These events were suited to the situation in ancient Jerusalem seven weeks after the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.  But biblical soundness and spiritual renewal will never lead to Christians making no effort whatever to communicate the faith and saying comfortable, “That is the business of the pastor and Billy Graham.”
Let me give you an example of what happened in far-off India fifty-two years ago.  In the Town of Yot’mal, a small Free Methodist congregation had been formed.  It was being addressed by a notable preacher.  His words carried great conviction.  The members were filled with the Holy Spirit.  In addition to forgiving each other and manifesting an utterly new warmth and reality of Christian life they felt that they must communicate the gospel to other people.  So the whole congregation, men and women, every evening at five o’clock would assemble just outside the county court house.  As the hundreds who worked there were leaving for home, they saw women and men singing Christ’s praises ad telling about the Lord Jesus and the way of salvation.
The clerks, lawyers, and government officials working in the court house had never heard anything like this before.  They clustered around each group of Christians, listening to what they had to say.  They all agreed that these Christians had had a very remarkable experience.  They were impressed by what they heard.  After fifteen or twenty minutes the Christians said, “We will be back tomorrow to tell you more.”  These meetings every evening continued for over a month.  But none of the listeners confessed Christ and become Christians at that time in that part of India.  Such a step was to them unthinkable.
Gradually the crowds grew smaller and smaller.  The Christians came to feel that they had done their part, and the proclamation on the court house steps ceased.  Pentecost had come and gone without any conversions.  The sound and renewed Christians had spoken to the wrong audience.
Then one of the Christians, perhaps more deeply moved than the others, resolved to go from village to village in the country district surrounding the town.  Every night as the villagers gathered before they went to bed, he would tell them of the Lord Jesus.  They listened with great interest, but there were no conversions for more than a month.  Then he came to a village near which coal had been discovered and a mining operation was in progress.  The miners were members of a caste which, 200 miles to the south, had become largely Christian.  Becoming Christians has been very good for them.  They have built churches and are living renewed lives.  This is truly good news.  We too will become followers of the Lord Jesus.”  Several new congregations were established.
In short, those who would proclaim Jesus Christ must not only proclaim but must proclaim intelligently.  They must distinguish between fields ripe to harvest and fields which are yet unplowed or are yet green.  World evangelization or the effective discipling of unreached segments of society, populations in the Carolinas, must be an intelligent operation, not a blind one.  We are to pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into ripe fields.
The world is full of ripe fields.  It is also full of many unripe fields and many which have not even been plowed.  Biblically sound and revived Christians must act intelligently.  They must seek God’s guidance and go to the ripe fields.  It is only out of ripe fields that they can bring in one sheaf a minute.
We must not limit renewal and revival to care of existing Christians.  This truth bears restatement.  It is so easy for revival to concern itself chiefly with the people who are already in the church building.  They form the close community in which everybody know everybody else.  It is among members of this community that love, justice, brotherhood, and forgiveness are most easily exercised.  To be sure, revival must begin with existing Christians.  Renewal started in the 120 gathered in the upper room, but the revival did not end there.  Revivals must reach out to multitudes of other people.  They must multiply worshiping congregations in other segments of society.
We remember Paul’s exhortation “I have been all things to all men in order to win some.  Follow my example.”  He was, you will remember, answering the questions as to whether Christians should eat meat offered to idols.  The only place where Christians would be offered that kind of food would be in the homes of non-Christians.  The Christians would be meeting other kinds of people.  Paul says, “When they serve meat at the table, do not ask if this has been offered to idols.  Just eat it.  You do not know that it has been offered to idols.  If, however, someone says, ’This has been offered to idols,’ then excuse yourself as gracefully as you can.  Be all things to all men in order to win some.”
That command needs to be obeyed by all faculties and student bodies in divinity schools and, indeed, all Christians in all lands.  We must reach out and be all things to all men in order to win some.
A full infilling of the Holy Spirit and full biblical obedience will always be deeply concerned that the unsaved hear and obey the gospel.
If we are to be biblically sound, we must reach out to the unsaved.  We must discern ripe harvest fields.  We must motivate ourselves and the members of our churches to recognize the unsaved and to tell them of the way to salvation.  E must recognize that the greatest danger facing practicing Christians is to practice their Christianity among themselves, to tell the good news to those who come to their church, and to be unconcerned about those who do not.
Some years ago when I was speaking at a church growth seminar held in an Ohio town, one of the influential ministers in the town said to me, “I shall attend the seminar, but I am not really convinced that it is needed.  Surely we have plenty of churches in this town, and every church is very cordial to all those who come.  Most churches indeed will see that visitors are called upon by either the minister or by members of the evangelistic committee.  We do not need to increase the number of congregations in this town.  There are too many already.”
In preparation for the opening session I spent the next two days in assembling some data—the population of the town, the number of churches, the seating capacity of each.  At the first session of the seminar, without referring to this minister at all, I said, “In this town you have 30,000 residents.  There are 61 churches.  Less than 6,000 men and women are to be found in these churches on
Sunday; 24,000 will not be in church.  Granted that church members number somewhat more than 6,000, it nevertheless seems perfectly clear that at least half and possibly two-thirds of the people in this town have yet to become genuine followers of Christ.  This is the reason why you should emphasize church growth.”
Revival and doctrinal soundness must not be limited to the 6,000 who will be in church on Sunday.  It must begin there, to be sure, but it must reach out to the 24,000.  They are also God’s children.

Conversion Growth Essential
Another reason why biblical soundness and spiritual renewal many times do not bring church growth is that seminaries, ministers and lay leaders seldom realize that no amount of biological growth and transfer growth will carry out the Great Commission
All growth of the church may be divided into three categories—biological, transfer and conversion.  By biological church growth we mean that children of existing Christians come to have Christian faith because they were born into Christian families, went to church as children, came to believe on Christ as children, were later then baptized or confirmed, and became responsible members of living congregations.  To be sure, they had yielded themselves to Christ and had come to know a great deal of the Bible.  But this was a gradual process.  Since such growth plays no part in winning the unreached to Christ, we place it in a special category—biological growth.
The second kind of growth is transfer growth.  Christians from Atlanta move to Durham and join Durham congregations.  Alas, since many Christians are lost in transit, transfer—while adding to Durham congregations—causes considerable loss to the denomination as a whole.
The third kind of church growth is conversion growth.  This is growth which results from the winning of the lost.  These may be nominal or lapsed Christians or secularists, agnostics and atheists.  They may also be Muslims, Hindus, Jews or other non-Christians.  When doctrinal soundness and spiritual renewal win the lost, multiply new congregations in unchurched populations, and effectively evangelize the unreached, then they carry out God’s continuing purpose to find and fold lost sheep.
Too often ministers and lay leaders and professors in theological seminaries as well, limit their expectations to growth from biological and transfer sources.  Let me assure you that biological and transfer growth is important.  I reemphasize this.  Nevertheless, it remains true that until there is conversion growth as defined above, the astronomical numbers of the unreached remain very largely unreached.
In short, doctrinal soundness and spiritual renewal must always aim at substantial numbers of conversions from the unreached.  Any congregation, denomination, or divinity school which would be true to the biblical imperatives must insist that full doctrinal soundness by itself impels Christians to seek the lost, to evangelize the unreached, to multiply congregations among the unchurched, and to engage continually in planned, prayer-supported, and effective world evangelization.  All those concerned with spiritual renewal should make doubly sure that spiritual renewal does not limit itself to revivifying of the already saved.  Spiritual renewal must send waves of the renewed out to search for the lost.  Otherwise, it is only partial renewal.

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