Learning Jesus (5)
Only the pure Word of the Gospel can change the world.
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. Galatians 1.6, 7
Trending to fail
The direction of contemporary Christianity in the West is decidedly not toward transforming the world. Over the past two generations, declines in church attendance, the flight of young people from the pews, moral failures on the part of Church leaders, moral and cultural debasement across a broad front, and the replacement of faith in God by faith in politics and economics, betray a faith that is weak, foundering, and failing in its mission to turn the world rightside-up for Jesus.
Why is this happening? For the past 100 years, prophetic voices have been warning against the growing tendency on the part of many to try to fit the hopes of Christianity to the demands of the times, to accommodate the faith to the beliefs, values, and preferences of an unbelieving and secular age. We have considered that the best way to change the world is to become more like it. Is it any wonder that we’re not succeeding?
Do people prefer pop music and beats to traditional hymns? Out with the hymns, then, and in with praise music and rock bands. Would people rather have their Sundays free for personal matters? In with the Saturday evening praise services. Do some folks think that God should accept them just as they are? In any community you can find “inclusive” churches which will accommodate your moral preferences. Do we take offense at being reminded we are sinners in need of repentance? In with anecdotal sermons designed to avoid sin or cover it over with soft promises of never-failing grace. Is the work of shepherding and making disciples too demanding? Let’s put in more programs and salt them with lots of fun instead. Are we concerned that our freedoms to worship and believe might be encroached by secular and atheistic movements? Let us turn not to prayer and repentance, but to politicians of a particular stripe. Tired of steeples and stained glass? Let’s make our churches look like shopping malls. Find reading the Bible too demanding or convicting? Pastors will gladly relieve you of it, explaining that all you need is to come hear them preach. Convinced that bigger and better is the best indication of spiritual health? Then find the largest church in your community, one that incorporates as many as possible of the above accommodations, and lull yourself into thinking that you’ve found a true faith community.
We’ve decided that our Jesus can’t overcome the trends of our day, so rather than trust and obey Him to do so, we simply go with the flow. We have settled for another gospel – not the Gospel of the Kingdom preached and lived by Jesus and Paul, but another gospel, a gospel of mere-salvation-and-good-enough-for-me.
Our Celtic Christian forebears would have counted us among those who need to hear the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Nothing but the truth
Leaders of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD) such as Patrick, Brigid, Colum Cille, Brendan, Columbanus, and Gaul understood that only the pure and uncompromised Gospel of Christ and the Kingdom can convert a soul and transform a culture. They came into worlds rife with paganism, sensuality, self-indulgence, moral impurity, oppression, misery, and cultural depravity, and they demanded repentance before the holy God, and undivided devotion to the crucified and risen King of kings. They did not offer a soft road to salvation. Instead, they demanded discipline, explained that hardship and opposition would be common, and taught people to know joy, peace, safety, courage, and purpose in the Presence of Jesus and His Father.
The writings of and about these great leaders are unequivocal. Being a Christian means repenting of all sins, giving oneself entirely to Jesus, being renewed in Him day by day in the Word and prayer, giving of oneself and one’s possessions for the needs of others, boldly proclaiming Jesus as King and Lord, obeying the Law of God, and keeping oneself pure from the sinful world. Celtic leaders insisted that only by increasing in the knowledge of Jesus through daily faithfulness can such a life be sustained, and such a movement of faith be enlarged.
In Ireland, Scotland, Gaul (modern France), Switzerland, and Italy young people by the thousands flocked to leaders who told them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and thus gave them a faith not only to live for but to die for if necessary. As they came to know Jesus, thousands gave themselves to mission service as martyrs for the Gospel of their beloved King.
In the period of the Celtic Revival, martyrdom came in three colors, and all true believers wore one of these. White martyrs gave up everything in their old life and started anew with Jesus, fulfilling their calling within a faith community, and increasing daily in the knowledge of Christ. Green martyrs went off on their own, with the blessing of their community, to live off the land and do the work of evangelizing and making disciples that raised up new Christian communities by the hundreds. And red martyrs proved their faith by the shedding of their blood, refusing to accommodate to the world, though it cost them their lives.
Celtic Christians knew Jesus. They knew how He lived, and how He died. And they knew that He had been raised from the dead and exalted to the highest place of authority in all the cosmos; and that He could be trusted in all He said and whatever He commanded them to do. They took up the mantle of martyrdom and brought the freedom, peace, joy, and righteousness of the Kingdom of God to uncounted multitudes of people all over Europe through their faithful witness to the uncompromised Good News of Christ and His Kingdom.
The truth about Jesus
The greatest opposition to the spread of the Gospel by Celtic preachers and missionaries came not from pagans, but from compromised Christians, who were comfortable in their worldly faith, and unwilling to give up anything for Jesus. In the minds of Celtic Christian leaders, these people did not know Jesus at all. And this was proved throughout Europe, as young people fled the ranks of nominal, compromised churches, and sought out the truth about Jesus that Celtic preachers and missionaries proclaimed.
Patrick, Columbanus, and other Celtic Christian leaders knew Jesus, and knew that He could change the world. But only if He was truly proclaimed, and His Law truly and faithfully obeyed. They understood their mission was not to fit into the world, but to transform it. And that meant dying to self, taking up a cross, holding firm to their confession of Christ, taking over and transforming culture, and laboring to bring as much of their world as came within their reach under the transforming power of God’s grace and truth.
For four centuries, they shaped the world to look more like the Kingdom Christ proclaimed and promised. For four generations, we in the Western Church have been doing exactly the opposite. Isn’t it about time we stopped deceiving ourselves, and looked again to those – like the people of Ephesus and the leaders of the Celtic Revival – who continually increased in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, realized more of the presence, promise, and power of His Kingdom, and turned their worlds rightside-up for Him?
1. Do you agree that churches today have compromised with the demands of a secular and unbelieving age? Explain.
2. Read again the paragraph that begins, “Leaders of the Celtic Revival…” How well does this summary describe your own experience as a follower of Christ?
3. What can you do to begin knowing Christ more like Patrick and Columbanus did?
Next Steps – Transformation: In your life sphere – your Personal Mission Field – where should you expect the Gospel of the Kingdom to make an impact? What would that look like? Make that impact a matter of daily prayer and work.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Gospel without Compromise
- T.M. Moore
- February 26, 2020
Celtic Christians knew Christ, and they knew He meant business.
Learning Jesus (5)