AND RESPONSE ...
My friend Marvin sent me and a group of other pastors this William Booth quote tonight -- and below are some of my late-night thoughts about Booth's words ...
confront the coming century will be
religion without the Holy Ghost,
Christianity without Christ, forgiveness
without repentance, salvation without
regeneration, politics without God, and
heaven without hell. - William Booth,
founder of The Salvation Army
Since William Booth lived from 10 April, 1829 to 20 August, 1921, and I don't know the context or the date of this quote, I will dangerously assume that he was speaking of the 20th Century and not the 21st. But if he was speaking of the 20th Century, he was no doubt speaking of all the "decades to come after the new millennium of 1900", which would include 2007 and beyond. That said, here are a couple things I hear in Booth's words ...
And this my friends gives me great comfort and hope. The sound of hope is always louder than the sound of despair -- and the chief glories are always more majestic than the chief dangers, to those pressing into Jesus Christ and inviting the ears and the eyes of their hearts to find their rhythm, harmony, vision and focus in Him.
religion without the Holy Ghost will always both intrigue us and fail us. People want to believe that their beliefs have power -- and so when the focus of religion moves off the Holy Ghost, it most commonly comes to illicitly rest on the power of people and on the perceived authority of their doctrine, theology, and ideas. The mind always seeks to be exalted above the power of God's Holy Ghost, just as cancer always seeks to go deeper into the body.
And the result is always the same. Death. Power and love can only equally co-exist in the Holy Ghost -- for in humankind, and in our minds, they are always at odds. And so a move toward a religion without the Holy Ghost will always be rooted in a desire to be perceived as "lovers" of people, ideals, justice, and even morality; but in the end what will be exposed is an unmasked thirst for the power, influence, recognition and devotion that rightly belong to God.
Christianity without Christ has been the goal of countless Christian cults since even before the manger and the cross. What I've seen through the time-line of history is that most people don't usually try to construct a belief system called "Christianity without Christ". But what they try to do is to construct a belief system called "Christianity" but with the "different Jesus" Paul spoke of in his writings (cf., SECOND CORINTHIANS 11:4) ... which will ultimately be a "different gospel" (cf., GALATIANS 1:6) altogether.
To maintain the purity of Who Jesus Christ is we must live, breathe, and find our being in Jesus Christ. We must love to read and study the Gospels, not relegating it to little children, or to those "young in the faith". For the whole Bible only finds its meaning, purpose, construct and central message as we become passionate about the One who stepped out of heaven to step into our lives.
forgiveness without repentance is what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace" in his book "The Cost of Discipleship"; and it's what our flesh yearns for. In "The Screwtape Letters" C.S. Lewis wrote that the goal of Satan is to "distract us", so that "in the midst of a flood, we'll respond by picking up a fire extinguisher." (a paraphrased quote ... sorry Clive).
Forgiveness without repentance is only a perceived forgiveness, because there's no true victory without total surrender. For our churches to become places of "great grace" they must become places of "great confession, great repentance, and great surrender." And this movement toward authenticity, clean-hands, clean-hearts, and the beauty of holiness must begin with us as the shepherds of God's flocks. Again, C.S. Lewis writes, this time in his book "The Four Loves" ...
their obedience, are subject to a just penalty: We
easily imagine conditions far higher than we have
really reached. If we describe what we have
imagined, we may make others, and make ourselves
believe that we have really been there — and so
deceive both them and ourselves.
What Lewis describes is the fruit of forgiveness without repentance. And this is a place we must not go near, stand next to, and dwell in -- because to remain this shallow, this masked, and this rebellious will lead us in short order to become the very shepherds described in EZEKIEL 34.
salvation without regeneration, like forgiveness without repentance, is a conundrum of epic proportions. It simply cannot exist, anymore than a pig can fly, a carp can read Dr. Suess, or I can do math problems beyond what I learned in the third grade. But when we settle for the illusion of salvation without regeneration, we lie our way into death, both in the here and now and for eternity.
And just so I'm not misunderstood ... an inability to provide the goods on either side of salvation never falls on God. God is always willing, forever offering, eternally non-reticent about offering this beautiful gift to you and me. It's our stubbornness to sacrifice, our love of ego over the Imago Dei, and our choosing of pride over humility, that keeps us turning away from God's offering, and calling "an encounter with God" that scratches the surface "a life altering experience" and then pretending that piety is a garment we willingly wear.
But in the end nearly nobody falls for the hoax. Not the people who know us, not us ourselves, and certainly not God.
politics without God will ultimately unravel because the structure of civilizations and the moral fibers that weave together to build the woven structure politic cannot be rooted in the mortal-morality of a fallen, sinful world. It's what Jesus was talking about in MATTHEW 7:24-29 when He said ...
incidental additions to your life, home-
owner improvements to your standard
of living. They are foundational words,
words to build a life on. If you work
these words into your life, you are like
a smart carpenter who built his house
on solid rock. 25 Rain poured down, the
river flooded, a tornado hit - but nothing
moves that house. It was fixed to the rock.
26 But if you just us my words in Bible
studies and don't work them into your life,
you are like a stupid carpenter who built
his house on the sandy beach. 27 When a
storm rolled in and the waves came up, it
collapsed like a house of cards.
28 When Jesus concluded his address, the
crowd burst into applause. They had never
heard teaching like this. 29 It was apparent
that he was living everything he was saying
- quite a contrast to their religion teachers!
This was the best teaching they had ever
heard. (THE MESSAGE)
God simply asks us to invite Him to teach us how to live with one another in the world in ways that reflect the thoughts, the words, and the deeds of Jesus Christ. Is it hard? For sure. But it's easier than all the other ways the world has come up with. And so as pastor-teachers, and as the shepherds of God's flock called Northwest Yearly Meeting, let's join God in this way of taking on, and living into the Manifesto of Jesus Christ He invoked at the beginning of His ministry and that was recorded in LUKE 4:18-19 (cf., ISAIAH 61:1-2) ...
ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO
PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.
HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM
RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND
RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,
TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE
OPPRESSED, 19 TO PROCLAIM THE
FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.
(NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)
But what I've found through the years is that when I teach passionately about grace and the unconditional mercy of God, keeping the focus on heaven and not hell, 1) people who are seekers, 2) people who are young Christ-followers, and 3) people who are seasoned disciples of Jesus Christ, choose with ever-increasing measure to follow Him out of insatiable love, and not because they're simply trying harder, or gritting their religious teeth more fervently.
Universalism is a cop out. It's a slap in the face of Truth that violates Jesus' words in JOHN 3:16 while wearing an "all-embracing" grin. Phillip Gulley and Carlton Pearson's "Gospel of Inclusion" ... and a host of pastor-teachers, shepherds and leaders who were formerly orthodox in their beliefs about heaven and hell, but who have now taken a hard turn, are wrong.
Because in the end, we can't talk about heaven or hell without also talking about sin. To believe in heaven but not hell is to believe in the goodness of God, but not the justice of God, and it's to believe in humanity's original blessing while ignoring our original sin.
Marvin, thanks for this good William Booth posting tonight. It's been to think about these things as we come to the end of yet another year. Let's prove William Booth wrong by the way we live, by the way we teach, by the way we lead, by the way we shepherd, by the way we think, and by the way we speak. Godspeed and Good night to all. Happy New Year.