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The NORMAL Christian Life

by Alex Wilson

How would you define “Normal Christianity”? Here’s my attempt: New Testament beliefs, practices, attitudes, and power lived out. What does that mean? Here are two examples from church history to extend our vision and deepen our thirst. Church history is valuable for us in this matter, because many times the examples given in Acts and the teachings of the epistles fail to challenge us as they should. This is because we subconsciously feel, “Oh well, that’s the way things were back, then, but we can’t expect God to work like that now.” And so we act as though for all practical purposes God retired from business many centuries ago! (Of course we’d never say it that way.)  But church history clearly shows that such a view is mistaken. Let’s see:

In the early 1700s, religious persecution was intensely bitter in Europe. Your job, property, even your life might be taken if you didn’t belong to “the right church.” The right church usually was whichever one your king happened to belong to. Several hundred Christians from various places, all fleeing from such persecution, sought protection by coming to live on the estate of a wealthy Christian nobleman, Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf of Moravia. Some of’ these refugees followed Luther’s teachings, others Calvin’s, but most of them were followers of the reformer John Huss, who had been martyred back in the 1400s. They all loved Christ and the Bible, but as a result of their different church and doctrinal backgrounds, arguing and bitterness and name-calling soon raged throughout the group.  Protected now from outside danger, there was “war” within the camp!            .

Because of this bitter enmity, the more spiritual members began praying desperately for God to overrule. Count Zinzendorf then interviewed everyone of them individually and had each adult enter into a solemn personal covenant with the Lord Jesus. Each agreed to dedicate himself entirely to Christ’s service, whatever his particular position and calling might be. The Count then had the group draw up and agree to a “brotherly covenant” — to emphasize the great truths upon which they agreed rather than always and only stressing their differences.

Several days later they assembled around the Lord’s Table. They had done this many times before, but this time there came upon them all a deep, deep “sense of the nearness of Christ,” as Zinzendorf later described it. They had quit judging each other because each one had become convinced of his own unworthiness in God’s sight. All bitterness melted away and their hearts were knit together in forgiving love. That meeting lasted for hours, as they overflowed with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

But that was just the start. Now that God had some instruments He could use, He planned to use them. Again, prayer paved the way. Yearning for others to know the Lord as they had come to know Him, they spent much time in intercession. Some days later, impressed by the fact that in Old Testament times the fire upon the temple altar was never allowed to go out, they started around-the-clock praying. Their prayer meeting lasted more than 100 years!
Here’s how it went:

Twenty-four of the believers (later many more joined them) divided up the twenty-four hours of the day among themselves by lots, so that by relays prayer without ceasing could be made for the Lord’s work in every place. And for over a century, at any time of day or night there was someone in that village interceding before God’s throne.  God works when His people pray, and He soon burdened them to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. During the following years evangelists went not only through much of Europe but also to North and South America, Africa, and Asia — in a period when such a thing as foreign missions was un-thought of throughout all Christendom. From that one small village community in Moravia, more than 100 missionaries went out in twenty-five years.

That was Normal Christianity: wholehearted devotion to the Lord Jesus; loving unity among themselves; persevering prayer; and the most remarkable missionary vision and activity since the days of the apostles

 

A Later Time, A Different Place

But other examples also can be found in church history. In the opening years of the 20th century quite a few missionaries were located in Korea (which then was one country, not two). In general they were quite pleased with their work, for according to reports they were winning more converts and establishing more churches than missionaries in either Japan or China. After all, they were above average. Around 1905 however, they heard about a mighty revival in India which far surpassed anything they had ever experienced. Thus they realized that though they were above average they were nevertheless subnormal. This produced in them a deep hunger of heart, resulting in burdened prayer for revival. They prayed for months, and found out what often happens when people pray seriously – that there were some things in their own lives which needed changing. When they humbly began to straighten out those matters, God began working among them in mighty power.

In very many places overwhelming conviction of sin accompanied the preaching, resulting in large numbers of conversions – some districts by the hundreds. New congregations sprang up by the dozens, month after month, sometimes in places where no missionary had ever been. One urban church, for example, during 1907 reproduced five other churches in nearby rural areas, yet grew in numbers itself at the same time. But numerical growth alone is no foolproof indication that a movement is a work of God, for some false cults also show amazing growth. So we must look at other characteristics of this revival.

The transformed character of many of the people was noteworthy. In one place many unbelievers were heard to say, “A new Jesus has come to our city.” This was because many of the professing Christians had for years been cheating and quarreling with their neighbors; some of them also beat their wives. But this “new Jesus” was making those people confess their sins publicly and afterwards apologize to their heathen neighbors and make restitution when it was owed. Men even apologized to their wives, a thing unheard of in Korea!

Love for the Bible and for prayer were outstanding characteristics. It was very difficult to hold enough Bible classes to satisfy the desire of the people. It was not at all unusual to see Christians carrying their Bibles with them wherever they went, to study during their spare moments, and a great deal of memorizing was done. Also it became the customary thing throughout the churches for the people – Iarge numbers, not just a handful – to gather for prayer meeting early in the morning before going to the day’s tasks. This was the regular practice, not an exceptional thing. The practice of family devotions was so widespread that any Christian man who did not hold family worship every day ran the risk of getting a strict talking to from the elders. To neglect it was considered a sure sign of backsliding.

The Korean Christians gave sacrificially to the Lord’s work. One missionary told a visitor, “1 don’t dare mention money to these people, because they are giving too much now”! (Preachers, have you ever had that problem?) Daily witnessing for Christ, both privately and publicly, was common too. Many Christians used their vacation time to visit and evangelize needy regions. Willingness to endure persecution was another characteristic of this revival, for some Christians were fiercely opposed by their clan and in a few cases the ruling Japanese officials used Christians as scapegoats.

From the six or eight characteristics of this movement that we have mentioned, it is easy to see that they were experiencing the Normal Christian Life. And if God did it there and then (for it is His working that produces such Life), why can’t He do it here and now? The revivals both in Moravia and in Korea came about when some Christians became thoroughly dissatisfied with their present condition, and began with great yearning of heart to repent of their sins and to pray for God to work among them in His supernatural power.
Cannot we do the same?

I do not want to overdraw the picture: God has used us and in His grace is using us now-to some extent. Also, certainly we realize that the Moravian and Korean Christians were not by any means perfect. They, along with the first century disciples, had some weaknesses, problems, and sins. Yet, taking all of these facts into consideration, is it not true that there remains a great gap between their level of spiritual vigor and ours, so that the two are hardly comparable? God’s “mercy-drops ’round us are falling,” but do we not desperately need the full “showers of blessing”?

Oh God, make us Normal Christians!

-Alex Wilson lives in Louisville, KY  and is  Editor of “Word & Work,” and  is on of the  preachers for the Portland Avenue Church of Christ

 

 

 




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That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10