**This is a personal website and reflects my thoughts and convictions. It does not represent any official position held by Youth With A Mission.**
A few years ago, Marti and I were invited to meet and talk with the Cardinal of Vienna. Bruce Clewett a YWAMer, had become close to the Cardinal and had extended the invitation to us and another friend. We walked to the Palace in the centre of Vienna and were met by one of his assistants who told us we would have 15 minutes. Everything was formal until the Cardinal appeared, shook our hands warmly and began the conversation by telling us when and how he was filled with the Holy Spirit as a young trainee priest.
More than two hours later, we were still enjoying very friendly conversation despite the assistant poking his head through the doorway every few minutes. Before leaving, I asked a sensitive question, after first saying he didn’t have to answer what I was about to ask. I said, “This has been such a wonderful, easy evening of fellowship around our love for Jesus; are there other senior Catholic clergy who would have been comfortable with this evening?” Without reservation he named a few, starting with Jorge Bergoglio, Cardinal of Buenos Aires—now Pope Francis. When he was in Buenos Aires, he was also close to, and remains close to, Alejandro Rodriguez, the YWAM leader in Argentina.
A GREAT ARCHBISHOP
On a similar theme, the Canon Residentiary of Coventry Cathedral came to our YWAM base in Harpenden to teach on our reconciliation courses. Then he was appointed Dean of Liverpool Cathedral, at which point he hosted a YWAM meeting when Loren Cunningham was visiting the UK. We had a relaxed and very enjoyable dinner in his home and there was no doubt about the depth of his faith, his joy and his remarkable abilities. Not many years later, he was announced to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury—at which point he also agreed to be Patron of YWAM in England.
This is not really an exercise in name-dropping; My aim is to make it clear that I know that these two men have a strong, Biblical faith. Each of them has been working hard to move their Church towards living, outworked faith in Jesus and I am both pleased and amazed to have seen this wonderful development. But it is very hard work and I doubt that either of them is overjoyed to see the progress they have, or haven’t, made.
NO REAL THREAT
The truth is not a threat to the kingdom of darkness if it is inaccessible. The offices these two men hold require them to appear almost entirely in formal and carefully managed situations. They must wear clothing that no one else wears. Not to put too fine a point on it, they often wear funny hats that you never see on anyone else and the cassocks they wear are more like dresses than the clothes men usually wear. They often address us from the grandest and most historic buildings, surrounded by priceless works of art. They must preside over ceremonies that must seem like mumbo jumbo to anyone without an education in the practices of the formal churches.
The Archbishop still conducts friendly evangelistic dinners in Lambeth Palace. On those occasions, he is a wonderful host and shares the Good News about Jesus naturally and confidently. But we, the public, only see a carefully managed man who seems to have little in common with us.
A SCANDALOUS MISREPRESENTATION
The media and entertainment world don’t often give any exposure to the Christian faith these days, but when they do, they like to focus on the “professional Christians”, who dress funny, seem rather stiff and distant and, in the media narrative, often turn out to be hypocrites.
Jesus was so very different from all this. He completely avoided all the professional religion of his day. There was just one thing that made him stand out—WHO HE WAS. He didn’t need or want to dress differently. He did not have servants surrounding him and keeping other people away. There were no crowd barriers and he did not confine himself to religious buildings.
THE CHURCH BECOMES SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE
For more than three centuries, the Church largely followed in the pattern Jesus established. But, in 326, the soon-to-be Emperor of Rome, Constantine, had some sort of conversion experience and by the end of his life eleven years later, he had elevated the leaders of the Church to positions of formal social power. We have never fully recovered from that.
I certainly don’t stand in judgment against the Pope, or Archbishops, or Cardinals or Bishops of Vicars—or celebrity preachers! But they are trapped in a world that looks like it has little relevance to the daily lives of most people. That serves to make the Good News seem irrelevant.
HE WAS INCARNATE AND WE INCARNATE HIM
Ordinary Christians hold the key to solving the problem of accessibility. “We” are the ordinary people, who dress like anyone else, who live in ordinary houses, cook our meals, do our laundry, go to work (when allowed to!) raise children—but we have a true faith that makes us very different—or certainly should do.
Perhaps a testimony from Wuhan, ground zero of the Covid-19 virus, will illustrate. From about 1950, the Christian faith in China grew at the greatest rate ever known in human history. For every believer in 1950, there were probably more than a 1000 by 1995. Then the government relaxed its persecution of Christians. Pastors became more powerful; church buildings sprang up across the nation—some of them big enough to qualify as cathedrals—and the conversion growth slowed down. After two decades of greater freedom, the government focussed pressure on churches; their buildings were torn down.
Then the virus hit Wuhan and some of our friends there were very ill. They grieved and prayed over their city in their isolation. But they also rejoiced that something in the spiritual atmosphere had changed. People in their thousands sought out Christians to find out why they were not afraid, why their lives radiated peace. The number of Chinese people becoming Christians grew dramatically again.
TRANSFORMING THE ORDINARY
The TRUTH becomes accessible again when ordinary people live Christ-like lives; when they meet to support each other, to care for others in need, to pray together, to absorb truth from the Scriptures together.
Undoubtedly, some of the very large congregations meeting in church buildings in other parts of the world will survive this crisis, but many will not. Although congregational meeting can be encouraging and large worship celebrations can be uplifting, we might be at turning point when these are no longer the primary expression of Christian faith. If we become more known for meeting together in neighbourhood groups, sharing our joys and pains together, reaching out to our neighbourhoods, loving the lost and needy, searching the Scriptures together, learning to be open and transparent, becoming more loving and kind—then we might see the kind of growth that Christian saw in the early centuries and has seen again in China.
Let’s pray and work to make the truth accessible!