No One and Nothing But Jesus
The normal Christian life is one in which Jesus is everything. Yet sadly for far too many believers, it is more a case of everything but Jesus. We have allowed anything and everything to get in between us and Jesus, and we have managed to substitute 1001 false idols for the real thing.
The lures of the world, the glitz and glamour of things, and the deceitfulness of sin, have all crowded Jesus out of our lives. And not just in our individual Christian lives, but often in our churches as well. Thus we have gimmicks, gadgets and games competing with the presence of the living God.
As David Wells wrote in his important 1994 volume, God in the Wasteland: “The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music, and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing to stanch the flow of blood that is spilling from its true wounds. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.”
Or as A. W. Tozer so powerfully stated decades ago: “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”
I mention all this because of my Sunday worship experience this morning. I was attending a different church in a different city, only to experience an unusual and unique situation. For some reason all their power was out, so it was a very different sort of service.
They rent a university auditorium, and with no electricity, the only light was the few exit signs, and doors at either end of the long stage, letting in some daylight. The rest of the place was quite dark, and torches were used to help folks to find their seats.
Because of this there was no AC, no lights, no sound system, no PA, no rock bands, no video clips, no PowerPoint presentations, and no razzamatazz. As I told the pastor upon entering, “All you have is the Holy Ghost – which is a good place to be in”. He readily agreed. All the stuff modern churches so very much depend upon and rely on were taken away, and all that was left was singing some songs and preaching the word.
I thought it was great. The song leaders and pastors could barely be seen. Relying on what was heard was all there was. No entertainment to tantalise the senses, no visual appeal, no nothing. So it did not matter if the preacher was short or tall, fat or skinny, handsome or ugly – you could not see him anyway.
While most of us are so influenced by what we see, and how a person looks, and so on, none of that mattered this morning. We just sat there and listened to the word being taught. It did not matter how spiffy the surroundings were, how jazzy the atmosphere was, or how neat everything looked – all that was largely taken away from us this morning.
As I say, I thought it was terrific because that is just how things were when people heard Jesus preach, or Paul teach, or Peter evangelise. Indeed, that was how things were for much of church history, and for much of the church around the world today.
Forget the fancy surroundings, the glitzy buildings, the mega-structures, and all the work of interior decorators and those seeking to create a mood. Just sing to Jesus, celebrate communion, and hear the word taught. It is probably time we got back to these simple things once again.
And it is time we got back to Jesus alone. I was reminded of what Corrie Ten Boom once said, “You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have.” Yes quite so. And in a small way, that occurred this morning – just the way it should be in my books.
Of course eventually some lengthy extension cords were brought in from somewhere, so a mike and amplifier were hooked up, allowing the pastor to not have to shout to the 800 or so people there. But such amplification is again a relatively new thing, and not always found elsewhere in non-Western churches.
Jesus addressed the multitudes without a PA system. So did all the Christian pastors, preachers and teachers for so much of church history. Just think of how George Whitefield used to preach in open air meetings to upwards of 20,000 people at a time – all with the sound of his own voice alone.
Or think of the 40,000 sermons preached by John Wesley, and the quarter of a million miles he travelled to deliver them. No jet planes, no computers, no amplification, no smart phones, no slide shows, no internet, no entertainment, no nothing – just Christ and him crucified.
And look at the tremendous impact such preachers had, all of whom were deprived of 90 per cent of the gizmos and devices that we have today. The contemporary church has every device, every technique, every gimmick and every marketing ploy available, yet is doing a woeful job of representing Christ and winning the lost.
The early church – and much of the church until recently – had none of this. They only had God. They only had Jesus. They only had the Holy Ghost. And they turned the world upside down.
Maybe there is a lesson in all this for us.
13 Replies to “No One and Nothing But Jesus”
Wouldn’t it be great to see the Hillsongs of the world become like this (with an additional emphasis on sound doctrine as well rather than the prosperity nonsense they, too often, have preached)? It’s a pity they don’t listen more to the admonitions of (former?) AOG preacher Phillip Powell.
Bill, I’m kind of divided on the topic of technology and other forms of media being used to “drive” the message of Christ rather than relying solely on the Holy Spirit’s working in low-tech situations. I think it is fair to say that there could (generally) be more sensitivity put in by those who are involved in the “production” (ouch) of the message, and the way in which it goes out to the assembly, or to the masses, and this obviously rests with the leadership. I do agree with you that there is no-one, nothing, that surpasses the beauty of the Lord Jesus! To this day I feel surprised when people don’t “get” him, and I suspect it has a lot to do with how we communicate him. But not entirely.
An experience of mine 19 years ago: My wife and I attended a church service in Sodo, Ethiopia. A simple cement blocks and corrugated iron L shaped building with a dirt floor. Approximately 1500 people present. The service had started at 7am, We arrived at 10 am. The platform was in the corner of the L. No amplification of any sort. The preacher preached in Amharic, which my wife understands with some difficulty. It was interpreted into Oroma. Both preacher and interpreter could be heard as clear as a bell right at the back. We left at 11.15 am while the service continued.
The next Sunday we attended a small independent church in East London with 40 people present. There were 2 large loudspeakers. A number of microphones and leads everywhere. Without understanding a word in Ethiopia I found that service much more inspiring than the one in London.
Well said Bill. Never a truer word said. How do we make a lost generation understand this, including modern day pastors.
This concurs with my observation of a few years ago when attending different churches in the course of an extended travelling holiday (in Australia). I must say a stage full of musicians and singers ‘performing’ during worship had always had a confronting and distracting impact on me, and had concerned me for some time. But on this trip I was really impressed by 2 churches where they did have a group of musicians and singers leading the worship but they were off to the side, and not elevated, where the impact was quite different. Worship became something just between you and God. That performance/entertainment element was gone and it became much ‘more real’ to me. I have shared this with others but feel they never quite understand the difference it makes.
Thanks Joy, and others. I of course did not mean to suggest that there is no place for buildings, technology, various modern means, and electricity even! The point is how much we rely on all the other stuff, and whether that can and does become a substitute at times for fully relying on God . One can use various means and still fully depend on God, so it is not a case of demanding either one or the other. But this was really about reminding us to keep the focus right and the priorities right. And it goes without saying as well that there are many great churches and many great church leaders out there.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
To seek the best for the church, and offer criticisms of it, is not to imply that there are no great churches and leaders around. There are, and they need to be recognised and encouraged. See here eg.:
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
It is time to understand the term neo-evangelical and what it means. If the church is to be advanced it will be through the proper preaching of the Word. (the foolishness of preaching).
Adrian Van Der Byl
It is a difficult challenge to keep technology in its place as our servant, a tool to use, not a master, which it largely has become these days both in the church and in the world.
I have experienced a prayer meeting without power, which did not function as a prayer meeting until the generators were brought in. Last year, the power went out in our church, it hardly interrupted our service, as our dependence on power is minimal, thankfully I must say.
Space doesn’t allow the pages I could write on this – just one thing. What do you do when an overhead operator pushes the wrong button for the words on the screen or fiddles with the keyboard to throw up irrelevant and distracting pictures and messages during vital parts of the liturgical theme?
In his autobiography, chapter 10, Benjamin Franklin estimated that George Whitefield could be heard, preaching in the open air, in the streets of New York, by up to 30,000 people.
The best church service I’ve ever attended was under a tree in the park while the church was being repaired due to cyclone damage. How much money could God’s people spare to spend on evangelising and other essential works if they didn’t spend it on multi-million dollar building and fancy gadgets?
Bill, thank you for your message; The testimony of my life is that for 30 years I called my-self a Christian, but was not baptized in the power of the Holy Spirit; Nor did I pray in tongues – I had grieved Holy Ghost; I wasn’t discipled; I read my Bible sporadically. That all changed in 2007 when I started getting Biblically discipled, in a small Church in Melbourne Vic.
That Ministry obey the Word of God and so go out street preaching every week of the year (except for a small break over Christmas.
When a born again Spirit filled Christian starts being a doer of the Word & not a hearer only – Jesus starts to manifest in you ; By simply “trusting & obeying”, my voice is now really strong (without the use of any microphone etc) when I open air preach at railway stations, malls, traffic lights (that has happened to others I know who are also disciples)
All glory to God – under Biblical Holy Ghost discipleship my voice for singing is now strong and God has given me greater boldness & confidence.
Late last year I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer – I had a total thyroidectomy on a a Monday – on the Sunday I was singing as back up at our church. -all praise and thanks to God for healing me.
Our Church fellowship in NZ, which is doing the same as the one in Melbourne i.e. Word, Prayer & Witnessing – being doers of the Word, not hearers only invite Holy Ghost to have His way in all our services – no flesh will glory in the presence of God! We are to walk in the Spirit & not in the flesh; We are to worship God in Spirit & in truth!
Bless you Bill for your faithfulness & encouragement to fight the good fight!