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Thursday, 26 June 2008

What is the church?

I’ve just finished reading a book that records some of the major speeches, and writings, of that great American Negro leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jnr. In a letter sent from the City Jail of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, he wrote:
“There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town, the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators’. But they went on with the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven’ and had to obey God rather than man’. They were small in number, but big in commitment. They were too god-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated’. They brought to an end such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent, and often vocal, sanction of things as they are.
But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club ...”
The sad thing is that those latter words paint every bit as accurate a picture of the church, in the UK at least, today as they did of Dr King’s contemporary situation.
Another leader, of whom I had not heard before, is another man with black skin. His name is Sunday Adelaja, and he is the pastor of the Embassy of God Church in Kyiv in Ukraine. The church is growing in Ukraine because it is acting like the early church as Dr King described it, and Pastor Adelaja encourages every single member of his extremely large congregation to influence and impact the culture for God.
Speaking at a recent conference of church leaders in the USA, he stated: “Do not let your people get comfortable with sitting down in pews. You have to strengthen them so they can go out there and invade the darkness of the world, because they are the light of the world.”
Forty-five years after Dr King penned his letter from the Birmingham Jail, it is another man of African descent, in a country that was then on the other side of the Iron Curtain, who is showing the way forward. God grant that the church in the UK, and other countries that are similarly “post-Christian”, rise up like the church in Ukraine, that the gospel might be proclaimed to every nation, in preparation for the return of the Lord, Jesus the Christ, as King of kings and Lord of lords.

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