As the Romans soldiers hoisted the cross, with Jesus nailed to it, the Son of Man was being lifted up and he was drawing all humanity to himself (John 12:32). The crucifixion was designed to be a slow and painful method of execution, and it was common for those condemned to die on the cross to live for several days. We know that Jesus, and his condemned companions, were on the cross only a few hours. But for those hours, Jesus was conscious and even spoke. He spoke to his mother and her companions. He spoke to one of the condemned thieves. On the cross he prayed. Many condemned persons have recited desperate prayers as death approached. But Jesus’ prayer was different. Jesus, “God with us,” prayed a prayer of intercession: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
It has become popular sport to cheer the demise of the church. I guess it’s a part of the DNA of Protestantism to protest, even if it means protesting oneself out of the faith. I remember Bishop John Shelby Spong’s protest in his book Why Christianity must Change or Die. The spirit of Spong can now be read in the works of Brian McClaren, and others. The problem is that this is becoming mainstream. Even among Pentecostals, those over enthused fundamentalist, we hear some of the same. A friend recently shared a post in which someone listed “15 reasons I left the church.” That provoked me to ask myself, “Why do I love the church?” Well, I love the church because…
Early Pentecostals maintained the conviction that the twentieth-century outpouring of the Holy Spirit was an eschatological event signifying the imminent, even immediate return of Jesus Christ. There were many signs that seemed to point to Christ’s imminent return. The great earthquake in San Francisco on April 18, 1906, occurred just four days after W.J. Seymour opened the Azusa Street Mission. For many Pentecostal preachers, this was more than a coincidence, it was one of the signs of the times. Azusa preacher Frank Bartleman wrote a tract in which he attributed the San Francisco earthquake to “the voice of God to the people on the Pacific Coast.” The earthquake, along with the advent of World War I, the communist revolution in Russia, the flu pandemic of 1918, and the Great Depression all contributed to the rise of fundamentalist dispensationalism. Again and again, the Pentecostal preachers cried out, “Jesus is coming soon!”
One of the most significant seasons of my spiritual journey was with a small group of pastors in Moultrie, Georgia (circa 1990s) who met weekly to study the gospel text of the common lectionary. The group consisted of an ecumenical mix of two Episcopal priests, one Catholic priest, two Methodist pastors, one Baptist pastor, and me (the Pentecostal). One might wonder how such a group could meet without theological debate, but as we met each week and focused on our gospel study, we discovered we had more about which we agreed than disagreed. In this diversity, each person contributed from his ecclesiastical tradition and was eager to learn about the traditions of others. I have often said that it was in those meetings that I received my theological education.
When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29).
The recent controversy between the Obama administration and the Roman Catholic bishops regarding contraception and health care is a precursor of things to come.
This article originally appeared in Christianity Today (October 2004). I have added a new introductory paragraph here.
A few years ago I received a call from my brother very early one Sunday morning. In a voice that sounded very distressed he said, “Dan, I need you.” I ask, “Tim, what’s wrong?” He explained to me that his eighteen year old daughter, Danielle, had been killed in an automobile crash. I immediately left Bainbridge for the three hour drive to Baxley to be with my brother. The night was very dark – no moon and no stars. It seemed as if the whole world had been overcome by the dense, dark night. When I arrived at Tim’s home we embraced and wept together. Then Tim asked, “Dan, why did God take my baby from me?”
My wife and I are the proud parents of two wonderful young men, both in their twenties. I vividly recall the first time I buckled Aaron in his car seat and realized, “O my God, I’m totally responsible for another human being!” The day Aaron was born, I became a man. When we stood in an altar and dedicated our sons to God, Sharon and I took that very seriously. We determined that we were going to disciple our children. As they grew older, it became a battle of the wills, but I knew what was at stake – their eternal salvation. Parenting is a tough gig; it’s definitely not for wimps. What was my greatest concern during my parenting years? I did not want my sons to depart from the church, or the faith.