Spreading Scriptural Holiness throughout the World, Part 3: Global Christianity in 60,000 Miles

This past summer, between June 11 and August 10, I had the privilege of being on five different continents (N. America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania) learning more about global Christianity.

Africa

I started out in Tanzania where our daughter Bethany is part of a team of 9 people bringing the gospel to an Unreached Peoples Group known as the Alagwa.   They have been there five years, learned the language and crafted 29 oral stories which present the story of redemption from creation to New Creation.  This is pioneer work.  It is apostolic.  It is the front of edge of Christian witness which marks the very global nature of the gospel, which always finds itself reaching out to the ends of the earth (Rom. 15:20). There were no known Christians among the Alagwa and most had never even remotely heard any coherent presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ.  There are still thousands of such people-groups in the world.

Europe

I went from Tanzania to London, where I found myself catapulted from the pre-Christendom world of the Alagwa to the decidedly post-Christendom world of western Europe and urban London.  There, I was caught off guard by the fresh expressions of Christianity which are emerging from the foundations of old Christendom.  I was there primarily to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Salvation Army.  They brought together over 20,000 Salvationists to the O2 center in London, one of the largest venues in the city.  Every night they had a parade of different nations from all over the world, testifying again and again to the wonderful fusion of evangelical faith with cultural engagement.  It was stunning.  On Sunday morning I found myself preaching at Southwark Cathedral where Christians have been worshipping since the 7th century, on the south side of the Thames river.  To call it liturgical high church could never capture the grandeur of the service.  Robes, processions, stained glass windows, and incense only begins to capture the moment.  I was overwhelmed not only by the packed out crowd, but quite literally by the incense, which was waved at me during the preaching to symbolize the prayers of the saints interceding for the church.  It was about as far from the street preaching Salvation Army as you could imagine, but there He was, the Lord Jesus, fully present in that amazing church, as He had been present in the O2 the night before.  Sunday evening, I found myself at Holy Trinity Brompton and the ministry of Nicky Gumbel, who pioneered Alpha, which has been one of the most successful evangelistic tools for post-Christendom people ever devised, now being used across the globe.  The church was packed with two services Sunday to mirror their three Sunday morning services and ten satellite churches throughout London proclaiming the glorious gospel.   The preachers there are in blue jeans and t-shirts, the overhead projector coming down from those ancient walls of that stone church, the band playing the latest Christian music and, once again, filled with people who have found redemption in Jesus Christ.  There He was, the Lord Jesus, at HTB with his glorious presence.  I left London keenly aware that God is building his church and orchestrating his work in ways which transcend anything we can imagine.

North America

Returning to the USA, I was in Orlando and in San Diego with the Wesleyans and the Free Methodists respectively.  I was reminded afresh of Asbury’s amazing work in training men and women for the entire Wesleyan stream.

Asia

I then flew to the Philippines, where Asbury is in the sixth year of studying revitalization movements around the world.  We have studied new emerging Christian movements and re-missionized churches all over the world.  This year, we had conducted a two year study of the Philippines and brought together five Christian movements in Manila.  On the one end were vibrant Pentecostal movements.  The Jesus is Lord WorldWide church now has millions of members around the world.  The Victory church has pioneered, among other things, church plants in shopping malls around the Philippines. I have never been in a Mall which had a church which anchored the Mall on one end and Macey’s on the other.  Manila is the home of sixteen major malls, and Victory is planting churches in all of them.  Sunday morning, I worshiped in the CCF Center in Manila—Christ Commission Fellowship with multiple services, each with 20,000 worshipers.  The Sunday we were there, the preacher was our good friend Oscar Muriu from Nairobi Chapel in Kenya.  Global Christianity is alive and well in the Philippines.  We also studied renewal in the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines.  Right alongside of Victory Church and Jesus is Lord world-wide church, we had, for example, the Church of the Black Nazarene who are using a popular Roman Catholic devotion to an icon of Jesus which draws millions of pilgrims every year to share the gospel and explain what the Christian faith is really all about.  The Pentecostals in Manila had never sat down with Roman Catholics and found that deeper ecumenism to which the gospel calls us.  I am convinced that only Asbury could have brought them together.  The week was filled with many gospel moments as we all witnessed the gospel emerging from the garment of a country where almost everyone already considers themselves Christian, but so many had never actually heard the gospel.

From Manila, I traveled to South Korea.  There, one finds the largest churches in the world.  There, the grandeur, the scope, and the vision of the church in Korea is staggering.  Bishop Sundo Kim and his son ChungSuk Kim pastor the largest Methodist church in the world.  To spend a week with these leaders makes one realize how little we pray, how little we believe in the power of the gospel to transform the world.  They had just completed a ten story social service building next to the church to minister in the name of Jesus to the needs of the people of Seoul.  It was a 58 million dollar construction built with no fund raisers or pledge drives—just Christian tithing.  The theme verse of the Kwanglim Methodist is Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  After a week with the Koreans, I felt I had never really believed that verse.

From Korea, I flew to India to work with a ministry with which I have been involved intimately for almost 30 years.  It is actually a family of ministries under the auspices of Good News for India, Bharat Susmachar Samiti, includes a major seminary which we broke ground for in 1987, now one of the largest seminaries in India; ten regional training centers, a myriad of schools and social outreach centers and over 600 church plants called Christian evangelistic assemblies.  When I arrived, it happened to coincide with a manifesto from a Hindu radical group called RSS.  This is the group that assassinated Mahatma Ghandi because of his reaching out to Muslims.  This group has gained sufficient strength to elect the current prime minister, Narendra Modi a member of the RSS.  This is a stunning development in India.  Since his rise to power, Christian persecution has skyrocketed in India.  The RSS manifesto which was released the week I arrived was a point by point plan on how they were going to eradicate Christianity in India in 20 years.  They are committed to the three Hs:  Hindustan, Hindi, and Hinduism.  They want to rename the country Hindustan, the land of the Hindu.   They want to rid India of English and have all discourse in Hindi, and they want to see all Indians as Hindus.  What was amazing about the timing was that I was in India to conduct a week-long seminar with Indian Christian leaders on how to live out their faith in the context of persecution.  This is a long ecclesiastical distance from Korea or the Philippines. Just since Modi came to power, there are have been hundreds of documented cases of violence against Christians.  A church in Harayana had their cross torn down and a statue of the Hindu god Hanuman set up on the altar.  A Pentecostal church in Bhopal was raided, the people taken outside and stripped naked and then made to watch their church building burn.  In West Bengal 100 Christians were forced to go through a conversion to Hinduism known as Ghar Whapsi—homecoming—forced to eat dung in public shame for being Christians.  In Rajasthan a 71 year old nun was publicly raped.  I could go on and on, but all of this with impunity and all just since Modi’s inauguration.  These are not stories from the first century, or even from rogue ISIS, this is coming today from the largest democracy in the world.  In this context, these Christians are doing great gospel work, living on the missional edge in ways we can hardly imagine.  Are we preparing our students to face this kind of opposition, or are we pretending that we live in another time and place?

New Zealand

I then went from India’s heat to the cold winter of New Zealand at the bottom of the world.   There, I was met by good friend and one of our graduates, Dr. Richard Waugh.  They are about fifteen years ahead of us as Methodists in terms of responding to the crisis of holiness in the church.  In 2000, the evangelicals were, by vote, expunged from the Methodist church in New Zealand.  They had not sought division and had multiple plans on the table where some kind of co-existence might be possible, but they were voted out.  They went in tears, but as they told me, they woke up the next morning with a huge weight off their shoulders.  They realized that the fighting was over and now they get to work on discipling the nations, preaching the gospel and planting churches.  I drove all over Auckland seeing vibrant new church plants and we had a wonderful conference which has been going on annually, originally inaugurated by Dr. Ben Witherington.   The conference was focused on the Grand Wesleyan vision and brought together leaders from all across the Wesleyan stream, from Australia, New Zealand, and many of the tiny islands of the South Pacific.  I met hundreds of believers, including many of our graduates doing amazing work in the post-angst environment which we ourselves have begun to seek with our New Room conferencing here in the USA, which is a post-denominational solution, networking believers around a restored covenant and finding fresh winds of the Spirit to proclaim the gospel in the secular atmosphere of the South Pacific.   I returned home, after 60,000 miles of travel, overwhelmed by the amazing work of God in the world.  The Wesleyan message and the Christian gospel is being renewed to the ends of the earth, and Asbury has a huge role to play in equipping believers to re-present the gospel and to bear witness unto Christ to every people and nation.

Conclusion

When H. C. Morrison founded Asbury, he called us to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the world.”  We want to take up that mantle for our generation.  Let us not believe too small, or be found with tiny prayers or stunted faith.  Let us walk boldly into the world God has given to us.  We need not waste time lamenting the world or getting caught up in a cycle of despair and discouragement.  We belong to Jesus who spoke rightly in the face of the passion, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!”  We have been called to roll up our sleeves and unite with Christ, bringing the whole gospel to the whole world. Let us not lose sight of the vision of Rev. 7:9 and 19:6 where we see men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping the Lamb and declaring, “Hallelujah, the Lord our God, the Almighty Reigns!”  Amen.

Spreading Scriptural Holiness throughout the World, Part 2: A Wesleyan Renaissance in a Post-Christendom World

By the grace of God, we are making remarkable, providential progress toward our 2023 Strategic Plan.  We are re-mapping the strategic witness of Asbury Theological Seminary, becoming simultaneously more global (less sectarian) yet also more aware of our own Wesleyan identity within the larger context of global Christianity.

This Fall, we will re-present the 2023 Strategic Plan in a new format, consolidating 55 goals into 25 goals and organizing them explicitly under the ten core values of our Strategic plan.  It embraces Global Partnerships, our Church Planting Initiative, the Re-missionizing of existing churches, our hybrid model of education which will assist the post-traditional student.  Our vision embraces solid biblical studies (IBS), theological and historical grounding and the best praxis of ministry training.

It also includes starting a PhD in theology.  This is being joyfully lived out on our Wilmore and Orlando campuses, as well as our Memphis extension site and over 500 students in our ExL online program.  Our vision includes community formation and our residential renaissance.  It includes our Seedbed publishing and New Room networking.  Our vision embraces the Hispanic initiative on our Florida-Dunnam campus as well as our emphasis on urban ministry and Lay mobilization.  It includes a vibrant strategic Enrollment Management Plan and strengthening our economic model by expanding our circle of support through our comprehensive campaign and re-engineering the very economic engine which runs the seminary.  We have just joyfully received our full re-accreditation for ten years from both SACS/COC and the ATS, great signs of our peer reviewed testimony to our vibrancy and our future in equipping men and women for ministry.

Post-Christendom Is Here

Brothers and sisters, we are now dwelling in a post-Christendom world.  However, there is big difference between a post-Christian west and a post-western Christianity, because Christianity is being rediscovered even in the West within the context of its original missional setting.  Old Christendom was built upon alliances which were determined by pivotal political and historical developments.  This is what eventually produced not only the major tri-partite structure of the church as either Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox, but also a myriad of deeper alliances such as Roman Catholic religious orders or Protestant denominations.  This has had a profound influence on how we have traditionally conceptualized the global church and how we conceptualize theological training.

Andrew Walls has insightfully pointed out that there is an enormous difference between writing church history and writing Christian history.  Walls says, “Church history writing requires ecclesiological choice; it assumes, consciously or unconsciously, a specific identification of the church, or at least a particular manifestation of it.”  When students sign up for a course in church history, what is actually being studied is a well-defined selection of themes within the history of Christianity which are relevant to a particular group of Christians who share a particular geographic and confessional heritage.

However, as global Christianity becomes increasingly made up of peoples from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and these newly emerging indigenous expressions become normative, then the whole structure of how we understand and talk about Christian history and our place in it must also undergo a dramatic change.  In the West, for example, our cultural and ecclesiastical history flows primarily from the Roman Empire, so what happened in western Europe dominates our understanding of church history.  However, after having spent considerable time with Christians from various parts of Asia, I can testify that the Roman Empire does not loom nearly as large from the perspective of peoples shaped by the Persian, Ashokan or Han empires.  This background, in turn, dramatically influences how Christian history is understood and told and, in turn, how theology is formulated as well as the way we conceptualize the best rhythms and practices of ministerial training. Thus, the narratives which shape theological education need to be re-conceptualized so that they reflect a more global and missional perspective on the church, particularly as African and Asian Christianity become increasingly normative and western Christianity becomes more consciously aware of the larger global movement.

One of the most important transformations which this shift offers, is a new basis for ecumenism within the global church that transcends the traditional barriers.  We are finally grasping the implications of a post-denominational world and living into the new reality of strategic networking and global alliances which unite faith and mission in fresh and creative ways.  We are discovering new ways—which may actually be a recovery of more ancient ways—of engaging in a more globally informed discourse with committed Christians from around the world.  We are discovering a deeper ecumenism for the 21st century which transcends the categories we have known.

Let me clarify what I mean by “deeper ecumenism” because the term “ecumenical” has been used in a wide variety of ways (for a full exposition of my understanding of ecumenism and how it compares and contrasts with various usages of the word, see my book, Theology in the Context of World Christianity, pages 184-188).  I am not using the term ecumenical in reference to any attempt to find some grand, outward, structural unity for the church.  There are over 38,000 distinct denominations in the world and the deeper ecumenism which I am referring to does not necessarily mean than this number will dramatically decrease.  I am not using the term to refer to any vision of the church which models an uncritical accommodation to modernity by sacrificing kerygmatic essentials of the historic Christian proclamation.  The kind of ecumenism I am referring to is the deeper, older ecumenism that finds its roots in historic Christian confessions.  A case for this has been effectively set forth in Thomas Oden’s excellent work, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy (See also, J. I. Packer and Thomas Oden, One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus).

We can no longer afford the kind of entrenched sectarianism which has often characterized our movements.  This does not mean that we must relinquish our distinctive Wesleyan convictions. On the contrary, being in conversation with the global church will not only serve to enrich our own particular theological perspectives, but, more importantly, it will lead us to a deeper understanding of the depositum fidei, that ancient apostolic faith which forms our common confession.  As it turns out, the post-Christendom world of the 21st century is starting to look a lot like the pre-Christendom world of the ancient faith.  It is amazing how a little dose of persecution begins to draw Christians together.  Kim Davis’ imprisonment right here in Kentucky is a prelude to what is coming.  The early church had a quite long list of professions which Christians couldn’t do.  It may not be long before Christians cannot be county clerks, school teachers, bakers or photographers, etc.

However, it will mean that we must distinguish more explicitly and publicly between the kerygmatic truths which unite all true Christians and the adiaphora where there are legitimate differences.  The old world of Christendom may have, sadly, permitted—and even encouraged—the kind of divisions which have marred the church’s witness and her obedient response to Jesus’ high priestly prayer that we “may be one” (John 17:11).  The advent of global Christianity with multiple centers of vitality means that we have an opportunity to see ourselves first and foremost as Christians proclaiming the apostolic faith and only secondarily as Reformed Christians, Pentecostal Christians, Dispensational Christians, Arminian, or Independent Christians.  We also need to invest more time in constructive engagement with our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters.  We cannot, nor should we, simply deny the defining struggles which produced the Protestant movement or the later Wesleyan revivals.  Nevertheless, we must learn to listen better to the perspectives and struggles of other Christians and to endeavor to see ourselves as members of a global Christian movement.

The global church is a tapestry of diversity.  However, despite our many differences, there are certain great truths—most notably Christ himself, who is the Truth, and the inspired Word of God, without error in all that it affirms—which unite all Christians in every age around those affirmations which have been held semper ubique ab omnibus (“always, everywhere, by everyone”).  This is more than the unity expressed by a creed, although it should not be less than that.  Rather, it refers to a deeper spiritual unity which acknowledges our catholicity because we are all members of the body of Christ and share a common union with Jesus Christ and a burden to bear witness to Him in authentic ways throughout the whole world.  This has important implications for 21st century theological education, including the meaning of collaboration and partnership, how we understand ecclesiology in a global context, and how we conceptualize Christian identity within new networks, including, among others, our own growing New Room network.

Spreading Scriptural Holiness throughout the World, Part 1: The Whole Bible for the Whole World

Asbury Theological Seminary
7th Convocation Address
Estes Chapel, September 08, 2015
Florida-Dunnam Campus, September 11, 2015

This academic year will mark the half way point between 2009 and 2023, which has been the goal of our strategic plan and why we called it the 2023 Strategic Plan.  For our new students, you should know that in 2009, we embarked on a bold plan between 2009 and 2023 to position Asbury Seminary to face the peculiar challenges in our time and to help make Asbury the very best seminary it can be.  Our aim is to be globally connected, missionally vibrant and biblically faithful.  The year 2023 was chosen because that is the year we will celebrate our 100th anniversary as a school.  We look back on our history and find countless examples of God’s faithfulness, which has led us to this point in our history.

When our founder H. C. Morrison boldly announced that he was going to start a seminary in 1923 to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the world,” I can only stand in awe of his faith and his vision.  From the outset, he set us on a path which was founded in the Wesleyan tradition, unequivocally rooted in historic, biblical orthodoxy, yet boldly yoked to a global vision.  Although in 1923 the student body of Asbury only had three students,  H. C. Morrison had the vision to establish the summarizing motto which still appears on our seminary seal:  The whole Bible for the whole world.  The two phrases of our motto summarized from the start what is the fundamental DNA of the seminary to the present day.  I want to dedicate this address to exploring the meaning behind the phrase “the whole Bible for the whole world” which is reflected in the phrase of our mission statement, “to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world.”

“The Whole Bible”

The phrase “the whole Bible” is a kind of summarizing short-hand phrase of the Wesleyan message.  It is this part of the motto which roots us squarely in the Wesleyan tradition.  The great swath of Christianity then, as well as now, particularly contemporary evangelicalism, tends to equate salvation with justification, thereby emphasizing only the first half of the gospel; namely, how a condemned sinner becomes declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ.  Through Christ, we are clothed in an alien righteousness and we experience the forgiveness of sins.  However, that message, as wonderful as it is, is only half of the gospel.  There are huge implications if we reduce the gospel to that and peddle it as if that is the beginning and end of the Christian message.

Certainly the tepid respond to the gospel in the Western world can, in part, be attributed to the fact that our culture has not actually been given or shown the gospel, but only a small bit of it.  It can appear extraordinarily thin and rote and not robust enough for the actual world we live in.  It is justification without sanctification; it is individual conversion without ecclesiology; it is forgiveness without holiness; it is personal redemption from guilt without societal transformation of justice.  In short, it is only half the gospel.  The second half of the gospel is focused on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the glorious doctrine of sanctification and a global, missional vision.  It is through the Holy Spirit that we are not just declared holy, but we actually become holy.  The second half of the gospel unites us as one holy, catholic, apostolic church, all four of which are strangely absent from much of the populistic presentations of the “gospel.”  The first half of the gospel without the second descends into cheap grace; the second half of the gospel without the first easily becomes mere humanitarianism.

So, in that short phrase, “the whole Bible” H. C. Morrison wanted to remind us of our commitment to embrace a fully Trinitarian doctrine of salvation which includes the Father’s work in prevenient grace, calling and wooing us to himself and revealing himself in General Revelation and universal grace.  It includes the Son’s work in justifying us through His incarnation, His death on the cross, the harrowing of hell, His bodily resurrection and His ascension back to the right hand of the Father. It includes the Spirit’s work in transforming us into His likeness, making us holy and building the church of Jesus Christ, the community which embodies the new creation in the present age.  Because much of evangelicalism is stuck in the first half of the gospel, discipleship has been turned, quite oddly, into “sin management” rather than “holy living.”   We are so comfortable with the declaration of forgiveness and the grace which covers our sin. But, we have become quite thin when it comes to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to make us holy to be on joyful mission in the world.

Wesley called us to something more, toward which the phrase, “whole Bible,” pulls us.  Wesley knew that Christians who have been justified but have not yet been filled with the Spirit—Christians who have been forgiven but have not experienced a second work of grace—will always live under the pull of the gravity of sin.  Wesley calls us to live under the gravity of holy-love.

He called it entire sanctification, not meaning that we cease from sin, but that our heart has been re-oriented toward love.  This means that we become missional.  We are not focused on ourselves and our own sin management. We are focused on the redemption of the world though word and deed.  We get caught up in a global vision: the missional life and witness of the church of Jesus Christ around the world.

“The Whole World”

This is where the second part of the phrase becomes the natural outgrowth of the sanctified life: “the whole world.”  The whole Bible FOR the whole world.  We are not saved for ourselves, but for the world.  It thrusts us into the world.  It ignites us to evangelism, wholeness, missional living and church planting.

You see the two phrases express both the particularity and the universality of the gospel.  The first phrase is the gift of the Wesleyan movement to the church as a whole. This is our song.  We are not the only ones who sing it.  But we were the first in the post-Reformation period to sing it well.  The phrase, “the whole world,” reflects the universality of the gospel.  Any gospel which does not compel us to go to the ends of the earth is not good news.  This was always the original trajectory:  “In your seed, all nations shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).