Friday, 2 December 2005

STOP! LOOK! ASK! WALK!

Jeremiah 6:16-21

“Thus says the LORD: Stop at the crossroads (N.E.B.) and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

This prophetic message is as relevant today as it was for the people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah's time. These four imperatives need to ring out among God's people afresh. There is evidence on every hand that all is not well in Western Christendom, that dangerous cracks are appearing throughout the traditional structures of its churches.

In the past week I have read two reports which confirm the above. One is from the UK and the other by the C.E.O. of the Baptist Union in New Zealand , Brian Winslade. The former reports that “Church attendance in mainstream denominations is in free fall. Four out of five churches are either declining or simply static.” This report then goes on to give the findings of a year-long research project which questioned more than 14,000 church people about their concerns concerning the decline. The long litany of the complaints which surfaced makes depressing reading. Here are just a few samples: “The failure of many ministers to defend the faith”, “Ministers who hardly seemed to believe in Christianity themselves.”, “Services that bordered on entertainment rather than worship.” “The lack of a clarion call for holiness.”

Mr Winslade told the annual conference of his denomination that it is “An unbelievably difficult time to be in Christian ministry” He goes on to speak of Church leaders who feel the pressure of dancing to the many tunes of their constituencies, and if they don't, they watched people leave for greener pastures down the road. “Many a contemporary pastor is torn between a desire to fulfil historical expectations of those who pay his salary and at the same time to lead the church in rediscovery of biblical principles of body ministry.” He further states, “Church attendance has become a discretionary active. If no better choice was on offer people might decide to attend church on Sunday.” He concludes that “God is shaking the foundations and fabric of His Church.” And he wonders if “God could be reshaping His Church around a new paradigm of normality.”

It is into this situation that I believe God is telling us firstly to “STOP at the crossroads.”

We need to recognize and admit that somehow we have been on the wrong road. Years ago that prophetic preacher A.W. Tozer wrote, “I suppose my suggestion will not receive much serious attention, but I should like to suggest that we, Bible-believing Christians announce a moratorium on religious activity and set our house in order. I believe we should profit immensely were we to declare a period of silence and self-examination.”

What Tozer suggests Jeremiah, with all his prophetic authority commands.

Having stopped we then need to LOOK, honestly face the facts of the situation. We must not hide our heads in the sand and hope that somehow it will just get better.

Then the prophet says we are to ASK where the ancient ways are. We need to go back to the New Testament with open hearts freed of the clutter of religious traditionalism in order to find the Church as God planned it to be and as He planted it in the beginning.

Finally, having obeyed the first three prophetic commands we are to WALK again in those original paths. This is the hard and costly call, because it will mean the laying aside of so much that we have adhered to in the past, but, praise God there are more and more throughout the world who are courageously taking up that challenge and walking in the rediscovered ancient ways. They are experiencing the simplicity of fellowship with the Father and with His Son Christ Jesus in a Spirit-led walk of obedience, and they are being linked and joined with others in bonds of unity by the Holy Spirit. In such a walk in the ancient ways they are finding the rest for their souls that the prophet promises.

Sadly Jeremiah had to report a negative response to his message. “They said ,'We will not walk in it.' “ As this prophetic trumpet call rings out again , STOP!, LOOK! ASK! WALK! We too have a choice to heed or not to heed. Which will it be?