Friday, January 14, 2011

Challenges Facing the
Pentecostal Church

1 Samuel 17:1-10
1 Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim.
2 And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and pitched by the valley of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines.
3 And the Philistines stood on a mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side: and there was a valley between them.
4 And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
5 And he had an helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass.
6 And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders.
7 And the staff of his spear was like a weaver's beam; and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him.
8 And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me.
9 If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us.
10 And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together

It does not matter what age it is, you will always find the enemy defying the People of God, challenging us to a contest.  Every generation is challenged by the enemy and each generation must answer that challenge.
This is what was taking place on the battlefield between Israel and Philistia.  Goliath came forth to challenge Israel to a battle.  He was the best warrior that Philistia had to offer.  He was their Champion.  The scripture says, “And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath”. 
Goliath was the very best warrior that the enemy could provide.   Goliath issued a challenge to Israel.  He said, “Choose you a man … if he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants”.  This was a pretty straightforward challenge.  A fight to the death and the survivor would rule all that was left. 
What was happening on the battlefield that day thousands of years ago was not a new thing.  This same scenario has been played out multiplied thousands of times.  The enemy will always challenge us.  The enemy will challenge:
1.  Our right to exist.
2.  Our claim to be the voice of God to this generation.
3.  Our Revelation from God.
4.  Our relationship with God.
5.  Our claim of superiority over darkness.
6.  Our claim that we are in possession of the Power of God.
7.  Our determination to reach the lost.
8.  Our desire to worship the true and living God.
If we ignore the challenge then we allow the enemy to make a mockery of all that is Holy.  This was the path that Saul and his army had taken.  They allowed the enemy to make a mockery of God and Israel for 40 days.  I would like to ask the question: Why was Saul not out on the battlefield facing Goliath?  The Bible says “from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people” (I Samuel 9:2) and besides this he was the leader.
It took a boy named David to answer the challenge.  Most Bible scholars put David’s age at around 15 when this occurred.  Saul was willing to offer advice but he was not willing to face the giant himself.  You will always find those like this in the Church.  They have never pastored a Church but they sure know how to tell the Pastor how to do it.  They have never preached a revival but they have lots of advice on how to preach one.  They have never showed one ounce of spirituality but want to lord over the spiritual things in the House of God.  David was being given a Pep Talk in the Tent.  Today we have thousands giving Pep Talks in the Tent but no one out on the Battlefield facing Goliath.
Let me stop and say something here to the Youth: Don’t wait until you get older to “Accept the Challenge”.  Do it now!  Quit hiding behind your youth!  Get out and do something for God now!  I just read the book, “Anointed to Serve”, by William W. Menzies, which is about the Assemblies of God denomination and the rise of Pentecost in the 20th Century.  This book was published in 1971 by the Gospel Publishing House (the official Assembly of God [A/G] printing press).  Brother Menzies spent years talking to elders in the A/G about what happened.  On page 78 of his book he recorded this about the early Pentecostal Movement in America:
“…they appealed to the youth.  The ‘evangelistic bands’ in that early period were composed of a ratio of youth to adults of six to one”.  
Did you hear that?  In the early days of Pentecost the workers were composed of six youth to one adult!  Menzies went on to say in his book (page 163), “In those days nearly all the young people who received the baptism in the Holy Spirit felt a call to preach”.  Church, we will never be able to “Accept the Challenge” without the Youth in our Churches getting involved!
Just as the Enemy did on the battlefield of the Valley of Elah, he is doing today.  He is challenging us!  Ignoring the Challenge is not going to help!  We must face the Challenge!  David knew this great truth and he did just that.  He faced the most fearsome foe that he had ever faced up to that day.  He faced the enemy and he won!  You may be saying in your heart right now, “Well, there are no giants today”.  If you are saying this, then you are wrong!  There are many giants today.  These giants are just as fierce and as dangerous as those that David faced.  Facing these giants is the only way that we as a Pentecostal Church will ever survive!

In order to look ahead, sometimes you have to look back.  What we were in the past will reveal what we should still be today and tomorrow.  Time takes its toll on everything, including the Church.  Unfortunately the Pentecostal Church is not stronger today.  We are not as potent today as we once were.  The early Pentecostal Church in America was marked by these great characteristics:
1.     They gave themselves to prayer- Speaking of the Parham School at Stone’s Folly, Menzies said, in “Anointed to Serve”, on page 36, “The Bible was the only textbook employed.  In addition to Bible study, considerable priority was given to prayer.  One of the ornate towers that crowned the building was converted into a ‘prayer tower’, where a continuous prayer vigil was maintained.  Volunteers maintained three-hour watches.  Occasionally a student would spend the night, waiting before the Lord.”
2.     They had a single minded devotion- Miss Ozman said (page 38 of Anointed to Serve), “when I learned that the Holy Spirit was yet to be poured out in greater fullness, my heart became hungry.  At times I longed more for the Holy Spirit to come in than for my necessary food.”
3.     They understood the difference between tongues and the Holy Ghost- It was said when Miss Ozman was filled with the Holy Ghost, “For three days she would not speak in the English language, so overwhelmed was she.”  Miss Ozman urged them not to seek tongues, but to seek for the Holy Ghost.
4.     They were persecuted- The Parham’s said this about their Pentecostal ministry in 1901, “Both the pulpit and the press sought to utterly destroy our place and prestige, until my wife, her sister, and myself stood alone.  Hated, despised, counted as naught, for weeks and weeks never knowing where our next meal would come from, yet feeling that we must maintain the faith once for all delivered to the saints.  When we had car fare we rode, when we didn’t we walked.  When buildings were closed to us we preached on the street”.
Mrs. Goss was quoted as saying in Anointed to Serve, “Some workers had been attacked, some had been beaten, some had bones broken, some were jailed, some were made to leave town, some were rotten-egged and some were shot at…tents, buildings, and sometimes residences were burned; drinking water was poisoned, windows were broken…Often we had no protection; there were times when the police chose to close their eyes because we were the strangers, while the city paid them a salary. (page 74).”
5.     They had mighty altar services- Writing about the Parham Revival in Houston, Texas in 1905 it was described this way: “The power of God was so great in the altar services here that seekers often fell as if they were dead, and would lie immovable for hours, only their lips whispering softly to God.  Early in the morning they would have to be piled like cord-wood into the back of a delivery wagon and taken home to continue their solitary soul’s search after God.”  They recorded that by wintertime 1905 25,000 people had come under the influence of the Holy Ghost in Houston, Texas (page 48).”
6.     There was great reverence and fear- Of Azusa street, Frank Bartleman, said, “When we first reached the meeting we avoided as much as possible human contact and greeting.  We waned to meet God first.”
7.     There was an expectancy of the Lord’s Return- “The sense that Jesus is coming soon gave a sense of urgency, of importance, of worth, to the burgeoning movement (page 57)”.
8.     They were a people of Holiness- Menzies recorded in his book that “Holiness was more than a theological concept (page 57).”  In the early days of the Pentecostal movement in America you would have been hard pressed to find a “worldly” Pentecostal.
9.     The early Pentecostal Movement was informal-  Menzies said in his book that “There was a strong antipathy to anything that resembled organization, for fear that any intrusion of the human element would grieve the Holy Spirit”.  He further said, “There was an undenominational character to the movement that gave it a widespread appeal (page 77)”.

David O. Moberg, in his book “The Church as a Social Institution” lists five stages that all movements go through – and they are degenerative:
1.  Revolutionary Period- The new movement rises up because of dissatisfaction with existing churches.  This is a very exiting time.  The new movement comes out of old, dead, dry, and corrupt religious movements that may have been vital themselves a hundred years ago.
2.  Formal Organization- Formal leadership arises, goals are formulated, a creed is developed.  The movement becomes more organized and is able to operate efficiently.
3.  Maximum Efficiency- The leadership becomes less emotional, historians emerge, propaganda becomes prominent, and programs are implemented.  The movement may have been rejected by other religious movements in the first stages but it now finds itself being accepted. The formal structure grows rapidly and the movement seems very successful on the outside.
4.  Institutional Stage- The movement becomes formal, the leadership grows into a large bureaucracy, and ritual becomes important.  The movement begins to tolerate lifestyles in its ranks that at one time were unacceptable.
5.  Disintegration- Formalism, indifference, red tape, and corruption are all common symptoms of this stage.  The movement is no longer representative of the Church.
All Pentecostal denominations fall into one of these stages.  It is not a pleasant thing to think about but remember: We do not serve these institutions.  We serve the Living God!

     Here are some of the challenges that we are facing as a Pentecostal Church.  We must stand up in this 21st Century and face the giants that are opposing the Kingdom of God.
(1) The Danger of Replacing the Power of God with Formality.  This is happening right before our eyes and most do not even recognize it.  Many Pentecostal Churches have become so formal and dry.  Shouting, dancing, and exuberant worship now frightens many Pentecostals.  Worship that was in the “Spirit and in truth” has always been a part of Pentecostal worship.  Today things have changed.  William W. Menzies says this of his Study of the Assemblies of God, on page 376 of his book Anointed to Serve, “Worship patterns have tended to reflect a gravitation toward more reserved, sophisticated forms…”  It was not always this way though, he goes on to say, “Prior to World War II, Assemblies of God church services could be readily indentified in almost any locale.  There were certain distinguishing characteristics of Pentecostal worship that seemed to be a fairly uniform pattern until 1940.  Participation was the key word in Pentecostal worship from the earliest days.  Services were informal.  The lack of structure intended to permit maximum participation of the congregation through testimony, song, exhortation, or manifestations of the Spirit.” 
Things have greatly changed since the modern outpouring of Pentecost in the early twentieth century.   Menzies goes on to say on page 348 that “spontaneity of worship is not as obvious in many congregations as it once was.”    He goes on to say that the A/G organization has “moved from a spontaneous level to a programmed level”. 
What is true of the Assemblies of God is true of most Pentecostal denominations and the movement as a whole.  Worship most be spontaneous!  In the past people flocked to our churches to escape the formality of the old-line denominations.  Now we are in danger of becoming just like them.  Now we have choreographed dancing, flag waving, and wooden worship.  What people are looking for is something real.
(2) The Danger of Relying on Ritual rather than Prayer.  The Bible tells us, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”.  Today, instead of praying, many people are relying on cheap tricks to try to get the same results.  Whether it is Holy Water from the River Jordan, or Rahab’s Scarlet Thread, or placing ceramic angels on the dash of their car – people are becoming more and more superstitious and less and less spiritual.   I was at one Pentecostal’s house and they had ceramic angels in each of the windows of the house.  I asked, “Why”?  They said to keep devils out of the house.  The Devil is not afraid of a ceramic angel!  What he is afraid of is a Holy Ghost-Filled prayer warrior!  At one time it was the Catholics that counted beads, now some Pentecostal are counting rosary beads and saying Hail Mary’s, and speaking in tongues while they do it.  Wearing a cross around your neck is not going to ward you from evil!  That is witchcraft!
I saw one evangelist lay the Bible on the face of a woman he was trying to cast the devil out of – paper and ink Bibles are not what the Devil is afraid of - it is the Living Word that he is terrified of.  People have become so superstitious that they believe in ghosts haunting houses and the dead returning to visit them.  Nonsense!  The dead are in either Heaven or Hell!
We must get back to the power of prayer.  No gimmick, no ritual, no relic, or no formula is going to ever take the place of old-fashioned prayer.  Prayer is the battlefield wherein the Church will secure victory.
(3) The Danger of Ceasing to be a Revival Movement.  From the beginning the Pentecostal Movement was a Revival Movement.  Revivals were not the exception – they were the rule.  In order for us to remain a vital force in this world today we must remain a Revival Movement.  There are Pentecostal Churches today that never have a revival and those that do have one every one to two years.  What happened to the 3-Week Revivals?  What happened to the 6-Week Revivals?  What happened to having four or five revivals a year?  Most evangelists can’t make it on the field because no one has revivals any more.  I heard one evangelist preaching against Pastor-Evangelists taking their revivals.  I understand what he was saying but that is the only way some Evangelists can make it on the field.  We must once again become a revival movement!  Pastors tell me all the time, “We cannot afford to have a Revival”.  No Sir!  You cannot afford to “Not” have a Revival!  Revivals are a part of Pentecost and have always been so since the beginning. 
(4) The Danger of Losing our Distinct Character.  This was our strength.  We did not blend in with the other Churches around us.  We did not fit in this world.  We wore this as a badge of office.  Holiness has become a dirty word in most Pentecostal Churches and in some churches it means absolutely nothing at all.  Often when it is referred to it is left as some ambiguous concept that no one understands and surely no one wants to define.  Menzies says in his book (page 340), “In the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement, a significant number of people either came from, or were strongly influenced by, the Holiness tradition.  Moral rigorism was a pervasive characteristic of most Pentecostal groups.  This was manifested in some localities by a rather rigid and extensive code of legalistic prohibitions.  But, everywhere, there was a marked degree of separation from the world”.
Why is it that we are so drawn to this world?  A man of the other world will care little about pleasing this one.  I heard a story years ago of an old Holiness Preacher that visited New York.   His daughter brought the elderly preacher to stay with her in New York and took him around one day to show him the sights.  He saw the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and the Empire State Building.  That night he went into his room and prayed.  The daughter listened in at the door and heard him say these words, “I thank you God that you let me see these things today but I thank you even more that I did not see one thing that I wanted”.  Now that is a holy man!
When Moses fled to the deserts of Midian he met a group of girls at a well attempting to water their herds.  It seems that every day when they did so the other shepherds would run the girls off and they would have to wait until everyone was through before they could get their turn.  On this day Moses was present and he defended the girls.  When the girls returned home early their father asked them how they were able to get home so quickly.  Do you know what they said?  They said, “An Egyptian delivered us (Exodus 2:19)”.  Moses was not an Egyptian.  He was an Israelite of the Tribe of Levi.  Why did they think he was an Egyptian?  Because of the clothes he was wearing!  His dress, manners, hairstyle, and such led them to make a wrong guess about who he was.  If you are tired of people calling you and Egyptian then quit dressing like them!  If you are tired of people saying you are worldly then quit dressing worldly!  It took 40 years for all of Egypt to wear off of Moses and it was then that God sent him back to Egypt as a Hebrew to lead His people to the Promised Land.
(5) The Danger of Moving from the Supernatural to the Natural.  Let’s face it people: Most of what happens in our Churches has nothing to do with the Supernatural.  Watchman Nee said, “I you can explain it then God probably didn’t have anything to do with it”.  Our preaching must tap into that other world.  Our praying must tap into that other world.  Our worship must tap into that other world.  People need to leave our services knowing there was something more in that building than other people.  The Lost that visit need to tremble from the supernatural presence of God in our services.  We need to throw out the program and get back to the Power of God!  Menzies says of the Pentecostal Movement, “There was strong emphasis on the supernatural in Pentecostal Churches from the beginning”.
(6) The Danger of Relying on Human Wisdom Rather than the Word of God.  I am a preacher that does a lot of studying but I must never forget that it is the Power of the Holy Ghost that makes my preaching powerful.  Doctrinal codes, theological books, and pretty words will never take the place of the Unction of the Holy Ghost!  Today, there is great danger coming from Extra-Biblical Revelations.  God does not need to give us a new revelation.  We just need to take another look at the one he has already given us.  Dreams and visions will never take the place of the Word of God.  The Gifts of the Spirit are subordinate to the Calling of God.
(7) The Danger of Ceasing to be What We Started Out Being in the Beginning.  This sums up all everything that I just said.  We must remain faithful to the pattern God has set for the Church in the Book of Acts.  I was reading a history book sometime back and the writer described the Pentecostal Church as a new movement that came out of established religions, such as the Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran.  I beg to differ with that historian’s assessment.  We did not come out of them – they came out of us!  We are the Original Church!  The Church was born in the Book of Acts and it was born speaking in other tongues.  The Original Church is the Pentecostal Church!  We must be what we were in the beginning.  We must go back to our roots.

David faced his Giant Challenge and he won.  The Pentecostal Church, like David, is standing in the Valley of Elah facing our Giant.  We can run and hide and hope that a few of us survive or we can go out and face this giant.  It took courage for David to face the giant.  We will need no less.  But it also took a sense of national pride in his God, Religion, Nation, and Family.  We are fighting for the very essence of what we are.  To allow the enemy to disdain us is an affront to God.  God does not need us defending Him but our faith MUST be defended.  We must accept the challenge and go out and do battle with the Giants of the 21st Century.  The very life of our movement demands that we accept the challenge.

1 comment:

  1. Great article!!!
    God bless you pastor Mark!
    Greetings and blessings from Ivana-Croatia, Europe!


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