“There may be some who say the success has been proportionate to the agency, and that we could not have been more successful. I am far from being of their opinion, and I do not think they themselves would express it on their knees before Almighty God. We have not been successful to the extent we might have expected, certainly not to an apostolic extent, certainly with nothing like the success of Paul or Peter, or even of those imminent men who have preceded us in modern times, and who were able to evangelize whole countries, turning thousands to God. Now, what is the reason of this? Perhaps we may turn our eyes on high, and think we find that reason in the sovereignty of God, which hath withholden his Spirit, and hath not poured out his grace as aforetime.” ~ Charles Spurgeon
While there’s much to consider in this quote, I’d like to focus on 3 things:
1. The agency he speaks of is people. He believed that the eminent privilege of the Church was to proclaim the gospel, that God will rarely do his own work without instruments, and that has always employed “means” in the work of the regeneration of the world. The stuff of Apostolic movements is you. To some degree, methodology is important, but more so, medium and message.
2. Our expectations might be out of alignment. To assume outcomes when everything is “done right” in creating a movement, is presumptuous at best and may even border on arrogance. How often have you heard about “tweaking,” “shifting,” or “nuancing” some formulaic approach to mission? The apostolic methods of yesteryear might not be the prescriptions of God’s people for today. Measuring the extent of your success according to your own benchmarks may just be like saying “mirror mirror on the wall…”
3. God may be withholding His Spirit. This is not something that I hear people talking about often. What if the place where you want to work, where you live, or where you think you need to be incarnational is intentionally being ignored by God? What if it’s not His time to be where YOU want to be? (Acts 16:6) What if the Lord is withholding His Spirit? All the trend analysis and contextualization in the world isn’t going to get you where God wants to be.
“Concerning Apostolic Movements, Spurgeon also went on to say,
“We must see what the difference is between ourselves and the men of Apostolic times, and what it is that renders our success so trifling in comparison with the tremendous results of Apostolic preaching. I think I shall be able to show a few reasons why our holy faith is not so prosperous as it was then. In the first place, we have not Apostolic men; in the second place, they do not set about their work in an Apostolic style; in the third place, we have not Apostolic churches to back them up; and in the fourth place, we have not the Apostolic influence of the Holy Ghost in the measure which they had it in ancient times.”
A few questions:
A. Can you give an example of where God has done something without an agency?
B. How do you differentiate a historic account of what has happened in the early church with respect to movements, and what is prescriptive for the church today?
C. In your opinion, does God “withhold His Spirit” from various places today?