Volume 20 Issue 5
“That, to the height of this great argument, I may assert Eternal Providence, and justify the ways of God to men” John Milton.
Through his polemic poetry that addressed the struggle between good and evil, John Milton was joining the great battle in old England to keep the church pure and to overcome the corruptive influence and regicide of King Charles I. Milton chose to align with the Puritans, who were Bible readers and as such advocated obedience to the Bible’s call to righteousness. The Church of England, to which most of them belonged, hated them. The term Puritans was a derisive term within the church used to belittle those who felt that the political power wielded by the church was a source of corruption.
This, compounded with other issues, led to the English civil wars and the rise of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was sympathetic to the Puritans and advocated for the death of King Charles I. He eventually signed Charles’ death warrant, having himself become a virtual dictator. During these controversies, John Milton did not remain on the sidelines. He wrote pamphlets and articles that were widely distributed. However, none were as memorable as Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. These poetic works were, as Milton described, intended to “assert Eternal Providence, and justify the ways of God to men.”
In the end, the struggle led to the great migration of Puritans, especially the separatists who wanted to be completely autonomous from the Church of England. They spread throughout Europe, into Holland and then, as we Americans know, they came to the New World, formed the Massachusetts Bay colony and founded the first American college, Harvard University.
The point of all this abbreviated history (forgive the oversimplification) is to illustrate a current similar migration. There seems to be a developing migration of holiness people away from the churches they built, away from the mother churches they founded, and away from the mission fields they gave their youth and health to establish. This migration may not have reached the tipping point at the moment, but in a short time it will; and the outcome will define the Apostolic Movement and determine its destiny. The issue must not be overlooked, and no preacher or congregation should remain on the sidelines.
Before every revolution there is pre-revolution rhetoric: a stirring of the pot, so to speak. Politicians call it “sending up a kite or weather balloon.” It’s rhetoric that tests reaction. As a boy I collected hornet’s nests around our small Indiana farm, but I never touched one casually. I always chucked small rocks at it or hit it gently with a long pole, to determine if any hornets were paying attention. Obviously, I wanted to collect empty hornet’s nests. The tapping of the nests has been going on for some time now. It began first among Christianity as a whole with the disputation and dilution of traditional fundamental doctrines. Now as Pentecostals we face a similar attack. Certain voices here and there propel small, subtle, and cleverly targeted rocks at the issues of holiness, separation from the world and essentiality as it pertains to baptism and speaking in tongues – all to see if there is any stir or buzz about it. It is my hope that they are miscalculating, and they will not find a nest full of dead hornets.
If one doubts that there exists growing anti-holiness, anti-doctrine, and anti-Bible rhetoric, please listen more carefully. Social network pages are filled with self-loathing Pentecostal young people and self-anointed, self-defined cool preachers, who will mock those who attempt to call attention to blurring lines between righteousness and worldliness. They test the nests to see if they can gather likeminded followers living out selfish lusts. Greedily they make disciples unto themselves, appealing to a heightened spirit of carnality, sadly even among some longtime church folks. They make fun of holiness, inventing new epithets such as “holy hags,” “bun ladies” and “Patty Pentecostals.” One popular charismatic preacher recently referred to people who practice modesty in dress and who avoid extreme worldly styles as “ugly worshippers” and “pentehostile.”
I don’t believe all the saints are dead or that all the true Bible believers have fled the scene. In fact, the Pentecostal movement and the number of God-fearing people are growing. One can scarcely count the scope of the revival in the southern hemisphere. However, my concern at this moment are the churches here in North America, a nation where in the past century dedicated and Godly men and women have laid an astounding foundation of righteousness. As elders and guardians of this precious faith we must take this advantage seriously and protect it; to not only mentor those who come behind, but to monitor those who inherit this treasured foundation. If we fail, we risk forfeiting 100 years of digging, praying, preaching, and building to those who have no intention of maintaining the faith.
We need modern John Miltons who will “justify the ways of God to men.” This means they must insist that the Bible be obeyed. Disobedience was why “paradise was lost.” This was the great battle that Milton and others conducted in an epic struggle to emphasize the word of God as a book to be obeyed.
Obedience is at the core of everything this generation has inherited. The church buildings, the generations of believers, the organizations and ministries were all birthed in surrender of self and denial of ego in exchange for a walk of faith through obedience. Yet, in glib response to God’s blessings on these sacrifices, the thankless and the self-assured have become playful toward worldly pleasure and the human philosophies that stymied the moving of the Holy Ghost for centuries and will do so again.
I believe that we are seeing a migration among Apostolic Pentecostal believers as they search for safe harbor in a time of great change. A good many of these souls actually believe in righteous living. They were taught holiness, and they live it. They love it. They teach it to their children. They want to continue in the Way. Yet, a good many are being marginalized in their own home churches. Nevertheless, they seek to walk in light of true spiritual revelation as it pertains to doctrine and life styles; and therefore, like the Puritans of England, they are seeking a spiritual resting place. They are searching for a place where the values of holiness are not maligned, where separation from the world is respected, not mocked and where the search for Truth is considered Christian responsibility. They desire a place of sanctity where pulpits are protected against hype and false doctrines. Migration will have consequences and Apostolics must decide quickly if what we really desire is a fellowship with no standards of discipline, or no certitude of beliefs or measurements of right and wrong, or if we are willing to contend for the faith of our fathers.
“What does it matter,” Milton argued, “what you believe or where you dwell if your ambition is to reign or to follow your own mind?” This is the great question. If our ambition is to rule, to have our way, to think our own thoughts, to live as we please then why should we care what the Bible teaches? For, as Milton states, such ambition leads some to conclude that perhaps it is “better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”