“Is there a perfect church? Someone told Spurgeon that he would join the church when he found a perfect one. Spurgeon admitted that he had never seen one and told the man to inform him if that man found one. However Spurgeon also advised the man not to go to the perfect church for if he did so the church would become imperfect.” This is the opening address by Bishop Chen Chien Chung, Bishop of the Methodist Church in the Republic of China, one of the speakers of the 4th Methodist Prayer Convention.
Bishop Chen suggested that some of the possible reasons as to why the church is not after God’s own heart are: Issues of
1. Personal character – The character of the pastors, the deacons and the lay leaders may vary.
2. Doctrinal understanding – Each person has own understanding on doctrinal issues and hence cause disputes.
3. Ministry – For example: Should the church focus on praise and worship or traditional hymns?
Bishop Chen pointed out that during the time of the Judges, the Israelites asked for a king and God said by doing so they were rejecting God. Once the church is no longer after God’s own heart the church will be going astray!
Pray any time, any place
The story of Nehemiah began about 70 years after the exile. He was a Jewish descendant born in Babylon and was the Cup-bearer of the king. Although Nehemiah was born after the exile, he received religious education at home and did not forget his faith despite serving a Gentile king.
He was a man who prayed at any time and any place. In the Book of Nehemiah it is recorded that he prayed to God 12 times a day before, during, and after work. He was greatly motivated when he fasted and prayed before God (1:4-11).
Bishop Chen claimed that people don’t pray because of self-righteousness, self-centeredness and complacency. Let us learn from Nehemiah how to pray and to build up the church from Nehemiah 1: 4-11.
When Nehemiah asked those who had survived the Babylonian captivity, and about Jerusalem, he was told that the survivors were living in great distress and shame, the Jerusalem wall remained broken down and its gates burnt. He developed a sense of holy dissatisfaction: he sat down, cried, mourned for a number of days while he fasted and prayed.
After about four months from his holy dissatisfaction Nehemiah had a vision: so I can rebuild it (Nehemiah 2:5b). It was by prayer and waiting he found a way out. In this regard Bishop Chen pointed out that a church after God’s own heart has to be built upon prayer.
Salvation is in active form
Talking about prayer and building up, Bishop Chen shared three points:
1. Holy dissatisfaction
This sense of dissatisfaction stems from the fact that we love our Lord and so as we see the conditions of this day we have the feeling and anger of “how can it be so”. Our vision then comes from holy dissatisfaction. In other words vision follows holy dissatisfaction.
2. Admit our weaknesses
None of us is perfect, so we have to be humble before the Lord, acknowledging our weaknesses and that we are willing to return to God. This is the beginning of God’s grace upon us.
John Wesley emphasizes that salvation is active. We need to return to God continuously to be renewed. He also believes that justification is not by faith alone but also healing by faith (spiritual formation and building up).
Therefore all believers need spiritual building up and not just “justification by faith.” Our spiritual life can be whole only through our active relationship with God.
3. Pray for grace in rebuilding
John Wesley said that we need to be transformed and rebuilt continuously. We must first seek heavenly glory and earthly glory of the earth will be bestowed upon us. Matthew said: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…”
Change the old way of life
There are three aspects of salvation according to John Wesley: forgiveness (justification) is the beginning of salvation; holiness (sanctification) is the continuation of salvation; heaven (perfection) is the completion of salvation.
Faith is not just to bring about comfort and satisfaction in the heart. It is necessary to keep on renewing and changing the old way of life to attain new life. John Wesley is convinced that when Holy Spirit is working, real change will happen.
In closing Bishop Chen calls on brothers- and sisters-in-Christ to respond as follows:
1. The church needs to be built up urgently. Pray that the Spirit that moved Nehemiah will move us so that we can build up the church in unity.
2. We have the responsibility to pray for revival of the church every day and the church will flourish.
3. Acknowledge of our weaknesses and that we come short of the glory of God. Pray that our Lord will give us another chance and we have to make up our mind to be one that pleases God.
Reported by Jacqueline Ung
Translated by KT Chew