Stephen Kaung was profoundly influenced by the great Watchman Nee of China. Kaung is now in his nineties, but as sharp as ever. I watched him speak on YouTube recently on ‘The Eternal Purpose of God’ from Eph. 1, understood and appreciated by so few in the Church today. Somewhere near the beginning of his talk he explained what he considered one of the primary reasons for the contemporary Church’s weakness – he said, ‘We are too strong! Our problem is strength!’ Not only have we lost God’s eternal purpose in Christ for his people, but we are too strong in ourselves and too weak in the Lord. I could relate to that. In our Metro we have a weekly church diary setting out church events, seminars, conferences, healing campaigns, etc, the list goes on and on – I have often said, if the strength of the church in our midst was proportional to the number of meetings and conferences with overseas speakers etc, we should be in revival right now – however, often the opposite prevails. Any local church growth (numerical) is of the musical chairs type: some megachurch puts on bigger and better, and the migration begins. And the quality of believer? Largely superficial, I would say.
Evert-Jan Ouweneel, Dutch Director of World Vision, gives a window into the Church in the Netherlands. He writes that while many see the Church in Europe declining in membership due to secularisation, he personally is optimistic. ‘Christianity in Europe is not going down the drain, but it’s in a revolutionary transition. We are being forced to reinvent (personal comment: a bad choice of word? would ‘rediscover’ not have been better?) the Gospel and the Church, and to (in a way) start all over again – what is the Gospel and why is it good news to our society? Wonderful questions for pioneers.’ Agreed!
‘Western European Christianity has become morally powerless… and lacks spiritual conviction… and today’s young people have a whole new religious spectrum to choose from. There’s no longer an economic advantage to being a Christian. So… those who still attend a church do so out of real conviction.’
Ouweneel continues, ‘That brings me to the hidden strength of today’s European Christianity: we’re learning to live with our weaknesses and our failures, which gives us a whole new experience of surrender to God’s peace and grace. From a gospel of human strength we move to a gospel of humility and weakness. We know that God’s strength can only be manifested when we are weak’ (my emphasis). [Coming back to Stephen Kaung for a moment: he points us likewise to Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 12:9-10, “But (in the light of his temptation to self-exaltation because of the surpassingly great revelations given him) he said to me, ‘My grace is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”]
This also changes the Church. ‘We should stop planning and controlling the Church and jumping to the next growth formula. What matters is whether we are available for God with empty hands, so He can use us in the way He wants…’
I like that. Just last night I was reading the introduction to Nee’s classic ‘The Normal Christian Church Life,’ in which he reminds us that God has no need of a counsellor (Rom. 11:34), therefore it is not our place to suggest how we think divine work should be done, but rather to ask in everything, ‘What is the will of the Lord?’ (his premise is that the will of the Lord for his Church is recorded not only in the Pauline Letters but in the examples of the Book of Acts).
Surely we, as individual believers and as faith-communities, must begin with a deep ‘Sorry, Lord,’ a re-reading of the Scriptures concerning God’s Bride, in dependance on Spirit-given revelation from God himself. ‘But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man…’ (Gal. 1:15-16).