Sermon on church restoration
It was a great surprise to find that the two men who were prophets of the coming Azusa Street revival, Frank Bartleman and the Englishman, Joseph Smale, were both ardent seekers after the restoration of the New Testament church. They both saw the chasmic gap between the church revealed in the Bible and the church of their day. The church they sought for was led by the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and governed by the Holy Spirit.
This sermon reveals Joseph Smale’s passion for church restoration. It was preached at the First New Testament Church which he began in early 1906, before the Azusa Street meetings had started.
Let us ask, “what is the condition of the world, and what the condition of the churches of Jesus Christ?” As we look upon the first, the sight is one of lunacy. The people are mad. There is riot in the mind, riot in the heart, riot in the will. Gold is the goal of life; pleasure and fashion the sum of life; and religion the side issue of life, except when it is spiritualism, Christian science (?), millennial dawn, ritualism, Catholicism, and the like. Scripturally described the view is that of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Does the reader see the same thing? Perhaps not. He might be looking, and with all honesty, at the myriad spires of the evangelical churches, the costly ecclesiastical, educational and philanthropic plants, the march of civilization in the comity and humanity of modern life, and the arbitration councils of nations.
And maybe he is saying, “Herein is the hope of the world. The spirit that these things embody will subdue in time the baser passions, and the infidel philosophies of the race. We are not in the twilight of evening but of morning. Let us believe in the survival and supremacy of all the good influences now shedding their soft and kindly light of dawn across the gloomy firmament.” Our reply is simple, and we submit pertinent. We await an answer to it. We will rejoice to take such a view of our age if it can be proven that the truth which gave birth to the churches, and to this march of civilization is not being daily put to dishonour and death, and that, too, by the civilization and churches which owe their very existence to it. It is a fact of history that before Christianity there was no civilization that was a credit to man’s moral nature save occasionally Jewish life, and if the civilization of today makes a fair show of ethics what place is it yielding to that religion from whence it has drawn all which it has that is worthy of a boast. The charge which we bring against the world is that it only accepts Christianity’s minor moralities. It rejects the entire system of spiritualities. How long, then, will present civilization maintain its moral characteristics if it repudiates the Christian soil in which only it can thrive? Separate a flower from its plant and we know that it will soon cease to retain its bloom and beauty. Likewise will it be with the few fair blossoms of our modern civilization. They are doomed to fade, for our age has no use for the plant from which they have been plucked.
And does our reader point to the omnipresent church life? The situation we admit ought to be splendid in experience and potentially great— radiant with grandest hopes. But it is neither one nor the other. We live in a time when the churches display a great deal of stage scenery. They have comfortable homes, which in many instances are architecturally fine; and if strength be gauged by numbers, they can, united, command for the cause they represent any adverse circumstance that may threaten their life. Their internal construction challenges improvement. If virtue be in up-to-date methods the latest are being applied to their work. If aesthetics are necessary to win the ear and eye and heart of man these are not lacking, for, art in the pulpit, art in the pew, and art in the choir-loft are in evidence to a superlative degree. With this wealthy resource, what are the facts in achievements. Achievement, remember, must be determined by the purpose of the church in the mind of God. The organization being the only organization God founded for the expression of His will, religiously considered, then its results are not according to appearances and popular estimates, but just so many and no more than those which correspond to the purpose of its life in the intention of God. For the sake of clearness let us put in table form the church of today by the side of the church of the Scriptures, then we shall see at a glance whether it be of God, and whether it can work out a millennium for the world, as many believe it will do, and, as many believe it is already doing.
|The Church of Today
|The Church of the Scriptures
Without spiritual freedom. Fettered by forms, ceremonies and customs. Capable of human explanation. Everything about its religious life ordinary and commonplace. Believes the day of miracles is past. Any influence it has is obtained at the expense of compromises.
Relies upon the natural and cultivated gifts of its preachers and choirs for its welfare.
Lives for the praise of men.
Thirsts for a worldly good time.
Respecter of persons and bribed by Simon Magus, who obtains influence and office.
Quarrelsome, contentious, jealous, place hunting, position seeking; and these things are as true of the ministry as of the pew.
Says it cannot live without sin.
Aims at a comfortable and inoffensive profession of Christ.
Yields a preference to education rather than to works of evangelization.
Doing many things which preclude its undivided attention upon and effectiveness in the great work of its life.
Boasting of what it does.
Glorying in and striving to build up denominationalism.
Filled with societies.
The work of the minister: To discuss the topics of the day, to produce word painting sermons, to give stereopticon and other lectures, to make society calls, to shine in social functions, to play the funny and humorous man, to interest people in the church.
Pulpit themes: Minor moralities; principles of reformation; human philosophies of life; patriotism; the poets; politics; men of today and yesterday; science, and occasionally the gospel.
Prayerless, notwithstanding its prayer meetings.
|(By which is meant not the church in history, except the Pentecostal church, but the church according to the plan of God.)
Just one—the Lord Jesus Christ. (Col. 1:18.)
Just one—the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 3.)
Extraordinary. Unaccountable by man. In humiliation and suffering, yet a thing of mighty power, confounding the world by its unearthly life and a grievous anxiety to civil authorities. Turning the world upside down amid all the opposition of the world. Doing the promised greater things of Christ; in a word, supernatural. (John 14:12; Read the Acts of the Apostles, I Cor. 12:4-11.)
Behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called, but God chose the foolish things of the world, that He might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose; yea, and the things that are not, that He might bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory before God. He that glorieth let him glory in the Lord. (I Cor. 1:26, 29, 31.)
Not in the way of eye service as men pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service unto the Lord, and not unto men. We speak not as pleasing men, but God who proveth our hearts. For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as ye know; nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness; nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others.
Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement hath a temple of God with idols? for we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore, come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be to you a Father; and ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 6:14-18; 2 Cor. 7:1.)
The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. That thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of the truth. (Rom. 14:17; Rom. 13:14; I Tim. 3:15.)
My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with respect of persons. For if there come into your assembly a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, and there come in also a poor man in vile clothing; and ye have regard to him that weareth the fine clothing, and say, Sit thou here in a good place; and ye say to the poor man, Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool; do ye not make distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, did not God choose them that are poor as to the world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, which he promised to them that love him? … if ye have respect of persons ye commit sin.
When Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostle’s hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said unto him, Thy silver perish with thee because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee. For I see that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. (James 2:1-6, 9; Acts 8:18, 23.)
For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among us, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.
My little children, I write to you that ye may not sin.
As children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance: but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, ye shall be holy; for I am holy.
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me; for whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall find it.
Go ye and disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them (for which a scholastic university training is unnecessary; see I John 2:20,27) to observe all things whatsoever I command you.
In service pre-eminently at work spreading the gospel of salvation by a crucified Christ. (Read the Book of Acts.)
When ye shall have done all the things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do. (Luke 17:10.)
Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Not a trace of auxiliaries.
The work of the minister: The perfecting of the saints … the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
Pulpit themes: All spiritual: the mystery of godliness. God manifest in the flesh; the depravity and lost estate of man out of Christ; Christ and Him crucified; justification by faith; the Spirit-filled life; sanctification; the second coming of Christ, and all the great truths of the revealed will of God.
Pray without ceasing.
This table is its own commentary, and we do not hesitate to conclude that there can be no bettering of the time religiously until a change takes place in the house of God. As a people, supposedly of the Lord, we are in this world to call men to repentance, but it is time to close the doors, and call one another to repentance and fasting and prayer. It is a time to weep between the porch and the altar. The house needs cleaning. The people of God must get rid of their sins, the traditions of their elders, their man-made systems of religion, their denominational love and glorying, so dishonoring to God, their carnal mind with all its belongings, and exchange their wisdom for the mind of Christ, their strength for his power, and their activity for the will of God, and then enthrone the Lord Head of His own house. Until this is done it will not be well with us; neither will our life be a power over the world.
The people of God for the most part today are playing the part of the legerdemain (Editor: skilful use of one’s hands when performing conjuring tricks, deceit) before men, and men know it. They pretend to be what they are not, God’s representatives, and men know it. They propose to them what they have not themselves, the higher life, and men know it. They set forth for men a better service, but they themselves stand for only the service of refined selfishness, and men know it. The world sees in the face of the church but a reflection of itself, and those of their number who cast in their lot with the church do but repeat its folly, for while they take up with the fear of the Lord, they still go on serving the gods of the creature.
Excerpted from Joseph Smale, The Pentecostal Blessing: Sermons That Prepared Los Angeles for the Azusa Street Revival (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1905, 2017). Used with permission.