Monday, January 4, 2010

The Divine Education

The hyped work of evangelism through crusade usually is alive only a short time. A few weeks following the crusade the hype is taking a drastic slide to the lowest. Those who raise their hands during the crusade and make a once in a lifetime commitment to the one and only God of heaven and earth tend to fade away the following weeks when the feeling of the heightened spiritual sense is gradually de-intensifying. The hard work of evangelism seems to be futile soon after the last light of the stadium is turned off. All the preparation, the publication complexity, the promotion frenzy, the place check and recheck, lighting provision, sound system accuracy, liturgy perfection, and the chain prayers together with the diving into books, articles, many sleepless nights devoted to thinking for the preacher, all seem to cool down extremely fast only after the campaign is over. People soon forget all about the content of the sermon, the commitment, the spiritual feeling, or the promises. Why is that so? Why can’t crusade-like evangelism be as effective as it can be? Billy Graham once said that crusade evangelism is only ten percent of the total work of evangelism and the other ninety percent is the follow up. The hardest work lies on the follow up. Many people tend to neglect the follow up and focus only on the crusade. The split is a mistake. The follow up after crusade evangelism is not a separate work, but instead they both are in the same unit and within the same work. Let me illustrate it in the following paragraph.

The work of evangelism is like the birth labor. Crusade evangelism is the actual labor. All the preparation for the crusade is like all the preparation for a mother to give birth to a human being on earth. Thus the preparation takes all our attention in order to make sure the coming of the new baby is as smooth as possible. We all know that the actual birth labor is a critical process, a dangerous one we might say. Many things can go wrong during labor. That’s why birth labor is treated with the utmost care in the hospital. Two souls at least are at stake during labor, the mother and the baby. The two affect each other in a way that is almost impossible to separate them. If the mother is in trouble, then the baby is also in trouble. If the baby is in trouble, then the mother is also in trouble. If the labor is difficult, the mother and the baby are usually in stress. A certain level of stress is expected during labor, but if the difficulty is prolonged then undesirable stress will occur. If undesirable stress occurs then both the mother and the baby are in great danger. The mother will be exhausted and the baby might not be born in time to breathe the first air. The mother could die, and so the baby, during the prolonged stress. Because of the danger of labor usually people prepare more for it than thinking about the follow up. It is important to pay great attention to the actual labor. We cannot neglect that for sure. However, the after labor is not less important. The follow up requires our devotion and full commitment in order to work properly. If the mother cannot collaborate with the newborn baby for the breastfeeding skill, then both will be frustrated. Taking care of the newborn baby is not as easy as many people might think. Just to meet the physical needs of the newborn is already drawing all our energy, how much more meeting the spiritual, mental, social needs. To care a newborn truly saps our best for proper growth to occur. Caring for our children takes a lifetime. That is why Graham said that the follow up after crusade is ninety percent of the evangelism work. Just like the follow up after labor requires our entire life to ensure desirable growth for our children, so the follow up after crusade should sap the best of us to ensure the proper spiritual growth of the newborn Christians.

The fact of the matter is we often prepare for the birth labor and seldom prepare for the lifetime nurture that must be provided for every newborn. Such is the main reason why the effect of crusade evangelism rarely works as effective as it should be. Secondly, since our main focus is on the birth labor we then treat the nurture process as a separate matter. Most of us think that the big event is the labor and the nurture afterward will come to us naturally. Those of us who have gone through those two processes know that this was not true. Nurturing newborn is not the kind of skill that will come to us naturally after the baby is born. The skill to nurture requires great learning effort on the part of the parents. The newborn also needs to learn to be nurtured. Many people would vote to become parents joyfully if nurturing newborn is that easy and natural. If such is the case then there will be no more abortion case in this world. Parents know how difficult it is to raise children. If what it takes to raise our children is just providing food and shelter, then it is the easiest responsibility humans may face. But since raising children requires “food and shelter” beyond the physical need, then nurturing newborn is extremely difficult. Whose responsibility it is to nurture the “newborn” Christians? Our Lord Jesus Christ has given the task to His Church. The day He went up to heaven, Jesus commissioned His disciples saying: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus did not give this task to merely an individual. He gave this task to whoever would believe in Him. Jesus sent believers into the world just like the Father sent Jesus Christ. And Jesus wanted that all Christians become one in Him just as the Father and the Son are one (cf. John 17). The Church is the body of Christ. Jesus is working in the world through His Church, through us.

Upon reflecting on the task given us, I realize that when Stephen Tong, who is also known as the Billy Graham of the east, founded a Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia, he was doing the very commission our Lord Jesus gave us two thousand years ago. Tong was working very hard in crusade evangelism, the one like Billy Graham’s crusade, and called many to Christ. But he realized that those newborn Christians need to be nurtured in such a way for their proper growth. In the midst of the chaos in biblical interpretation and theological debates among many churches, Tong decided to obey Christ by founding a church that would teach the newborn everything Jesus commanded. What Tong did was no easy work. To say that what he did is difficult is an understatement. It is beyond difficult. But just as Jesus promised in His commission, He is always with us every step of the way. To call people to believe in Christ requires our great attention, preparation, and effort. To nurture those who are considered newborn in the faith is the next level that requires even our greater attention, preparation, and effort. It takes a long time to educate a newborn saint to leave the sinning habit and begin a new way of life. It took God hundreds of years to teach Israel to know that there is only one God in the entire universe. It took the sacrifice of God’s Son to educate Israel that the one God has three persons. Through His church, God is educating us to live a life that is in accordance with our status as children of God. This is the Divine education. The business of Christian education is to do both the calling of believers and the nurture of the believers as one unit. A lot of works are required for those two processes to be effective. Preparation needed include preparing the speaker, the worker, and the teacher. This process becomes complex when sound biblical teachings, solid theological doctrines, fervent devotions, true worships, and good characters are at stake. Therefore Christian ministry has developed over the centuries in order to guard and protect the sacred teaching of Jesus Christ. Not only to protect the teaching, but also to practice it. Preparation and execution of the plan must be done accordingly. The first step is to listen to God. The second is to learn what He is teaching us. The third is to continue to walk with Him. And the fourth is to obey Him in everything.

Education is always in the mind of God. Since the beginning God has been working through education. He taught Adam what to do and what not to do. He taught Noah obedience and grace. He taught Abraham faith, justice, and mercy. He taught Isaac to stay in the covenant. He taught Jacob about submitting to Him. He taught Joseph His sovereignty and providence. He taught Moses that He is God and no other. He taught David leadership and love. He taught Solomon wisdom and faithfulness. He taught Esther courage and righteousness. He taught Daniel integrity and holiness. And through His Son, he taught us who He is. The aim of His education is to bring us back to His embrace. We are His children, but without His education we don’t know how to behave. Without His education we don’t even know who we are. Through His education, not only we know who we are, but also we know the highest knowledge, God. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). The secret of the secret of heaven and earth lies on this one knowledge. The teacher in Ecclesiastes proclaimed that everything is meaningless, except that which is of eternal value. To know God is not meaningless at all. To be rich in this world is meaningless. To be wise is meaningless, although wisdom is better than folly. To be strong is also meaningless. But to know God is the meaning of life. For in the knowledge of God lies the secret of life. Living is not just not-dead. Living must be defined according to the giver of life. We may be not-dead but in the sight of God we are the same as dead, because we don’t live.

Divine education is given to us so that we may live properly according to God’s definition of life. The only one who can teach us the way of life is God as the Life Himself. Jesus commissioned us precisely to teach people the life before the one true God. When one is invited to the white house to meet the president of the United States, briefing about how to behave in the white house is necessary. If we are to live in the Kingdom of God, then education on the way of life appropriate in the kingdom is necessary. If a guest in the white house breaks the protocol, then the secret service might consider him/her a threat, and thus remove that person from the white house. In the same way if someone breaks the rules of the Kingdom of God, then such person will be removed from the presence of God. But thanks be to God that Jesus died for us, so His death, once and for all, covers all offenses we might make in God’s presence. However this does not mean that we may do whatever we want in God’s kingdom including breaking God’s law. Breaking God’s law is punishable in hell. That’s why Jesus underwent hell for us. The thing is living in God’s kingdom means living with Him. Living with God means living in a meaningful relationship with Him. The Westminster Shorter Catechism points out that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. How can we enjoy God if we don’t have a good relationship with Him? To this end we all need to prepare. Crusade evangelism and the follow up must aim at this kind of life. The fullness of life as shown by our Lord Jesus must be the curriculum. If we all aim at the fullness of life then Christian education will be effective. The framework of Christian education is then the divine education.

* The Business of Christian Education XV

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