The Outlandish Claims of Radical Orthodoxy

It is right there in the great opening overture of the Gospel of John.  “The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The phrase translated “made his home among us” literally means pitched his tent in our midst.  Again, think about the close of the New Testament.  Revelation 21:3 says, “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God.” True orthodoxy really is radical and outrageous.  The Christian claim is that God dwells, lives, with us in the person and work of Jesus through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes (dare I say often) I forget what an outlandish claim this is.  Consider it: the God of the universe; the God who set the galaxies in motion, is active in our lives today.  God is not a distant unengaged deity content to simply urge us to be nice.  God is actively engaged in our lives! Every now and then I run across something that forcefully reminds me of this great orthodox truth.  One of the consistently excellent pieces of research which I read regularly is Background Data for Mission written and edited by Dr. John H. Southwick of the General Board of Global Ministries (and a pastor up in the Pacific Northwest Conference).  With his permission, I offer the following excerpt from the October 2012 issue (Volume 24, No. 6):      Clay County, Kentucky is an Appalachian locale which had a bad rap for years as being a den of drug trafficking and corruption.  This compounded into all kinds of social problems.  Youth were selling and using drugs and reaped the consequences.  One or two addicts a week were dying.  City officials were taking bribes to look the other way.  Churches had programs to help who they could but were barely making a dent in the problems.  At the same time, the churches were largely inward looking and concerned about being islands in the sea of despair.               Finally some of the pastors got desperate enough to really start praying.  Pastors from churches that normally would not associate with one another joined in.  One Saturday morning, after an all-night prayer meeting, the UMC pastor said, “I believe we need to pray for God to expose the darkness.”  A few months later, arrests began as the FBI starting moving in.  When city officials were arrested, some churches lost members because they were either arrested or were cronies of those who were.  One of pastors envisioned a march to make a statement against the sin of the community.  The Saturday prayer meetings were now at 150 in attendance but the pastors had no idea how many would march. Many of the organizers were receiving violent threats.   To make matters worse the weather was awful on the day of the march, yet 3,500 folks from 63 churches in the county showed up.  This was a turning point.             Since then the corrupt officials are gone.  Addicts are coming to faith in Christ and joining the churches.  Droves of students are turning from drugs and turning to Christ.  The county seat, Manchester, now has an official sign below its name, “City of Hope.”  Since the march in 2004, $9 million dollars in drugs has come off the streets, 3,300 drug dealers have been arrested with a 97% conviction rate, 1,500 vouchers for addicts’ rehabilitation/recovery have been issued, and 50,000 children have been reached with help and education.  Wildlife has returned to the area.             The Sentinel Group has done exhaustive research on communities, and even countries, that are experiencing these kinds of transforming revivals.  Some are documented in DVD format, available at their website.  “Appalachian Dawn” documents Clay County.  The Sentinel Group has also identified key principles which can be utilized to invite God to move in transforming revival in any community.  They are quite adamant that this cannot be programmed.  In fact, at its best programming brings about no more than incremental changes over a long timeframe and can usually be entirely attributed to human efforts.  Transforming revival is explosive and rapid and can only be attributed to God.             Among the common characteristics of communities having had this experience is a core of Christians who recognize the desperation their community is in and identify the underlying sin causing it.  They then cooperate in focused prayer that is frequent, long, and intense, often accompanied by fasting.  Usually this will involve Christians of various stripes laying aside their differences and uniting under the commonly understood needs in the community and commonly recognized reality that God is the only answer.  In addition to longing for God’s help, there is a hunger for the person and presence of God.  Furthermore, there is faith and expectation that God will move and that they will continue in their crying out to God until it happens and beyond.  There is often persecution so perseverance is essential.  Also critical to the breakthrough is deep repentance and humility amongst those seeking God’s intervention.             While all of this seems far removed from the experience of modern day American United Methodists, it is not far removed from our heritage.  As we ponder how to live out our mission statement, we might do well to strive for transforming revival.