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Best-selling author, speaker and the former leader of London’s Westminster Chapel, RT Kendall celebrates his 80th birthday this summer. Premier Christianity magazine asked him to pen an open letter to the UK Church.
To my dear brothers and sisters in the UK Church, I must be one of the most fortunate Americans ever to live in Britain. You have given me my ministry, my identity and some of my all-time best friends. It is here I began to appreciate irony, subtlety and understatement. I cannot adequately express the sense of gratitude I feel toward you all. What is especially encouraging for me is meeting an ever-increasing number of church leaders, many of them young, who have a genuine thirst for God. This speaks well for tomorrow’s generation.
It is to tomorrow’s generation I share some things on my heart.
Don’t water down the message
Firstly, the priority of the gospel. My greatest hope for British evangelicals is that the gospel will never be taken for granted. I have been thrilled to learn how many church leaders and many evangelists have the same concern. The gospel is always under siege, particularly at a theological level. The enemy will always seek to rob the gospel of both its stigma and power. I applaud those who affirm Paul’s teaching of the blood of Christ propitiating the justice of God. Our calling is not to make the gospel palatable but to tell it as it is, and this includes the unpalatable truth about God’s wrath and the judgement to come.
We all want people to become Christians. But why? To make them nicer people to live with? To cause them to be materially better off? Or to live longer? Paul said that if ‘in this life only’ we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19). Why should we long for people to become Christians? It is because of the wrath of God. The earliest message of the New Testament was to ‘flee’ from the wrath to come. The Bible in a nutshell is this: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that we should ‘not perish’ but have eternal life (John 3:16).
I’d rather be known in hell than admired in the world
I love to visit the Holy Land to be where Jesus did miraculous things. I also love to visit places where the Holy Spirit did extraordinary things. At least four times I have stood and meditated on a vacant lot in Enfield, Connecticut where on 8th July 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached his historic sermon ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’. So great was God’s power that people literally held on to pews in the church and to tree trunks outside to keep from slipping into hell.
Affirm the whole of scripture
Secondly, I affirm the God of the Old Testament. I am always amazed and reassured that Jesus never apologised for the God of the Old Testament – his father! This includes being unashamed of the Genesis account of creation, especially: ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ [Genesis 1:27, NIV 1984, italics mine]. The modern redefinition of marriage reflects a disdain for God’s plan in making us male and female. I thank God for those who have resisted this trend, and hold to a biblical definition of traditional marriage.
References to the inspiration of scripture in the New Testament include the 39 books of the Old Testament. If we affirm the New Testament it means we affirm the Old Testament too. I accept there are things in the Old Testament that are hard to swallow. Yes. But this is true with the New Testament too. Part of bearing the stigma for Christ is the willingness to look like fools in the eyes the world.
Remarry the word and the spirit
Thirdly, the word and the spirit will come together as it did in the book of Acts. There is a growing conviction that a remarriage between the word and the spirit is God’s way. I say this because those truly open to the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the operation of spiritual gifts are now in the majority among evangelicals in the UK. Sadly for me, this is not the case in the United States.
We will not win people over by theological argument alone
By word I mean the centrality of the gospel. By spirit I mean signs, wonders and miracles. I believe that it will mean a spontaneous combustion of power and authority for the Church and a wake-up call to the nation. Never forget that John Newton, famous for his hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, was the impetus behind William Wilberforce, who brought incalculable social change to the world. While we wait for this nation-changing awakening, we may thank God for encouraging signs now.
We need the spirit of Christ in us
Fourthly, our very lives must make the world want what we have. Arthur Blessitt was given an open door in Amman when an Arab sheikh noticed him across a restaurant. The sheikh said, ‘I want what you’ve got.’ There was something
about Arthur’s countenance that gripped this Arab. Arthur led him to Christ. We will not win people over by theological argument alone but by a different spirit in us than is in the world.
What will win the world will not come about by the keenest intellect humiliating an opponent but by the most transparently Christ-like person melting hearts. When Paul determined to know nothing among the Corinthians but Jesus Christ and him ‘crucified’ [1 Corinthians 2:2], it was his commitment both to the objective gospel of the cross but also subjectively to the manner of life he proposed to live before those who had never heard the gospel.
Part of bearing the stigma for Christ is the willingness to look like fools in the eyes the world
Who are you impacting?
My old mentor Rolfe Barnard preached a sermon called ‘The man who was known in hell’. It was based upon the incident in Acts when a demon said, ‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ (19:15 [NIV]). Rolfe pointed out that it was Jesus and Paul – and not the man trying to cast out demons – who had a reputation in hell. That sermon influenced me deeply when I was young, helping me to aspire to be a threat to the devil. If I had to choose I’d rather be known in hell than admired in the world.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne saw a true touch of revival in Scotland. Six months after he died in 1843 a young minister travelled to St Peter’s Church, Dundee to inquire what M’Cheyne’s secret had been. An old elder took the young
preacher to M’Cheyne’s desk, saying to him: ‘Put your elbows on the desk and place your forehead in your hands, and let the tears flow.’ The elder then took the young man to M’Cheyne’s pulpit, telling him: ‘Now put your elbows on the pulpit and place your forehead in your hands, and let the tears flow.’ M’Cheyne had a passion for the lost. May God grant us a fresh passion for the unsaved who are in danger of the wrath to come.
After M’Cheyne died, a letter addressed to him was found in his coat pocket. It was written by a man who had heard him preach the previous Sunday. In it he wrote that he came to the church unconverted, but the sight of M’Cheyne’s face – not the sermon itself – so gripped this man that he could not help himself – and was instantly saved.
We need to make a greater impact on our generation and on generations to come.
‘T’was not the truth you taught, to you so clear, to me so dim;
But when you came to me you brought a sense of Him.
Yes, from your eyes He beckoned me, from your heart His love was shed;
When I lost sight of you and saw the Christ instead.’
Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus loves the Church. He loves the UK. So stay strong in the work God has called you to and never be ashamed of the gospel. Proclaim it with power and truth. May the grace of our Lord Jesus
Christ, through the sprinkling of his blood by the Holy Spirit, be with you all evermore.
Rev RT Kendall led London’s Westminster Chapel for 25 years. His latest book, In Pursuit of His Wisdom (Hodder & Stoughton) is available now.
Who would you like to write an open letter to the UK Church? Email your ideas to Justin.firstname.lastname@example.org