Appendix 3: How Christ Came to an American Church
Can you imagine what the apostles thought when they realized Jesus was leaving them to return to heaven? They had actually lived daily in the presence of this man who was God in human flesh. Think of those unforgettable lessons He taught them when He washed their feet, when He fed the five thousand or when He told them where to catch all those fish.
No ordinary man could ever take His place of leadership. However, the Lord had assured them that God the Holy Spirit would come to take charge. The book of Acts tells how the Holy Spirit filled the church with grace and power (Acts 2:1-47; 4:23-35). But the church did not remain that way.
Revelation tells us how the church at Ephesus forsook their first love. Corruption and spiritual deadness came over other churches. Our Lord was completely outside the church at Laodicea and no one even missed Him (Revelation 3:14-22)! Churches ever since have faced the need periodically to recover their first love and come again under the power and authority of the Spirit of Christ. When He is again enthroned in their midst through their devoted worship real revival comes!
When Dr. A. J. Gordon woke up to the reality that Christ is present in the church he was revived. His ministry was transformed. His church literally passed from death to life.
He was pastor of the fashionable Clarendon Street Baptist Church of Boston. A secular worldly spirit dominated the congregation. The pews were rented. They hired unsaved singers from the opera who rendered music that was spiritually dead. The deacon dared to print a leaflet which said, "Strangers Welcome." But he was rebuked by an elder, "Why, you might get the wrong kind of people in here and run the right kind out!" Of course, everyone knew who the "right kind" were.
The pastor's heart was deeply burdened over this situation. Pastoring became a drudgery that pressed him to the point of desperation. His people needed to repent and turn to Christ. He, therefore, spent more time on his sermons. Disappointment followed when few, if any, were converted by a week of solid toil in sermon building.
Prayer meeting was dead, too. If he could only get the people together to pray. Yet in spite of all he could do, very few even attended prayer meeting. Those who did come never rose to really pour out their hearts to God for new life in the church.
About that time the administration of the church began to come unglued. Opposition developed among some of the church officers. Then he had to work hard trying "to get the members to vote as they should." Those who should have helped actually wound up hindering.
That led to discouragement, sleepless nights and pressurized living. At last, he made a trip to the doctor who called for absolute rest as the only remedy for such strain and stress.
While struggling to minister on such hard rocky soil, Dr. Gordon fell asleep one Saturday night while preparing his sermon. He had an unusual dream. "Not that I attach any importance to dreams or ever have done so", he wrote. "I recognize it only as a dream; and yet I confess that the impression of it was so vivid that in spite of myself memory brings it back to me again, as though it were an actual occurrence in my personal ministry."
He dreamed he was in the pulpit just about to begin his sermon before a full congregation. At that moment a stranger entered and passed slowly up the left aisle of the church looking for someone who would give him a seat. Half way up the aisle a man offered him a place which was quietly accepted. Gordon's eyes were riveted on this visitor. He wondered, "Who can that stranger be?" He determined to find out.
After the sermon, the stranger slipped out with the crowd. The pastor asked the man with whom he sat, "Can you tell me who that stranger was who sat in your pew this morning?" In the most matter of fact way he replied, "Why, do you not know that man? It was Jesus of Nazareth." Seeing the pastor's great consternation, the man assured him, "Oh, do not be troubled. He has been here today, and no doubt he will come again."
Gordon was filled with an indescribable rush of emotion and self-examination. Why the Lord Himself was here listening to the sermon today!
"What was I saying?" he asked himself. "Was I preaching on some popular theme in order to catch the ear of the public?" With a sigh of relief he remembered that he was preaching Christ. "But in what spirit did I preach?" his conscience demanded. Was it in the spirit of one who knows that he himself is crucified with Christ? Or did the preacher manage to magnify himself while exalting Christ.
For the first time in his life, A. J. Gordon was electrified with the truth that Christ himself had actually come to church! He could never again care what men thought of preaching, worship or church. "If I could only know that He was not displeased, that He would not withhold His feet from coming again because He had been grieved at what might have been seen or heard."
All of Pastor Gordon's priorities were turned around. His life and ministry would never be the same after this. He fell at the feet of his Lord in worship and turned the administration of the church over to Him. He then taught his board and his people to let the Holy Spirit take charge.
The revival that transformed A. J. Gordon's ministry and changed Clarendon Street Baptist Church into a powerful lighthouse had begun! That same revival awaits any church that will let the Head of the church take charge.
Condensed from How Christ Came to Church, The Spiritual Biography of A. J. Gordon.
Copyright by Rev. Oliver W. Price 1992 Revival Insights Vol. I, No. 4