Monday, August 1, 2011

The Church on the Move(ment): One Solitary Life

Dr. James A Francis was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California nearly a century ago.  You've probably never heard of him.  There are not many hits for him on Google.  There is no Wikipedia article on his life or ministry.  But probably everyone who reads these words has been impacted in some small way by something he said.

In a sermon, "Arise, Sir Knight," delivered on July 11, 1926, he spoke these words:
"Let us turn now to the story. A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life. While still a young man the tide of popular feeling turns against him. The band of followers forsakes him. One denies him; another betrays him. He is turned over to his enemies. He goes through the mockery of a trial; he is nailed on a cross between two thieves, and when dead is laid in a borrowed grave by the kindness of a friend. Those are the facts of his human life. He rises from the dead. Today we look back across nineteen hundred years and ask, What kind of a trail has he left across the centuries? When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life."
Dr. Francis' sermon was published in The Real Jesus and Other Sermons (Judson Press, 1926).  He apparently edited these words a few times into the version we know today as "One Solitary Life."  Somehow over time his association with the words was lost and they came to be attributed to "Anonymous."  Ironic, isn't it, that the Jesus of whom he wrote was born and lived in relative obscurity though he had a profound impact on mankind, and Francis' association with "One Solitary Life" likewise became obscure for over three-quarters of a century though his words are known by many.

When talking about Jesus, Dr. Francis asks:  What kind of a trail has he [Jesus] left across the centuries?

I believe it is fair to say that when Jesus established the church he started a movement that is transforming our world for the good.

Most folks don't think of the church as a movement.  Today we tend to think of it more as a place where people gather, a building, an institution.  I'm rather confident that's not what Jesus had in mind.  When he told his disciples they were to be witnesses to all people throughout the earth, I don't think he had in mind building an auditorium in the heart of Jerusalem (just down from the Temple), installing Peter as pastor and inviting folks to come hear him preach.  I think he wanted to start a movement where all people could hear the good news, become Christ followers, and find the abundant life they long for.

Just look at the language of the book of Acts.  It's not about an institution.  it's all about movement.  The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples as a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire.  Wind implies movement -- there is no wind unless there is movement.  And fire is in constant motion.  Again, movement.  Later the disciples are scattered by persecution like seeds scattered by a farmer as he throws them to the wind and they fall upon the ground.  Movement!

In the book Movements that Changed the World, Steve Addison defines a movement as "a group of people pursuing a common cause ... movements are characterized by discontent, vision, and action."  For good or evil, he says, movements change the world.  In the weeks ahead I'm going to consider the five characteristics Addison identifies as characteristics of dynamic missionary movements.  For the record here they are:
  1. White hot faith
  2. Commitment to a cause
  3. Contagious relationships
  4. Rapid mobilization
  5. Adaptive methods
Dr. Francis wrote of that one solitary life that has had more influence on the world than the combined impact of "all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, [and] all the kings that ever reigned."

The church began as a movement and became an institution.  At UBA we are committed to helping the church reverse it course and once again become a movement that will change our world!

For more information on One Solitary Life and Dr. Francis:
To purchase Steve Addison's book Movements that Changed the Word: