Scripture and the Church

Can God Change a Nation Through One Local Church?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
It has happened. Here is the true story of one such pastor and the church God changed.
From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 1 of a series

Postmodern Evangelicals are trying all kinds of approaches to the problems of the nations - except the one that God says will work. Today we begin recounting the true story of a man who took God at His Word, despite opposition from the Evangelicals of his day. His commitment to the authority of the Bible revitalized a church, revolutionized a city, and rescued a nation from disaster.

We're going to leave some of you guessing his identity for the time being...

As daylight faded on a mid-winter afternoon, a young minister arrived by train in the city of Port Talbot, where he would take up his very first pastorate. Humanly speaking, there was little reason for optimism about his new work. Economically and politically, Port Talbot and the nation were in state of crisis. Spiritually, the situation in both the city and the nation was desperate. His new church, called Sandfields, was a particularly difficult place, a dead end for hopes and dreams, a church where more experienced men had failed. Even when the sun shines here, they said, the sense of desolation and hopelessness never goes away.

Despite such gloomy words - perhaps because of them - the newly commissioned pastor relished the challenge.

An Unlikely Preacher in an Unlikely Place

In this most unlikely setting, a spiritual revolution was about to begin. Within a few months, he would see the early stirrings of a marvelous moving of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word. One of the first places touched by the power of God would be his own household. During the next eleven years, the ministry of this earnest young preacher would not only revolutionize a church and change a city; it would play a key role in saving an entire nation from disaster.

By human standards, the man who stepped off the train that cold winter day was ill-equipped for success. He was a relatively new Christian. He was untrained for the ministry. He had grown up in a nominally Christian home and had made a public profession of faith at the front of an Evangelical church as a teenager. But in his mid twenties, he came to understand that he was not really a Christian at all. For the first time in his life, he truly confronted the facts of his personal sinfulness and desperate lostness. After a period of intense spiritual struggle, he placed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Savior from sin.

Although the new pastor at Sandfields was well educated for a secular profession, he had no formal theological training. Since his recent conversion, he had studied the Scriptures with new illumination. He had read books by godly Bible expositors. But he had no schooling in theology, pastoral ministry, church administration, or Christian counseling. Before taking on this first pastorate, he had preached fewer than a dozen times. But after two years of uncertainty about his future course, he now knew beyond doubt that God had called him to the Gospel ministry. Older men in his home church and denomination recognized the gifts and calling of God in this young man as well.

For reasons you will soon understand, denominational leaders were more than willing to give him the opportunity to exercise those gifts. Their natural thought was to start him out in an easier place, but he wanted to come to Sandfields. So strong was his sense of God's calling that he did not bother to ask how much the church would pay him before deciding to come. As it turned out, the pay was poor. But he would need to live on it, since he had given all his savings to a needy relative before coming to Port Talbot.

A Nation in Despair

The new man entered his first pulpit at a time of political and economic turmoil. Several years of bitter labor unrest had brought Port Talbot and most of the nation to a virtual economic standstill. Unemployment rates were high. Many people were surviving only with the help of private charity or government assistance. Many who did have jobs were barely getting by. The outlook for economic recovery was bleak. Many believed that their government had failed them, and that the church had nothing to offer in such a crisis except handouts. The small but increasingly vocal Communist party was exploiting the situation for political advantage. And in their desperation, growing numbers of people saw the promises of godless Communism as an attractive alternative to the status quo.

The moral climate of the time helped cultivate such a mindset. The influences of Darwinian evolutionary thinking were undermining Bible-based morality. If man is merely a creature of time and chance and not the special creation of God, why should he live as though he were accountable to a Creator? What relevance can religion possibly have? Perhaps the Communists are right: Religion is merely "the opiate of the masses." The tragic results of such attitudes were an alarming increase in crime, gambling, prostitution, drunkenness, marital infidelity, and broken homes. Over ninety percent of the people no longer attended any kind of church. Sandfields was in a particularly bad section of Port Talbot where the moral decline was at its worst. Most people only came to the church for the material help it could provide when their circumstances became desperate - or to have the minister bury their dead.

Rejecting Conventional Wisdom

Most Evangelical leaders believed that the way to confront the alarming trends of the day was for the church to become politically active. But the new preacher at Sandfields opposed such thinking with all his being. He was not without strong political views of his own. He would encourage his church members to be faithful in their duties as citizens. He believed that individual Christians should be involved in government. He believed that civil government is ordained of God as an instrument of His grace, to maintain order in the world by keeping sinful man from acting on his worst impulses. But he also believed the Biblical exhortations to trust in the Lord, and not in human government, for the genuine and lasting solution to life's problems (Psalm 118:9, 146:3). Furthermore, he saw his own calling to the Gospel ministry as a singular and exclusive calling, the highest one a man could have. The involvement of preachers in politics was, he said, beneath that high calling - unfaithful to it.

He did not mince words on this point. He referred to the preacher-politicians of his time as "moral mules" - the spiritually infertile crossbreeding of the Gospel preacher who neglects his true calling, and the politician who seeks to "Christianize" society. He believed that the crying need of the hour was not reform in government, the school classroom, the economy, or even in public morality. The greatest need, he said, is spiritual rebirth among the unconverted and revival among God's people. This can only come by the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Bible. All else flows from this, he said. There can be no genuine change in the externals of society without genuine change in the hearts of men. And that change must begin in the church. The Gospel preacher has more than enough to do if he occupies himself with that alone - and it is the best thing he can possibly do.

Time and events proved him right. Eleven years later, this preacher who never made a political pronouncement or led a pressure group, but remained true to his calling as a Gospel minister, was widely recognized as one of the two men most responsible for saving his country from Communism.

Next: A Church Fallen on Hard Times

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