I think every young minister is going to have to make a clear-cut decision about whether his life and his church are going to be run by himself, by his officers and committees, or by the Holy Spirit. The usual way, of course—and this is true of every denominational group—is to set up certain routine rules by which a church should be run. Not that organization should preclude the Holy Spirit. But often it does; at least that is true in our Presbyterian Church. And yet exciting, wonderful things will not happen in your church unless the Holy Spirit is the one who is ruling and directing and counseling you at every turn.
I have been very much interested in knowing something about one little church here in Washington that is really guided by the Holy Spirit. This is a small nondenominational church. I shall tell you just two or three things that have happened recently as a result of the Holy Spirit's guidance.
In the first place, no one can become a member of the church without at least a year of preparation—attending certain classes and showing clearly that he or she has come to the point where he really under stands that becoming a church member means an all-out commitment to Christ.
Of course such a period of preparation has often been required in the foreign mission fields. Actually, I do not see why we think that our congregations, because they happen to be the secular type of pagan Americans, need less than the members of the African church, the Indian church, or any other foreign church.
After this period of probation, when the person is finally received into the church membership, once a year he has to rethink his surrender to Christ. That is done in this manner: The pledge that each member of the church must take is written out in a book that stays on the altar in the chapel. Each church member is pledged once a year to go into that chapel by himself and spend an hour alone with God, thinking through the matter of whether he can once more give himself sincerely and deeply to God, with no reservations. If at the end of an hour he thinks he can, he writes his name in the book. If, after thinking things through, he cannot make his pledge for the next year, he simply does not write his name. The plan works perfectly.
So consecrated are these people under this regime that tithing is no problem. Sometimes some of the members are shocked when they see what goes on in other churches in the nation's capital.
One day one of the members came to the minister's wife and said, "Do you know what?"
The minister's wife said, "No, what?"
"Do you know, I have discovered that there are actually some church members in Washington who do not tithe!"
The young wife pretended the proper surprise.
Power Through the Spirit's Guidance
In every church fellowship there is the greatest variety of human need. When any given Christian fellowship actually has the Holy Spirit's power flowing into and through the church, that power will go out in many different directions to meet the variety of needs. God's power might be compared to that of electricity. When electricity flows into a house it is used for different things—the electric iron, the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, et cetera.
In a true Christian fellowship God's power will be flowing to solve economic needs, health problems, alcoholism, un happy marriages, and all the other usual problems that beset our generation.
When I visited the particular church to which I just referred, the thought that came to me was that here was a twentieth-century edition of the fellowship centered around Jesus while He walked the trails of earth.
There is a girl who had been one of Washington's prostitutes; now, since she found Jesus, she is one of the loveliest creatures imaginable.
Here is a woman who once had a so-called incurable cancer of the face. She had also been brought back from the last stages of alcoholism. The cancer had eaten a hole in her face. She was told that, at the most, she had less than a year to live. But she dis covered the way to trust Jesus to keep her from cancer from day to day, just as He had kept her from alcohol—and it worked. That was three and a half years ago. Now the hole on her face is gone, and in its place is skin like that of a baby.
Here is another former alcoholic. Three times he tried to commit suicide. Now he is one of the guiding lights of Alcoholics Anonymous. He sells accordions and wit nesses for Jesus on the side. God uses him in an incredible way to help the down-and- outers, because he talks their language and speaks from the depth of his firsthand experience.
Over there in that church is a former Yale University professor. He discovered late in life that there's something more to life than the intellect. Now there is a beautiful simplicity about him that perfectly balances with his fine brain. And so on and on.
The pastor of the little church says jokingly that he has almost as many potential church members in jail as out of jail. So it was in Jesus' day. That is one of the reasons why He was criticized so severely by the professional churchmen of His day—the Pharisees and Sadducees.
But Jesus came to seek and to save those who have lost the way—not those who have been inoculated with such small doses of religion that Christianity no longer means much of anything to them. It's the difference between a religion of power and a religion of talk. Each minister must make up his own mind which kind he really intends to have in his church. Each minister must decide whether he himself is willing to pay the price for such a leadership of power.
No other vocation pays such rich returns as that of the ministry. I cannot imagine any man's investing his life in any other profession that would pay such tremendous dividends. This fact was strikingly revealed to me after Peter Marshall's death. I have witnessed such gratitude, such love, such appreciation as a result of his life, which now follow me on and on through the years. Hardly a day passes that I do not hear of some life once touched by my husband's life —often when he knew nothing about it. So the dividends pile up and up. In what other profession could it have been possible that even after his death the gratitude of the whole community would have been manifested to his son and me to the extent it has? I do not think there is any other.
So I sincerely feel that you who have chosen the ministry have ahead of you the most wonderful life there is, provided—provided you really let the Lord lead. I can only wish for you God's own joy in God's own profession.
[End of Series]
Chapel talk given May 5, 1952, at the S.D.A. Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., by Catherine Marshall, wife of Dr. Peter Marshall, who until his death was pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian church in Washington, D.C., and chaplain of the United States Senate. Mrs. Marshall is the author of the inspiring best seller that tells the story of Dr. Marshall's life and of their life together—A Man Called Peter.—EDITORS.