For over twenty years, the people of Romania suffered under the iron-fisted, Communist rule of Nicolae Ceausescu—one of the most repressive and corrupt dictators of the 20th century. Christians were especially targeted by the regime and were subjected to intense intimidation and relentless harassment. Evangelical believers were ridiculed and were referred to in derision as “repenters.”
In 1969, the government revoked the preaching license of a pastor in Timisoara. After struggling to find work, the pastor finally ended up gluing paper shopping bags to support his family. For four years, as he did this work, he prayed for revival. In 1973, his license was miraculously re-instated and he was assigned to the Second Baptist Church in Oradea.
From the outset, his ministry in Oradea was characterized by an emphasis on prayer and evangelism. However, this pastor’s burden was not simply for those outside the church. He was convinced that the revival for which he had been longing and praying all these years must beginin the church. He explained to his people that unbelievers weren’t the only ones who needed to repent. Unapologetically, he stressed the need for the “repenters” to repent.
Not content to deal in generalities, he was straightforward in pointing out what he viewed as habitual sins among the “repenters”—issues he believed were hindering the church from experiencing true revival.
For example, he confronted his people about stealing from the State. The government had confiscated and collectivized the farms and factories, forcing the people to turn over to the government the fruit of their labors. The people had felt justified in keeping back from their “own” farms and factories a share of what they believed rightly belonged to them. The pastor preached that this was wrong and led them to take a vow not to “steal” from the government.
Although many contemporary evangelicals would be uncomfortable even categorizing this practice as “sin,” the point is that the “repenters” repented—they began to take holiness seriously; they turned from everything they believed was displeasing to God. And when they did, God sent revival.
After six months of preaching, praying, and repenting, the fruits of the cleansing began to manifest themselves. One of the most obvious results was the conversion of great numbers of unbelievers. Before the revival began, this church of 500 members had baptized about ten new believers each year. From June to December 1974, the church in Oradea baptized some 250 new converts! Approximately 400 new believers were baptized over the following two years—in a country where a public profession of faith in Christ required a readiness to be martyred for Christ.
The revival could not be contained within a single church. It spread throughout the surrounding area and its impact was experienced in evangelical churches throughout the entire country. The revived believers were infused with courage and began to stand up for what they believed. Many believe that this fire in the hearts of God’s people was one of the elements that ultimately led to the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime fifteen years later.
Taking Holiness Seriously
How important is holiness to you? How much thought, attention, and effort do you devote to the pursuit of holiness? Are you intentional about putting away everything that is displeasing to God, and living a holy life? Is it your priority—your mission—to be holy?
How important is your children’s holiness to you? Do you care more about their grade point average, their batting average, and their earning capacity, or about their purity of heart and life?
How concerned are you about the holiness of the Body of Christ? Does it grieve you
- when Christians are unloving and unforgiving,
- when they are gossips and gluttons,
- when they have more interest in possessions and pleasure than in spiritual riches and pleasing God,
- when they dishonor their parents and divorce their mates,
- when they are self-absorbed and self-promoting,
- when they are cantankerous and contentious,
- when they use profanity and pornography,
- when they can sin glibly and without blushing?
What would happen in our day if believers were to get honest about their sin and serious about pursuing holiness? Might we not once again experience the manifest presence of God in our churches? Might we not see God supernaturally convert multitudes of lost sinners to faith in Christ?
Sewage in the Church?
If plumbing or septic problems caused raw sewage to overflow into the hallways and aisles of your church, one thing is for sure: the problem would not be ignored. Everyone would be horrified. The health hazard would prompt immediate action. Business would not continue as usual. Services would be re-located and crews would work overtime, if necessary, until the problem was resolved.
The fact is that something far more serious than raw sewage is running through the lives of countless professing Christians and most of our evangelical churches. And by and large, we are oblivious to the threat.
The floodgates of unholiness—including willful, presumptuous, blatant sin—have opened up within the church. Adultery, drunkenness, abuse, profanity, outbursts of temper, divorce, pornography, immodest dress—such sins among professing believers—often members in good standing of respected local churches—are no longer rare exceptions.
And then there are the more “respectable” forms of sewage that are often overlooked and tolerated among believers—things like overspending, unpaid debts, gluttony, gossip, greed, covetousness, bitterness, pride, critical spirits, backbiting, temporal values, self-centeredness, and broken relationships. Sadly, the church—the place that is intended to showcase the glory and holiness of God—has become a safe place to sin.
Church Marries World
Lest you think I’m overstating the case, let me share several recent illustrations.
I know a man who has been involved in the Christian entertainment industry for many years. I was grieved to learn that he has adopted an “alternate” sexual lifestyle. I asked the mutual friend who gave me the report, “Is the [Christian] company where he works aware of this?” The response was hard to fathom: “It would probably not be a concern if they knew.”
A friend told me about a Christian dad who, upon learning that his teenage son had been involved in a ring of kids who were drinking and passing around pornography at school, shrugged off the behavior with, “Kids will be kids! Anyway, soft core porn isn’t the same as hard porn.”
And as I was writing this article, I received an email from a friend who had just been listening to an influential Christian radio station in one of the nation’s largest markets. In the past 90 minutes, my friend had heard half a dozen commercials from a “really nice-sounding divorce attorney” advertising his services.
I can understand that the secular media would be comfortable selling advertising to a divorce attorney. But how have we come to the point that a Christian media outlet would promote something God says He hates? I wonder—were the believers who were listening to that station as they drove down the freeway that day disturbed by what they heard? Did they even notice? Have they—have we—been lulled to sleep by a watered-down, compromised version of “Christianity”?
Tragically, these examples are not rare or exceptional. The reality is that this kind of twisted thinking has become characteristic of a growing number of professing believers and is being widely defended in the evangelical world. We are seeing the fulfillment of Vance Havner’s prophetic words spoken decades ago: “The world and the professing church first flirted with each other, then fell in love, and now the wedding is upon us.”
A Passion for God’s Glory
Nehemiah was one man who refused to get sucked in by the allure of the world. He never got accustomed to sin, even when everyone else around him had become desensitized.
Nehemiah was one of the Jewish exiles living in Persia in 444 B.C. After receiving word that the walls of the city of Jerusalem were still in disrepair. Nehemiah left his comfortable job and made the 900-mile journey to assist his fellow Jews in the restoration of the city. Amid fierce opposition from the determined trio of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, the walls were finally rebuilt.
Nehemiah became the governor of Judah and, along with Ezra the priest, turned his attention to rebuilding the spiritual and moral foundations that had eroded in people’s hearts. The people were challenged to repent and return to the Word of God they had neglected for so long.
After serving in Jerusalem for twelve years, Nehemiah returned to Persia for some unknown period of time—perhaps a couple years. When he returned to Judah, he was shocked to discover that the people had failed to keep the commitments they had made to the Lord and were flagrantly disobeying His Word. They were conducting commerce on the Sabbath, they had neglected the maintenance and care of the temple, and they had married foreign wives who were not of their faith. Nehemiah was intensely distressed and boldly confronted the people over their backslidden condition.
The most egregious offense involved Tobiah the Ammonite, the man who years earlier had done everything he could to oppose the work of God in the rebuilding of the city walls. Over the years, the Jewish people had gradually let down their guard; they had begun to socialize with their former enemy; in turn, that had led to more intimate relationships, including marriage ties between Tobiah’s family and the family of Eliashib the priest. Over time, any differences between Tobiah and God’s “set apart” people had all but disappeared. Unbelievably, by the time Nehemiah returned, this sworn enemy of God was actually living in the temple at the invitation of the priests.
Undoubtedly, this change of affairs did not take place overnight. More likely, one compromise led to another and another. The priests and the people found ways of justifying their actions. A spirit of tolerance became exalted over a love for Truth. So godless Tobiah moved into the temple, while the people carried on with “church”—not the least bit troubled over the state of affairs.
But to Nehemiah, who cared deeply about holiness, this was an unthinkable situation. He was furious. And he acted decisively. He physically hurled Tobiah and all his possessions out of the temple; then he gave orders to purify the desecrated rooms. He denounced the evil situation and called the priests and the people to repent.
Why were these offenses such a big deal to Nehemiah? Why did he feel the need to interfere in others’ lives? Why wasn’t he content to just obey God and leave others alone? Why? Because Nehemiah was compelled by a passion for the glory of God to be displayed in His people.
Nehemiah had seen God’s people pay a terrible price for their sins. They had been exiled in the midst of nations that did not worship Jehovah, first in Babylon and then in Persia. Nehemiah had also seen that through repentance and obedience, once they were allowed to return to Jerusalem, the people of God had been richly blessed and had experienced great joy. He could not bear to see them lose those blessings by returning to the very sins that had caused them to end up in captivity.
His heart for holiness, even in the little things, put him in a tiny minority. He didn’t seem to notice or care. He wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. All that mattered to him was that the holy Name of God had been profaned and he longed for it to be hallowed once again.
Time for the “Repenters” to Repent
The parallels between the story of Nehemiah and the church in our day are striking. In many cases, the spirit of tolerance has triumphed over the spirit of Truth. And now, Tobiah is living in the temple. Lust, greed, materialism, anger, selfishness, pride, sensuality, divorce, deceit, ungodly entertainment, worldly philosophies—little by little, we’ve let down our guard, cultivated a relationship with these sworn enemies of God, welcomed them into our churches, and given them a home there.
In the midst of such a state, the question is, where are the Nehemiah’s of our day?
Where are the men and women who love God supremely and who fear nothing and no one but God? Where are the saints who live like saints—whose lives are above reproach in every matter—in their homes, their work, their speech, their habits, their attitudes, their finances, and their relationships?
Where are the believers whose eyes are filled with tears, whose hearts ache when they see an unholy church partying and entertaining herself to death, and whose knees are sore from pleading with God to grant the gift of repentance?
Where are the Christian leaders with the compassion and the courage to call the church to be clean before God? Where are the moms and dads and young people who are willing to deal thoroughly and decisively with everything that is unholy in their hearts and their homes?
The Church has been waiting for the world to get right with God. When will we realize that the world is waiting for the Church to get right with God? Oh, child of God, we can scarcely imagine the impact that will be felt in our world when we do.
Taken from Holiness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Moody Publishers, copyright © 2004. Used by permission.